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Why the Kotel Compromise Just Isn't Good Enough

February 04, 2016
By SSLI Alumni Department

Published by on January 31, 2016 - click here.

By Gabriela Geselowitz

When I woke to the news about the new policy for the Kotel, I was surprised to see so many of my friends celebrating. I suppose I should be, too: I’ve been wearing tefillin since I was bat mitzvahed over a decade ago. In that time, I have been to Israel twice, first with my high school, and then on Birthright one year ago. I’ve always closely followed the Women of the Wall and waited for a time when I, too, might worship the way I want at the Kotel.

The new compromise is just that: a compromise. While it’s nice that now it won’t take a treasure map to find the egalitarian section, and that the section will no longer be the size of a New York City loft, it hurts that if I want to pray at such a holy site in a way that feels meaningful to me, I have to go to a part that isn’t from the postcards, the documentaries, the images of Jewish Jerusalem that the world knows.

When I was 18 — my first time in Israel — my greatest wish was to get to the Kotel, which I visited twice that trip. I knew going in that I wouldn’t be able to pray there with my tefillin, an act that makes me feel closer to God. I didn’t know that I had picked the wrong T-shirt; the “Modesty Police” told me that my sleeves were too short, and made me wear a shawl that felt as though it had touched lots of sweaty shoulders already that day. But despite this, I had a rich spiritual experience. I felt like I had spent my life waiting to fulfill clichés that felt rich with meaning anyway: to daven, to find a spot to slip in a note, to kiss the stone.

When I returned at the age of 23, I looked forward to the Kotel once again. But when the group got there, the experience felt more strained, more frustrating. A few short years of living as a woman in the “real world” had drained me. As I tried to pray, a group of Orthodox women behind me giggled and took selfies. I tried to remind myself that their experiences were just as valid as mine; that not everyone had to be rocking and mouthing words to have a spiritual connection. But I felt almost naked; I wanted my tallit and my tefillin, and I felt that I desperately needed those things to have the experience that my boyfriend might be having on the other side of the wall — the much, much larger area where the men were unafraid to loudly celebrate.

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