The day that the Israeli government reneged on its promise to expand the egalitarian section of the Western Wall, my family and I attended a beautiful Bat Mitzvah ceremony there.
Fourteen girls from my son’s school in Los Angeles gathered at the Robinson’s Arch to read prayers (but not Torah) and to profess their commitment to the Jewish faith. Girls whom I have watched grow up from the age of 2 gathered, dressed in all white with laurels in their hair, before the iconic symbol of our faith’s resilience.
The rabbi who officiated noted that in the corner where we stood, the Romans who destroyed the Second Temple had inscribed in the stone the promise that no Jew would ever pray at this spot again.
In a moving speech the rabbi said, “We are here today to say, ‘Never’ is no more.”
But I’m not so sure.
Earlier that morning, in the women’s section of the Kotel plaza, ultra-orthodox women harassed egalitarian women who were committing the crime of praying at the wall. Women worshippers were subjected to humiliating searches, including having prayer books searched page by page. Teen girls wearing black masks shouted to drown out the women who had smuggled in a Torah to pray.
As that happened, the Israeli government, kowtowed to the haredi parties and nixed the year-old resolution to create a large, state-recognized egalitarian section at the southern end of the Kotel. The section would have been accessible from the main Kotel plaza and would be run by a progressive Jewish board.
No one mentioned this devastating decision during the Bat Mitzvah, but it was impossible not to feel it. More than 20 families from Los Angeles squeezed between piles of rubble, the literal remnants of an effort thousands of years ago to eliminate our people entirely.
There was no shade in the blaring heat, and it was difficult to hear the girls as they read their prayers. The need for an expanded egalitarian section was made plain.
I tried to look at it a different way. The wall stands 62-feet tall above street level. But most of it extends far below ground, down into centuries of faith, centuries of ritual, centuries of change and of fear of change. The Robinson’s Arch stands in the southwest corner of the Temple Mount and several floors below the Kotel plaza. While it is a rather uncomfortable and uneven place to gather (particularly in heels), it is closer to the foundation of what had once been the fortification of our faith.
As these young girls professed their commitment to Judaism, I tried to put a positive spin on our separate and unequal setting. We represent an evolution in our faith that will keep our faith alive. A recognition that without the Matriarchs who transmitted the rituals of our culture, the Torah of the Patriarchs could not have survived.
But not ever bone in my body believes that. We have been reduced to rubble before, and standing amid the ruins of the arch, I couldn’t help but wonder whether we faced a rebuilding or a decimation.
Were we, fathers and daughters gathered together nearer the bedrock of the Western Wall, exemplifying the future of Judaism? Or are we going to be an interesting archeological blip in the long and storied history of our people?
In years to come, I wonder, for whom will the Western Wall be holy?
Mayrav Saar is a writer based in Los Angeles.