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A Feminist and the Wall

A Feminist and the Wall

By Joelle Leib

During my time at Scripps College, a women’s college in Claremont, California, I have learned much about feminism and the critical fight for gender equality. Luckily for me and my female millennial peers, American women have made tremendous strides in the past few decades, so much so that Hillary Clinton is now a frontrunner in the Democratic presidential primary. Yet as someone who also identifies as a Zionist as well as a feminist, a great deal must still be accomplished before these two identities can be completely reconciled.

I’ve been to the Western Wall many times between the three trips I have taken to Israel. The first time I went to the Western Wall I was thirteen on a three week tour of Israel with my family and members of my congregation. During the first Shabbat of our trip, our rabbi wanted us to experience the quintessential Shabbat in Jerusalem by taking us to the Kotel. When I first saw the Kotel, I was mesmerized by its incredible history and power to unite scores of people spanning thousands of generations. But quickly my amazement dissipated and turned to scorn when I peered over the separation barrier and watched with envy as all of the men on the other side of the fence danced and sang, contrasted by quiet prayers on the women’s side. It irritated me that the men’s side was far larger than the women’s, even though it seemed like the same amount of men and women were at the wall. Despite being a young teenager, I understood the injustice present at the Western Wall. While I still found Israel to be an incredible place, some of her magic wore off for me that night.

In the fall semester of 2014, I took a class entitled “Women and Gender in Jewish Tradition” at Claremont McKenna College. The class covered a broad range of topics and spanned the entire history of Judaism, including the modern era. Toward the latter half of the class, I was first introduced to the organization Women of the Wall (WOW). Founded in 1988, WOW strives to bring equality to the Western Wall by fighting for women’s ability to read from the Torah and wear prayer shawls at the wall, which they are currently prohibited from doing. The female activists who comprise WOW are incredibly inspiring, often facing physical and verbal harassment just to be able to practice their Jewish faith at the Wall. Thankfully, it seems as though WOW, albeit slowly, is becoming more accepted as a legitimate, religious organization. For the past three months, WOW has successfully smuggled a Torah to the women’s section of the Western Wall for their monthly prayer service. Recently, Prime Minister Netenyahu refused to condemn the organization after being encouraged to do so by an Ultra Orthodox member of the Knesset. Netenyahu cited his belief that Israel should be a home for all Jewish people in his decision to strongly disapprove the statements made by the Knesset member.

I wish that my 13 year old self knew of the efforts of WOW, as I likely would have felt much more supported and dignified at the Western Wall. Instead of having my bat mitzvah on a balcony overlooking the Holy City, I could have had it at the Wall with WOW, an ideal scenario which would have made me proud to be both Jewish and female, a feminist and a Zionist.


Joelle Leib is a 2015 Machon Kaplan participant. She interned at National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty. Joelle is a rising junior at Scripps College where she is majoring in American Studies with a focus in history. She is a member of the Claremont Colleges Ballroom Dance Company and on the boards of Claremont Hillel and the Claremont Israel Alliance. 


Published: 7/23/2015

Categories: Social Justice