Tag Archives: wailing wall

Way to Go Sarah!

“Can I just say, to the Bernie or Bust people: You’re being ridiculous.” Those lines got comedian Sarah Silverman international attention on Monday night when she addressed the Democratic National Convention.

Photo of Sarah Silverman from Wikimedia Commons

Photo of Sarah Silverman from Wikimedia Commons

Sarah certainly left an impression during her time on the convention stage but I learned something about her this week from a colleague that impressed me more. Sarah has championed a campaign to make the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem a more welcoming place for women. When I was in Israel in 2010 I was truly upset that women had to wait in line so much longer than men to pray at the Wailing Wall because the female section of the wall was only a fraction of the size of the men’s section. I wrote about this inequality in my newspaper column and blogged about it.

Photo I took at the Wailing Wall that shows the much smaller and more crowded women's section on the right

Photo I took at the Wailing Wall that shows the much smaller and more crowded women’s section on the right

Apparently having less room to pray hasn’t been the only issue at the Wailing Wall for women. For several years Sarah and her sister Susan, who is a rabbi, headlined a movement called Women of the Wall that called for legal changes to allow women to wear prayer shawls at the historic wall and sing, pray and read Scripture out loud there just as men can. In 2013 Sarah’s sister and niece were arrested when they defied the law and donned prayer shawls at the wall. In December of 2014 Sarah and Susan lit a menorah on the women’s side of the wall even after the rabbi in charge of the wall had forbidden them to do so.

In the past women had to read and pray silently at the wall

In the past women could only read and pray silently at the wall

Sarah and the Women of the Wall’s protests worked! In January of this year the Israeli government announced that a mixed gender prayer area at the wall would be created and women would be allowed to pray, read Scripture, sing,wear prayer shawls and light menorahs at the wall.

Sarah Silverman was a Bernie Sanders supporter in the Democratic primaries but in an article in the New York Times she is quoted as saying…..”I will vote for Hillary with gusto, as I continue to be inspired and moved to action by the ideals set forth by Bernie.”

Hillary Clinton is lucky to have a fighter with a sense of humour like Sarah Silverman on her side. Sarah has a proven track record of fighting for important changes that give equal rights to women.

eldery man and woman at the wailing wall in jerusalem

In the past men and women had to go to separate places to pray at the Wailing Wall

I wasn’t sure I needed to visit Israel a second time but it might be worth it just to pray again at the Wailing Wall since it is now a place where men and women are regarded as equals as they always have been in the eyes of God. Thanks Sarah!

Other posts……..

Inequality at the Wailing Wall

An Inclusive Canadian Anthem

I Never Got Used to the Guns

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Filed under israel, Politics

Gender Inequality at the Wailing Wall

It wasn’t fair!  My visit to the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem should have been a moving spiritual experience but I was seething inside most of the time. The wall is said to be all that remains of the temple erected by King Herod about twenty years before Jesus was born. It has become an internationally recognized landmark. The Romans destroyed Herod’s temple nearly a hundred years after it was built, leaving only a remnant of its western wall standing. Jewish people initially began coming to the wall to pray around 400 AD and have been doing so ever since.         

Visitors traditionally write their prayers and hopes on pieces of paper and slip them into cracks in the wall.

Many sit on the chairs in front of the wall to read Scripture, pray and write their messages to God. The wall remains a holy place.  People never turn their backs to it. After praying they walk backwards as they leave the wall.

Appropriate attire is required. Several of the teenage girls who accompanied me on my visit to the wall were given pastel wool shawls to wear by the guards at the gate since their shirts were sleeveless or too revealing. It wasn’t considered respectful for women to approach the wall so skimpily clad.

The boys in our group were not admonished for their causal apparel but were given a wool skullcap or kippah, to place on their heads as they entered the area near the wall.

What made me upset was the fact that a large section of the wall was exclusively a place for men to pray. The section of the wall designated for women was very small, only about a quarter of the size of the men’s section. Consequently, the females in our group had to wait a long time before there was space open at the women’s section of the wall so we could approach it and place our written prayers in the crevices. The boys in our group were quickly finished and got impatient waiting for us. I told the girls not to hurry.

Many of them, especially the seniors graduating from high school in just a few weeks, were composing long letters to God about their future. They needed time to write before they got in line to wait their turn to approach the wall.         

The photo I took that shows the much smaller and more crowded women’s section on the right

I think the women’s section of the wall needed to be the bigger one. It’s been my experience that women are often the ones in families who do the most praying. Someone told me men aren’t as pure and sinless as women, so they need to come to the wall more often to pray. Therefore they need a bigger section. I liked that explanation.     

Prayers tucked into the cracks in the Wailing Wall

Despite the lengthy wait, the young women with me were touched and inspired by their visit to the wall. One wrote in her journal it made her feel special to know she had participated in a religious ritual established over 1600 years ago.  Another wrote that even after she had returned home, she often liked to think about her hopes and dreams tucked away in a wall many people call “God’s most holy place on earth.”

Hopefully someday the wall will be divided evenly, so both men and women have an equal opportunity to use it, or perhaps, someday there will be no need for separate male and female sections of the wall. God’s listening ear is equally available to all people all the time. It would be nice if the most recognized place of prayer in the world reflected that.

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Filed under israel, Politics, Religion, Travel

I Never Got Used To the Guns in Israel


soldier with gun at the Mount of Olives

Armed soldier on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem

I never got used to the guns.  The one image in Israel that continued to startle me throughout my time there was the sight of so many people carrying weapons. Whether walking through the shopping district of old Jerusalem, standing on the Mount of Olives or attending a rock concert on the waterfront in Tiberius I was sure to see people armed with large guns. In a crowded restaurant where we ate lunch one day the only seat left for me was at a table with ten young people who each had a gun propped up beside them.  “Could you please move your gun?” I had to ask one man so I could slide into the vacant seat.

armed field trip guard golan heights

Armed school field trip guide in the Golan Heights

 One of my first days in Israel, my high school students and I hiked up to a waterfall in the Golan Heights. Just ahead of us was a group of Israeli schoolchildren. Two men and two women each carrying an M16 rifle walked with the Israeli kids flanking them in front, at the back and on the sides.  I asked our guide about this and he said perhaps the children’s teachers were army reserve members. If so they would be encouraged to carry guns even when they were off duty. Our guide also suggested the armed men and women might be special officers hired by the school to guard the children on their field trip.  The school was a private religious institution and the Golan Heights has been an area of conflict in the past. The school probably has a policy of hiring armed security officers for all excursions. I did a little research and learned that in 1974 three Palestinian gunmen attacked a group of Israeli school students and killed sixteen teenagers. Since then Israeli teachers have been allowed to carry guns in order to protect their students.

armed soldiers at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem May 21, 2010

Soldiers at Wailing Wall

I saw the largest number of armed officers at the Wailing Wall. We happened to visit this world-famous landmark on May 21st which is a holiday called Jerusalem Day. It celebrates the reunification of Jerusalem after a battle during the six-day war in 1967.  Perhaps worried that the Wailing Wall, traditionally swarming with visitors on Jerusalem Day, might make a good target for terrorist actions, the Israeli military was out in full force. Armed guards searched our bags before we approached the wall and we had to walk through a metal detector. Cadres of officers with rifles were posted at various positions in the courtyard approaching the Wailing Wall. So much weaponry seemed sadly out-of-place at a sacred spot where people gather from around the world to pray.     

armed guard asleep in jerusalem

Armed guard having a nap

An article in the London Times titled Guns: The Must-Have Israel Accessory says there is a “familiarity with guns in Israel that is rare” in most democratic countries. Since Israeli young people must serve a term in the military after high school, virtually all adults in the country have been trained to handle weapons. Apparently, gun-carrying citizens have been credited with saving the lives of Israelis under attack on numerous occasions. This has led people to believe only an armed Israeli citizenry can effectively defend itself against Palestinian terrorism.

weapons check in museum in Jerusalem

Weapons check-in at Jerusalem museum

My first few days in Israel I took photographs of all the people I saw with guns because it was so startling to me. I soon realized the sight was commonplace and I couldn’t possibly take pictures of everyone I saw with guns.  One tourist who visited Israel says on his blog that seeing so many people carrying guns in Israel made him feel safe.  I didn’t feel that way. I found it frightening.

You may also want to read……….

The Slaughter of the Innocents

Gender Inequality at the Wailing Wall



Filed under Art, History, Holidays, israel, Politics, Religion, Travel