What’s Next for Women of the Wall?
by Mark S. Anshan
The Women of the Wall issued a statement this week in which its chair, Anat Hoffman, said
“…we are prepared to be the catalyst and leaders of building a new, equal third section for all Jews to pray and celebrate at the Western Wall.”
This is a bold step for Women of the Wall, given that it changes the original focus of its organizational objective – permitting women the freedom to choose the manner in which they prayer at the Kotel in the current women’s section.
In the proposed equal and fully integrated third section of the Kotel, there would be an area set up for Orthodox women who wish to pray as they choose but separately from men. This is a rational and sensible compromise to a complicated issue.
The more serious immediate challenge for Women of the Wall is maintaining support within its own ranks. As noted in their statement, the organization’s executive board went through “…a comprehensive and emotionally trying decision-making process.” One can expect that there are strong differences of views among its membership, and this could potentially cause problems for Women of the Wall in maintaining a strong public profile.
It’s important for members of a nonprofit advocacy organization like Women of the Wall to understand and appreciate that the organization needs to constantly think about and reflect on its objectives and strategy, taking account of changes in the political environment in which they are operating. While not compromising on the fundamental principles for which they were established, it is understandable and acceptable that such an organization should review its objectives, respond to the political situation, take account of what realistically can be achieved, and alter the strategic focus accordingly.
In response to the movement for change at the Kotel and the mounting support for an egalitarian prayer section, Women of the Wall’s executive board, by declaring its support for such a section and undertaking to be a leader for such innovation, has exhibited strong and positive leadership. Women of the Wall will now take a clear and decisive leadership role that can be of great assistance in achieving the overall objective for many Jews who desire the creation of an egalitarian section.
This decision will be a difficult one for some of Women of the Wall’s members to understand and accept, but hopefully, on thinking about the need to alter course at critical times in one’s effort to bring about change, they will come to fully support their leaders.
Mark S. Anshan, a member of the Union for Reform Judaism Board of Trustees, is the immediate past president and a third generation member of Holy Blossom Temple (Toronto). He serves on several URJ committees, has served as a Vice-Chair of the URJ, and is an active supporter of URJ Camp George. Mark, a lawyer, lives in Toronto with his wife, Brenda. Their son, Micah is completing his MA, and their son, Adam is entering his fourth year in business at Dalhousie University.