Opinion

In Israel's Religious Wars, Women Are Fair Game

By attacking Diaspora Jewry, Gideon Levy is indirectly supporting the preferential treatment given to ultra-Orthodox Jews

Dana Sharon at the Western Wall in 2015. She is Israeli, not a Diaspora Jew as she was misidentified.
Daniel Sheetrit

Gideon Levy went head-to-head with American Jewry and had the presumption to decide for it, and for all Jews from various Jewish movements, what they should and shouldn’t protest over (Haaretz, June 29). Haaretz’s Hebrew website chose to accompany his op-ed with a picture in which I appear – even though I’m a sabra who was born in Israel and has lived here all my life. But Levy doesn’t seem to realize that capitulation to ultra-Orthodox extortion and to their inflammatory and aggressive discourse – to which the Israeli government grants tacit consent at best and rewards with political power and state funding at worst – is the reason why that picture was taken to begin with.

What it shows isn’t an American woman wrapped in a colorful scarf, as Levy takes pains to call my tallit, but an Israeli woman at a moment of unbearable mourning. And perhaps he is right that the battle isn’t one for American women, but rather one for Israeli women, a battle of which the Western Wall is only one aspect.

In the summer of 2015, I was serving as chairwoman of the board of the Jerusalem Open House for Pride and Tolerance when the worst thing imaginable happened. Yishai Schlissel embarked for the second time on a campaign of vengeance, which ended with his murdering 16-year-old Shira Banki at Jerusalem’s Gay Pride Parade. Three other people were wounded, and thousands of others will never return to being the people they were before that day.

Two weeks after that parade, the Jewish month of Av began. In Jewish tradition, Av symbolizes mourning, and I was asked by my sisters and friends to recite the Gomel prayer, a prayer of thanksgiving for escaping danger, at the Western Wall on behalf of all those who made it home safely. The occasion and the pain overcame me. I burst out crying and hid my face in my tallit, and this moment was captured on camera.

For the first time after two weeks in which I had borne the burden of a community in crisis, coupled with the feelings of guilt that naturally arise in such a situation, I fell to pieces. I did so because it was clear to me that I was surrounded by women of spirit, faith and belief who could strengthen me.

That’s the power of prayer; that’s the power of a minyan, of a community. And that’s the meaning of this battle – a battle by women over the right to choose and the right to actualize their Judaism in their own way. These are basic rights that are trampled upon in Israel every day because of the benighted views of a community that has been educated to believe that the women who bore them aren’t equal.

By attacking Diaspora Jewry, Levy is indirectly supporting the preferential treatment given to ultra-Orthodox Jews in determining the arrangements at the Western Wall. This is a violent community which operates there thanks to the silence of the Western Wall rabbi and the security guards for whom he is responsible, even as he prevents the police from enforcing the law.

If Levy is right, and the Western Wall compromise isn’t important enough for anyone to protest its being frozen, then let’s ask whether women’s safety and their right to pray quietly is important enough, and we’ll immediately discover that women are under assault on every front, and that the Western Wall is just one of those fronts. Perhaps that front is seen as unimportant, but it’s searing proof that in religious wars, women are fair game. It’s true at the Western Wall, it’s true at the rabbinate and it’s also true at the cemetery.

Perhaps Levy is right to claim that Diaspora Jewry shouldn’t interfere in everything that happens here. But he, too, is afflicted by this same blindness, which mainly serves the ultra-Orthodox. To look at a complex issue like the Western Wall solely through the eyes of Diaspora Jewry, instead of relating to all the players on the board, is to miss the main point – that the game is rigged.

Dana Sharon is a member of the board of Women of the Wall.