Religion & Beliefs

Blogging Birthright: Day 3, or Judaism Vs. Feminism at the Western Wall

In Europe you see 500 year-old shit. In Israel you see 2,000 year-old shit. Today we’re at such a spot: The Western Wall in Jerusalem. Our tour guide Offer calls it the place “closest to God on Earth” and “the … Read More

By / February 1, 2008

In Europe you see 500 year-old shit. In Israel you see 2,000 year-old shit. Today we’re at such a spot: The Western Wall in Jerusalem. Our tour guide Offer calls it the place “closest to God on Earth” and “the holy of holies.” We visit the Southern Wall first, probably because it’s less crowded and allows us to have time to hold hands and sing, which Offer has us do while ascending the steps to the Southern Wall. I don’t sing because I don’t know these prayers, melodies, or any Hebrew. And I don’t even pretend or try to participate because I don’t see the point. So when prayers and singing happen, which are all in Hebrew, I zone out. After we touch the Southern Wall, we write notes to put in the Western Wall. Offer tells us it should be our greatest wish in life. Now I don’t believe this is going to affect my life but I figure it can’t hurt so I jot something down. It goes something like: Dear Wall: My greatest wish is to be as happy as possible. I hope you’re feeling well with all these people feeling you up all day. Best, Amy Yes, it’s business-like, but that’s what comes out without me thinking about it. I don’t believe in God and don’t know the wall personally so a colon seems most appropriate. I do, finally, have one surreal moment standing at the Southern Wall. (The way people talk about Israel you expect to have surreal moments all day long, but this hasn’t been the case for me.) My surreal moment occurs while hearing the Muslim prayer call, which originates from somewhere right above our heads and echoes over the whole city. I’ve never heard anything like it, and it seems so mystically appropriate to my surroundings. Finally I feel like I’m in a very foreign land, standing on a 2,000 year old fortress (or at least, the reconstructed version of it).
Offer explains the story behind the wall so nicely that I don’t even mind that I have to listen to it while standing in the rain all day. I hardly even mind that it’s biblical rather than historical, and am even thinking the pointless exercise of sticking my stupid note in the wall will be kind of fun. My note is neatly folded in my hand as I approach the Holy of Holies, and suddenly I realize I’m up against a partition. Men are on the other side. Division of the sexes always pisses me off, but noticing how much larger the men’s side is infuriates me. I immediately exit to get a better view of this appalling relic of sexism. With my view of both sides, I easily see that the men enjoy about four times as much wall as the women. They can spread out comfortably. Little boys chase pigeons in big circles and kick shit around on the ground. Meanwhile, the women huddle seven deep against their wall section. They have no room to run. No gleeful children are visible. All the other women in my group are fine with this. “That’s how it is,” they all agree. Right, that’s how it is. But it’s like that because y’all don’t give a shit, which is really sad and you should feel sorry for yourselves, I think. Religion is no excuse for sexism. This is 2008. Get with it. When everyone finishes praying, or whatever it is you do at the wall, I ask Offer about the partition. He explains that men have more space because they daven three times a week—way more than women. I ask why. He says that women are supposed to be home doing other things. They don’t need to daven because they are considered to be innately pure. Men need to make themselves pure, so they need to pray more. OK. But why shouldn’t there be equal space? Aren’t most visitors to the wall tourists, anyway? If the men really needed the extra space, wouldn’t the women’s side be comparable in crowdedness rather than looking like a refugee camp? No, these answers are not satisfying. They are bullshit.

I am more of a feminist than a Jew and refuse to approach the wall.

Previously: Day 2, or Is This Really My Homeland?

Next up: Day 4, Falling in Love with Israel at Masada