A Visit to the Western Wall during Passover
Last Friday morning, my group, Women of the Wall, held a prayer service at the Western Wall.
As we arrived and walked into the prayer area—passing the male security guard who sat at the entrance—I noticed that the women’s section had been expanded slightly. The metal divider, which is partially open here, is the one that is in place all year round. The divider covered with white sheets is the new divider, which was put in place for the holiday.
The prayer service was great—pleasant, quiet, completely uneventful, the way a prayer service ought to be. Some of the women present wore tallitot (prayer shawls) and nobody noticed—or, if anyone noticed, they didn’t say so. There were no disturbances at all, and the peace and quiet were wonderful.
I took this photo right before Hallel. Afterward, the group proceeded to Robinson’s Arch for the Torah reading. (I didn’t go because I had to leave early.)
In my opinion, Friday morning’s service was yet more proof, as if we needed any, that Women of the Wall constitutes no disturbance of the peace or threat to public order at all. The threat and disturbance come exclusively from those who come to the Western Wall deliberately to make trouble and engage in violent behavior. I suppose that the troublemakers were on vacation last Friday morning, which was just fine with us.
Since my friend D. had to leave early, too, we left together. On the way out, she called my attention to the dividers that had been placed behind the prayer area, in the plaza itself. “I think I know what’s happening here,” she told me. “There’s probably a plan to make this entire plaza separate, with men entering from one side of the plaza and women from the other.”
I reflected that this wouldn’t be practical at all for families who wanted to visit the Western Wall. They’d have to split up well before they got there, with one gender going around to the parking area and the other coming down from the direction of the Arab market. This would make visits to the Western Wall practically impossible for families with small children or elderly relatives. But when have considerations of practicality, or even common decency, stopped people or groups who were hungry for power and control?
At any rate, here are the dividers in the plaza, behind the prayer area, complete with signs above them ordering men to one side and women to the other:
That wasn’t all, though. Before we left the plaza, I decided to head for the restroom. As I began to walk toward the stone buildings at the other end of the plaza where the restrooms for both men and women are located, D. stopped me. “They’ve moved the women’s restrooms,” she said, drawing my attention to the sign above the doorway where they usually were.
The sign reads: “Women’s restrooms in the parking area.”
So I turned back and headed toward the new, improvised restrooms. My friend said, “They’re probably messy and smelly.” I said, “They probably will be later in the day, but right now it’s still early. I’ll chance it.”
Of course, I also wanted to blog about them and post pictures. Here they are.
The improvised women’s restrooms, from the outside:
The signs seem pretty stern, saying: “Restrooms for women only.” My friend and I had to laugh. Why was it necessary to add the word “only”? As if the restrooms were unisex the rest of the year!
Inside the small improvised restroom compound:
The sinks up close:
Note that there is no soap, nor are there paper towels, as there are in the proper restrooms on the other side of the plaza.
So this is it: no soap, paper towels, hand-drying machines, counters, or changing tables. Because everyone knows that ritual washing cups are sufficient for proper sanitation, and mothers can change their babies on the stone floor.
Seriously: if it was so important to separate the restrooms by an entire plaza, then why couldn’t this improvised compound be for the men, and the women be allowed to keep the proper indoor restrooms? It would seem that in certain communities, chivalry is not only dead, but evidently never existed in the first place.
Here’s the exit, same as the entrance:
I was so happy with our quiet and uneventful prayer service... but so disheartened to see these additional changes in the Western Wall plaza. This does not bode well.
Whose idea was it? And who gave permission?