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Sasha's Bat Mitzvah: A First at the Western Wall

Sasha's Bat Mitzvah: A First at the Western Wall

Last Friday, Women of the Wall outsmarted the Western Wall's gatekeepers when we managed to bring in a tiny Torah scroll to celebrate the first bat mitzvah at the Kotel in modern Jewish history. This operation came in the wake of a Women of the Wall campaign featured on buses in Jerusalem, encouraging girls in Israel to have a bat mitzvah ceremony at the Western Wall.

Buses featuring the ads had their tires slashed and more than half of the signs were vandalized. Yet 100 girls have already dialed the hotline and asked to have their bat mitzvah at the Western Wall. These girls are proof that when given a choice, Israelis will choose outside the strict Orthodox menu. When given a choice, these girls want to have the same opportunities as their brothers.

Studies show that less than 5% of Israeli girls have a bat mitzvah with any religious content. The Reform Movement in Israel is trying to change this reality and revolutionize bat mitzvah ceremonies for Israeli girls through its congregations and special mother/daughter groups. Each girl celebrating a meaningful religious bat mitzvah in Israel creates a ripple effect that sets an example for many more girls. Now imagine the effect of even one bat mitzvah ceremony at the Kotel.

For me, the first bat mitzvah at the Western Wall is another milestone on the long road of reclaiming public space for women in Israel. I see a direct line from the Western Wall to desegregating buses, and to bringing women back on the air. The discrimination of women in any public space is unnacceptable.

The Kotel is only the beginning. We will bring the flavor of choice to marriage and divorce, to cemeteries and burial, to kashrut, and to every other facet of religious life in Israel. Do you remember entering your first ice cream parlor? Once you get used to flavors you just can't go back to plain chocolate and vanilla.

Anat Hoffman is the executive director of the Israel Religious Action Center, the public and legal advocacy arm of the Reform Jewish Movement in Israel. She is also the chairwoman of Women of the Wall, a group of Jewish women and men from around the world who strive to achieve the right of women to wear prayer shawls, pray, and read from the Torah collectively and out loud at the Western Wall in Jerusalem.

Anat Hoffman
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