The three American Jewish teens who won a contest to join the Women of the Wall at the Kotel Thursday say they will never forget the experience.
Eliza Moss-Horwitz, Lucy Sattler and Alexandra Schwartz were brought to Israel by Moving Traditions, a Philadelphia-based organization advocating for a more expansive view of gender in Jewish learning and practice.
The trio joined 200 members and supporters at the Women of the Wall’s Rosh Hodesh service January 2 marking the beginning of the Hebrew month of Shevat.
The service took place with little disturbance. However, the women were denied permission to enter the Western Wall plaza with a Torah scroll.
“It was one of the most incredible days of my life,” said Moss-Horwitz, 16, of Northampton, Massachusetts. “In school we talk about people making change, but here I was actually seeing people making change.”
“It was empowering to see all these women fighting together for something so significant and relevant,” said 15-year-old Sattler, who was in Israel for a five-day visit from Evanston, Illinois.
Sattler was frustrated to see that the Women of the Wall were prohibited from bringing a Torah to the Kotel area for use during their Rosh Hodesh service.
“We read from the Siddur this time, but I was encouraged by women who told me they would keep pushing the envelope, and that maybe next time they would be able to read from a Sefer Torah,” said Sattler.
Moss-Horwitz was moved to see one of the women holding the Torah scroll on the other side of the security entrance, while the rest of the group prayed. “It was a peaceful, yet powerful protest,” she reflected.
Sattler recalled that one of her favorite moments was when she and the other two teenss walked up to join the prayer group and were greeted warmly by all the women. The women held a tallit over the girls’ heads and recited a blessing.
“They knew who we were and they were so kind and generous toward us,” she said.
Moss-Horwitz observed some Orthodox teenage girls standing in front of the Women of the Wall group, giggling and trying to disrupt the service. She said one spoke sarcastically to her mother, who was accompanying her, and another whispered an insult to Sattler.
“We were warned that stuff like this could happen, but it was still kind of shocking,” she said.
Following the service, the teens spent time speaking with Women of the Wall chairwoman Anat Hoffman and other leaders at the home of Lesley Sachs, the group’s director. The youth observed the leaders as they debriefed the morning’s events and strategized for the following month. They also sat with Moving Traditions executive director Deborah Meyer and wrote personal reflections on their experience that morning.
“Praying at the Kotel with Women of the Wall reminded me why I love to be Jewish,” said Sattler. “Being Jewish is about values, about joining together to stand up for something important,” she said.
“I’m going to come back and do this again. In fact, I wish I could come back every month,” said Sattler.