'We are not afraid of turning kids off Israel by exposing them to the complexity of what life is really like there'

US teens win contest to pray with Women of the Wall

Feminist group Moving Traditions sends trio to celebrate new Hebrew month at Wall and see ‘whole spectrum’ of gender issues in Holy Land

Renee Ghert-Zand is a reporter and feature writer for The Times of Israel.

Members of Women of the Wall perform their monthly Rosh Hodesh prayers at the Western Wall, on December 4, 2013. (photo credit: Hadas Parush/FLASH90)
Members of Women of the Wall perform their monthly Rosh Hodesh prayers at the Western Wall, on December 4, 2013. (photo credit: Hadas Parush/FLASH90)

There will be three new faces among the members and supporters of Women of the Wall as they celebrate the new Hebrew month, Rosh Hodesh Shevat, at the Western Wall on January 2. Lucy Sattler, Alexandra Schwartz and Eliza Moss-Horwitz are winners of a contest for Jewish teens sponsored by Moving Traditions, a Philadelphia-based organization advocating for a more expansive view of gender in Jewish learning and practice.

The contest, called “One Moon, One Wall, One People,” was launched last May. It challenged the 4,000 members of Moving Traditions’ Rosh Hodesh: It’s a Girl Thing! and Shevet Achim: The Brotherhood groups all over North America to speak out creatively in support of Women of the Wall. In the first stage of the competition, the teens had to come up with a clever tweeted slogan supporting the organization and its mission.

Twenty finalists chosen from among 151 tweeters were asked to tape one-minute videos of themselves making the case for why the Western Wall should be a place where all Jewish men and women – Orthodox, Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist, or Independent – should be allowed to pray in full freedom.

Sattler, Schwartz and Moss-Horwitz’s messages were outstanding, winning the teens free trips to Israel for them and one of their parents. In addition to joining Women of the Wall for the Rosh Hodesh service, they will also meet with chairwoman Anat Hoffman and the rest the group’s leadership at a lunch afterwards.

“Many of us have celebrated Rosh Hodesh with Women of the Wall, or have tracked their struggle over the years, and it has made us enraged, saddened, and hopeful,” Moving Traditions executive director Deborah Meyer tells The Times of Israel.

“I was talking to one of our board members, and we cooked up this campaign to bring the issue to the attention of the teens in our programs,” she says.

‘You can love a country and still be concerned about what is happening in it’

“It’s part of our agenda to expose kids to a whole spectrum of gender issues in religious and secular life, and also to give them a forum to connect with and contribute to Israel,” Meyer continues. “We are not afraid of turning kids off Israel by exposing them to the complexity of what life is really like there. You can love a country and still be concerned about what is happening in it.”

The Times of Israel caught up with the three winners either en route to Israel or shortly after they arrived, to learn a bit more about them and find out what winning the “One Moon, One Wall, One People” contest means to them.

Lucy Sattler, 15, from Evanston, Illinois

“This is my first time going to Israel,” says Sattler while on a layover at the Philadelphia airport. She was traveling with her mother from their home in Evanston, Illinois, where Sattler, 15, is a sophomore at a public high school.

Lucy Sattler (Courtesy of Moving Traditions)
Lucy Sattler (Courtesy of Moving Traditions)

Sattler wowed the judges with her video in which she read a poem she wrote that makes the case for gender equality at the Wall. In it she asks,

To be arrested, taken out of sight

For only praying as a Jew

Is this what God has taught us to do?

More of a math and science person (she thinks she might become a bio-medical engineer or a pediatrician), Sattler surprised herself a bit by writing a poem.

“It came all in one sitting, in a flash, as I was sitting on my bed with a notebook in front of me,” she recalls. “I wrote it and then read it to my family. They gave me some input, and then I recorded myself reading it.”

Sattler, who is also a ballet and jazz dancer, helps out with the younger children at her synagogue. She read her poem to the first graders.

“They were very responsive. They were all pretty flabbergasted to hear that women are being told they can’t do something that others do,” she reports.

A member of her school’s tennis team, she changed the “Proud to play like a girl” slogan on her team t-shirt to “Proud to pray like a girl” for her contest tweet.

Although she will only be in Israel for five days, Sattler says, “I know it will be something really special. I will connect with my inner Jewish self.”

The gender equality issue is very personal for her, as she has many Orthodox cousins. “I love them all, but I don’t always agree with them,” she says.

Sattler believes she is committed to the gender equality cause for the long haul.

“It is definitely something I want to carry on with in life,” she says. “It’s a problem that won’t go away unless we do something about it.”

Alexandra Schwartz, 13, from Stamford, Connecticut

Thirteen-year-old Schwartz arrived in Israel from Stamford, Connecticut for a 10-day trip with her parents, younger brother and grandmother.

Alexandra Schwartz (Courtesy of Moving Traditions)
Alexandra Schwartz (Courtesy of Moving Traditions)

“It’s really a nice place. It’s better than I expected,” she says on her first visit to the country.

Schwartz initially heard about Women of the Wall when her mother informed her of the contest sponsored by Moving Traditions.

“For me, the key issue is that everybody should have a choice,” she explains.

An eighth grade student at a private school, Schwartz has many hobbies, including drawing and reading. She plays piano and has been studying karate for seven years. A big animal lover, she has three pets: a frog, a parakeet and a corn snake.

“I haven’t convinced my parents yet to allow me to have a dog and cat,” she says.

Schwartz’s “Eq-wall-ity” tweet caught the contest judges’ attention, as did her heartfelt statements in her video. In it, she speaks about how, as a Reform Jew, she takes praying alongside her father and brother, for granted. She also quotes the Indian proverb, “Women hold up half the sky.”

Schwartz says she isn’t sure yet if she will continue fighting for gender equality. But she does say with confidence in her video that, “[Men and women] praying alongside each other should not be a threat, on the contrary, it enhances Judaism.”

Eliza Moss-Horwitz, 16, from Northampton, Massachusetts

“I am really excited to be back,” says 16-year-old Moss-Horwitz, who previously visited Israel for two weeks with her family following her bat mitzvah.

While praying and meeting with the Women of the Wall will be the highlight of this trip, Moss-Horwitz and her mother are also using their 10 days in the country to meet with progressive organizations dealing with Palestinian-Israeli issues.

Eliza Moss-Horwitz (Courtesy of Moving Traditions)
Eliza Moss-Horwitz (Courtesy of Moving Traditions)

Moss-Horwitz, who has developed a strong interest in Middle Eastern studies, is studying Arabic and can see herself coming back to Israel for a longer period of time.

“I’m interested in languages and women’s studies, and especially international studies,” she says. “I’m from a small, little town. There’s a lot more for me to learn about the world.”

An 11th grader at a public high school in Northampton, Massachusetts, Moss-Horwitz attended a Solomon Schechter day school when she was younger. She participates in theater productions and runs cross-country.

“I always want to do everything,” she says.

Moss-Horwitz remembered from her first visit to Israel that women and men were separated at the Kotel, but she was not aware of Women of the Wall until she got an email notifying her of the contest.

“I’m interested in Israel and I’m interested in gender equality, so that really sparked my interest and I started doing research,” she says.

It’s clear from what she says in her video that she did her homework.

“…All over the world women are being raped, hypersexualized, denied access to education and the right to vote, which has led to the complete marginalization of women. This treatment is based on the absurd notion that women and men should not be equal,” she says.

“The Western Wall is not just for men, we are all connected to Judaism and prayer at this famous landmark. But how can women feel free to connect with their Judaism when they are being treated unlawfully and subjugated? We all deserve an equal chance to pray freely, regardless of gender.”

Moss-Horwitz is looking forward to meeting the Women of the Wall.

“I admire all of them for being really brave,” she says.

She plans on asking Hoffman and the others about what they think will happen with Women of the Wall, the Kotel and women’s status in Israel.

Most of all, she wants to ask, “How does it feel to withstand the opposition and keep going?”

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