Women of the Wall is a Jewish organization seeking gender equality at the Western Wall that leads monthly Rosh Hodesh services for the new Jewish month in which women read from the Torah and lead prayers at the Western Wall. The group is currently nearing a compromise deal with the Israeli government that will ensure an egalitarian space in the plaza at the Kotel. Because of her involvement in the issue last year, we asked Year Course 2012-2013 alumna Frances Lasday to write some reflections on her experience engaging in the issues of egalitarian Judaism and pluralism. We encourage you to write your own comments and thoughts in response as Young Judaea is a movement that encourages dialogue, discussion, and even disagreement. How do you define pluralism? What is your ideal solution to this issue?
I grew up in Young Judaea surrounded by different political opinions, ideas about Israel, and religious practices. Through that lens I learned, along with my peers, to struggle with pluralism. To me this is what it means to be a part of a diverse Jewish community – fostering and discussing difference, not simply tolerating it silently. Last year while I participated on Young Judaea Year Course, I began to explore this issue through my interest in Women of the Wall and participated in their Rosh Hodesh services.
To me, Jewish religious pluralism means living in a more tolerant society. If we spend time appreciating and accepting, and legitimizing our differences within our own community, we will not only grow stronger as a group, but we will become more empathetic to others outside of our own communities. A part of being human is being afraid of the unknown, but if we learn to accept differences within ourselves, we are far more likely to accept people who are seemingly more different. Pluralism also means attempting to create compromise, and forces us to encounter things that make us uncomfortable.
I think that it is a common misconception that pluralism is the attempt to make everybody happy. This is simply not possible, we are too varied and too many, and as the saying goes – when there are two Jews, there are three opinions. However, it is through the struggle and the attempt to reach compromise that we grow as people. After all, “Israel” means “to struggle with G-d,” and we, the people of Israel, cannot grow when we are not challenged. I wish mazal tov to the Women of the Wall and the Israeli government for coming close to an agreement, and I hope that over time we will continue to struggle, together, to create a stronger and more empathetic people so we can slowly but surely make the world a better place.