Proud to Pray Like a Girl

[15-year old Lucy Sattler participates in Moving Traditions’ program Rosh Hodesh: It’s a Girl Thing! at Beth Emet: The Free Synagogue in Evanston, IL. She is the winner of Moving Traditions’ contest, One Moon, One Wall, One People.]

Moving Traditions One Wallby Lucy Sattler

I am honored to have been chosen by Moving Traditions to represent the 4,000 teens participating in the organization’s programs by celebrating Rosh Hodesh Shevat services at the Kotel this Thursday, January 2, 2014. I’m not sure what the experience will be like because, believe it or not, the service will be controversial.

The Kotel is a sacred, holy site for every Jew. Now there is a significant movement to help women obtain the same access to the Kotel as men. Today women are not allowed to pray from the torah at the Kotel, and some people in Israel protest – yelling and throwing things – when women wear talitot and pray out loud at the Kotel. Furthermore, the side for women is significantly smaller than that for men. Why is this, you may ask. The answer is not simple.

I am a young woman. All my life, I have never been held back or felt “less than.” I have had opportunities equal to boys, both in the synagogue and out. I have always been told that if I put my mind to something it can be achieved. And for my entire life, I have taken this for granted. Until now. Until I was introduced to the fantastic Moving Traditions organization, I had not realized that there were young women just like me being denied their rights simply to be Jews! I asked, why is this?

Here is what I have learned from my research: some Jews believe that “women don’t need tallit because their connection with G-d is so great.” Also, “the prayers of women would interrupt those of the men.” While I respect people’s right to practice Judaism in their own way, I am left feeling that something is not correct.

After much hard work, women were finally granted the right to sing and wear a tallit at the Western Wall, although not everyone has come to terms with this. Violence has erupted, pulling us apart as Jewish people. To the ones interrupting and wreaking havoc, I address the following to you.

If women don’t need to sing or wear a tallit because their connection with G-d is so strong, then why would it be so bad if they did? It wouldn’t hurt, would it? I’m not saying that every woman has to wear a tallit. But for the women who would like to be closer in this way with G-d, they should be able to. The same is true for raising your voice in prayer. Some women can still choose to pray silently, while others may pray aloud, just as the men do. The women who are fighting for this equality are not trying to change the minds or ways of men and women who honor the old traditions. They simply seek to allow women to have the ability to pray as men do, if they choose to do so, because G-d loves all people the same regardless of gender and welcomes prayers equally.

Next, is the controversial topic of women diminishing the prayers of men. This is foolishness. Why should the prayers of men be any more significant than the prayers of women? Women are G-d’s children too! In fact, G-d made women the sacred bearers of his children! It makes no sense that we worry about how this would affect the men’s prayer. In fact, why don’t we ever take into account the prayer of women? All of these questions I have asked are delicate, but they need to be addressed. People need to respect the beliefs of the overwhelming majority of the Jewish world … men and women are equal!

Finally, we reach the problem of women not currently having the right to read the torah at the Western Wall. As a Jew, this confuses me. If the goal of prayer is to worship G-d, it is then counterproductive to prohibit people from doing so. People are missing the whole point! When you look at the big picture, it becomes evident that it is silly not to let women show their devotion to G-d by reading the torah.

Like many girls throughout the country, I am part of Moving Traditions’ great program, Rosh Hodesh: It’s a Girl Thing for Jewish girls in middle and high school, where we discuss important topics. Rosh Hodesh taught me a number of things about being a Jewish woman. However, my favorite (and coincidentally most relevant!) lesson is about knowing I deserve the same as anybody else. We learned that no matter where you go, your value does not change, especially at the most holy of places. The Kotel should not be any different.

Whether you are a woman or a man, the equality of women applies to you. These are your sisters, your aunts, your mothers…. It doesn’t matter if you live in Israel or not. The holy Kotel is sacred to all Jews, regardless of where you are today. Additionally, as Jews, we know what is like to struggle. Why would we make people of our own religion feel this way? In conclusion, the main idea of our entire religion is to honor and pray to G-d. To respect G-d and fully be Jews, everyone should be able to pray without restrictions.

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Moving Traditions, a national organization that advocates for a more expansive view of gender in Jewish learning and practice, is sending three teens to Israel, where they will celebrate the Rosh Hodesh holiday with Women of the Wall in Jerusalem on January 2, 2014.

Inspired by Women of the Wall, Moving Traditions sponsored the “One Moon, One Wall, One People” contest. In the first round of the contest, Jewish teen girls and boys who participate in Moving Traditions’ programs showed their support for gender equality at the Western Wall through a creative tweet-sized slogan. Of those, 20 semi-finalists were selected to submit personal videos about women’s rights to pray at the holy site. Impressed by the passion expressed in the videos, the judges selected three exceptional winners to send on a free trip to Israel, each to be accompanied by one parent. The three teens who won the contest are among the 3,000 girls who participate in Moving Traditions’ flagship program for middle and high school girls, Rosh Hodesh: It’s a Girl Thing! Almost 1,000 boys participate in Shevet Achim: The Brotherhood, Moving Traditions’ new program for teenage boys.

The three young women selected to represent Moving Traditions in Israel are Eliza Moss-Horwitz, 16, from Congregation B’nai Israel, Florence, MA; Lucy Sattler, 15 from Beth Emet The Free Synagogue Evanston, IL; and Alexandra Schwartz, 13, from Temple Sinai Stamford, CT. On January 2, 2014 the winners will join Sally Gottesman, Board Chair and Deborah Meyer, Executive Director of Moving Traditions at the Western Wall to participate in Rosh Hodesh prayers with Women of the Wall.