'Separate but equal' will work for Jewish women who want to pray at the Western Wall

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

Marco Werman: Here's a group in Israel that never shut down. The Woman Of the Wall. For years now they've been battling Israel’s Ultra Orthodox religious establishment to allow woman to pray at Judaisms Holy site, the Western Wall. The Women of the Wall are still active, but they did back down from their long standing demand to pray at a long section of the wall next to men. Instead the woman have agreed to hold their monthly prayer service at a spot away from the main section of the wall. Women of the Wall's Annette Hofmann joins me now. First of all Annette, remind us what Woman of The Wall is all about.

Annette Hofmann: We're a group of women from all denominations. We are reformed, conservative, orthodox, reconstructionist, and others, and we pray together every month. Celebrating the new month, and we have been doing it for 25 years together. And we are trying to pray together at the Western Wall. And the authorities that be, meaning Ultra Orthodox that have full jurisdiction over the wall, they do everything they can to stop us. Because as women they feel we would best be praying with our lips moving, and our mouths shut.

Werman: You've been spit on and jeered while reciting prayers. Don't you ever want to say enough is enough? We'll do our own thing?

Hofmann: Not at all. It's not just because of the attacks of the bullies at the wall that we have decided to change direction. It's not because we were arrested, and stripped searched, and handcuffed, and leg-cuffed, and been in jail with prostitutes and child abusers. Is what's happening now, is that we talked to everyone so far. Except for the people who can actually change reality, and now Prime Minister Netanyahu has begun a process of asking us to sit and negotiate how do we envision another plaza? A plaza that is next to the Western Wall. How do you envision it? Ask us the Prime Minister. And we have a choice. Either to continue to be activist that are very idealistic, very pure, and very few, or to take the enormous support that we have received all over the Jewish World, and sit at the table, and make a shift from activist to negotiators.

Werman: So what is that vision Annette? What are your demands, or what is the most important demand you want met?

Hofmann: The demand is first of all equality. That the new plaza that will be next to the other plaza will be equal in it's budgets, in its signage, in everything. That there will one entrance. That it will be open 24 hours seven days a week. There will be no reservations needed. It will be not for pay. That is will be a place that we run. We call the shots. Is that how Americans say?

Werman: Yes.

Hofmann: We call the shots. We will encourage people to celebrate together, and we will try to have a very welcoming atmosphere. Israel has a huge challenge as a Jewish state. To be the big supermarket of Jewish experiences. To be the Disneyland of the Jews. The Club Med for the Jewish Soul, and right now we have one product on the self. So we are changing a face. You know, I used to be Israels swimming champion.

Werman: Swimming champion?

Hofmann: And I used to swim individual medley, and as you know after you do the first day a 100 butterflies. You move to backstroke. That's what Woman of The Wall are doing. We are now changing to a new stroke. We're now going to negotiate with the big guys, with the Prime Minister, with the whole Jewish World behind us, and we will say that we deserve a place at the Wall. And together with us everybody else, and I envision yes a batmitzvah at the wall. You know there's never been a batmitzvah at the wall. A 100,000 batmitzvah a year, and not one batmitzvah ever.

Werman: And you're out to change that. Woman of The Wall's Annette Hofmann, thanks so much. Good to speak with you.

Hofmann: You're welcome. Bye.

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