THE JEWISH FEDERATION’S ANNUAL WOMEN’S FORUM acknowledges women who make a difference in our community. Every synagogue, school and Jewish organization in the greater San Gabriel and Pomona Valleys is invited to select an honoree every year. The entire Jewish community comes together to celebrate those women and their work. This year they are having a special guest speaker, Cheryl Temkin, the North American liaison for Jerusalem-based Women of the Wall, who has spoken about the organization at numerous events over the past six years.
Women of the Wall is a social movement whose central mission is to attain social and legal recognition of the right, as women, to wear prayer shawls, pray, and read from the Torah, collectively and aloud, at the Western Wall. They work to further their mission through social advocacy, education and empowerment. In their social advocacy work, they aim to change the status-quo that is currently preventing women from being able to pray freely at the Western Wall. This goal has tremendous ramifications for women’s rights in Judaism and in Israel, and must be achieved through social advocacy in order to raise awareness and change social perception of these issues.
“My husband and I wanted to be part of a social transformation – one that gives rise to gender equality, religious pluralism and tolerance. Women of the Wall (WoW) is a perfect fit for me; I am passionate about WoW’s work and goals. I am proud to be connected to a community of like-minded people who treasure our country and want the best for the future of the Jewish homeland and Jewish peoplehood,” Nechama Namal, Director of Resource Development, WoW.
WoW educates Jewish women and the public about the social, political and personal ramifications of limiting or eliminating women’s right to pray as a group at a holy site. When the law and society silence women in prayer – literally, publicly and deliberately – it is a violation of civil rights, human rights and religious freedom. Education is the key to changing perspectives, laws and lives.
I had the enormous fortune of speaking with Cheryl about what to expect from her at the Women’s Forum in March. I started out by saying it seems timely that this is happening in today’s world as I feel women need equal rights and empowerment now more than ever. But then I backtracked and realized I’m sure women who were burning their bras with Gloria Steinem were saying the same thing many years ago. We have certainly come a long way, but there is so much more ground to break.
“Right at the get go there was a lot of harassment and we were not well treated to say the least, it was very abusive. In my presentation I will show a video that illustrates what was happening at that time. The religious authority took power and there was a court ruling that women were not allowed to read from the Torah scroll and that is still the policy today. Women had to think up some very creative ways to smuggle in a Torah scroll –looking like a pregnant woman with it under their shirts, showing up the night before, putting it in a disabled person’s wheelchair. In 2009 things really started heating up as religious authority started to take on the policies of the city’s right-wing, ultra-Orthodox nature and that was the start of having arrests which started to frighten and discourage people from showing up.” Cheryl then recounts a story that played like a movie in my mind. She met and followed around an Israeli paratrooper for a year while at Hebrew Academy. Then, years later, she reconnected with him to ask him to film and broadcast the Women of the Wall as they went to pray at the Kotel. After two words, Anat Hoffman, Chair and Executive Director of the Israel Religious Action Center, was arrested and taken away in shackles, and they kept her in prison overnight.
“This opened a whole new world – from that moment on my life changed – how can this be? The footage marked a pivotal change for the WoW movement and drew recognition from the Israeli populace to witness what was happening at the time, and even today. We still maintain a strong alliance with the paratroopers who liberated the wall and they strongly support WoW. I feel like it’s such an important issue for me and I realized how vital Israel is and now this has become a part of the Jewish diaspora.”
To learn more about Cheryl Temkin go to http://cheryltemkin.net/index. and to purchase tickets and learn more about the Women’s Forum event in March please visit: https://www.jewishsgpv.org/
Tanya Schwied is a contributing writer for Jlife.