Women of the Wall have been fighting a 25-year long battle "to achieve the social and legal recognition of our right, as women, to wear prayer shawls, pray and read from the Torah collectively and out loud at the Western Wall."
For the first time since their inception in 1988, the women's prayer group will be holding a Selichot service at the Western Wall, which is unrelated to their regular Rosh Hodesh gathering at the start of each month. Selichot are the penitential prayers and liturgy recited each night beginning in the month of Elul and continuing until the High Holy Days, and Women of the Wall will be holding a nighttime gathering on September 1.
Shira Pruce, director of public relations for Women of the Wall, told the Huffington Post about the decision to hold the Selichot service, explaining, "It felt very appropriate because this is the time of year where we take stock. Jews of every denomination take stock of the past year and reflect on successes and mistakes. We think about how we can be better, kinder, people, and leave the world a better place."
Women of the Wall achieved an important milestone in April when a District Court ruled that women were not banned from praying at the Kotel, and on May 10 hundreds of women prayed freely at the Western Wall, many with tallitot and tefillin with police protection from the thousands of ultra-Orthodox men and women protesting their worship.
However, Pruce hasn't heard anything in terms of backlash against the planned service on September 1st. "We aren't taking any measures," she said to the Huffington Post. "This is a time of year when thousands of people gather at the Western Wall to pray, and I don't see why Women of the Wall should be considered any differently. Maybe this will be an opportunity to show that we don't need police protection and that we can all pray peacefully as Jews."
Pruce told Haaretz that they decided to hold the Selichot services in response to popular demand. “Our core group has grown in recent months from about 50 participants to 200,” she commented. “The women love being involved and meeting at the Kotel, so they’ve asked to start meeting more.”
Another reason behind the decision is the upcoming Rosh Hashanah, which falls on the first day of the month when Women of the Wall usually has Rosh Hodesh services and is a holiday during which the group does not usually meet. By having Selichot prayers they will be able to "meet together as a group at the Kotel to look back on the year that has passed and look forward and pray for the future," Pruce said, though she also indicated that the service shouldn't be seen as a sign that the group will be increasing the frequency of their meetings at the Wall.
Despite the recent legal victory, Women of the Wall are still having difficulty praying in the women's prayer section of the Kotel, as thousands of young seminary girls have shown up early to fill up the space, heeding the calls of their Orthodox rabbinical leaders. Pruce explained to the Huffington Post that this is due to the inadequacy of the women's prayer area itself rather than any conflict between the seminary girls and the Women of the Wall. On the contrary, Women of the Wall are delighted to see the fulfillment of their original vision -- to have more women praying at the Wall, regardless of their denomination.
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