And the women dancing with their timbrels followed Miriam as she sang her song. Even in Judaism’s very distant past, women have played a critical part in making the spiritual experience livelier and more meaningful. This week, an important decision by the Israeli cabinet made it so that spark, that massive contribution, could be brought to Judaism’s Holiest Site. On a literal level, the government decided to create a third egalitarian prayer space at the Western Wall in addition to the separate men and women’s sections, creating the Kotel’s first gender inclusive, non-binary space. Symbolically, though, the decision could pose a paradigm shift for Israeli politics, breaking ground for pluralism in a Jewish state with religious policy currently set by a dogmatic elite. Then again, the new prayer could have no ripple effect; the Original Women of the Wall, a splinter group of the primary activists involved in this process, cited that the Kotel can not be an open egalitarian space if the whole area remains under Orthodox rather than egalitarian management.
Pluralistic communities, though, are non-exclusionary by nature. Perhaps one of the most frustrating aspects of Israeli society is that a shift in policy around religious issues would not impede the Orthodox way of life, yet literalist and hyper-observant, hyper-traditional interpretation of Jewish law via the Israeli government significantly impacts Jewish secular life in Israel. From marriage to the rabbinate to school curriculum, Israeli policy creates an environment where only strict Orthodoxy can survive. When I envision an ideal Israel, one that establishes balance between a Jewish and democratic state, I imagine a country that protects Jewish law and custom while remaining open to the traditions of all Jews and all peoples. It would be a society in which the courts protect not only religious life but also religious freedom.
Moving forward from this symbolic moment, Jews from around the world must continue to put pressure on a government caught between democracy and theocracy. The Women of the Wall cited the pressure that American Jews and other large Jewish populations put on the Israeli government as a primary factor in the policy change. Bearing this result in mind, we need to resolve to enhance the pluralistic character of the Israeli state; it will require more than a village to move through the seas to freedom. For every Jew – Reform, Conservative, Orthodox, Reconstructionist, or secular, every Arab, every Bedouin, every African refugee, and every person who lives in Israel (and Palestine), we must organize to reach that brighter moment of tolerance and of true protect of Jewish and all human rights. Being a chosen people means using our privileges to bring reparation to a broken world not perpetuate its unequal character. Only then can we gather our instruments along the Red Sea and rejoice as Miriam once did.