Walking in the Footsteps of my Father

5 Nov

By Rabbi Judy Schindler

It was in March last year that I learned of Women of the Wall’s 25th Anniversary. I felt compelled to plan a trip. I and my congregants (and even my sister who joined us from NY) wanted to stand in support and celebrate with our Israelis sisters.

It was in May that I learned that I was not alone. Rabbi Kedar and Cantor Frost were bringing a group from Chicago. Rabbi Robbins was bringing a group from Dallas. Week by week other clergy and other delegations would join in: Miami, Oakland, Los Angeles, Westchester, and Connecticut.

It was in August that I learned that the Central Conference of American Rabbis and Women’s Rabbinic Network would be joining us with delegations.

Yet it wasn’t until two weeks ago that I first learned of the story of my dad’s connection to the Kotel and to this issue of pluralism which drew us all here. The way Anat Hoffman told it to me last night, it was April 14, 1968, that 2,000 Reform Jews gathered in Jerusalem for an International Conference. My father, Rabbi Alexander Schindler, zichrono livrachah, was there and organized a mass thanksgiving prayer service in celebration of our reclaiming the Western Wall. A 2001 Jerusalem Post article reported in the name of Rabbi Nava Hefetz, “Schindler planned to have men and women sit together during the services. A group of ultra- Orthodox rabbis had posted themselves as the Kotel’s guardians – to this day, it remains unclear who appointed them and under what authority they were acting – complained to the then Prime Minister, Levi Eshkol, a secular Jew, who capitulated to their demands and put up a mechitzah. My father complained to Eshkol who is reported to have responded, “When half a million Reform Jews make aliyah, then you can have mixed seating at the Kotel.”

While we do not know how many Reform Jews have made aliyah since that day 45 years ago, we do know that in a most recent Israel Democracy Index for 2013, 7.1 percent of Jews identified themselves as Reform or Conservative Jews. With 110 Reform and Conservative synagogues in Israel, we are steadily growing. We are almost half a million strong and so we are here to say with our actions, prayers and advocacy that the time has come to make good on that promise.

The time has come for mixed prayer at the Kotel.

The time has come for women’s communal prayer at the Wall, not just one hour a month, but whenever women are moved to pray.

The time has come for Torahs to be read by women at the Wall and for our daughters and granddaughters to become B’nei Mitzvah at the Wall.

Most of all, in reflecting the diversity of Israelis and Diaspora Jewry, the time has come for choice at the Wall.

Yesterday we lifted our voices in prayer and song. Today, tomorrow, and beyond we lift our voices in advocacy and action. Forty five years ago our mothers and fathers yearned to pray together at the Wall in gratitude for the reunification of Jerusalem. In the spirit of dreams of this week’s Parashat Vayeitzei , may our dreams of a Wall for all Jews with men’s prayer, with women’s prayer, and with mixed prayer be fulfilled. Now is the time.

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2 Responses to “Walking in the Footsteps of my Father”

  1. rabbiadar November 6, 2013 at 2:18 am #

    Thank you so much for sharing that story! Your father was a man way ahead of his time in so many ways.

  2. Emery Szabo January 26, 2014 at 5:02 pm #

    A fine article!
    It is well known that Rabbi Alexander Schindler was a pioneer activists for the advancement of Reform Jewdaisms, and by “walking in his Footsteps” to carry further his legacy, I hope you will receive due acknowledgement for your effort.

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