"We Hear Us": Finding My Voice in Response to Sexism at the Western Wall
Since I've been growing up in a gender-inclusive school and going to a progressive temple, I don’t think I fully realized how prevalent sexism is within the Jewish community until I went on a school trip to Israel in 2019. That year, I visited the Western Wall with my classmates and stood at the foot of the wall with three of my friends.
After I was done praying and putting my note on the wall, my friends and I heard music and started walking toward it. As we approached, we noticed benches along the side of a mechitza wall. I turned to one of my friends and asked her why there were benches. I apparently spoke louder than I’d thought, because a woman around the age of 30 turned to us and said, “Come.” She moved her hands lightly to guide us to the benches, helped us stand on them, and pointed for us to look over while she stood on the ground.
My friends and I looked over the mechitza and saw the men’s section of the temple, and it was bigger, fuller, and louder. Initially, I thought this could be a cool method of integration, but then I looked down and saw that the men didn't have benches on their side to look over to the women—they didn’t observe our side’s activities. It felt like the women were the ones “missing out” on the fun that the men were having, and it felt belittling to be up on the bench and look onto the other side.
Anger started to rise in me as I realized how sexist it is that the benches are only one side. I was also annoyed that the other women and I weren’t allowed to join in on the fun of the men’s side. There, the men were dancing and glancing at us with sneers that said: "we are having a way better time than you.”
I turned and asked the woman, “Why don’t the men have benches to look over onto our side?” The woman helped my friends and me down, so we were again on the ground, and she bent down to our height. She looked at us with a smile on her face and said, “Let’s go dance.” I wanted to ask again, thinking that maybe she didn’t hear my question the first time. But right before I was able to, she turned and started to move through the crowd. We made our way to the back of the women's section, where women were dancing, clapping, smiling, and singing.
The woman turned to us and said, “Let’s show the men how it’s done.” My friends and I immediately joined her in song and dance. We danced for as long as we could and sang as loud as we could until it was finally time for us to leave.
When we met up with the other people from our school, we approached some of the guys who had been on the other side of the mechitza. We eagerly asked them if they'd heard us singing, and they looked at us and shook their heads. One asked if we were “even singing” and another simply said that they didn’t hear us.
At that moment, my friends and I looked at each other. We could tell that we were all in part upset by the sudden fading of our smiles and laughter as we looked at each other. We wanted so badly to show the men that the woman’s side is just as fun if not more.
As we all stood there wondering if we were heard by anyone, one of my friends said: “We showed them how it’s done. It doesn't matter that they couldn’t hear us, because we heard us.”
That statement shapes how I see the world today. I realized at that moment that no matter how hard I yell as a Jewish woman, my voice might not always be heard. On the other hand, if I yell at the same time as other members of my community, we might someday be loud enough to make an impact together.
Ever since then, I’ve tried to voice my opinions on relevant issues of sexism: the wage gap, mansplaining, biased teachers, and other everyday microaggressions. These are real problems that are too big to tackle alone, and they affect all women in different ways. I need help as I continue on my activist mission, and so does everyone else working to resolve these issues.
The woman who helped me onto the benches that day in Jerusalem helped me to begin to find my voice. With my fellow feminists by my side, I can’t wait to keep upping the volume, and continue to speak up—or sing—about my values.
This piece was written as part of JWA’s Rising Voices Fellowship.
How to cite this page
Lifsitz, Amelia. ""We Hear Us": Finding My Voice in Response to Sexism at the Western Wall." 3 January 2022. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on December 6, 2023) <https://jwa.org/blog/risingvoices/we-hear-us-finding-my-voice-response-sexism-western-wall>.