From Abigail to Anat

Tuesday, President Barack Obama was re-elected to lead our country for the next four years. As I watched the election returns come in I was fascinated by the exit poll data about how different ethnic and religious groups voted. But what I did not think about was that 53% of the electorate are women.

Now, why does that matter? Well, Monday was the 100th anniversary (November 5, 1912) of women in the State of Oregon gaining the right to vote. I read with great interest the article in The Oregonian about the 42-year fight and five previous ballot losses (more than any other state) before women’s rights activists succeeded in making Oregon the 7th state to pass such an amendment. The leader of the movement that started in 1870 was Abigail Scott Duniway, a journalist, novelist and passionate leader on women’s issues. Interestingly, her brother, Harvey Scott, was the editor of The Oregonian at the time, who opposed a woman’s right to vote. So, Abigail started a rival newspaper, The New Northwest, which was devoted to women’s rights, including the right for women to vote and to run for office.

You have to understand that for someone my age (43), and born following the civil rights movement in the 1960s, it is astonishing to me that not everyone has had the ability to vote in our country since its founding.

I am proud to share that the modern Jewish people were ahead of the curve on this issue. Following the success of the First Zionist Congress in 1897, Theodore Herzl convened the Second Zionist Congress in Basel, Switzerland the following year. Women were present at the first Congress, yet at the second Congress the women in attendance participated in the decision-making process through their own votes, and many were even elected delegates to the convention.

While women in America may enjoy the opportunity to vote as well as the other freedoms granted in our country, unfortunately, in other places women do not have full and equal rights. One difficult example, for many, is in Jerusalem at the Western Wall (Kotel).

On October 16, Anat Hoffman, leader of the Israel Reform Action Center and Women of the Wall, was wearing a tallit (prayer shawl) and leading the Shema prayer for a Rosh Chodesh (first day of each Hebrew month marked by the appearance of a new moon) service for 200 women. Ms. Hoffman was arrested for “disturbing the public order” with reports that she was mistreated by the police.

In 2003, Israel's Supreme Court upheld a government ban on women wearing tefillintallit prayer shawls, or reading from a Torah scroll at the Western Wall. Those rules were upheld on the grounds that “local custom” at the Wall did not allow for such practices. Alternative/egalitarian services, like those of the Reform and Conservative movements, are allowed at Robinson's Arch, at the Western Wall's southern corner and not adjacent to the main plaza.

Ms. Hoffman has stated that she wants the courts to allow her group (and others) to pray for one hour per month at the Wall, and ideally wants the Wall’s Council to allocate some time for prayers without a mechitzah -- the divider that separates men and women.

Just last week, Shmuel Rabinowitz, the rabbi of the Western Wall, issued the following statement: “The Western Wall is not Orthodox just as it is not Reform. The Western Wall is the place of prayer for every individual in the nation, and as such, it must carefully safeguard the individual's right to privacy and respect during the precious moments of prayer. The secret of the Western Wall is the secret of diminution which demands that each one of us minimize the traditions in which we differ and focus on what is common and which unifies us.”

I am not trying to engage in a religious battle between various streams of Judaism. Each has its own ideology, beliefs, and practices. And I know there will be people who disagree with me. However, personally, for someone who has been to the State of Israel over 40 times, spiritually moved each and every time I visit the Western Wall, it is disheartening to me that women do not have the opportunity and openness to pray at the Western Wall as freely as men do. Understanding the Israeli courts have jurisdiction, I believe Israel must uphold its guarantee to grant full freedom of worship for all.

People desire the opportunity to pray at the Western Wall in a manner that fulfills their individual religious expression, in an atmosphere of mutual respect and love for the Jewish people. This is the essence of pluralism in Jewish life.

From Abigail to Anat, the quest for equal opportunity continues.

Shabbat shalom and a special “thank you” to all those who currently or have served in our military for Veterans Day.


PS -- The Jewish Federation of Greater Portland is delighted by the success of our community’s Annual Campaign to date, especially with the opportunity for $100,000 in matching funds from an anonymous donor.

We still have a long ways to go in our campaign and we need your help. For the past 30+ years, the Jewish Federation has sponsored Super Sunday, a special day focused on our Jewish community. We reach out to community members for their financial support to help fund the vital programs and services that help each of us in our community. We need you to help make phone calls.

Please join me, and hundreds of others on Sunday, November 18 at the Mittleman Jewish Community Center (we have brought this event back into the MJCC where we will also be doing hands-on community projects). We have multiple shifts available to make phone calls and I would love to personally see you there. Register online or contact Rachel at 503.892.7413 to sign-up today. Additional details are at

Together, we can do extraordinary things!

We are also asking people to bring household supplies to the MJCC that day to donate to local organizations as part of our co-sponsored annual Hand to Hand program. All donations are greatly appreciated.


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