Western Wall plaza divided into sections
Western Wall plaza divided into sectionsWestern Wall Heritage Foundation

The Women of the Wall organization (WOW) has alleged that the Western Wall Heritage Foundation is discriminating against families celebrating the bat mitzvah of their daughters, giving preferential treatment to families celebrating the bar mitzvah ceremonies of their sons.

According to WOW, families turning to the Foundation requesting to reserve a prayer area in order to celebrate a bar mitzvah are answered in the affirmative, whereas similar requests for a bat mitzvah ceremony are rebuffed. Due to the Israeli government’s coronavirus regulations, the prayer area in front of the Western Wall has been divided into small sections, each one admitting only a limited number of worshippers, and apparently there have been requests by parties of people for sections to be reserved for them ahead of time.

Now the Women of the Wall are claiming that a certain mother contacted the Heritage Foundation, asking that a prayer section be reserved for her daughter’s bat mitzvah celebration, and was told that there is no such policy permitting reservations. However, when a father of a bar mitzvah boy contacted the Foundation with a similar request, they allege, he was told that a reservation could be made.

The Women of the Wall issued a statement saying: “Instead of making the Western Wall into a national site that brings people together, the Western Wall is being made – due to the actions of the site’s rabbi – into a symbol of discrimination, disconnection, and alienation from the majority of Jews. We call on all those for whom the Western Wall is close to their hearts to protest this matter and not permit the coronavirus epidemic to heighten the discrimination that already exists at this site. The Western Wall belongs to the entire Jewish People, and everyone should be treated there with equal respect.”

The Western Wall Heritage Foundation responded: “The Western Wall Heritage Foundation has already answered an individual inquiry on this matter, stating that the Foundation does not discriminate in any manner, neither does it permit the reservation of prayer sections for anyone – not for families celebrating bar or bat mitzvahs, and not for any other gathering either. The Foundation operates on a ‘first come, first served’ basis, and this statement of the Women of the Wall distorts the facts.

“During times when larger numbers of people arrive at the Western Wall, especially on Mondays and Thursdays [when there is a Torah reading], the Foundation does permit people to make registrations for prayer sections in advance, but solely according to a ‘first come, first served’ basis. This prevents overcrowding and enables us to protect the health of the families who come to pray at this holy site.”