Orly Goldklang, deputy editor of Makor Rishon, and B’Sheva writer Ofra Lax visited the Arutz Sheva studio in Jerusalem for the World Organization of Orthodox Communities and Synagogues' panel on what the new repeal of mask laws will mean for Jewish women throughout Israel.

“We’ve had women’s sections throughout the lockdowns,” Orly says. “Even when all the synagogues were closed, we had our own side of the house in each family.” She tells that her yard became, as the crisis dragged on, an informal, open-air synagogue, converted into a shaded spot, a Sukkah, and a winterized area in turn, absorbing smaller minyanim as their usual venues became unusable.

“It was great because the girls could see what was going on,” Ofra adds. “My daughter didn’t need to be picked up to see the Sefer Torah. We won’t have that anymore.”

“It actually gave the women an even greater sense of being part of the congregation,” Orly explains. “There was more space for everyone, we didn't need to be disturbed by everything from the men’s section, and there was no issue of one side having been built specifically smaller because fewer women come to shul. It was as if I hadn’t been really going to shul before.”

“People began to join in spontaneously,” Ofra recounts. “We’d see someone driving by and suddenly hear them call out ‘Amen’, or run in to catch the Kadish prayer, or to pray with a quorum in the evening. It wasn’t as impressive as an ordinary synagogue, but it was far more welcoming; there were no packed benches or tight seats outside.”

“We even began to intermingle between different customs,” Orly says happily. “We couldn’t very well keep everyone apart on different streets, and so we began to see people from different congregations mixing in. We even adopted some of one another’s liturgy for the High Holidays. The best part of it all was Simchat Torah - ordinarily an entirely masculine holiday, I don’t know why - where usually, the women are completely detached. This year, due to the public health guidelines, everyone had to stand apart from one another, and we were finally able to celebrate the holiday equally.”

Despite the enjoyment of praying outside, Ofra hastens to clarify that she nevertheless is overjoyed to return to the formal synagogue. “It gives a sense of magnitude to the prayer,” she explains. “It gives the youth a sense of structure and of respect for prayer. And yes, it means giving up a few things,” she adds with a smile.

Orly says that the return to the synagogue has challenges for her as well. “I feel like I don’t recognize my usual spot like it might have changed somehow,” she begins. “We need to talk about the partition between the men and women, and the acoustics. We’re suddenly seeing how we need to redesign the women’s sections to include the family aspect, perhaps with an open area outside for children. A synagogue shouldn’t feel like a closed-off country club.”

This panel was part of a three day online conference. The third day, in English, will take place Wednesday, June 16, 2021, featuring Rabbis from the Diaspora.