My dear friend Na'ama sent this article to me from the New York Times (funny since she lives in Portland, OR), about a group of women who have worshiped and fought for religious equality at the Kotel (Western Wall in Israel) for more than 20 years.
Despite tremendous opposition, threats of physical violence and the potential for fines and jail time, these women have come to the Kotel at the start of every Hebrew month (traditionally a time for women to pray together). They pray out loud when the custom is for women to be quiet so as not to tempt the nearby men with their voices. They read from the Torah when the custom is for only men to do so. They wear tallit (prayer shawls) when again the custom is only incumbent upon men. These practices are not strictly forbidden, rather they have evolved to have profound force since women are considered exempt from the commandments under Orthodox interpretation.
From the article, "The Kotel is defined in Israel as a national and holy site that is open to all. In practice, the women say, it operates like an Orthodox synagogue, with separate prayer sections for men and women and a modesty patrol to ensure that visitors are appropriately dressed."
I've been to the Kotel. I dressed in what I considered a demure outfit and still found myself pushed around by the so-called "modesty police" because a sliver of my collarbone peeked out, in Jerusalem, in August. It's unfortunate, but stories like this are part of what deters me from ever wanting to live in Israel on a permanent basis.
While I respect Orthodox interpretations with their strictly divided gender spheres, I don't think that gives anyone the right to exert their believes as the sole option. I wish the Women of the Wall nothing but hatzlacha (success) in their critical mission to bring greater religious pluralism to their society and I hope that with God's help, I can join them in joyful prayer on my next trip to Israel.