Rutgers Alumna seeks to create pluralist society
Working as an activist in Israel, Rutgers alumna Shira Pruce witnessed women get arrested and have rocks and chairs thrown at them while they were praying in what many consider the country’s most sacred Jewish historical site, the Western Wall in Jerusalem.
Pruce graduated from Rutgers with a degree in Women’s and Gender Studies in 2004 before moving to Israel, where she works as the director of public relations for the feminist organization Women of the Wall, which advocates freedom of religion for women at the holy site.
Although the Western Wall is a public sphere, it has always been divided between men and women with many restrictions on women’s religious rights.
At the Western Wall, a partition separates men and women from praying together, which is where Pruce saw footage of men throwing chairs at the Women of the Wall, which was meeting for its monthly prayer.
She said the courts confirmed the organization’s beliefs by granting women religious freedoms last April. This court ruling allowed women to openly pray in groups and choose to wear prayer shawls, which they were never able to do before without facing opposition, detainment or even violence.
The ruling was a step forward for the organization, which has been working to achieve freedom of religion at the public space for 25 years now, according to the Women of the Wall’s website.
Pruce believes more work needs to be done because women are still denied the use of any of the hundreds of Torah scrolls made available to men at the Wall. The Torah scrolls are Jewish texts used in prayer containing the history and tradition of Judaism.
Women are not even allowed to bring in their own Torah scrolls unless they receive permission from the Rabbi, who she considers extremely Orthodox.
“In 1967, the government essentially handed the keys to all the holy places to the ultra-Orthodox political parties,” she said. “In ultra-Orthodox society, they subscribe to extreme gender roles which are not true reflections of the rest of the Israeli people.”
In addition to being denied access to these sacred texts, women are also prevented from praying with men. Women of the Wall seeks to build a third section to the wall, where both men and women can pray together, according to their website.
Pruce’s goal is to create a pluralist society similar to the one she experienced while part of Rutgers Hillel, a diverse Jewish community on campus.
According to an article on New Jersey Jewish News, Pruce began working in Hillel during the chaos of 9/11, when Pruce witnessed blame placed on Israel for the tragedy.
She became active on campus, educating others about Zionism, the national movement of Jews that supports the creation of a Jewish homeland in the territory of Israel, and what it is like being a Jewish student on campus.
Andrew Getraer, executive director of Rutgers Hillel, said in the same article that Pruce epitomizes Rutgers Hillel-student leadership and a Zionist success story.
“Shira is a source of great pride to Rutgers Hillel and to me personally. We have alumni who have become leaders in many Jewish organizations and causes, left, right and center,” he said in the article.
She was also involved in promoting lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights and feminist activities.
Pruce was a lifelong member of Highland Park Conservative Temple and holds a certificate from the Institute for Women’s Leadership at the University.
She finds working with so many different groups of people to be rewarding.
“We are a lot of different people from a lot of different backgrounds working toward one specific goal,” she said. “We’re very lucky to have so many great social activists in Israel working toward such great change.”