Forward Thinking

Anat Hoffman’s Daughter Puts Women of the Wall to Film

By Sigal Samuel

  • Print
  • Share Share

Tanya Hoffman is the daughter of Women of the Wall leader Anat Hoffman. / Haaretz

“How I Stopped Hating Women of the Wall and Started Talking to My Mother.”

That’s the title of an upcoming film by Tanya Hoffman, the 26-year-old daughter of firebrand feminist and Women of the Wall leader Anat Hoffman. The summer release is already arousing a certain amount of interest in Israel — but will it be worth seeing? That depends on how well the filmmaker can use her personal story to shed light on a larger question — the question of why many young people, and not just her, are less than enchanted with Women of the Wall these days.

The documentary is as much about Tanya’s conflict-laden relationship with her mother as it is about Anat’s liberal prayer group, which pushes for equal ritual rights for women at the Western Wall. In a Haaretz interview, Tanya explained that she couldn’t be more different from her super opinionated “bulldozer” of a mom, and that no one else in the family ever understood what Anat was after. “None of us ever joined her at the Women of the Wall services. None of us really got it. We were, like, why are you doing this?”

As a child, Tanya hated being dragged to the Kotel for Women of the Wall services, and when she saw the angry reactions the group provoked, she was sure her mom must be doing something wrong. But the recent increase in violence directed at Women of the Wall alarmed her. “I was terrified that somebody was going to shoot her. I just had never seen hatred like that anywhere before.”

Tanya wanted to show support for her mom, but she didn’t want to don tallit and tefillin and pray with Women of the Wall. Instead — being a film school student — she picked up her camera and shot hours and hours of footage.

It turned out that approaching her mom as a subject rather than as, well, a mom, had a therapeutic effect on their relationship. It “leveled out the playing field,” in Tanya’s words. For the first time since her “atrocious” teenage years, she felt like her mom was really talking to her.

This personal-conflict-turned-reconciliation angle could turn out to be the film’s greatest liability; it runs the risk of veering into schmaltz, over-sentimentality and navel-gazing. But, to the extent that it reflects a feminist generation gap, it might also end up being the most interesting aspect of the story.

It’s telling and not at all surprising that someone of Tanya’s generation would find herself unimpressed by Anat’s work with Women of the Wall. Nowadays, the movement strikes some Jews as outdated. It smacks of second-wave feminism, since it’s focused on struggling to secure equal access and opportunities for women at the Kotel, rather than asking the questions that would challenge the assumptions underlying that effort.

Contemporary critics have formulated these questions along a few different lines: Isn’t there something fundamentally problematic about fighting for religious equality in the eyes of a democratic state, “without challenging the state’s right to be an arbiter in those precincts”? Does it even make sense to engage in “the fetishization of one set of stones”? And what about the fact that the Kotel plaza we take for granted today came into existence only after a Palestinian neighborhood, the Mughrabi Quarter, was demolished to make way for it?

If it explores these kinds of questions, Tanya’s main narrative device — a personal story about her failure to connect with her famous mother’s vision — can potentially serve as a window onto a much bigger and more interesting story: the story of how an older version of feminism has become boring, puzzling or even repellant to certain members of the younger generation. That would make this film worth seeing.

Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: women, feminism, Women of the Wall, Western Wall, Israel, Anat Hoffman

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.

Find us on Facebook!
  • Is boredom un-Jewish?
  • Let's face it: there's really only one Katz's Delicatessen.
  • "Dear Diaspora Jews, I’m sorry to break it to you, but you can’t have it both ways. You can’t insist that every Jew is intrinsically part of the Israeli state and that Jews are also intrinsically separate from, and therefore not responsible for, the actions of the Israeli state." Do you agree?
  • Are Michelangelo's paintings anti-Semitic? Meet the Jews of the Sistine Chapel:
  • What does the Israel-Hamas war look like through Haredi eyes?
  • Was Israel really shocked to find there are networks of tunnels under Gaza?
  • “Going to Berlin, I had a sense of something waiting there for me. I was searching for something and felt I could unlock it by walking the streets where my grandfather walked and where my father grew up.”
  • How can 3 contradictory theories of Yiddish co-exist? Share this with Yiddish lovers!
  • "We must answer truthfully: Has a drop of all this bloodshed really helped bring us to a better place?”
  • "There are two roads. We have repeatedly taken the one more traveled, and that has made all the difference." Dahlia Scheindlin looks at the roots of Israel's conflict with Gaza.
  • Shalom, Cooperstown! Cooperstown Jewish mayor Jeff Katz and Jeff Idelson, director of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, work together to oversee induction weekend.
  • A boost for morale, if not morals.
  • Mixed marriages in Israel are tough in times of peace. So, how do you maintain a family bubble in the midst of war?
  • Despite the escalating violence in Israel, more and more Jews are leaving their homes in Alaska to make aliyah:
  • The Workmen's Circle is hosting New York’s first Jewish street fair on Sunday. Bring on the nouveau deli!
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?

We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.