U.S. Orthodox Jews accuse liberal streams of hijacking Kotel discourse

“The liberal streams are putting in a lot of effort to convince Israeli politicians that they are the power to be in the US.”

February 25, 2018 20:15
3 minute read.
Succot prayers at the Western Wall.

succot at the kotel 390 7. (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)

Some 40 Orthodox Jews from the US are in Israel in a bid to convince the government that the voice of the liberal Jewish streams in the US does not represent Jews in their country.

In the fiery conversation, which has been conducted over the past year over the canceled agreement for an egalitarian section at the Western Wall, US Orthodox Jews have been left out, two of the members of the delegation explained to The Jerusalem Post in a meeting in Jerusalem on Sunday.

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“The liberal streams are putting in a lot of effort to convince Israeli politicians that they are the power to be in the US,” Agudath Israel of America chairman Sol Werdiger said.

The delegation will come armed to its meetings with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Reuven Rivlin and an array of other high-level Israeli leaders with studies to show that the opposite is true.

The delegation comprises of a diverse group of Orthodox Jews, “who don’t usually sit together,” Agudath Israel of California chairman Dr. Irving Lebovics said.

A document put together for the mission, called “Am Echad” (“One People”), says that recent demographic surveys have begun to show that the Orthodox community is growing in numbers and strength, “and represents the Jewish future in America, the future of Jewish philanthropy and the future of American Jewish support for Israel.”

The mission cites a report by Research Professor Steven M. Cohen published in the Forward that used a 2013 survey, conducted by the Pew Research Center, on the US Jewish population to map the age distribution of US Jews according to the different streams.

Cohen found that, while the Orthodox population is “exploding,” the non-Orthodox population, which Pew found is currently the majority, are in sharp decline.

“We are growing and vibrant,” Lebovics said. “The percentages of Orthodox Jews under 40 are significantly higher than Orthodox Jews over 55.”

Cohen’s study found that only 5% of US Orthodox Jewry was between 56 to 73-years-old while 15% were 28 to 45-years-old and 27% 0 to 17.

“Don’t push us aside and make believe we don’t exist,” Lebovics said.

The Conservative and Reforms movements, he said, came to Israel and said they represent US Jewry.

“We believe in inclusiveness, and we don’t feel that what’s going on in Israel is right,” Lebovics said. “We say a large part of US Jews don’t care [about the Western Wall deal], a portion is what has been advocating, and a large vibrant growing part disagrees. Nobody consulted us.”

Saying that the Orthodox portion of the US Jewish community was “excluded for years,” he added that “the message is not to say they are bad people but if you represent something, this is another side of the coin.”

He said that the delegation does not plan to give its stance on the Kotel issue.

“We didn’t come here to say the new section shouldn’t be there. If I want to vote on policy here I’ll move here. but we have to set the record straight in terms of the message they got from America.”

Another point the delegation is keen to emphasize is the Orthodox community’s commitment to and investment in Israel.

“We all have family here, we are in Washington advocating all the time, we invested here in business and real estate, we come here often,” Werdiger said, listing the ways in which his community supports Israel and the hundreds of millions of dollars the delegation says Orthodox Jews invest in Israel in a multitude of ways.

Tourism, involvement in hi-tech businesses, support of their children who are living in Israel, and an array of charity projects in Israel are among those.

“So we are here to say we love every Jew and we are all-encompassing but if you’re looking to change things here because of the perception that’s what the Jews in America want – it’s not true,” Werdiger concluded.

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