Access to egalitarian prayer section still closed after six months

Director of the Masorti (Conservative) Movement in Israel Dr. Yizhar Hess said in response that it would be “unthinkable” to close the central Western Wall plaza for so long.

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January 7, 2019 13:57
3 minute read.
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A man and woman pray at the egalitarian section of the Western Wall. (photo credit: DAVID SHECHTER FOR THE JEWISH AGENCY FOR ISRAEL)

The small platform providing the only access for the egalitarian prayer section of the Western Wall to the actual stones is still closed some six months after a large stone fell onto the plaza.

Moreover, a physical survey of the other stones in the area that was supposed to have been conducted by the Antiquities Authority has still not begun, The Jerusalem Post has learned.

Masorti (Conservative) Movement in Israel director Dr. Yizhar Hess said in response that it would be “unthinkable” to close the central Western Wall Plaza for so long had such an incident occurred there, and said the ongoing closure of the platform was “very disappointing.”

In July, a large stone in the southern end of the Western Wall at the Robinson’s Arch area where the prayer section for non-Orthodox prayer is located fell from the wall and smashed into the prayer platform below, barely missing a woman at prayer and damaging the structure.

The egalitarian prayer space, known as the “Ezrat Yisrael,” consists of a large wooden platform where several prayer services and ceremonies can be held at the same time.

It does not however touch the actual stones of the Western Wall and is set back from the site by several meters, meaning worshipers are not able to touch the Herodian wall.

The only space where worshipers at the egalitarian site can touch the stones of the Kotel is the much smaller platform that is accessible from the larger prayer space by a wooden walkway and steps.

When the stone fell in July 2018, the Jerusalem Municipality’s engineering office closed the prayer platform next to the wall, and the Antiquities Authority said it would conduct a survey and review of the stones to determine whether or not the area is safe or if more stones are in danger of falling.

Authority director Yisrael Hasson said at the time that the survey would take approximately two weeks.

Six months on, the non-physical aspects of the survey using laser scanning techniques have been conducted but the physical inspection of the stones has still not begun.

Moreover, the Antiquities Authority has apparently still not decided on the contractor who will perform the work although is expected to make a decision shortly.

The physical inspection requires each stone of the Robinson’s Arch section to be individually checked to ensure that it is not in danger of falling out of the wall, as witnessed in July’s incident.

The physical survey could take two to three months, but securing any loose or damaged stones that are found could take longer.
In response to a request for comment, the Antiquities Authority said the Prime Minister’s Office was handling the issue.

The PMO declined to say why the physical inspection was taking so long to begin, when exactly it would begin, how long it would take, and when the egalitarian prayer platform abutting the Western Wall stones would be reopened.

A well-placed source familiar with the issue said that “part of the work has already been done, and the rest will be done soon.”
Some 100,000 Jews visit the egalitarian Ezrat Yisrael section every year to conduct bar and bat mitzvah ceremonies, hold prayer services and for other purposes.

Asked whether such work would have taken so long in the central Western Wall Plaza, Kariv said, “It would have been dealt with in a much shorter period of time. The restoration work would have been done much quicker.”

“The bottom line is that the government is not succeeding in doing anything here. The stone [that fell] is just more proof of that, of the lack of political desire,” he continued in reference to the stalled efforts to physically renovate the egalitarian section as the prime minister has promised.

“In the end, the prime minister is satisfied with saying something pleasant at the General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America, saying ‘We’re working on it,’ and then winks at the hard-line national-religious elements [opposing the renovation] by not doing anything,” said Kariv.

Efforts to renovate the Ezrat Yisrael site have been stalled for months due to bureaucratic delays in various administrative
committees in the Jerusalem Municipal Council and in the Finance Ministry’s Regional Committee for Planning and Construction.

Hess said that the lack of access to the stones of the Western Wall was extremely problematic and hindered religious services at the site.

“It is very disappointing it hasn’t been completed by now. With the main plaza of the Western Wall, it would be unthinkable to close the Kotel for so long.”


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