LA Jewish leaders call for Wall compromise

Conservative, reform and orthodox rabbis find common ground, sign off on letter endorsing Natan Sharanksy-led task force.

June 8, 2013 21:38
2 minute read.
Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky [file]

Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky 311 (R). (photo credit: REUTERS/Jason Reed)

WASHINGTON -- Jewish leaders from across the religious spectrum in Los Angeles, concerned that rising tensions at the Western Wall might culminate in conflict this Sunday, have come together in support of some form of compromise led by Natan Sharansky's task force.

The conservative, reform, and orthodox rabbis managed to find enough common ground to sign off on a letter endorsing Sharansky, who was appointed by Benjamin Netanyahu to find a solution to the intra-religious conflict.

"The Western Wall serves as a place to pray for countless Jews. But it also serves as a powerful focus of national Jewish yearning and aspiration, quite apart from religious belief," the letter reads. "Somehow, both have to be satisfied, and that is what his plan would try to do, embodying the key Jewish and democratic values of mutual respect, inclusion, and tolerance."

The LA group wanted a "tangible symbol" produced after a meeting with Sharansky, says conservative rabbi David Wolpe, who helped craft the letter.

"We understand its easier to do in Los Angeles than it is to do in Jerusalem," says Wolpe. "Rabbis in the diaspora ought to realize its much easier to do this sort of thing because there isn't political power at stake. We can sit at the table and disagree, and then find common ground, and you may win or lose a member but it doesn't change the political process."

"But we're saying, we hope you can try to do this as we have," Wolpe added.

The Los Angeles push comes as Rosh Chodesh, marked this Sunday, began stirring fears that increased activity at the Wall would lead to further clashes.

"There's a concern about the near term," says David Siegel, Israel's consul general in Los Angeles. "This is a call to avoid inflammatory rhetoric and violence."

Siegel says that the letter is a product of long-term relationship building in the community, and across Southern California.

"Two members of the task force were there on the ground, and felt the tension," Siegel said. "The concern is that what happened last month would repeat itself."

The activities of Women of the Wall, a group fighting for expanded women's rights to prayer at the Jerusalem holy site, have spurred action within the Haredim community in Israel, who are planning a significant protest this Sunday against what they perceive to be sacrilegious acts.

"This has gotten out of hand," says Orthodox rabbi Elazar Muskin. "In Israel, everything is black and white— there's no gray. That's why they have such a hard time compromising. The nature of America allows for more gray than it does in Israel. It's part of the culture here."

"Los Angeles is far," Muskin adds. "But they see that rabbis here are concerned, and that does matter."

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