(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
The Western Wall does not belong to anyone.
We all belong to it. This is the only place in the world whose name causes every Jewish heart to flutter. There is no Jew who does not see the Western Wall as his home. There is no Jew who does not expect to be able to come to the Western Wall and express his spiritual desires and unique traditions.
But in order for all of us to stand in front of the Western Wall in solidarity, alongside one another, the Western Wall demands of us to behave differently – with humility and humbleness.
At our one and only Western Wall, there must not be battles of opinions and traditions, disputes or conflicts.
One single match is enough to ignite a tremendous flame. For this reason, already in 1960, it was determined that the traditions of the Western Wall will remain in accordance to our ancient traditions.
Since then, the status quo has stood firm, to the great regret of zealots from all sides, and to the great joy of millions of visitors and pilgrims who have come to the Western Wall annually and found it a place for their prayers and yearnings.
From the day I was appointed to the position of rabbi of the Western Wall, I found myself under incessant pressure from different groups who wished to change the traditions of the Western Wall to suit their worldview. With the complete backing of the government and its leaders and of rabbis, I did all I could to prevent isolationist groups from turning the Western Wall into a place of contention and strife. I was careful (sometimes strongly so) to prevent one group or another from claiming ownership of the Western Wall.
Many attacked me, even personally, both from the conservative and the liberal sides. My family and I paid a heavy price for this. But I did everything to leave the Western Wall outside any arguments, a place that does not “belong” to anyone, but to which we all belong.
When the status quo at the Western Wall was opened to new debate, I voiced concern about the process, the end of which no one could predict. But I joined the discussions with complete belief in the rule set by our rabbis, that peace takes precedence over everything, and with hope that true effort can restore peace and solidarity to the Western Wall Plaza.
I expressed my concerns at the discussion table and was vigilant in trying to prevent any harm to the rare unity at the Western Wall or to its holiness.
Unfortunately, a small and vocal group took control of the media discussion of the process. Instead of acting carefully and with humility as is appropriate when dealing with the holy of holies of Jewish national unity, a civil war broke out at the foot of this sacred place. Every month, a new and creative way is found to insert a wedge between the streams and sharpen the differences and gaps between them.
This group, fighting in the name of fewer than a hundred women (at most), is willing to destroy everything, and has swept whole movements into a horrible maelstrom of emphasizing what differentiates us rather than what unites us, emphasizing isolationist rights rather than joint responsibility. It is this flame of dissension ignited by such behavior that I am so desperately trying to put out.
I do not know a way of settling disputes on the pages of newspapers or through vociferous headlines on the Internet. I do not know a place where peace was achieved through mass media provocation.
People imagine they won the battle without noticing they lost the war, and along with them, so did the entire Jewish people. Jerusalem was destroyed because of baseless hatred. It is enough to have a small and zealous group to ignite the entire city. It happened in the past, and could, God forbid, happen again.
I call to all those who hold the Western Wall dear to their hearts – the disputes among the streams of the Jewish nation are deep and piercing. The Western Wall is not the place where they should be decided.
The Western Wall is not a soapbox in the city square where we can publicly declare our opinions in an attempt to win over the audience. Let us leave our one and only Western Wall outside these disputes. Let us painstakingly preserve this one rare slice of connection to our shared past, to the days before we split into streams and opinions, and to our forefather’s traditions which form the bedrock of our existence. The writer is the rabbi of the Western Wall and Holy Sites.