Mazal tov, Zach Emanuel

If it had not been a modest and intimate event and if the family had not requested privacy, newspaper readers and television viewers would have been exposed to one of the most moving bar mitzva ceremonies.

June 14, 2010 23:06
3 minute read.
The Western Wall plaza was almost empty yesterday,

kotel plaza 311. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)


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Only 40 people were present at the recent bar mitzva of Zach Emanuel and his cousin, Noah Emanuel, late last month in Jerusalem. If it had not been a modest and intimate event and if the family had not requested privacy, newspaper readers and television viewers would have been exposed to one of the most moving bar mitzva ceremonies they had ever seen.

The site chosen for the event, known by many as the Masorti Kotel, was the archeological park adjacent to the more familiar Western Wall. This is the southern continuation of the Wall, next to which is a Herodian street that used to serve Jewish pilgrims. It is a narrow street in which time froze in 70 CE.

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The remains of the shop entrances, which once adorned the noisy street, now stand silent. A pile of enormous stones from the Wall – pushed from above in the commotion before the destruction – still lies in a heap. And silence. You look at the stones and sense the spiritual strength of this city. If you try hard, you can hear the joyful shouting of the pilgrims coming from among the stones. There is no other place like it in Jerusalem.

The ceremony was officiated over by two people: Rabbi Jack Moline, of the Conservative Congregation Agudas Achim in Virginia, the synagogue of the Rahm Emanuel family, and Rabbi Kenneth Chasen, of the Reform Leo Baeck Temple in Los Angeles, where the family of Rahm’s brother, Ari, is a member. The two cousins were well prepared for their bnai mitzva. Their Torah reading was impeccable. Each also prepared a dvar Torah. In his, Zach spoke about his Jewish identity. His parents cried.

It is not routine for a person with a post as important as that of Rahm Emanuel to take a 10-day vacation for a private trip. But it seems he felt that he owed it to his children and that he owed it to himself. Apart from three short, obligatory meetings, he toured the country in shorts, from north to south. And the climax was in Jerusalem.

The family stood together, prayed together. There was no mehitza [separation between the sexes] . Some women donned a tallit. There was an abundance of Judaism, an abundance of Zionism and an abundance of love.

IT IS sad that one cannot pray in the same way at the main Western Wall Plaza. For a decade now, the Masorti Movement has been facilitating prayers at the Masorti Kotel.


This is a forced arrangement. The majority of the world’s Jews pray without a mehitza, but when they come to Jerusalem, to the most symbolic site for Jewish prayer, they are forbidden from praying together. The Kotel, whose holiness has enthused Jews from all over the world, has been transformed into a haredi synagogue.

The Masorti Movement has never relinquished its right to pray at the Kotel, but has agreed, in compromise and with great pain, to hold its prayers at the archeological park.

Last year, more than 20,000 men and women, from Israel and all over the world, prayed at the site. But the State of Israel has never fulfilled its obligation to make suitable arrangements at the site. Prayer services are only possible a few hours a day, and the Masorti Movement, not the Ministry of Religious Services as at the Kotel, incurs all of the expenses and provides the sifrei Torah, prayer books, reading tables and attendants, because it seems only the Orthodox have a respected position in the Jewish state.

The writer is executive director and CEO of the Masorti Movement in Israel.

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