Stop the Division at the Western Wall

We have bigger challenges in Israel. We need to pull together and focus on them.

October 14, 2014 13:21
3 minute read.
The Priestly Blessing at the Western Wall‏

The Priestly Blessing at the Western Wall‏. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)


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Have you ever found yourself in a different country, all the while never leaving home? I have.

The Israel of October 2014 is not the same country we lived in just four months ago. None of us moved. But the society around us shifted. Today we are kinder, more sensitive, more geared towards values than we have been in years.

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In May we were on the verge of a societal schism. But that was before the boys. And before the war. The successive shockwaves of this past summer have not only traumatized the Israeli society, but pushed it to unprecedented solidarity. In my twenty years in Israel, I don’t remember a time when we all felt closer, differences notwithstanding.

Sure, there have been wars before and yes even then we came out from our bubbles, but what makes this time different is that mutual consideration still continues, though the guns have been silent. Israeli society realizes just how fragile the new-found unity is. Even politicians and the media seem to be moving on their tiptoes so as not to shatter what came together in months of blood, prayer, and tears.

This is why Women of the Wall’s renewed efforts to stir up their divisive agenda at the Kotel is particularly troubling. For the past year, the group has been praying undisturbed. With no media attention, their numbers have dwindled to a couple of dozen. The only restriction on WoW is their inability to bring in a Sefer Torah, though the group is free to read the Torah at the Ezrat Israel section of the Kotel, just a few yards down the same exact wall.

Now that news coverage is uneventful, Women of the Wall are hoping to make gains in their negotiations over procedure and circumstance at the egalitarian plaza, being discussed as part of the Sharansky proposal. But does that really justify pushing the envelope on a hot-button issue at Israel’s holiest and most unifying site? Do we need to go back to the rift? Is pitting Israelis against each other (as most media reports present it) the only way to promote an agenda?

During the holiday season a million and a half Jews visited the Kotel. While the Kotel Plaza has been full daily, the egalitarian section at Ezrat Israel stands almost empty. If the past few months are an indication for the future, all the tumult about equality at the Wall has come down to one fact. Not too many people are really interested in another section. The Reform and Conservative movements have been throwing around a new slogan, “One Wall for One People.” It seems the Wall that Jews are choosing is the same Kotel Plaza, with a divider between the men and women and traditional decorum.

What is this really about? The American movements are in crisis. In the last twenty years, the Conservative movement has lost over 60% of its members. According to the Pew Study, only 11% of American Jewry are actual members of Reform Congregations (more identify as Reform, but they don’t participate in temple life). The movements need something to rally the troops. It’s the old Wag the Dog syndrome - when you have domestic problems look for an enemy to fight against. The Israeli ultra-orthodox, black hats and all, are a perfect target.

Women of the Wall have had over a year to prove their ability to bring out the crowds that have a deep desire for egalitarian prayer. Clearly they have failed. The organization is great at orchestrating the media, and now it is using elementary school girls in a new campaign to pressure for Bat Mitzvahs with a Torah reading at the Kotel. It plays well on the evening news: “Young Girl wants a Bar Mitzvah only to be squelched by the ominous ultra-Orthodox.” 

The bus ad campaign, funded by American liberal movements, should be running in New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles. It can truly inspire some of the tens of thousands of American Jewish girls at-risk of assimilation to participate in at least one religiously significant event in their life.

As to Jerusalem, it’s time to get real. We have bigger challenges in Israel. We need to pull together and focus on them. We need to concentrate on what unites us, not what divides us. If Women of the Wall want to make a Bat Mitzvah and read the Torah at the Kotel, they have an entire section to do so.

Undisturbed. Undisturbing. 

Leah Aharoni is a cofounder of the grassroots movement, dedicated to preserving the sanctity and tradition at the Western Wall in the spirit of Jewish unity.

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