US Conservative, Reform movements to Lapid: Kotel needs to stay safe

They mentioned the recent Rosh Chodesh egalitarian section prayer service, where ultra-Orthodox youth were physically violent toward their members • "you support implementing the Kotel Agreement"

 PRAYERS AT the Kotel.  (photo credit: HADAS PARUSH/FLASH90)
PRAYERS AT the Kotel.
(photo credit: HADAS PARUSH/FLASH90)

Heads of the Conservative and Reform movements have sent congratulations to Prime Minister Yair Lapid on his new role – and to bitterly complain about ongoing violence and disruption of egalitarian prayer at the Western Wall. 

This letter came a day after heads of national institutions, the Jewish Federations of North America and Keren Hayesod, sent a similar letter to Lapid.

“Congratulations on entering the important role of Prime Minister of the State of Israel,” Rabbi Jacob Blumenthal of the Conservative movement and Rabbi Rick Jacobs of the Union of Reform Judaism wrote.

“You’ve earned this opportunity and we have high hopes that you will distinguish yourself as a strong, effective and wise leader at home and on the world stage,” they added.

Lapid has always been “a friend of our movements,” they wrote, and “have believed in making Israel the State where all Jews feel at home. As for the Western Wall, you have time and again voiced support for implementing the Kotel Agreement since you believe that the Wall belongs to all Jews – Orthodox, Reform and Masorti/Conservative.”

A haredi protester blows his nose on a piece of a siddur page printed by the Conservative Movement (Credit: Masorti Movement

Trouble at the Kotel

They also related to the prayer service on the past Rosh Chodesh (new month) at the egalitarian prayer section, where haredi (ultra-Orthodox) youth were physically violent towards Reform and Conservative Jews at a bar mitzvah service, one of them blowing his nose on a page torn from a Conservative siddur (prayer book) seconds before the clash. 

“They (the young haredi boys) went to the Egalitarian Plaza and harassed, cursed, whistled and screamed at the participants of Bar and Bat Mitzvah ceremonies which took place at Ezrat Israel at that time. Masorti/Conservative Siddurim were ripped to shreds.” 

“Some of the ceremonies were of Reform and Masorti/Conservative boys and girls who came from the U.S. to celebrate this special moment at the holiest site of the Jewish people,” the two rabbis wrote. "Imagine how they felt in the face of such blatant hatred.”

They also mentioned Ambassador Deborah Lipstadt, the United States Special Envoy on Antisemitism, who expressed deep concern that such violence could occur anywhere, but especially in the Jewish state.

“This situation cannot go on,” the two wrote. “We represent millions of Jews who cannot tolerate such behavior, who are tired of being treated as second-class citizens at the Wall. A negotiated solution, the Kotel Compromise, has existed for many years, waiting for a cabinet vote for implementation.”

Blumenthal and Jacobs said that while they appreciate the fact that Lapid denounced these actions, words are not enough.

They asked the new prime minister for the following:

“Give unequivocal instructions to the police to disallow violence at the Kotel and to act against those who harass and disrupt prayer there; guarantee that Ezrat Israel will remain an egalitarian plaza and prayer space, where no mechitzah is allowed; ensure that the Wall will be physically accessible from Ezrat Israel; and work to include representatives of the two movements, as well as WOW [Women of the Wall], in oversight of the space,” the letter stated.

“All these steps can be taken tomorrow,” they wrote. “We know there are many challenges for the Prime Minister of Israel. But this is one challenge which should be and can be addressed immediately.”

Rabbi of the Western Wall responds

In light of the events over the last few weeks, the Western Wall rabbi, Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz released a statement, saying that "the verbal and occasional physical violence that erupts among those coming to pray at the Western Wall, stemming from various extremist groups, desecrates G-d’s name, creates chasms between people, and harms the holiness of the site that unites the Jewish nation and world Jewry.

"The three weeks termed “Bein Hametzarim” (- between the straits), are approaching.  These three weeks between the 17th of Tamuz and the 9th of Av are a period of mourning commemorating the destruction of the First and Second Temples.  One of the reasons traditionally given for the destruction is the “baseless hatred” that was prevalent among the Jewish people at the time.  Especially during this sensitive time, the Western Wall must be a symbol and model of “baseless love” and a bridge between Jews all over the world."

The rabbi added, “I call upon all sides to remove disputes and demonstrations from this sacred site and preserve the Western Wall as a holy and unifying site in the spirit of Jewish heritage and tradition.”