Grapevine: 'A city knit together'?

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

 Rabbi Gilad Kariv at the Western Wall, Jerusalem, August 9, 2021. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Rabbi Gilad Kariv at the Western Wall, Jerusalem, August 9, 2021.

Israel has had three female presidents of the Supreme Court, a woman prime minister, two female foreign ministers, women heads of mixed-gender political parties, a woman speaker of the Knesset, a female governor of the Bank of Israel and a female president of an Orthodox congregation. But, sadly, when women want to celebrate Rosh Hodesh (the start of a new Hebrew calendar month) – and in that sense, the unity of the Jewish people – at the Western Wall, a Torah scroll has to be smuggled into the women’s section by Gilad Kariv, who is a Reform rabbi and a member of Knesset, and the only reason that he can get away with it is his parliamentary immunity.

The Torah scroll is passed to members of Women of the Wall, who collectively represent Orthodox, Conservative and Reform Judaism.

The ban on women having a Torah scroll and singing liturgical songs at the Western Wall are two of the controversial acts invoked by the Western Wall Heritage Foundation and Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, who was appointed rabbi of the Western Wall in 1995, following the death of his predecessor, the much admired and beloved Rabbi Yehuda Meir Getz.

Rabinowitz is the fourth rabbi of the Western Wall and holy sites, a quasi-diplomatic position in which he meets and greets visiting state and political dignitaries from abroad and takes them around the site.

According to a recent revelation in The Marker, the financial supplement of Haaretz, Rabinowitz charges exorbitant sums to people who want to celebrate a bar mitzvah in the Western Wall Plaza or adjacent synagogue, which are, after all, public places, and should be free of charge. Some people don’t ask permission, and just dance in with a Torah scroll.

Why a Torah scroll is forbidden to the Women of the Wall defies logic. The Torah is known as the bride of the Jewish people, and at Orthodox weddings women dance with the bride. In some Orthodox congregations there is a women’s minyan (prayer quorum) in which women read from the Torah and dance with the Torah.

And let’s be honest – the Western Wall is not really holy. It’s an outer wall, and was not part of the Temple. Any archaeologist can testify to that. Moreover, it is not an ultra-Orthodox province, in that it was captured from the Jordanians in 1967 by the Israel Defense Forces. Prior to 1948, when the country was still under British rule, men and women prayed together at the Western Wall, which was then known as the Wailing Wall.

No less important than denying a Torah scroll to female worshipers is the fact that there is no time or age limit placed on the service of the rabbi of the Western Wall. The president of the state can serve for only seven years. The president of the Supreme Court must retire at age 70. The chief rabbis of Israel can serve for only 10 years, and the general retirement age is 62 for women and 67 for men. But the rabbi of the Western Wall can remain in office indefinitely.

Meretz MK Mossi Raz, who is secular, would like to see a review of the management of the Western Wall, have limits placed on the number of years that anyone can serve as rabbi of the Western Wall and synagogues controlled by the Western Wall Heritage Foundation. He would also like to see the implementation of decisions taken for the allocation of a special place at the Wall for the Women of the Wall and for Conservative and Reform Jews. However that is unlikely to happen in the foreseeable future – and not only because Raz is not religiously observant.

Any attempt to change the status quo in relation to religion and state will be confronted with much vehement opposition from ultra-Orthodox quarters, and even from Modern Orthodox quarters.

■ SINCE THE advent of the present government and the decision by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett not to live in the Prime Minister’s Residence, there has been a marked relaxation of security and considerably less noise in the vicinity, given that the mass demonstrations against former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu have ceased. There was blissful peace and quiet and far greater freedom of movement until Angela Merkel came to town.

 Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Jerusalem, October 10, 2021. (credit: YOAV DAVIDKOVITZ / POOL) Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Jerusalem, October 10, 2021. (credit: YOAV DAVIDKOVITZ / POOL)

No one should blame the outgoing chancellor of Germany for the discomfort and commotion generated by her farewell visit to Israel in her present caretaker role. Given the great empathy she has for Israel and the Jewish people, several organizations and institutions are bound to invite her, and compared to the situation this week, security will be at a minimum.

But this time around security was even heavier than that given to former US president Donald Trump.

Merkel was staying at the King David Hotel, her home away from home on all her previous six visits, as it has been for most other visiting heads of state and government as well as foreign ministers and defense ministers.

This time, however, there was a difference because some of the familiar faces of hotel staff who had taken care of her needs during past visits were missing.

But back to the noise and inconvenience. Because roadwork in King David Street, on which the hotel is situated, has not yet been completed, traffic continues to be diverted, as has been the case for several months. There is one access to the hotel from Mapu Street and another from Washington Street. The latter is the most used, and therefore, at its intersection with Keren Hayesod, there was a large security detail of police on motorcycles, police cars and police jeeps.

Whenever Merkel was coming or going, she was escorted by a phalanx of police motorcyclists, police cars, minibuses and an ambulance, while traffic on both sides of the street was brought to a halt for several minutes before the passing of her convoy, and was resumed only after she was well on her way to her destination.

There were a lot of frustrated people waiting on bus stops, and a lot of private vehicle drivers stuck behind a row of buses on both sides of the road.

This problem might have been solved by the projected construction of a 600-room, 30-story hotel at the entrance to the Romema neighborhood, which is also the entrance to the city and is, by and large, an ultra-Orthodox enclave. Residents protested that the structure would harm the character of the neighborhood, and even though the plans had been approved, the project was scrapped, which indicates how much more clout the ultra-Orthodox have in the capital than the secular population, which usually fails in protests against urban renewal incursions that will negatively impact on the character of their neighborhoods.

■ AS FOR the King David Hotel and the lack of familiar faces, Jerusalem-born general manager Tamir Kobrin, who early in his career had worked at the King David, and later gained considerable experience in hotel management in major hotels in more than a dozen countries, did not imagine when he came home at the beginning of 2020 that the hotel industry would suffer such a terrible downturn resulting from the pandemic. Staff had to be dismissed or simply sent home without pay, and when called to come in for emergency services, when a foreign president or prime minister was to stay at the hotel, most refused because it would mean a loss of what the Finance Ministry was shelling out to the unemployed.

On top of all that, a new human resources manager, who subsequently was dismissed, created havoc in employer-employee relations, as well as with work committees and trade union representatives with which the hotel had cooperated over the years and enjoyed excellent relations.

According to an in-depth, extensive investigative report in Yediot Yerushalayim, good relations have now been restored, but many of the people who left, and were stalwarts, are not coming back, though some have.

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