The writing was on the wall about violence at the Kotel - opinion

This past Rosh Hodesh, a group of rowdy and misled teens, who came to protest the monthly Women of the Wall event, blew up a bar mitzvah celebration.

 ANAT HOFFMAN holds a Torah scroll at a Western Wall prayer service on the occasion of Rosh Hodesh. The very people who have turned the Kotel into a battleground are now crying foul, says the writer. (photo credit: MIRIAM ALSTER/FLASH90)
ANAT HOFFMAN holds a Torah scroll at a Western Wall prayer service on the occasion of Rosh Hodesh. The very people who have turned the Kotel into a battleground are now crying foul, says the writer.
(photo credit: MIRIAM ALSTER/FLASH90)

‘I always look for cracks in walls,” Anat Hoffman of Women of the Wall told Haaretz in 2013, after bringing her organization to the traditional Kotel Plaza after a decade of uneventful services at Robinson’s Arch. “A whole bunch of vegetation grows in cracks... Without the capers or the golden henbane that grow in it − the Western Wall will just resemble a part of the Old City wall. They cling to the rock, look for food, enjoy the rainwater and in the end make the wall fall apart. It’s a symbolic representation of our struggle. Every fall of a wall begins with a crack. Cracks fascinate me, but I choose the walls carefully.”

This past Rosh Hodesh, a group of rowdy and misled teens, who came to protest the monthly Women of the Wall event, mistook the bar mitzvah celebration at Robinson’s Arch for part of the WOW service and blew up the celebration.

Needless to say, this behavior is unacceptable. There is absolutely no room for violence, neither physical, nor verbal, at the Kotel or anywhere else. While we may all have different religious views and visions for the future of the Kotel and the Jewish people, and while we may debate those, we always need to do so with love. At no point can the discussion boil over into hate or violence. 

Moreover, as a mother, my heart goes out to the bar and bat mitzvah celebrants and their families, after their big day, with all the planning, hard work and expectations, had been ruined by a bunch of hooligans.

Yet, the very people who have turned the Kotel into a battleground, setting Jew against Jew and pushing for maximum conflict, are now crying foul and leveraging the incident for a smear campaign that would have been considered racist had it targeted any other community. 

 HAREDI PROTESTORS scuffle with police as the Women of the Wall movement holds Rosh Hodesh prayers at the Western Wall, in March. (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90) HAREDI PROTESTORS scuffle with police as the Women of the Wall movement holds Rosh Hodesh prayers at the Western Wall, in March. (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

Over the past two weeks, Reform leadership has called on the Israeli government to deploy the police to secure the rights of Reform visitors. Indeed, the security forces need to do everything in their power to bring peace back to the Kotel. Yet such enforcement cannot be selective. 

Women of the Walls

Every month, a handful of Women of the Wall, sometimes accompanied by the leadership of the Reform and Conservative movements, disturb the prayers of thousands of traditional worshipers, most of them women. Ironically, the same Rabbi Rick Jacobs, head of the Union of Reform Judaism, who is now calling on the prime minister to bring in the police, has had multiple physical brawls with Kotel security while trying to bring his agenda to the Kotel.

In a Jerusalem Post op-ed on July 5, Rick Jacobs asks us to imagine a situation in which a group of Orthodox men in the midst of their morning prayer would be accosted by thugs, shouting hateful slurs. How long would it take before the police would get involved, he asks. Actually, this hypothetical scenario is similar to the experience of thousands of traditional women, who come to pray at the Kotel every single Rosh Hodesh.

Since 2013, dozens of reports of physical violence instigated by members of Women of the Wall have been filed with the Israel Police. Even when it doesn’t get to violence, this group shows up with as much noise as possible, chanting at the top of their lungs, assisted by audio devices, completely disregarding the prayer experience of the numerous peaceful women around them. 

Women of the Wall members defend their actions as a struggle for their right to pray anyway they want. Actually, for 10 years, between 2003 and 2013, they exercised that right undisturbed at the very same Robinson’s Arch, now the egalitarian plaza. Nobody cared, nobody bothered them. They could pray, read the Torah, celebrate bat mitzvahs without anyone batting an eyelash.

But in 2013, WOW and their Reform and Conservative colleagues decided that they wanted to bring the battle to the traditional plaza of the Kotel. They baited the worshipers in an ongoing effort to stoke the conflict. Even when the government upgraded the Robinson’s Arch Plaza in 2013 and then initially approved the Kotel compromise in 2016, Women of the Wall refused to move its events out of the traditional Kotel. Their reasoning had nothing to do with religion and prayer and everything to do with politics, control and money. 

And so over the past decade, Anat Hoffman’s Women of the Wall, aided by the Reform movement, has reached its goal of exploiting the “cracks” of the Kotel to undermine this sacred place. They have tragically turned the Kotel Plaza, one of the last unifying symbols of world Jewry, into a battlefield. Now, innocent bar and bat mitzvah boys and girls, together with tens of thousands of worshipers, are suffering the fallout and are robbed of an opportunity to connect to God in prayer at Judaism’s holiest accessible site.

Of course, Reform leadership is not willing to take responsibility. Rather, it shifts the blame. And in doing so, it leverages the misbehavior of a small group of 13-year-old hoodlums to run a smear campaign against the entire haredi (ultra-Orthodox) community. Can you imagine any US leader citing violence committed by a bunch of black, Asian or Arab teens to generalize about the entire ethnic community? Of course not. It would be perceived as racist and would get that leader canceled. 

Yet, somehow, Jacobs feels justified to project this misbehavior onto the “schools and communities that raised them,” in other words accusing the 1.2-million strong haredi community of being responsible for the actions of a few sour apples. It is only easy to smear with wide brush strokes when you don’t see the people. 

Is it possible that the same selective vision that prevents Rick Jacobs and his colleagues from noticing and respecting the wishes of the thousands of traditional worshipers, also leads him to not notice the million-plus law-abiding haredim, who are the true products and reflections of this community’s values?

As we enter the three-week commemoration of the destruction of the temples, it is incumbent upon all of us to take responsibility. Am Echad is working with haredi leaders to educate the youngsters about proper behavior and protest. The Reform leadership and Women of the Wall, on the other hand, should recognize their part in stoking the fires of conflict and stop abusing the Kotel for their political agendas.

But that would be a tall order for someone who only sees the Kotel as a wall with cracks to be brought down.

The writer is the Israel director at Am Echad.