Grapevine July 28, 2023: Minor triumph for Women of the Wall

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

 ANAT HOFFMAN holds a Women of the Wall press conference at the Kotel.  (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
ANAT HOFFMAN holds a Women of the Wall press conference at the Kotel.

During its 35 years of existence, the Women of the Wall organization, which includes Reform, Conservative, and Modern Orthodox Women who respect each other’s differences, but come together at the beginning of every Hebrew calendar month to read from the Torah and to sing liturgical songs aloud, has been literally persecuted by different ultra-Orthodox factions.

Members have for years been barred from bringing a Torah scroll to the Wall, though have succeeded in smuggling small scrolls in their clothing or tote bags.

How ludicrous it is to prevent a Jewish woman from carrying a Torah scroll. After all, the Women of the Wall don’t invade the men’s side of the prayer section – yet if they can read from a prayer book, why not from a Torah scroll?

Over the years, Anat Hoffman, the long-time chairwoman of WoW has suffered numerous indignities, including arrest, but she was happy last week when the Jerusalem Magistrates Court ruled that WoW will no longer be subjected to intensive searches by security guards, and will simply go through the regular security procedures for all visitors to the area.

In recent years, MK Gilad Kariv has brought a Torah scroll to the Western Wall for use by the women, but under the new court ruling which prevents any invasive searches, they will be able to bring their own.

 AMBASSADOR TO Germany Ron Prosor accompanying Foreign Minister Eli Cohen during his visit to Berlin in February. (credit: ANNEGRET HILSE / REUTERS)
AMBASSADOR TO Germany Ron Prosor accompanying Foreign Minister Eli Cohen during his visit to Berlin in February. (credit: ANNEGRET HILSE / REUTERS)

This does not sit well with the Western Wall Heritage Foundation but in the current period of crisis, it’s a small victory for democracy.

The strange thing is that the Torah is known as the Bride of the Jewish People, and a person’s Jewish identity is determined by the fact that his or her mother is halachicly Jewish. So if women play such an important role in Jewish continuity, why deny them the right to read from the Torah in public?

The fallout of judicial reform

■ THE FALLOUT from judicial reform legislation extends beyond economics.

Yediot Aharonot reported this week that Ambassador to Germany Ron Prosor had been thrown out of Café Dodo, an Israeli-owned restaurant in Berlin.

As the affable Prosor entered the restaurant he was approached by the proprietor, Avi Berg who asked him to leave. The reason given was that Prosor represents a rotten and manipulative government, which characterizes every criticism of Israel as antisemitic.

Berg, who was reported as saying that he respects Prosor but not the government he represents, also wrote on social media that Prosor is not welcome in his café.

A former career diplomat who left the foreign service to enter the hallowed halls of academia, Prosor was persuaded to return for this particular plum posting, which for him held a high degree of nostalgia. His father Ulrich Proskauer was born in Germany. His grandfather, a Prussian army officer, was forced to leave Germany in 1933, so for Prosor to be given red-carpet treatment as ambassador, had more than professional meaning.

The last thing he expected was to be humiliated in an Israeli-owned establishment.

Israeli diplomats in other countries in which there are Israeli-owned eating establishments should brace themselves for similar treatment.

Netanyahu's got a lot of heart

■ NOTWITHSTANDING MEDIA reports to the contrary, it seems that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s heart problems are not quite as serious as might be presumed. The obvious sign that he’s in far better condition than the public has been led to believe is the fact that his elder son Yair, who since April has temporarily been living in a luxury, seaside apartment complex just outside Miami, did not come home to be at his father’s side.

Haaretz reported this week, that Yair who is accompanied by two bodyguards from the Israel Security Agency (Shabak) is staying in an apartment belonging to American billionaire Simon Falik who is one of Bibi’s most generous and ardent supporters, in addition to being a long time family friend. According to the report Yair spends much of his time in the swimming pool.

In a much earlier report by news organization Walla, it was stated that the Falik family has a huge villa in Jerusalem which it has put at the disposal of the Netanyahus for meetings and family celebrations.

Hallett meets Herzog

■ US CHARGE d’Affaires Stephanie Hallett who met with President Isaac Herzog following his return from Washington, tweeted on Monday “As @POTUS said following today’s vote, we will continue to support the efforts of President Herzog & other Israeli leaders as they seek to build a broader consensus through political dialogue.” Hallett met with Herzog earlier in the day prior to the vote on judicial reform.

Mourning the yartzeit of the first Rishon Lezion

■ ALL SEPHARDI chief rabbis who are the spiritual leaders of the nation or the city or town in which they live are known as Rishon Lezion – First in Zion.

The title remains with them even when they are no longer in office.

The very first Rishon Lezion of the State of Israel was Jerusalem-born Rabbi Ben Zion Meir Hai Uziel, who before the establishment of the State had in 1939 been appointed Sephardi Chief Rabbi by the British Mandate authorities, and later continued in that role.

This year is the 70th anniversary year of his passing. A special memorial tribute was held for him at Yad Harav Nissim, the rabbinical academy, study center, and community center replete with a properly appointed auditorium in a large bomb shelter, named for his successor Rabbi Yitzhak Nissim, the anniversary of whose death falls at approximately the same time.

Both men were renowned for their wide range of knowledge encompassing general as well as Jewish subjects. They were also known for their outreach to Jews of every stripe, refusing to differentiate between Sephardi and Ashkenazi, religious or secular. They were also men of great compassion and understanding of the ways of the world.

When Uziel was on his death-bed, said Rabbi Yitzhak Ben David (a senior rabbi at Yad HaRav Nissim) he was visited by Nissim whom he told that he had dreamt that he, Nissim, would be the next Rishon Lezion – and so it was two years later.

Speakers during the evening included Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion, who is Sephardi and a member of the Yad HaRav Nissim Board. Yad Harav Nissim was built and is maintained by his son Moshe Nissim – a former justice minister and long-time Member of Knesset – who sat in the front row while his wife sat in the back although there was no gender segregation at the event.

Lion spoke of Uziel’s constant quest for peace in the belief that peace means unity. Other speakers in addition to Lion were: Rabbi Eliezer Melamed, the head of the Har Bracha yeshiva; Prof. Aviad Hacohen, the president of the Shaarei Hamishpat Academic College; Dr. Naama Sat of the Bar Ilan University Midrasha; and Rabbi Yitzhak Shuraki who heads the Rabbi Nissim study center for the dissemination of his legacy.

Regarding Uziel, said Melamed, he had great empathy for people who identified as Jews but were not Jewish according to Halacha and were what is known as Zera Israel – the seed of Israel, meaning that they had a Jewish father but a non-Jewish mother. Many wanted to convert but were not prepared to undertake observance of the commandments.

In his heart, Uziel felt sorry for them, but he could not convert them without researching a substantial number of halachic opinions.

Of the great sages whose opinions he sought, 130 were in favor of conversion and 60 were not.

Book launch stories

■ AT THE Jerusalem launch of his book Jewish Letchworth, Ireland-based historian Yanky Fachler who was born and raised in Letchworth told the story of a man in Texas who wrote a community memoir and then sat down in a local bookstore for the launch.

He sat all day, but no one came.

A local blogger who entered the store for another reason, felt sorry for the man, sat down alongside him, interviewed him, and published the interview on his blog. As a result, the man sold 20,000 books.

Looking out at a sea of familiar faces in the Yael synagogue in the capital’s Baka neighborhood, Fachler said with feigned glumness that he would not be so lucky.

According to Fachler’s younger brother Meir, who hosted the event, Jewish Letchworth is not just a book but a celebration of a community that came and went between 1940 and 1971.

Letchworth shaped and changed people’s lives, he said. Taking up the tale, Yanky Fachler said that although no bombs had fallen on London up till August 1939, many Jews were afraid that bombs would fall on Jewish London.

As a result, 20 pop-up communities sprang up outside London, and of these, the Letchworth Jewish community was the only one that was predominantly Orthodox with a complete Jewish community infrastructure of schools, yeshivot, and even a mikveh – but no Jewish cemetery.

Anyone who died was buried in London.

The absence of a cemetery meant that no historic footprint was left by the Jewish community when it returned to London or migrated to places elsewhere after the war.

It might have stayed that way but for the fact that in 2016 someone in the Letchworth Heritage Society tracked Fachler down and asked him to come and give a talk on the Jews of Letchworth.

That was the genesis for a similar talk in Jerusalem to the Israel branch of the Jewish Historical Society of England.

There was so much interest that Fachler was convinced that he had to write a book. He put out feelers for information and photographs and even though he knew a lot already, there was much of which he had previously been unaware. He was amazed by the outpouring.

“I received an avalanche of information, and I realized that if I did not write the book, no one else would,” he said.

Turkish book launch in Jaffa

■ UP UNTIL three decades prior to Israel’s Declaration of Independence, this country was ruled for 400 years by the Turks. During the interim, it was administered by the British Mandate authorities. Because there had been quite a number of crises during the four centuries of Ottoman rule, the Turks became fairly stoic in facing disasters. Whereas some other people may have postponed events on Tuesday of last week, when Israel faced yet another day of demonstrations, disruption and disquiet, the Turks had intended to go ahead with their book launch at their exquisitely designed and appointed Saraya cultural center in Jaffa.

A query to the Embassy on Tuesday morning elicited the following response: “The postponement of the event is not on the agenda… ” But a short time later, there was an update informing invitees that the event had been postponed till the following day.

Despite the short notice, there was a fairly good attendance the following evening as invitees joined Ambassador Sakir Ozkan Torunlar, Turkish author and businessman Aaron Nomaz and Eyal Greenberg, owner and CEO of Steimatzky’s in celebrating the Hebrew edition of Nomaz’s book Dona Gracia: The First Jewish Banker.