On Rosh Hodesh Heshvan, a month ago, Gilad Kariv, the former head of the Israeli Reform movement who is now a Member of Knesset, crossed a red line by cynically taking advantage of his parliamentary immunity to force his way into the Kotel’s women’s section and deliver a Torah scroll to Women of the Wall.
This time around, on Rosh Hodesh Kislev, as Women of the Wall staged yet another media spectacle with a march from the Dung Gate to where Kotel security is posted (a distance of about 300 meters) with dozens of empty Sefer Torah mantles, once again, MK Kariv promised to be on hand to further these goals. Only the involvement of President Isaac Herzog prevented an ugly standoff.
No matter how many times Women of the Wall flout their feminist agenda, this group of 30-40 women (who usually also include a foreign delegation or a teen group to prop up their numbers) is nothing but a front for the political aspirations of the Israeli Reform movement. And the abuse they pour on the Western Wall, the holiest accessible site to the Jewish people, and the thousands of worshipers there, is nothing other than taking the opportunity to politicize religion.
In a media interview, Anna Kislanski, the Israeli Reform movement’s incoming CEO and Kariv’s replacement, shared that she uses an office combined with those of Women of the Wall’s chairwoman Anat Hoffman. This is, of course, not surprising if you keep in mind that Hoffman, in addition to her duties chairing Women of the Wall, also heads the Reform movement’s legal and advocacy arm – the Israel Religious Action Center.
Until recent months, on an average Rosh Hodesh, Kariv was satisfied standing in the back, observing Women of the Wall’s monthly performance, occasionally arguing with some of the regular Kotel-goers or giving a talk to a visiting group bused in to bolster WoW’s attendance.
But since joining the Knesset, Kariv has taken center stage for his own political gain and furthering the partition plan of the Kotel. Not satisfied with the existing, usually vacant, egalitarian plaza, he is set on creating an architectural monstrosity of two equal Kotel entrances and plazas to showcase the equal status of the Reform movement.
Yet Kariv has a problem. Based on the new CEO’s admissions, the Reform movement has just 10,000 members in Israel. And secular Israelis are simply not interested. So the progressive movements on both sides of the ocean have made up a narrative about Kotel regulations causing a rift between Israel and Diaspora Jewry.
EXCEPT THAT it is not true. Anyone who knows anything about Diaspora communities knows that the overwhelming majority of American Jews, outside of Orthodoxy, could not care less about Kotel plaza prayer regulations. The recent Pew study revealed than 85% of US Reform Jews do not attend synagogue services back home more than 1-2 times a year and do not belong to a shul. Due to this nonattendance, the Reform and Conservative movements have shuttered 20% and 30% (respectively) of their synagogues since 2001. Over half of non-Orthodox American Jews have never stepped foot in Israel.
However, this narrative serves American progressive leaders as well. The Conservative and Reform movements are dying out. According to the same Pew report from earlier this year, while 70% of Jewish seniors (ages 65+) identify with either one of the movements, only one-third of their grandkids (ages 18-29) do. Over 40% of young American Jews do not identify with any branch of Judaism and as many see themselves as ethnic or cultural Jews, but profess to not have any religion.
So with dwindling numbers and no prospects, American liberal rabbis have decided to stake out new ground in Israel and what better way to do so than to establish their credentials as a full-fledged Jewish movement at the Kotel. It doesn’t matter that the existing egalitarian plaza stands empty. It doesn’t matter that most Jews in Israel and the Diaspora are not interested in these changes. It does not matter that their antics deeply offend the millions of actual flesh-and-blood worshipers, who view (and use) the Kotel as their spiritual home.
Gilad Kariv, Anat Hoffman and their peers are set on forcing their agenda on all of us. This brings us back to feminism.
In feminist circles there is a lot of talk of the “rape culture” – the social attitudes of privileged men, who feel justified and able to force their wishes on women simply by being stronger (in non-literal meanings too). You’d be hard pressed to find a more blatant example of “rape culture” than a privileged social servant, such as Kariv, abusing his parliamentary immunity to force his political agendas and preferences on the thousands of traditional women, who gather to pray at the Western Wall each month.
This is par for the course for a tiny group of progressive leaders, who feel entitled to use power, money and friendly media attention so as to force their narratives and agendas onto the public perception for three decades now.
They may win the battle and partition the Kotel, but ultimately they will lose the war. Ever since 1967, millions of Jews have been voting with their feet to pray in accordance with the millennia-old prayer tradition at the Kotel. And in all likelihood, they will continue to do so for decades to come.
The writer is Israel director of Am Echad, an organization dedicated to strengthening the connection between Israel and Diaspora Jewry.