The press release from the SAUPJ/SAAPR (read it here) is an immediate response of our movement on the newest development in Israel. It is a well thought through reaction on a demeaning attack on our Progressive movement. In the last days since the decision was made by the Israeli government I read and learned about many who stand with us in solidarity and support our request to re-instate the compromise about the Western-Wall-Plaza, but I also hear voices that ask why we care about a “bunch of stones”. Our connection to Israel, so they say, are human beings and much more. While I agree that the Kotel is not Judaism alone, and that we have more and perhaps even many more spiritual places in Israel and around the world to practise Judaism, the Kotel and the Western-Wall-Plaza symbolises an important part of our traditions and history and a common link between us and the generations to come.
For me it is not a question of what we can currently do in Israel and in our homes, but what we are not permitted to do, even though the absolute majority of world Jewry shares our request to create a space where all Jews feel comfortable and recognised. The compromise would have enabled women and men to worship God together as we do in our Synagogues. We need a place where we can share a pre-wedding-blessing with a gay-couple as any orthodox yeshiva student receives one in the orthodox-men-section before their wedding. A transsexual women should have the right to do hagba-ah (lifting the torah) at the Kotel to show her connection to the Torah without fear, and a young boy should be able to celebrate his bar mitzvah standing next to his grandmother and mother at a place that is meaningful for them without (!) being shouted at and booed by ultra-orthodox extremists. Women should be allowed to sing proudly and loudly and not have to remain silent because some ultra-orthodox men argue that a woman’s voice is evil.
It is important for me that when teenagers from our congregations arrive for the first time in Israel and perhaps celebrate Shabbat in Jerusalem that they can do it in a meaningful and dignified way, too—strengthening their Jewish identity.
A third, egalitarian—pluralistic section at the Western-Wall-Plaza will enable more Jews to pray to God in their own authentic way. This section will create opportunities and does not take anything away from anyone.
And this is why I feel so strongly about the decision of the Israeli government. This decision demands from us to give up our way to pray, to cut our connection to the Kotel and perhaps even to give up on Israel. The Kotel is currently not a place for “all Jews”. Sunday’s decision is a clear statement that non-orthodox Judaism doesn’t count for the Israeli government.
We can’t accept this. We are proud Jews. We have values and ideals that are worth being protected and cared for. Israel and Jerusalem is as much part of our Judaism as it is for any other Jew.
In the next few days and weeks we will—together with our partners in Israel (the Israeli Progressive movement and IRAC) find ways to challenge this newest development, and I urge you to support us.
Thank you—Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Adrian M Schell