“My daughter was at the Kotel on Rosh Hodesh Sivan, witnessed the violence against Women of the Wall and is now afraid to return again.”
This troubling comment was shared last week by one of the participants at the most recent meeting of the Rabbinic Cabinet of the Jewish Federations of North America during which we engaged in another conversation with Natan Sharansky. At the meeting, Mr. Sharanksy once again updated us and sought feedback about his proposal for the Kotel and next steps towards implementation. I was privileged to attend this meeting representing the Reform Movement, together with CCAR President Rick Block and Immediate Past President Jonathan Stein, URJ President Rick Jacobs, and Bennett Miller, the Chair of ARZA.
When I asked Mr. Sharansky for his opinion about the likelihood of success in the implementation of his plan, especially with so many prior disappointments on this issue, he emphasized Prime Minister Netanyahu’s recognition of the importance of Diaspora Jewry, as well as the active voices of the North American leadership especially in the Reform Movement. Also, of course, he acknowledged that the publicity associated with the arrests of Women of the Wall has contributed not just to public pressure in North America but also a growing awareness of this issue in Israel too. We will hopefully also continue the conversation not just about the Wall itself but also about the reorganization of The Western Wall Heritage Foundation.
The organizations of the Reform Movement who were in the room with Mr. Sharansky have decried the violence of last Rosh Hodesh at the Wall, and on any occasion for that matter. That violence was in sharp contrast to Rosh Hodesh Sivan in Madison Square Park in NYC where several hundred of us gathered for a lovely, sunny solidarity service held with the Women of the Wall who gathered that day in Jerusalem. CCAR members Rabbi Jackie Ellenson welcomed the group, Rabbi Sari Laufer led the t’filah and Rabbi Linda Henry Goodman read Torah. ACC Cantor Benjy Shiller also led the t’filah. The Reform Movement was front and center in its support of this event, with Rabbi Steve Fox (CCAR Chief Executive), Rabbi Alan Henkin (CCAR’s Director of Rabbinical Placement), and me all in attendance.
The CCAR has been on record since 1990 in support of the work of the Women of the Wall. At that time the Conference declared support for Women of the Wall and:
a. Bat mitzvah ceremonies at the Wall–something now forbidden;
b. Women having the option of joining prayer groups at the Wall;
c. Women holding and reading a Sefer Torah;
d. The impropriety of Jews barring other Jews from praying at this holy place in peace and dignity”
We should all applaud the work of our CCAR colleagues, Stuart Weinblatt, Chair and Gerald Weider, Director, of the Rabbinic Cabinet of the Federation. Their efforts have been amazing in moving these conversations forward in a civil and respectful manner among Jewish leadership from all walks of life.
What would you consider to be the next steps in this process of bringing freedom of religion to the Kotel?
Rabbi Deborah Prinz is Director of Program and Member Services & Director of the Joint Commission on Rabbinic Mentoring at the CCAR.