Dear Ambassador Hertzog,
I am an American Reform rabbi. I am writing to you from Tel Aviv, where I am privileged to be spending a month with my Israeli family.
This morning, I joined friends and colleagues to celebrate Rosh Chodesh at the Kotel, as I have many, many times before.
I am honored to join my courageous and resilient Israeli sisters to welcome the new month, even though we who join Women of the Wall (נשות הכותל) are often screamed at, spat upon, and prevented from praying together. Today was no different: we were corralled into a separate space as if we, not our hecklers, needed to be contained. The true desecration today was the screaming, the shrill whistles, and the guards’ bullhorns that attempted to silence our prayer. Instead of providing protection to us, the Kotel authorities ignored and seemed to support those who harassed us.
You know that the current situation at the Kotel causes grave harm and deep embarrassment for all of us who love Israel. Israel is my home, but being heckled by ultra-Orthodox men and women, and boys and girls, when I lift my voice in praise to the Source of all makes me feel unwelcome and alienated in one of Israel’s most sacred places.
You also know that Israel is home to many Jews who do not identify as Orthodox, and that North American Jews from all liberal streams feel a profound sense of peoplehood when we visit Israel and attend one of the many Israeli Reform, Reconstructionist, or Conservative synagogues. And when we visit the Kotel, we want to pray in peace, in a space that welcomes us.
No one heckles the men who gather to pray. No one prevents men from bringing a Sefer Torah to sanctify their gathering. No one prevents men from being called to the Torah for the first time, or to celebrate a simchah, or to remember a loved one. No one accuses other prayer groups of “disturbing the peace.”
Yet I return to Israel, and to the Kotel, whenever I can, in the hopes that the Kotel Agreement, approved on January 31, 2016 by the Israeli government will finally be implemented. This detailed, 45-page document, negotiated over three and a half years, provides full and unimpeded access to the Western Wall for Jews of all streams. It is my hope that once implemented, the harassment, intimidation, and שנאת חינם will cease.
Today we welcomed a new month: Adar. Tradition teaches: משנכנס אדר מרבים בשמחה.
However, my joy today was diminished, and my heart heavy with disappointment and anger that Prime Minister Bennett, on the sixth anniversary of the signing of the Kotel Agreement, is capitulating to extremists and denying that the Kotel Agreement is a fair and long overdue compromise. As you know, there is broad support in his coalition to finally move forward on this long delayed and eminently fair solution.
Now is the time to rise beyond narrow political considerations. I implore you, as a representative of the Israeli government, to conclude the task begun with “Ezrat Israel” in 2013. Nine years later, it is time for the Israeli government to implement the Kotel Agreement.
Let us welcome Adar with joy, not shame.
Rabbi Sue Levi Elwell, PhD
Rabbi Sue Levi Elwell, PhD serves as a Spiritual Director at Hebrew Union College–Jewish Institute of Religion. She is the editor of Chapters of the Heart: Jewish Women Sharing the Torah of Our Lives (Cascade Books) and The Open Door: A Passover Haggadah (CCAR Press), and has served as a congregational rabbi, worked with congregations and lay leaders through the URJ, and has taught at the University of Cincinnati, University of California, Los Angeles, and LaSalle University.