212-870-5880 The Masorti Foundation for Conservative Judaism in Israel foundation@masorti.org

Since Slichot, the Masorti Foundation has been hosting the Conservative/Masorti Movement’s campaign: Make Your Voice Heard, Equality at the Kotel. The campaign has been generating emails to the Prime Minister of Israel and other government officials, demanding that they implement the agreement, approved by the cabinet in January 2016, which resulted from three years of negotiation.  The agreement would protect the sanctity of the Kotel and provide for an egalitarian prayer space there, thus ensuring that it is “One Wall for One People”, not just a prayer space for Orthodox Jews who want to pray the way the ultra-Orthodox leadership overseeing the Kotel deem appropriate.

The campaign is on our website, in our newsletter—Masorti Matters—in action alerts and on our social media platforms.  Working with the Reform Movement, so far we have generated over 20,000 emails to the Prime Minister and to three other officials!

The compromise agreed to calls for:

·      The currently-developed section of the Kotel to remain in the hands of World Heritage Commission.

·      The section south of the stairs, commonly called Robinson’s Arch, to be developed in such a way as to protect the archeological finds,  and yet allow for much greater accessand space.

·      For the egalitarian space to be overseen by a commission made up of the Conservative/Masorti Movement, Reform Movement, Jewish Agency and Women of the Wall.

Given our campaign, I will admit to being puzzled.  The Prime Minister of Israel recently rebuked representatives of worldwide Jewry for holding a Torah procession to the Kotel on Rosh Chodesh Heshvan.  The representatives, including Yizhar Hess, the executive director of the Masorti Movement in Israel, Rabbi Steven Wernick, the executive director of USCJ, numerous Masorti Rabbis and congregants, as well as leaders of the Reform movement both in Israel and the US, had to stand their ground and move forward past people who tried (sometimes successfully) to throw them to the ground, hit them, and hold them back.  The rebuke oddly said that the leaders’ actions at the Kotel: “undermines our ongoing efforts to reach a compromise”.

What makes this such an odd statement?  Even if he had not been intimately involved in the three years of negotiation, the compromise that was reached and the approval by his cabinet LAST January, he has received 20,000 emails demanding he implement the agreed to compromise!  I would think that maybe I was living in some sort of a parallel universe, except the Supreme Court of Israel also has noted this lack of action on the part of the government, and issued a rebuke of their own at a court hearing just before the holidays.

I can understand that the Prime Minister might be upset with us. He has tried to paint himself as the leader of all the Jews worldwide.  He has said in speeches that Israel is there to defend all of us and our rights and he has used this bully pulpit to insert himself into the world political scene.  He has also stated that he will be the man to insure that Israel is a home to all Jews.  You can even see him say this in a video we have on our website.

But, like the child who shouted out that the Emperor has no clothes, our campaign and our Torah Procession to the Kotel has revealed an entirely different side to the Prime Minister and his promises.  Instead of being the protector of our rights, rights outlined in Israel’s version of the Declaration of Independence, he has shown himself kowtowing to those who would deny our rights to freedom of conscience and religion.

If Israel is to be the homeland for all Jews, it cannot impose one version of Judaism on all of us, whether we are there one week, one year, or a lifetime.  Nor can it deny our religiosity and call us secular if our observance is different than that demanded by the Rabbinut. It is time for full recognition of all streams of Judaism in Israel.  There is more than one way to be Jewish, and it is time that Israel recognizes this; not just in word, but in deed. 

In fact, the real fight at the Kotel is not only about how we pray. The real threat to the absolutists is that the compromise agreement was the first real official recognition of the legitimacy of the Masorti and Reform movements in Israel. This they see as a threat to their hegemony, to their monopoly over all things Jewish in Israel.  They are right. And it is about time to end that monopoly.

If the Prime Minister is a man of his word, he will move the cabinet-approved resolution, the result of 20 years of argument, forward.  If he does not, we will keep pointing out his failure and demand that Israel keep maturing and live up to the promises in its formative papers.  We do this out of love and from knowing that change does not happen on its own.  Join our campaign and Make your Voice Heard!