For those who were in services last week, I shared a little bit of my concern with the situation of a specific area of the Kotel (Western Wall), in Jerusalem.
The main area of the Kotel has been used for decades as an orthodox synagogue. Conservative/Masorti Jews like us and many other groups who wish to pray at our holiest site differently were never allowed. In the main plaza, men and women must be separated.
For about two decades, the Conservative/Masorti movement in Israel and other allies have advocated and organized an area south of the main plaza to be an egalitarian section.
I have personally been to this area multiple times to pray and it felt right that we have the right for that space to do so in our own way, also according to Jewish tradition. A tradition that is by nature pluralistic. Not just today, but maybe the core elements of our tradition are to have multiple opinions coexisting and our capacity to transform ourselves through time and space.
This area was taken by a group of extremist Orthodox activists in the week leading up to Tisha b’Av and on the night of Tisha b’Av itself. Bringing their own mechitzot (physical divisions), they disturbed, harassed, and tried to prevent Jews from praying together in that area.
Rabbi Jacob Blumenthal, CEO of The Rabbinical Assembly and the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism shared:
“The events of the night of Tisha B’Av are just the latest example of the despicable behavior of some fanatics against other Jews,” Rabbi Blumenthal said. “The rabbis assigned this day on the Jewish calendar to warn against sinat hinam, baseless hatred, yet this is how some act against their Jewish siblings. We call on all in the Jewish world, and particularly Israeli governmental leaders, to denounce this behavior and affirm the right of all to practice Judaism according to their traditions and conscience throughout Israel, including at the Kotel. (…) The Masorti/Conservative movement affirms Ahavat Yisrael, a love for all Jews, and expects others to do so as well, particularly as we mourn and commemorate our shared history of destruction and suffering.”
I am proud to see many members of the new Government to quickly rebuke that behavior. It is within reach of this coalition to carry out the Kotel Agreement that has been stalled for years.
I agree with Rabbi Blumenthal that, particularly on Tish b’Av, we affirm Ahavat Yisrael, a love for all Jews. We must do better. I invite you to join me over the next week to focus our minds and hearts towards Ahavat Yisrael, a love for the people, the land, and the state of Israel. I genuinely believe that acts of lovingkindness are the key to transform our world, making it a better place for all of us.
Rav Natan Freller