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Israel and the Western Wall

In all the years I have been involved with AIPAC I don’t remember an incident when the heads of AIPAC made an emergency trip to Israel to see the Prime Minister not to show their support but to express their concern about the direction that he and his government are taking. At the same time, The Jewish Agency’s Board cancelled a dinner with him, and a Miami Jew asked for a million dollar refund on a recent Israel Bonds purchase.

50 years ago, in June of 1967, the Israeli army, in one of the bloodiest battles in the history of our homeland, took back the Old City of Jerusalem from the Jordanians. The highlight of this victory was reclaiming The Western Wall, a remnant of the Second Temple that was destroyed almost 2,000 years ago, and has become the holiest place for Jews all over the world. 

However, it seems like the Western Wall has been taken away from the majority of the Jewish people. Not by the Romans, the Crusaders or the Arabs but by a minority of Ultra-Orthodox Jews. They did not do it by military force (remember, they don’t serve in the army), but by manipulating the fragile Israeli political system to fit their contempt and exclusion of the Jews who don’t practice the way they do. The painful irony is that the Jews who have been struggling with the Ottomans, the British and the Arabs in the past centuries against their own exclusion from the Western Wall are now, when in control of it, using their power to exclude women and Liberal Jews. No one challenges the gender segregation at the Wall, but even in the tiny section that was allocated to women, they are not allowed to wear a Tallit, to sing out loud or to read from the Torah. After successful appeals to the Israeli High Court of Justice, the government decided to designate a new section of the Western Wall in which people will be allowed to worship in the way that suits their tradition. Unfortunately, last month, the Israeli government voted to suspend the expansion of a non-Orthodox prayer area at the Western Wall, and if that was not enough, they also gave Israel’s Chief Rabbinate sole authority over official Jewish conversions performed in the country.

The cabinet decision to repeal the resolution creating a state-recognized egalitarian prayer section at the southern end of the Western Wall put an end to dreams of the Reform and Conservative movements for a site for their worshipers at the heart of the Jewish people. The conversion law will now continue on to the Knesset and, if enacted, will revoke all state recognition of Reform and Conservative conversions for the purpose of registration with the Interior Ministry.

This decision means that the State of Israel does not recognize Liberal Jews as equal and denies access to our ways of worshiping at the holiest place for the Jews. It is not simply an internal Israeli issue, it affects the vast majority of American Jewry who identify themselves with the Liberal movements. This means the State of Israel recognizes and supports only the Orthodox way of Jewish life.
The major American Jewish organizations have been putting out statements that denounce the Israeli government for destroying the fundamental principle that Israel, our Jewish homeland, is a place where all Jews can and must feel at home. 

After 2,000 years, we finally got back our Jewish State. It became evident from the very first day of Israel’s establishment that her neighbors will do all they can to destroy her, but they failed. Israel’s survival is a result not only of the Israeli Defense Force’s strength, but because Jews all over the world were united in supporting what they perceived as the national home of the entire Jewish people. The Government of Israel's decisions has a real potential to divide the Jewish people, and as our history taught us—when we are divided, we lose. 

As a Reform Rabbi, I am worried that Israel does not respect the version of Judaism that I love and respect, and is allowing hate and unacceptance to overpower the love that Judaism is all about. As an American Jew, I am dreading the rift that such moves will bring about between the Jews of Israel and the Jews of the Diaspora. As an Israeli, I cry for my homeland, that sacrifices its Democratic-Jewish nature for short-term political gain.
Rabbi Alon Levkovitz

Fri, December 4 2020 18 Kislev 5781