by Jacob Kraus
Late in January, the Israeli Government voted to approve a historic agreement to establish an egalitarian space at the Western Wall that would, for the first time in Israeli history, recognize the role of Reform and Conservative Judaism at the Kotel. Since then, though, the plan has seen fierce opposition and delays. Now, many of us are wondering: When will we see the improvements that were promised more than five months ago?
This is the exact question a delegation of American Jewish leaders posed to Prime Minister Netanyahu in Jerusalem on June 1. URJ President Rabbi Rick Jacobs, United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism CEO Rabbi Steve Wernick and Jewish Federations of North America President Jerry Silverman led a delegation to Israel in order to press the government to fulfill its obligations under the agreement. Together, they expressed their frustration with the lack of progress in enhancing the Kotel’s southern plaza and reminded the Prime Minister of how important an egalitarian prayer space is not only for diaspora Jewry, but for Jews in Israel as well. You can view a video update Rabbi Jacobs recorded after meeting with the Prime Minister on the URJ’s Facebook page.
Women of the Wall, whose representatives also attended the meeting, released a statement calling upon Prime Minister Netanyahu to stand up to the plan’s opponents in the Knesset, saying that they “look to the government to make the equality of women and the inclusion of ALL Jews, a central, high priority by taking significant steps to implement this plan in the coming weeks.” Since this meeting, the Prime Minister has reiterated his commitment to keep his promise and implement the agreement, ordering a bimah to be built in the current egalitarian plaza.
Compounding the frustration with delays in enhancing the egalitarian plaza are reports that an Orthodox service with a mechitzah separating men and women was held at the plaza on June 14. In response, the Reform and Conservative movements in Israel held a service at the Kotel’s upper plaza, located behind the gender-segregated section of the holy site, on June 16.
Responding to the Reform and Conservative service, URJ President Rabbi Rick Jacobs made it clear that “We will continue these regular prayer gatherings in our determination to affirm the right of all Jews to pray at the Western Wall and to assert the vision of Jewish unity in which every Jew feels at home at the Kotel and in the whole of the Jewish state.” Fully implementing January’s agreement on the Western Wall would make significant progress towards this vision. As leaders and activists in Israel and beyond continue to elevate the call for an egalitarian Kotel, it is important that we continue to lend our support and make it clear that we believe in a Jewish state that is welcoming to all Jews. Learn more about the RAC’s work on Israel by visiting our issue page.
Jacob Kraus is a 2015-2016 Eisendrath Legislative Assistant at the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. Jacob is from Cincinnati, OH, where he is a member of Rockdale Temple. He graduated from Macalester College.
This post originally appeared on the RAC Blog