Dear Los Angeles Rabbis,
Thank you so much for your letter. It is comforting to hear a voice of sanity, even if it comes from the other side of the globe.
I could not agree more strongly with you. For generations, the Kotel symbolized our joint yearning to return to Israel. This is precisely why Ronit Peskin and I founded Women FOR the Wall. Watching the monthly scuffles, seeing the Kotel plaza turned into a media circus was excruciatingly painful for both of us.
We can understand the religious aspirations articulated by sincere members of Women of the Wall and the wish to pray in a certain manner. But must it be done at the expense of creating a rift at the holiest site available to us today, the most emotionally-loaded religious site in the Jewish world? We understand their wish to impact the relations between religion and state. But wouldn’t the Knesset and the courts serve as more suitable venues for this?
Please permit me to share a story. In the Soviet Union of my childhood, any pro-Israel or Jewish activity was a criminal offense. Yet when my grandfather had a chance to visit relatives in France, he smuggled back in a tiny 3” by 4” siddur, and a napkin holder with a picture of the Kotel engraved on it, on his return. The napkin holder graced my parents’ kitchen table until we were able to leave the country in 1989. I cherished this napkin holder, because the picture of Kotel stones symbolized my yearning to one day live in Israel among other Jews.
My story is in no way unique. For generations, when Jews prayed for a return to Zion, the image they had before their eyes was that of the Kotel. In Poland and Morocco, Hungaria and Iraq, the picture of the Kotel in the mizrach was a silent and constant witness that our true place is elsewhere. And today, many a US synagogue hallway is graced with photos of the Kotel as a sign of joint destiny with Israel.
The Kotel is not a charedi issue. It’s not even a purely religious one. This place is perhaps one of the last national Israeli symbols that has been able to escape politicization and polarization. For all of us, religious observance notwithstanding, the Kotel is sacrosanct, if only as a result of millennia of Jewish tears that have washed its stones. As such, it absolutely must be kept out fights.
It is obvious that the only way to solve the current problem is through dialogue. Since the inception of our group, we have made several attempts to reach out to Women of the Wall and begin a conversation. Unfortunately, our efforts have been unsuccessful.
It is our sincere wish that today’s prayer services on both sides will be peaceful and respectful. And then we hope to have a chance to sit down with Women of the Wall and start talking.
Let’s pray that by Rosh Chodesh Av, the reason that shines through your letter will prevail and the Kotel will once again enjoy the quiet. The din of prayer and the chirping of the birds are noise enough.