Sixteen years ago, brought up on only Christmas and Chanukah, I came to a decision that would completely change the direction and purpose of my life: I committed fully to Judaism and told my Catholic mother I did not believe in Christianity.
I contacted the local Conservative synagogue – the only synagogue in town – and asked if I could visit. Temple Har Zion and its interesting blend of traditional and Renewal Judaism in Mt. Holly, NJ was my home for four years before I moved on again. I shifted toward Orthodoxy in college, converted, and have lived an Orthodox lifestyle since.
I don’t believe in Renewal’s approach at all. I disagree with the Conservative Movement on fundamental issues from how it relates to people to the way it evaluates Jewish Law. But just because my views changed and I have deep-seated differences with the Conservative Movement and denominations even further left does not mean I do not respect the people who live their lives that way.
I certainly have never been threatened by prayer nor thought that Torah scrolls – often among the thousands redeemed from Europe after the Holocaust – were ever in insecure hands by resting in an Aron Kodesh of a non-Orthodox synagogue.
Shas and United Torah Judaism demonstrated their utter, despicable incompetence for managing Jewish life in their demand to torpedo a deal to have mixed prayer at the Western Wall. Those two political parties and the Chief Rabbinate have time and again shown it is not simply they don’t care about the spirituality of non-Orthodox Jews, but that they are probably and inexcusably unaware of it.
It was already humiliating enough to have Orthodox Judaism spoken for by violent rioters every Rosh Hodesh who have insisted on throwing chairs at women reading from a Torah scroll. It has been painful to see such vast resources squandered on this absolutely petty fight to block prayer at the Kotel instead of lack of Jewish literacy or observance abroad.
The Rabbinate and its stagnant satellite parties in the Knesset have ignored more fundamental issues like kosher food access, knowledge of Shabbat, the use of mikvah by Jewish women, and extremely critical issues of marriage and divorce.
None of these things matter to Shas. UTJ has not one damn to give. The Chief Rabbinate is a conduit of nepotism that only cares to hand out unnecessary bureaucratic jobs to favored candidates. The most these groups can do for Jews worldwide has been to find ways to interfere in the least consequential, most innocuous, and least substantive difference among all Jewish denominations: How we pray.
This decision only distances non-Orthodox Jews from the Western Wall and the Temple Mount at a time the Jewish people direly need to rally unified to the defense of those pillars of pilgrimage. As cynical Palestinian propaganda and UNESCO resolutions try to erase Jewish history and the centrality of this place, Jews the world over need to embed their connections to it, rediscover it, and lock back into it as the physical nucleus of all forms of Judaism.
On the far more important issue, we can all see common ground again by simply embracing the least important point of difference: Prayer.