When the Jewish people went up to the Jerusalem Temple, they would sing Shir Ha’ma’alot – Song of Ascent. One of these still appears at the beginning of our Birkat Hamazon, our grace after meals, on Shabbat and festivals. Together, Jewish people of all backgrounds, with all traditions and from anywhere, would raise their voices in song together with different tones, with different melodies, but they were truly unified in their pilgrimage.
That’s what Jewish peoplehood is all about. It is about recognising the common thread that binds us all. Our people, ever since the beginning, have never been uniform. Our diversity has always been a core part of our identity – between tribes, among the alternate interpretations of the scholars, in the growth of geographical differences in exile and now denominational variations. Yet we still knew we had more in common than what divided us.
This week, what we have been proud of for so long has been stifled. The Kotel, the remains of the site that once united us, is now used, misused and abused to divide us more than ever.
What would respect the history of this sacred location would be a Kotel that allowed for the most vibrant demonstration of Jewish people-hood possible – a place where all Jews were
welcome and all practices were accepted. Truly a Kotel celebrating Jewish peoplehood.
Unfortunately, the status quo – the hegemony of the current highly-limited arrangements at the Kotel plaza – has been strengthened. Rather than a celebration of what it means to be Jewish, our most significant site continues to be defined by the erasure of the Jewish identities of the majority of world Jewry; the othering of Jewish identities forced to hide, siphoned off to the side, around the corner from the plaza. This week’s actions by the Israeli government sacrificed a piece of Jewish peoplehood for simple, short-term, cynical political gains.
Our identity as a people and our most revered religious site are both too important to be used as political pawns. I am saddened and dismayed.