Barak Hullman
Storyteller, Author, Entrepreneur and Community Leader

It’s Not About the Kotel

Recently the government decided not to create a new egalitarian section at the Kotel. As a result the Reform movement said it was a “slap in the face” and David Horovitz of the Times of Israel said it sends the message that “we don’t really want you.” Defense Minister Liberman said it was a “severe blow” to Jewish unity. Sharansky warned some Diaspora Jews are rethinking ties with Israel over the Western Wall decision.

A lot of people are upset and offended, but honestly I don’t understand why. There is no demand in Israel for an egalitarian section at the Kotel. If there was, there would be one already. The last time I checked there was no Reform party in the Knesset. However, there are Haredi parties and Haredi members of Knesset that represent a large portion of Israeli citizens. This is simply a non-issue for Israelis. I’ve never seen protests on the streets demanding an egalitarian section like what we saw in the past demanding lower housing and food prices.

The Reform and other non-Orthodox Jews threaten that they will no longer support Israel if there’s no egalitarian section. What support? This the same group that the majority voted for Obama twice, supported Obama’s Iran deal, supports the Palestinians, supports J Street, intermarries at 80% and does not visit Israel. How would building an egalitarian section at the Kotel change that? Christian Zionists are great supporters of Israel these days. Should the government build a Christian section at the Kotel to make them feel comfortable?

Why is democracy important only when it supports liberal American Jewish values? Israeli citizens get one vote, once every three or four years and consistently vote for right-wing, conservative parties not just because of security, but because they represent their views. An egalitarian section at the Kotel has never been an election issue. In part that’s because Israeli citizens who identify as Reform are 0.05% of the Jewish population. Why should non-citizens who don’t even live in Israel be considered?

The Reform movement and Women of the Wall demand that Netanyahu keep his word, but only when is in line with their views. When he keeps his word and builds a new settlement, they’re aghast.

Over 60% of Jewish Israelis are from Muslim countries. How many egalitarian sections were there in Iraq or Morocco? How many are there in Sephardi synagogues in Israel? It’s not an issue for Sephardi Jews.

Where were the protests from the Reform movement in 1967 to create an egalitarian section at the Kotel? How about 1977 or 1987 or 1997? The Reform movement officially did not support the state of Israel in 1948. It was anti-Zionist. They only officially changed their stance in 1997.

The head of the Reform movement proudly claims that he represents the largest stream of Judaism in America, representing millions of Jews. So, where are they? If they love Israel so much, and care so much, make Aliyah and make a difference. Two million Reform immigrants would change the face of the entire country. Forget Aliyah, they hardly even visit.

I’m waiting to see 500,000 Reform Jews (a fraction of the millions) come together and protest at the Kotel. Prove that it’s so important to you. The Haredim have proved how much it means to them.  Instead liberal Jews shout from abroad to accommodate them because they “feel uncomfortable” at the Kotel.

What about the tens of thousands of people that come each day to the Kotel? Have you considered how uncomfortable they would feel to have an egalitarian section at the Kotel or remove the mechitzah (separation barrier) entirely? The big difference being that the Haredim have political power in Israel and liberal Jews do not.

On top of all this there is already an egalitarian section at the Kotel and has been for years. It’s run by the same authority that maintains the Kotel. There are Torah scrolls available.

This is not about the Kotel. Creating an egalitarian section there won’t change anything. Most liberal Jews won’t start voting for pro-Israel presidents, they won’t stop intermarrying, they won’t visit Israel more often or make Aliyah.

For the Reform movement the Kotel is a symbol of the future. The future of the Jewish people is clearly in the state of Israel. Once Israel was the junior partner and American Jews the senior partner, but the situation has reversed itself since 1948. American Jews understand that if their version of Judaism is not accepted by the state of Israel, they have no future. They know that the trend of intermarriage and Jewish apathy is unstoppable.

The egalitarian section at the Kotel is a symbol of the Reform movement being accepted in Israel. When the government rejects expanding the egalitarian section, it’s not about the Kotel, it’s about the failure of the Reform movement to secure a future in the state of Israel and secure a strong Jewish future for themselves.

 

 

About the Author
Barak Hullman studied towards a PhD at the Hebrew University (MA at Princeton) in Arabic and Islamic studies. He made aliyah from South Florida in 1995. He lives in Jerusalem, Israel with his wife and their 7 children (all born in Jerusalem). Barak Hullman is the author of the book Figure It Out When You Get There: A Memoir of Stories About Living Life First and Watching How Everything Else Falls Into Place and the soon to be published A Shtikel Sholom: A Student, His Mentor and Their Unconventional Conversations.   Learn more at barakhullman.com.
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