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Eat, pray, love

The status quo at the Wall must be preserved, and if that means following Orthodox practice, so be it

In our family, we try to respect privacy. When it comes to political opinions, we don’t ask who you voted for. But we do encourage lively debate, often around the Shabbat dinner table. As the kids get older, we enjoy seeing their opinions evolve and sharpen. Of course, I wouldn’t mind having them agree with some of our core issues, especially when it comes to traditional Judaism and today’s challenges.

Here in Israel people are likely to ask straight out: So, how much money do you make? Why do you send your kid to this school, or buy that car? It’s not an invasion of privacy as much as a familial approach, acceptable here in the Middle East.

And the inevitable question: Who’d you vote for? In Trump v. Hilary it was pretty clear; you usually didn’t have to ask. But in Israeli politics, with splinter groups and specific issues, the lines blur. I’ve advocated supporting the larger parties – find the one most closely aligned and join it. This brings more balance and a more serious debate, weighted by a larger number of party members and lending longer-term stability. A cacophony of orchestrated voices within one party makes for a stronger democracy.

There are those who would rather support a smaller party that reflects their specific interests more closely. I get that, and although I wish Naftali Bennett had chosen to build his influence within the Likud, I appreciate his party’s consistent strong stands. The Labor party has been imploding, shrinking in size and stature for quite some time. And now the ‘Zionist Camp’ as it’s currently known, has gone over the edge. I refer not to the age-old debate on how to solve the Arab-Israel conflict, but on the latest social-religious-historic question of who should pray where at our precious Western Wall.

kotel stones

Allow me to weigh in on this after listening to some quite offensive talk, from proponents of ‘liberal-change’. This is not a political issue that should align by party preference, yet it becomes one when wielded by some opportunistic politicians on the left. While the Israeli government and its leadership have taken the issue seriously, trying to balance the needs of an entire nation, there are those who cynically use the media with scare tactics and overblown, simplistic arguments. You may be surprised to find me on this side of the issue but there you have it: At the Kotel, the religious parties are actually the ones protecting the rights of the largest common denominator in our nation.

Calling for a division of this small, precious wall, would be heretical in any other context. Those who wish to divide are divisive, period. Keeping the status quo is the only way to ensure the largest number of people would be able to continue to pray at the Kotel.

I heard an incredible radio interview where leaders of the ‘Zionist Camp’, self-described left-wing liberals, claimed to defend the Jewish nation from a prime minister who is creating one of the greatest divisions among our people, ever. Would they be talking about ripping Jews from their homes within the heart of our Jewish land? Israeli soldiers forcing Israeli families from their houses, in return for nothing tangible, perhaps more rockets launched at our cities? For this certainly is an issue of contention that tears at the heart of our people and threatens our community. Would we expect to hear that Judea & Samaria, or the West Bank, is an issue that should not be allowed to divide us?

No, some anti-Netanyahu leaders use their pulpit to launch a verbose diatribe that claims what tears us apart is none other than who-prays-where. To quote major Israeli media outlets, the truth is that this is a non-issue here in Israel. Most Israelis are fine with the status quo that allows any person the religious freedom to approach the Kotel and to pray. I am not blind to the desires of various groups to change tradition and make way for new ideas. But I am outraged when those ideas impose on the larger, historic belief in allowing people to follow their conscience.

Here, at the most accessible remnant of our Temple for prayer, we must ensure the largest common denominator of Jewish belief. We must retain the status quo that allows people of all faith to approach the Wall and to speak to our God with piety and dignity – without the fanfare that has become almost a new religion. And yes, if that means the orthodox method is followed at the Kotel, so be it.

I often pass the new-ish platform, created for those who wish to pray in other ways – and it simply stands empty. I am heartened to see that most people can find their way to faith and meaning at the current portion of the Western Wall, without involving politics and statements of grandeur. An expanded platform was offered, other locations along the wall offered but rejected, seemingly because people are intent on changing what others do and believe.

kotel wall ruins

Dare I say, and there will be debate at our table this week: There can be no win-win when one side wants the other to lose.

I encourage any women, and all those who feel otherwise, to look inside themselves and find the way to create a space that is spiritually fulfilling, while not imposing on those who would be kept from their faith were the space to change. It is not too late for understanding and care, on the part of those whose ‘liberal’ views must learn to make room to listen to others as well. We do not ask whom you voted for, but we do demand an honest, open – and yes, liberal – take on ensuring the religious freedoms of as many as possible, not of those who make the most noise.

Kotel – simply a retaining wall that has absorbed the tears, prayers and hopes of generations of Jews returning home. This is our strength and we must protect our unity as a people of faith. May we merit prayer on the Temple Mount itself, returning to our home and our heritage soon.

kotel historic photo

About the Author
Ruth Lieberman is an Israeli-based political consultant and licensed tour guide, combining her love of Israel with political acumen to better Israel's standing both at home and in the eyes of the world. She has consulted for political leaders in Jerusalem and in Washington, from work on election campaigns to public advocacy and events. Her tours in Israel connect Biblical history to modern realities, to highlight Israel's achievements and promote its policies.