Erev Shabbat 11 Sivan finds me in my perch on the Upper West Side, hanging on as the world spins rapidly out of control as events near and far rock our sense of civilized society. In the midst of terrorism in Tel Aviv, outrage in Orlando and the decay of public decency with the rise of Donald Trump, the Prime Minister of the State of Israel is playing games with Diaspora Jewry. Not only was the Director of the Women of the Wall Lesley Sachs detained for five hours by the Jerusalem police for “smuggling” a Torah scroll into the Women’s Section of the Western Wall on Rosh Hodesh Sivan, this past Tuesday there was an organized Orthodox prayer service, mechitza included, at the Egalitarian Prayer Space.
In their June 16 Forward article, “Western Wall Prayer Deal Crumbles as Rivals Stage Dueling Provocations,” Helen Chernikoff and Naomi Zeveloff review the facts and opinions surrounding the service led by Jerusalem Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar on June 14. Quoting Yizhar Hess, the head of the Masorti (Conservative) movement in Israel: “The provocation dramatically escalated the feeling that this government is not going to implement the deal and is giving officials the right to spit in the eyes of Jews who are not Orthodox.” While I wholeheartedly agree with Hess, I ask him to start using different language – rather than describe the vast majority of Jews as not or non, let us start saying, if we must, Jews Other than Orthodox (or Reform or Conservative or Secular, for that matter). The modern Jewish democracy movement must find its voice now, in the midst of this turmoil, if the advances made over the past six years are to be protected.
This morning, as I was walking my dogs Maccabee and Sammy, I ran into another of my teachers from my Wexner Heritage Foundation days, Chancellor Arnold Eisen of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America. During those days, “Arnie” was a Professor of Sociology at Stanford. We were so fortunate to have been taught by one of the most insightful scholars of American Jewish life and the impact of Israel on our identities and our community. After our brief chat, I knew there was yet more to say before Shabbat arrives on the Upper West Side and Bill and I lose ourselves in the spiritual magnificence that is Kabbalat Shabbat at Romemu. Reading the words of Arnie’s academic partner, well known Jewish sociologist Steven M. Cohen, in that Forward article, I realized what message I need to share before the sun sets over the Hudson River.
Cohen is quoted as saying: “If anything, the incursion of the Orthodox into the Reform and Conservative space underscores the power of the Orthodox in Israel. They can operate this way: ‘What’s mine is mine and what’s yours is mine.’” Cohen goes on to say that American Jews are the “only force politically that can get the government to move on the Kotel issue,” but other than a vocal minority of Reform and Conservative Jews, most American Jews don’t care enough about the Western Wall. The Western Wall is an issue that “requires a lot of familiarity with Israeli society and so the only major supporters of the Kotel changes would be Conservative and Reform official leaders, both rabbis and lay people,” he said. Among other American Jews, “the public is far more concerned about the conflict with the Palestinians than they are about religious issues”.
Which, of course, leads me directly to The Sacred Rights, Sacred Song Project. On the same day that Rabbi Amar was organizing an “in your face” Orthodox minyan in Egalitaran space, I was in Philadelphia beginning the serious planning for a Concert of Concern which will be presented in the Perelman Theater of The Kimmel Center on Sunday evening, November 13. The mission of SRSS is to wake up an uninformed and uninspired American Jewish community to the importance of these issues. The Modern Jewish Democracy Movement is about creating a new dialogue about religious freedom in Israel. Raising our voices in concern for the protection of SPIRITUAL CIVIL RIGHTS, FOR ALL JEWS, REGARDLESS OF GENDER OR ADJECTIVE, is the goal of every Concert of Concern. Advocating for a PUBLIC JEWISH LAW that reflects a modern, evolving, dynamic interpretation of Jewish law that lives in harmony with the core democratic values embedded in the State of Israel’s Declaration of Independence is our mission. Demanding that that issues of religious freedom and gender equality in public space not wait until the security situation has improved is part of the call. Growing the size of the public that is concerned about not only the Western Wall but all the other issues that arise when Public Jewish Law and Core Democratic Values is why The Sacred Rights, Sacred Song Project came into existence.
The Women of the Wall have led the way in the movement to create a a modern Jewish democracy that is true to all of its core values. But this is much more than a Women’s movement. Bibi, with so much going on in the world, don’t you think that We Diaspora Jews should be treated just a little bit better right now? While I, for one, would never turn away from the State of Israel, even if You seem to be turning away from me as a Masorti Woman who values her religious freedom in Jewish Public Space, be on notice that I will raise my voice in Concern. I know there will be many people in Philadelphia on November 13 who will be joining me in the Perelman Theater. Mr. Prime Minister, please know that passionate Zionists don’t appreciate you playing games with the Israel-Diaspora relationship. I think we all have much bigger problems to focus on during these days of terror, outrage and the decline of decency.