Yochi Rappeport
Yochi Rappeport

Who owns the Western Wall

In a recent Hamodia article, the question was raised as to why Rabbi Gilad Kariv (newly elected Knesset member) would “make the Kosel (Western Wall), a place he regards to lack religious meaning, into a battlefield?” I did a double-take. A place he regards to lack religious meaning? How absurd. The question bugged me, and I felt I needed to clarify how this is in fact such a warped position to take. Similar to the ultra-Orthodox, egalitarian Jews and Women of the Wall certainly see the Western Wall as a place that holds great religious meaning. The Wall is a holy site simply because we, the people, made it holy. It represents our rich history and is a place that holds such a deep connection for all of Jews across all denominations. However, we also understand that it is so much more than that.

The Western Wall is a national symbol. As the Jews went into exile and sat by the waters of Babylon, they dreamt of returning once again to the Holy Land. The dream was to return to the place which was home and which was holy. In 1967, when we regained access to the Western Wall, it was as if finally we had returned to our holy and special home. Years later, the Western Wall has become the number one site in Israel for diplomatic visits, national events, and tours. It has become the location where the Israeli army holds its ceremonies. Additionally, the Western Wall has become the symbol for Jews worldwide, linking them to Israel and to Judaism. 

It’s interesting to think about who feels that they ‘own’ the Western Wall. The answer is plain and simple- the Western Wall is not owned by anyone. It belongs to all of us and it stands as a symbol for all Jews. 

The ultra-Orthodox media outlets may say that we don’t value the Western Wall’s religious significance and that we should therefore cease and desist from our struggle there. However, it is quite the opposite. We see the Western Wall for all that it stands for and we feel so strongly that all Jews deserve to visit, pray, and worship as we wish. It is not appropriate for one group to impose its tradition on all people who visit this national site, which is not a synagogue. Although the site should be treated with respect, it is still not a synagogue.

Rather than taking words out of context and making claims as to why only the ultra-Orthodox community has a right to the Wall, I propose to the author of the original article to double-check before doing so. Perhaps if time was taken to understand that our goals are to take part in the uniqueness of the Western Wall a common ground could be found. Maybe then, we’d find ourselves one step closer to equality for all Jews at this most special Jewish site.

Photo Credit: Irina Lutt, Women of the Wall

About the Author
Yochi Rappeport is the executive director of Women of the Wall. She was born and raised in the Orthodox environment of the Safed Old City. Upon turning 18, Yochi joined the IDF and served as a commander in a course for Judaism and Zionism for soldiers who aren't Jewish and new immigrants. Following her service, she studied Political Science and Middle Eastern studies at Bar Ilan University, and then served as an executive assistant at an Israeli news agency. Realizing she wanted to be a part of something more meaningful, she happily started working for Women of the Wall in 2016, as director of Education and Community Outreach. Today, Yochi lives in Jerusalem with her husband and daughter, where they live an open-minded and feminist Orthodox lifestyle.