Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Rabbi Rick Jacobs Discusses the Kotel

An excerpt from Rabbi Rick Jacob's keynote speech to the World Reform Meeting in Jerusalem last week:
This past October on Rosh Chodesh Cheshvan, Anat Hoffman was arrested and treated harshly for the crime of wearing a Tallit and praying the Shema out loud at the Kotel. By Rosh Chodesh Kislev outrage grew world wide to the point where the PM appointed Natan Sharansky to resolve this growing divide between the State of Israel and world Jewry. The voices of those in the room and others, especially from our Reform Movement, have demanded that this discrimination must not continue. We have said, and will continue to say, that so long as Israel remains the only democracy that legally discriminates against the majority of Jews who are in the non-Orthodox streams, the Zionist dream of the in-gathering of the exiles in a Jewish state for all Jews cannot be fully realized. 

When I said such words at the GA in Baltimore in the Fall there was applause not quite as loud as you just gave. There are places where these words are controversial statements. Let these words never be controversial in any gathering of our world union or our reform movement anywhere on the globe. Yesterday our URJ Board Chair Steve Sacks and I met once again with Natan Sharansky about his proposal to create one Kotel for one people.

Several weeks ago, when he first presented those proposals to a diverse group of rabbis in NY from the ultra orthodox to the modern orthodox to conservative to the reform movement, everyone who heard those proposals back in New York, we all left unhappy. We all were hoping for more. We all were hoping for the whole win that we had been literally working for with all of our strength. But because we all left unhappy, Natan Sharansky had done a very good job. What he did was he stretched every single one of us to a place where sometimes Jewish leaders, especially rabbinic leaders, don’t like to go. It’s a little place called compromise. And somehow he understood that whatever solution he would bring not only to the Diaspora leadership but also to the leadership here, it had to make everybody a little bit uncomfortable, to move everybody off their place of comfort and righteous demand to a place where we could all be together. Now let me say that those proposals have many challenges and not a few critics along, those critics and those challenges are here but they are also throughout the Jewish community. But let me say it loudly and let me say it clearly that Sharansky’s proposals remain a unique opportunity for us. 

I want you to imagine the following: Imagine a father and his daughter from Nahariya and they take a journey from the north to Jerusalem. And they go around and they see the sites, and they make it a point to go to the Kotel. They get to the Kotel and there’s the guy and his little daughter and they’re standing there in this moment that we are working towards. According to the Sharansky proposals they would come to stand at a very dramatic fork. They could look to one side and see a wonderful traditional area where they could go and participate in a traditional experience of the Kotel. They could also at that same moment, with equal access and equal centrality, look and see an equal size platform that beckons them filled with egalitarian, contemporary spiritual song and prayer. Now what do you make of a family that could stand with that kind of choice. Is that not a world that we could not imagine a year ago, ten years ago or twenty years ago.. That’s a quantum leap from where we are today. Now we need to keep the pressure on so that we don’t just have promises, that the dramatic shift that Natan Sharansky proposed is a game changer and if in the end it turns out that archeology or international pressures or the Waqf literally present obstacles that cannot be literally overcome well then we’ll find another way. 

But at this moment I believe our path forward and our path is to support the bold, audacious proposals by Natan Sharansky. Now I want to say something very specific and I want to say it loudly, I want to publicly express our gratitude to PM Netanyahu. I want to express that gratitude for his leadership in working to resolve this crisis for the Jewish People and for his commitment to see these proposals from the idea stage to concrete reality so that we move forward as one Jewish people. Let’s not forget that it’s not just the Kotel that needs to be liberated, friends. When women are subjected to discrimination at the Kotel it feeds other forms of discrimination by the ultra-orthodox against women, in buses and in other public facilities, and so too the discrimination against non-orthodox streams. Our challenge is to take the outrage that is felt worldwide by non-orthodox Jewry about the struggle for the Kotel, and here’s the pivot to harness that outrage into social change and activism here for the burning issues of religion and state.


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