Monthly Archives: August 2013

The Kotel holds a mystical sway over so many

I recall the evening I landed in Jerusalem at the beginning of my year in Israel, the start of my journey to become a rabbi.  I dropped my bags and headed to the Wall.  I was thoroughly exhausted.  It was very late and I had not slept for way too long.  But I needed to go there.  As I stood before her, I was overcome with emotion.  My eyes filled with tears and my heart raced as I slowly and deliberately made my way to touch the massive stones.

As a rational person, I can argue for why the Wall should not be important.  It is perilously close to idolatry, it is only a retaining wall, the religion I embrace has moved beyond this physical space, etc., etc.  And yet I was awed and inspired none-the-less.

Each of us proclaiming our Judaism has a right to be in this place.  We all are entitled to encounter Judaism and therefore this extraordinary manifestation of it in our own way, on our own terms.  To those who claim I am not a good Jew based on their understanding of Judaism, all I can say is, we each have our paths.  I do not ask you to agree with mine, only to respect my path and my sincere efforts to engage Judaism as best I can. Likewise, I shall extend the same courtesy to you.  Although we do not agree, we are both part of Am Yisrael.

The Sharansky plan to bring various streams of Judaism to this special place is what we each should expect and deserve.  Robinson’s Arch is part of the wall, as is the southern wall. But something about the area we all call the Kotel is special.  Thus, the Sharansky plan is the acceptable and appropriate way to move forward.  Providing space elsewhere is just that, providing space elsewhere; and therefore that is unacceptable.  If the actions of the liberal community are offensive to my more traditional brothers and sisters, it would matter little where we might go.  We will not force you to participate and I hope we will not be “in your face” and incite you.  No legitimate authority can take away our precious place away from us as they could not deny it to you.

I share the following statement released by the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR) in support of the “Sharansky Proposal” to mediate a solution to the controversy surrounding non-orthodox prayer at the Kotel-

The Sharansky proposal, developed in partnership with denominational leaders of American Jewry, envisions “one Western Wall for one Jewish People,” symbolizing that all Jews have a valued and recognized place at the Kotel, in Israel, and in Jewish life.

The fundamental principles of the Sharansky plan are clearly defined and critically important: creating an area for egalitarian/pluralistic prayer to the right of the ramp to the Temple Mount, an area equal in size and elevation to the existing prayer zone; secure, common, and equal physical access to both the gender-segregated and the egalitarian/pluralistic areas on a 24/7/365 basis; common entries to the public plaza leading to all sections; governance of the egalitarian/pluralistic prayer area and the public plaza outside the present prayer areas by a pluralistic body under the aegis of the Jewish Agency, including leaders of liberal Jewish Movements, rather than the present, Orthodox-dominated Western Wall Heritage Foundation; and transforming the WWHF to reflect the diversity of Jewish belief and practice in Israel and among the Jewish People. While this plan fell considerably short of what the Reform Movement sought, we have expressed willingness to accept its compromises in the interest of shalom bayit.

Solving the issues presented by the Kotel situation is essential to  Jewish Unity and Israel’s strategic interests. We urge the Prime Minister’s office, in the strongest possible terms, to commit itself to the Sharansky proposal in its entirety, promptly, publicly, and unequivocally, to formulate both interim and permanent plans consistent with that proposal in partnership with all key stakeholders and to refrain from presenting a proposal until those vital tasks are accomplished.

The steps announced by Interior Minister Naftali Bennett concerning Robinson’s Arch, whatever their potential merits, fall far short of the Sharansky proposal in both substance and process. Fortunately, it appears that press reports that Cabinet Secretary Avichai Mendelblit was about to release a unilateral plan inconsistent with the Sharansky proposal were erroneous.

If the opportunity for a collaborative process and solution is missed and a plan is put forward that diverges in material respects from the Sharansky proposal, it will exacerbate the tensions so many have worked hard to defuse and set back a process in which so much productive effort has been invested.

Rabbi Richard A. Block, CCAR President
Rabbi Steven Fox, CCAR Chief Executive
For the CCAR Board of Trustees

It is time to put our money (and action) where our mouth is- No to the Russian Olympics

Discrimination is not acceptable behavior.  Institutionalized state sponsored discrimination is not acceptable behavior -unless of course declaring our opposition gets in the way of our being entertained, making money or exploiting it for whatever personal gain we might accrue, like competing and getting medals.

So the Russian winter games are almost upon us.  But what do we do about the anti-gay laws that Russia intends to enforce? As best as I can tell, for right now, if you are a sponsor, you do nothing.  If you are the IOC you do nothing.  If you are an athlete, you do nothing- except for one guy who has vowed to wear a rainbow pin.  If you are a consumer, you do nothing.  This is the kind of unacceptable behavior that permits (turning the blind eye) the discrimination to continue unabated.   Everyone is compelled to stand against the injustice that is the Russian approach to sexuality and civil rights.

I won’t watch the Olympic games.  Sorry NBC, no advertising dollars will flow from me.  I won’t drink Coke- sorry Atlanta- no revenue from me. And I will not consume any McDonald’s products (arguably one healthy thing to come out of this). Sorry Ronald.  I will write to the IOC and USOC to express my outrage that they find the Russian stand acceptable.  And what about you?  Athletes should boycott and we all should demand that the laws are repealed.  Gays are victims of the law and also of vigilantes in Russia. Is this really acceptable?  How can we say we are against such maltreatment of others, except when it infringes on our ability to ski or skate or make money?  We may not be able to change Russia directly, but we certainly do not have to support and give glory to the place and people that find such behavior acceptable.