When is a Wall More than a Wall?

So many images of "walls" have appeared that it is hard to keep track of the context in which these walls exist. From the wall that divided East and West Germany, to the security wall that separates parts of Israel from the West Bank, to the Great Wall of China that has impressed so many visitors to the proposal to erect a wall to keep immigrants from entering the US illegally. Walls are generally used to keep people apart.

This week we heard of another wall, a Wall that holds a very special place for all of world Jewry, the last remaining vestige of our Holy Temple. A Wall to which Jews from all over the world gravitate in hopes of having their innermost prayers heard. We respect those whose religious practice requires separate sections for men and women. We also recognize that there are those who believe the Western Wall (Kotel) should be a place that embraces all Jews and not be a place that promotes separateness.  A Wall that all Jews should be afforded equal access regardless of gender, level of observance or choice of Jewish expression. Unfortunately, Israel has not been able to fully achieve this ideal. Strict adherence to current practices at the Kotel still prevent women from full and equal expression in prayer and ritual observance. In addition, there is currently no ability for men and woman or families to pray together at the Kotel.

This week we witnessed an historic announcement by the Israeli government. After years of pressure by many groups including Women of the Wall, it was decided that an egalitarian prayer space at our holiest site will be created. With a commitment of $9 million, a plaza will be opened in a section adjacent to the plaza where men and women currently pray in separate sections.

This is a significant step by Israel to recognize and honor religious plurality supporting the right for all Jews, regardless of gender, to have access to the Western Wall and feel free to express their Jewishness as they see fit. However, this freedom will only be available to those who wish to pray at this new site. For women who wish to pray at the women's section of the Kotel, ritual expression is still restricted. Many had hoped that this new egalitarian space would be created on the plaza and not in what is seen as a separate location

While many believe this to be an unsatisfactory compromise, many in the global Jewish community see this as a step in the right direction. This action is the result of efforts by many groups seeking greater plurality and inclusion for all Jews who wish to pray at the Kotel. It was one of our own, Rabbi Debra Cantor, a member of Women of the Wall, who was instrumental in raising the consciousness of the world about gender inequality at the Wall and who, along with hundreds of other activists, steadfastly created a movement whose impact was clearly felt in this week's announcement.

The Jewish Federation of Greater Hartford applauds the efforts by the Israeli government to advance an agenda of plurality and inclusion. We recognize the many hurdles that need to be overcome to achieve an ideal solution but at least we are making some progress. Israel, like our Federation, was founded on the principle that all Jews are valued and should have equal rights as members of the Jewish community. We strive to honor those values, respect each other's choices realizing that we are stronger together than apart. We must all build strong and enduring Walls that people flock to rather than Walls that keep us apart.

Shabbat Shalom.


Howard Sovronsky
President & CEO


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