by Kim Gedan, co-chair Adath Israel Committee
On January 31, the Israeli government legally sanctioned an egalitarian prayer space at the Western Wall. Israel has recognized the rights of all Jews to worship at the Kotel, regardless of denomination. A prayer for Jewish pluralism has been answered!
I feel this strengthens Israel’s relationship with the Jews of the Diaspora and creates a place of belonging regardless of denomination. Now women are able to wear talitot, lay tefillin, and read from the Torah. Families can celebrate B’nai Mitzvah together, creating a special connection to Judaism both religiously and spiritually.
Currently, an egalitarian section exists by Robinson’s Arch, which was opened in 2013. The difference between the current section and the proposed section is that the egalitarian section will now open into the main plaza and will not be segregated from the other sections. In addition, the current section will be greatly expanded in size and will include access to worship on the Herodian street next to what will now be called “the Southern Wall.” Security access will be available to both the northern and southern sections of the wall. Handicapped access will be made available through the nearby Davidson Center. These changes are being expedited by the Israeli government and by the mayor of Jerusalem, and the new construction is expected to be completed within two years.
I have had the opportunity to visit the former egalitarian section several times. However, as excited as I was for my family to be able to pray together there was always a tug. I felt like we had to sneak in because the entry to the segregated egalitarian section was outside of the main plaza and security. The gatekeeper would always stop us and ask, where are you going? We would all look up at him and say, "Tefilah," (Prayer). All Jews regardless of denomination should be able to go to the Kotel and pray without being questioned.
Israel has made a historic decision for Jewish pluralism. We will have an entry from the plaza with allocated money to build an area that is fully functioning with prayer books, Torah scrolls, arks, and talitot. The Kotel is a symbol of Judaism; it is Jerusalem’s holy site no matter where you are standing. “The Divine Presence never moves from the Western Wall.”
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