By Asher Sulloway-Baker, Isabel Namath, Marissa Klass, Sam Eisner, and Joanna Grill
In January 2016, the Israeli government passed, by an overwhelming majority, legislation to create an egalitarian prayer space at the Western Wall in Jerusalem. This was huge; finally the Reform and Conservative movements saw their dream of a space where men and women could pray side by side coming true. And for the first time, the Orthodox religious powers in Israel recognized other branches of Judaism as legitimate in a shared religious space.
Unfortunately, the government never enacted the legislation and never made the space. Despite the majority vote, Ultra-Orthodox parties in Prime Minister Netanyahu’s coalition threatened to quit the government unless major changes to the legislation were made to their liking. Last month, the Supreme Court in Israel openly criticized the government’s failure to act, as did the Reform Movement.
The American Jewish Committee conducted a recent public opinion poll showing that almost two-thirds of Israelis favor the agreement. American Jews overwhelmingly support the legislation as well. Rabbi Steven Wernick, CEO of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism insisted, “[T]here is now no question that the vast majority of worldwide Jews want to see the Kotel agreement implemented.”
We were promised an egalitarian prayer space in which men and women can pray together, so now it is time for us to act. The Reform Movement was instrumental in bringing forth this legislation in the first place, and the voices of American Jews helped apply the pressure necessary to push it through.
Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the URJ, said, “It’s time to stop the disenfranchisement of the majority of the world Jewry in Israel. That’s why we are calling on those who care about Klal Israel [the Jewish people] to join us in this campaign to tell Israeli leaders like Netanyahu, Rivlin, Bennett, and Edelstein: ‘Enough is enough.'”
We had the courage to bring this issue to the forefront, and now we must garner the strength to bring our dream to fruition, and speak up by sending a message to Netanyahu and his government to create the space that we were promised.
The World Union for Progressive Judaism released a statement to their entire mailing list saying, “This is our chance to use our voices to change history.”
So, will you use yours?