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Op-Ed: The Western Wall is the holiest Jewish site, not the holiest Orthodox siteBecca Noy, an American who made Aliyah and lives in Israel, responds to yesterday’s clash between Orthodox protesters and Reform and Conservative worshipers at the Western Wall.
Yesterday, hundreds of Reform and Conservative worshipers and leaders were attacked by Orthodox protesters, mainly youths, as they made their way to the holiest site for the Jewish people, the Western Wall. While this was the first time that the non-Orthodox Jewish leaders were allowed to bring Torah scrolls into the compound, the majority of Jewish people around the world aren’t celebrating this achievement due to the violence and pure hatred that accompanied it. Those violent and hateful outbursts came from the Orthodox protesters and were directed at the Reform and Conservative worshipers.
The non-Orthodox Jewish leaders and worshipers were marching from the Dung Gate to the Western Wall yesterday with the Torah scrolls in order to mark Rosh Hodesh Cheshvan at the holy site. They were also protesting the Israeli government’s failure to implement the Kotel Compromise, its commitment to establish an egalitarian section at the Western Wall so that non-Orthodox Jewish people can practice Judaism and visit the holy site in accordance to their customs and beliefs.
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The Israeli government’s failure to commit to the plan, which was praised by Jewish people around the world even though it is by name and not just by fact a “compromise” and not a full-thrown, long-awaited victory for the non-Orthodox movements, is regretful but not surprising. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition includes the Orthodox political parties, whose members have ridiculed, mocked and satanized the non-Orthodox Judaism movements and their followers around the world without any authority, secular or Judaic, attempting to stop them for years.
For me, an American-Israeli Jewish person who grew up in the States but chose to make Aliyah and live in Israel, yesterday’s incident hit close to home, probably taking its toll on me more than my fully Israeli friends. I grew up in the Reform and Conservative movements, going to synagogue almost every week for services. I had a bat-mitzvah and read from the Torah, wearing a kippah and tallit, a fact I thought was so obvious and normal then. But I have come to realize that that my experience was not normative now that I live in Israel.
Growing up, I went to a Jewish elementary school, a school that accepted all the Jewish movements as equal. While some of my classmates came from Orthodox-observant families, there was no difference between us at school. We were all Jewish. I viewed them as Jewish and I believe they viewed me and the others who came from Conservative and Reform families (the majority of my peers) as Jewish as well.
In fact, I’m rather sure of this in light of a somewhat recent event in my life. After I moved to Israel, I met an Israeli man and we fell in love. After he proposed, we set a date and started to (well, more like I started to while he continued with is usual routines) to plan our wedding. However, I was a victim of the humiliating process of dealing with the religious authorities in Israel, which forced me to prove my Jewish-ness. In their eyes, I was Jewish enough to make Aliyah (or maybe I wasn’t Jewish enough in their eyes for this but the definition of who is Jewish for the purpose of Aliyah is not under their domain) but not Jewish enough to get married in Israel in a religious ceremony and raise a Jewish family.
At first, I just accepted that this is just want happens in Israel to new immigrants as if it was normal and somewhat justifiable. I complied with all of their requests to see documents that can “prove” that I’m Jewish. However, the Rabbinate didn’t accept the ketubot (Jewish marriage licenses) in Hebrew that my mother provided me with, which date back three generations- to my great-grandparents on my mother’s side who were married on a small farm in rural New York State by an Orthodox rabbi. I was sure that by providing these documents, they would have no doubt about my Jewish heritage, for my identity was so clear for me.
However, I was apparently naive. Instead of finally being notified that I was Jewish, I was asked to provide a copy of my mother’s birth certificate and additional information and documents in order to prove my religion to those who “decide” whether I’m in fact part of the religion in which I was raised.
I was set on getting married in Israel and immediately turned down my mother’s suggestions to get married in a different manner, one that is more in line with my beliefs as a Jewish person. I was so focused on getting married “like an Israeli” that I forgot everything that’s important to me as a Jewish person.
Finally, after the additional documents and information I provided still failed to prove my Jewish-ness to the Rabbinate, my mother contacted an Orthodox rabbi in my hometown. My mother met with him and they discussed my/her background and heritage, an experience I’m now sure was very uncomfortable for her as now she was forced, by me and my stubbornness, to plead her case for being Jewish. By the end of the meeting, during which my mother showed him the ketubot dating back three generations on her side, he was able to conclude that she was Jewish and that I, as her biological daughter, was also Jewish.
His word, the word of an Orthodox rabbi who met with my mother for less than an hour, was worth more to the Rabbinate than the three generations of ketubot. After he wrote a short one-paragraph letter saying that he confirms that my mother is Jewish and subsequently so am I, I was informed that the Rabbinate recognizes me as Jewish, at the age of 26.
My experience with the Rabbinate prior to my wedding was just one of the various incidents in Israel in which I felt that the Jewish world is being torn apart. Any Jewish person in the world who values his/her religion has certainly felt the same or similar feelings. It’s hard not to when prominent leaders in Israel, mostly Orthodox politicians, harshly criticize, to say the least, the majority of Jewish people around the world. Whether it’s United Torah Judaism MK Moshe Gafni describing Reform Jewish people as “clowns who stab the holy Torah” or MK Bezalel Smotrich, an MK from Ha-Bayit Ha-Yehudi, a religious Zionist political party, calling Reform Judaism a “fake religion,” it is clear that there is a major problem in acceptance within the Orthodoxy community, a problem that unfortunately doesn’t seem to be coming to its end any time soon.
This problem is not new. However, it did escalate when of the State of Israel was established and the Orthodox movement became the authoritarian power over religious affairs within the Jewish State. What is somewhat new, however, is the day and age in which we live and the anti-Semitic expressions, actions and decisions that accompany it.
Anti-Semitism is of course not a new topic, it has existed for centuries and has haunted the Jewish people for millennia. But we are now seeing international organizations passing decisions that are completely anti-Semitic such as UNESCO lashing out at the Jewish State, questioning and outright denying the Jewish people’s roots to the Jerusalem holy sites including the Western Wall.
Yes, the Western Wall that was the site yesterday of the disrespectful and repulsive violence and hatred from Orthodox protesters against fellow Jewish people.
This is how the world sees Jewish people acting at the Western Wall, the Jewish people who belong to the movement that controls the religious authorities in Israel. I am not in any way saying that the reason behind so many anti-Semitic occurrences in the world is the tear between the disciplines of Judaism but just that it certainly isn’t helping, advancing or benefiting Israel as the Jewish State. The Western Wall is a holy site for Jewish people of every denomination in Judaism as such Israel the Jewish State for all Jewish people around the world.
Becca holds a B.A in Middle Eastern Studies from Tel Aviv University and is a graduate of the 2016 StandWithUs Israel Fellowship.
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