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Has the Kotel Deal Reached a Impasse?

Has the Kotel Deal Reached a Impasse?

Muhammad Ali, the legendary boxer who passed away last week, once said that we all have the power to create change:

“Impossible is just a big word thrown around by small [people] who find it easier to live in the world they’ve been given than to explore the power they have to change it."

Several months ago, we proved Muhammad Ali right. The Reform Movement in Israel and in North America, together with Women of the Wall, the Jewish Federations and the Conservative Movement, reached a landmark deal with the Israeli government that everyone thought was impossible. After a decades-long fight, the Israeli government agreed to create a permanent, non-Orthodox egalitarian prayer space at the Kotel and to designate the Kotel’s plaza as an official public space that would no longer be under exclusive Orthodox control.

The government promised to come up with a plan for the deal's implementation by June 1st  – but promises yielded to political pressure and procrastination. All the while, visitors to the Kotel continue to be assaulted by the gender police.

Rabbi Michael Lezak, a rabbi of Temple Rodef Shalom in San Rafael, CA, told me that during a trip to Israel, he went with his wife and three daughters to visit the Kotel. When a state-paid usher from the Kotel modesty squad pounced on his 6-year-old daughter and demanded that she wear an ugly shmata (cover-up), Rabbi Lezak looked at his wife and said, “That's it. We're leaving. We're not exposing our daughters to this.”

The Reform Jewish community has jumped into high gear. Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, flew to Israel last week with a delegation of progressive Jewish leaders for the single purpose of meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu and to express our frustration at the government’s foot-dragging. The prime minister acknowledged the lack of progress but doubled down on his commitment to “one wall for one people.” We told him that that if the Kotel deal is not implemented, it will signal an unprecedented rupture in the deep and longstanding connections between North American Jews and the State of Israel. Hopefully, the message came across.

We have agreed to give the government a few more weeks to meet its obligations. Prime Minister Netanyahu says he is committed, and we are, too. But if the government doesn’t step up – or tells us that its hands are tied and that implementing the deal is “impossible” – we will need your support.

We won't be deterred by words like “impossible.” As Muhammad Ali said, "Impossible is not a fact. It’s an opinion. Impossible is not a declaration. It’s a dare. Impossible is potential. Impossible is temporary. Impossible is nothing.”

Anat Hoffman is the executive director of the Israel Religious Action Center, the public and legal advocacy arm of the Reform Jewish Movement in Israel. She is also the chairwoman of Women of the Wall, a group of Jewish women and men from around the world who strive to achieve the right of women to wear prayer shawls, pray, and read from the Torah collectively and out loud at the Western Wall in Jerusalem.

Anat Hoffman
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