I share with you, below, a report written by Rabbi Barry Schlesinger of Kehillat Moreshet Avraham in Jerusalem. It is a thoughtful presentation in which he describes his experience at the Kotel area on Monday morning, Rosh Hodesh Adar. I commend it to you precisely because Rabbi Schlesinger is non-incendiary. Nevertheless, it powerfully conveys the challenge we continue to face to bring about an Israeli society where freedom of religious expression is embraced.
You will see from the photo, above, that the Women of the Wall congregated at the very rear of the Women's Section in an effort to avoid deliberate provocation. Monday's gathering included a large representation from Masorti.
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David H. Lissy
Executive Director & CEO
Masorti Foundation for Conservative Judaism in Israel
Kotel- Western Wall – Monday, Feb. 15, 2010
By Rabbi Barry Schlesinger
The old expression says that it's easier to light a fire than to extinguish one.
I was in the eye of the storm at the Kotel this morning. From my side of the mechitza (dividing wall between the men and women at the Western Wall), I witnessed firsthand how easy it is to foment anger and create a riot, and how difficult it is to stop one.
Since it is the first day of the Hebrew month of Adar, the Woman of the Wall and their supporters congregated at the entrance to the Women's Section, far from the actual Wall. The women prayed and sung quietly and modestly.
Police guarded the women.
At around 7:15 am, a man in Ultra–Orthodox garb stood up on a chair and yelled from the Men's Section over the dividing wall- demanding that the woman stop praying and remove their tallitot (prayer shawls), which some of them had donned. This gentleman came and went a number of times and then at around 7:25 am, another man came dressed in tallit and t'fillin and started lecturing the women, yelling at them and telling them:
2. They will not undermine the tradition of Moses from Sinai and that they should cease and desist all activity at the Wall.
This man went on for about six minutes, and then about 50 more Ultra-Orthodox men gathered at the corner area of the Men's Section that borders the area in the Women's Section where the WOW were praying. The men started yelling:
Go back to America
You caused the Holocaust
You are worse than Goyim
The main speaker was handed a megaphone to continue his vicious diatribe against all those who came to daven and or show support to the WOW.
The peace at the Kotel was indeed disturbed, but not by the WOW. The peace was disturbed by the rowdy men who gathered at the Kotel to yell, scream and insult anyone and everyone who engage in Jewish prayer in a manner contrary to their own belief and religious expression.
We should hold Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz responsible for letting the men conduct an unlawful demonstration within the Kotel grounds. He should be held to task for not exhibiting the leadership needed to quell the spirit of hate and disdain. This mini-riot at the Kotel happened during his watch (and on Rosh Hodesh), and he is responsible.
It is important to emphasize that it's unfortunate that the police had to be there to maintain order, while they should have been out on the streets fighting crime. The police were patient and did their job well.
What could have been a lovely morning of prayer and celebration of the new Month of Adar, turned into a major desecration of God's name and enmity between Jews.
A number of men at the Kotel are totally responsible for ruining the prayers and atmosphere at the Kotel, and Rabbi Rabinowitz should know that as a civil servant in his capacity of Rabbi of the Holy Places, he failed at making sure that unlawful, rowdy and hateful behavior will not be tolerated in the area of the Wall designated for prayer.
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