Tuesday, February 2, 2016

The Western Wall prayer decision and the shifting Israel-Diaspora paradigm

Maayan Jaffe-Hoffman, jns.org

Image from article, with caption: Anat Hoffman, leader of the Women of the Wall group, speaks with members of the media near the Western Wall on Jan. 31, reacting to the Israeli government's passage of a new plan on egalitarian prayer rights at the Jewish holy site. Credit: Hadas Parush/Flash90.

The Israeli government’s passage of legislation that authorizes egalitarian prayer in a soon-to-be-created 9,700-square-foot, NIS 35 million ($8.85 million) section adjacent to the southern part of the Western Wall (Kotel in Hebrew) has been called groundbreaking, empowering, dramatic, and unprecedented. The section could be ready in as soon as a few months or up to two years from now.
“This is a fair and creative solution,” said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after the 15-5 vote on the measure by his cabinet.
Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ), said the decision would “connect world Jewry to the State of Israel.” Jerry Silverman, CEO of the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA), called it a “major step forward.” Member of Knesset Merav Michaeli (Zionist Union) said the Kotel was “liberated” again, this time not by soldiers, but by women in Jewish prayer shawls.
Indeed, for 27 years, the Women of the Wall group pushed for women’s equality at the Kotel. Formal negotiations have been going on for almost three years. In a statement, the group said more than just an agreement has been achieved: “The vision of the new section of the Kotel is a physical and conceptual space open to all forms of Jewish prayer. Instead of splitting up the existing pie into ever more divided, smaller pieces, we are making the pie much larger.” ...
In an interview with The Jerusalem Post, Jewish Agency for Israel Chairman Natan Sharansky said that American and Israeli Jews are becoming increasingly interdependent. The U.S. needs Israel to help strengthen Jewish identity in a Diaspora community that is slowly shrinking from assimilation and intermarriage. Israel, attacked daily by the international community, needs the solidarity of Jewish communities abroad, he explained.
“I am sure that the [Israeli] government must now take into account—should take into consideration—the position of world Jewry on the decisions it makes,” Hagay Elizur, senior director of diaspora affairs for Israel’s Ministry of Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs, told JNS.org.
Netanyahu might be feeling the pressure of unprecedented U.S.-Israel political tension. Last August’s Peace Index poll by the Israel Democracy Institute and Tel Aviv University showed that 48 percent of Israeli Jews worried that Netanyahu’s campaign against the Iran nuclear deal would damage U.S.-Israel relations. ...
For now, the plan is just that—a plan. But once the new section is built, will it attract more Diaspora Jews who say they don’t come to Israel because they feel underrepresented there?
“There will be no more excuses,” Elizur, of Ministry of Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs, told JNS.org. ...

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