I love Israel. I love the land, the people, the history and our deep connections to our ancient homeland. I have never felt more at home anywhere in the world than Israel, and my connection to Israel is central to my identity as a Jew.
However, as the Israeli equivalent of the 'Religious Right' gained more an more power, I as a non-Orthodox religious Jew, have felt less and less welcome in my homeland. It is incredibly ironic that Israel, the only Jewish nation in the world, guarantees freedom of religion for all people ... except for Jews.
The Kotel, also known as the Western Wall, is the closest Jews have been able to get to the site of the First and Second Temples for centuries. It commands a powerful place in our collective religious psyche and is far and above the holiest place a Jew can come to pray.
I stopped praying at the Wall about ten years ago, because it had come under the control of ultra-Orthodox rabbis who turned it into a place of intolerance.
Thank God, the Israeli cabinet decided on Sunday to reclaim the Kotel and the Kotel plaza for all Jews, not just the chareidim. In addition to the traditional men's and women's sections, a new egalitarian section will be constructed, where men and women can pray together, and women can sing and chant from Torah, and wear tallitot. The men's and women's sections will remain under ultra-Orthodox control, while the new section and the plaza will belong to the State (which is to say, to the rest of us).
This is truly cause for celebration! As the center of the Jewish world, Israel should reflect the diversity of our people. The establishment of the new egalitarian section at the Kotel is a major step forward. Now we need to remain vigilant, to make sure that the promise becomes reality.
Hi there! I am the senior rabbi at Temple Beth Ami in Rockville, Maryland, where I have served since 2016.
(c) copyright 2015 Rabbi Gary Pokras