Fun and Games at the Kotel

by Leah Aharoni

It seems that the Women of the Wall and their leader Anat Hoffman have not gotten the message. Israel has changed recently. The boys, the war have brought us together. We have been trying to be more sensitive, more tolerant, and more caring. But that doesn’t always help when you need to raise money for a cause.

In recent months, ultra-liberal Hoffman (if the charedim are ultra-Orthodox, she must be ultra- liberal) has dropped from the headlines. She is still turning up every month at the Kotel with her tiny group of followers. The numbers have dwindled to a couple of dozen. There have been no confrontations, and the media has had bigger fish to fry. However, to coincide with her fundraising tour in the US, Hoffman has been orchestrating events.

First, she launched the BusMitzva ad campaign on Jerusalem buses, imploring young women to buttress WoW’s numbers and celebrate their event at the Kotel. This created the first round of PR in newspapers in Israel and around the globe, as we read about 11-year-olds’ noble battle for equal rights.

Then, to stroke tensions a bit more, Hoffman sponsored the ads to go on buses that run through Meah Sherim and other charedi neighborhoods, secretly hoping that someone would deface them. Guess what, it happened. WoW went to work again with press releases and blog posts decrying the sin of defacing the buses. It created yet another round of articles about the repressive “ultras.” WoW’s spokeswoman, Shira Pruce proudly told the media that the bus campaign was meant to be provocative all along. (In contrast, our group, Women FOR the Wall put out a public statement asking people to leave the ads alone and to respect everyone’s freedom of speech).

Friday’s Rosh Chodesh service is round three of the campaign. Women of the Wall will smuggle in a Torah Scroll into the Kotel Plaza. Last time they tried that, the Sefer Torah was desecrated by been brought in a duffle bag. I’m sure the press releases are ready, the blog posts are written. We are going to see another round of negative press about the “repressive” Orthodox, ominous black hats and all.

All the while, Anat is on a fundraising tour in the US. Going from Reform temple to Reform temple decrying religious Jews, who deny her and her friends freedom of religion, in modern Israel of all places. Liberal Jews will be horrified, open up their check books, and with memories of marches in Selma support the battle for “freedom” in Israel.

Anat won’t tell them that there is an area of the Kotel designated for non-traditional prayer – Ezrat Israel. Nor the fact that the area stands forlorn and empty, since very few liberal Jews turn up for prayers there. She will not reveal that her group can read the Torah there and no one will interfere. She will not share that a compromise is in the works to enhance the area. It doesn’t help the fundraising and she does not care how much she vilifies religious Jews in her quest for her version of “religious freedom.”

Truth be told, the charedi community in Israel is not very happy about creating an egalitarian section at the Wall. They do not agree that an area of the remnant of the Holy Temple should abrogate the traditions practiced there since time immemorial. But they have chosen communal peace over major confrontation. They chose to agree to disagree, difficult as that may be.

The only really “ultras” in this whole story are the ultra-liberal Women of the Wall. They don’t care about the negative press about Judaism and other Jews. Compromise does not seem to be their ultimate goal. It’s to get a foothold at the new section and slowly pressure to change the existing area. After all, Hoffman has always said that turning the Kotel into a secular site is her ultimate goal.

i would hate to see the situation disintegrate into another fight. I would hate to see the religious community put it foot down and say enough is enough.

But we are all sick and tired of fun and games at the Kotel. Is there really another way out?