Saturday, April 27, 2013

Liberation of the Wall!

No more arrests for the "crime" of wearing a tallit at the Kotel!

The verdict is in - the police appeal against the overturning of the arrests of five women on 11th April has been rejected. Anat Hoffman, Director of the Israeli Religious Action Centre and leader of the Women of the Wall group, said the ruling has:

"liberated the Western Wall for all the Jewish people."

This story is big enough now to make the major news outlets:

BBC News online Middle East
The New York Times
not to mention the Jewish Chronicle!

Not sure what will happen next - we shall see at the next Rosh Chodesh service in May. For now, though, just delighted at this news.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Tikkun's Analysis of the Sharansky Plan

Abby Caplin wrote about the current situation at the Western Wall site in Jerusalem yesterday in the online daily blog of Tikkun magazine. She reported on a conference call that Anat Hoffman made with various Jewish organisations:

"According to chair of WOW Anat Hoffman, who spoke last week via conference call to the New Israel Fund, and yesterday to the Union for Reform Judaism, the plan calls for opening up the area of the Kotel plaza and extending the length of the Kotel to Robinson's Arch. It includes a single entrance for all and 24/7 access.

The current portion of what is now the Kotel could remain under the jurisdiction of Rabinowitz's Western Wall Heritage Foundation, which collects vast sums of money from often unwitting Diaspora Jews to maintain its hegemony. Robinson's Arch would be raised up topographically to be on par with the Kotel area to create a larger, continuous stretch of Kotel. The newer raised-up section designated for egalitarian mixed gender prayer might fall under the aegis of the Jewish Agency. This leaves some confusion about how and where women-only, and Orthodox-inclusive, Women of the Wall would pray. It could be that, despite the compromise, the power of the ultra-Orthodox men might remain intact at the original site, where Orthodox women would continue to be subjected to gross misogyny in that section.

According to Hoffman, Sharansky's plan will face many obstacles. The plan must be reviewed by Israel's Department of Antiquities, accepted by the Jerusalem Islamic Waqf (which claims jurisdiction over the Mughrabi bridge located between the Wall and Robinson's Arch), and Israeli citizens must be willing to spend millions of shekels to accommodate ultra-Orthodox "sensibilities". Successful implementation of Sharansky's plan could take years. But given that some progress has been made, "WOW refuses to be one of those obstacles," Hoffman said.

Of course, a more cost-effective and common sense option would be for Jews to share time, rather than space, at the Kotel."

the entire article may be read here.

Bearing in mind the strong bias of the author as reflected in the way she describes the situation, I still think this is a clear depiction of it at the moment. On the one hand, Sharansky's proposal is unclear, uncertain  and expensive. On the other hand, WoTW have hope, flexibility and strength enough to compromise for the sake of progress.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Women of the Wall Update

Last Thursday was Rosh Chodesh Iyar, and once again the Women of the Wall and their supporters met at the Western Wall in Jerusalem to celebrate this Jewish holiday through prayer and song. Once again, women were arrested for the crime of wearing tallitot (prayer shawls). This time the story was apparently newsworthy enough to be reported by
the BBC News website
the Guardian online
the Sydney Morning Herald (via the Washington Post) and other august publications available via your Google searches.

A few hours earlier the chair of the Jewish Agency, Natan Sharansky, as per his appointment by Prime Minister Netanyahu, announced his plan to resolve the situation. He has suggested that the Western Wall plaza should be extended and divided into three equal places of worship, i.e., for men, for women and for egalitarian services. The mixed services would be held at Robinson's Arch. Strangely enough, that is the area currently used by the women for Torah reading and yet they are still campaigning for the opportunity to be treated equally. Sharansky has suggested that the site will be upgraded. Is this enough for it to count as a legitimate offer?

I worry that this offer is a smokescreen. If it is not treated seriously, then the WoTW could be accused of intransigence. In any case, what kind of offer is one which suggests it is a bold new step but in fact is offering something that already exists?

On the other hand, what if this is really a step on the path to a viable compromise? There are many Progressive Jews who do not consider the Western Wall to be a holy site. If Robinson's Arch is placed beyond the control of the Orthodox Rabbinate, might it become a focal point for non-Orthodox Jews to join together in prayer? In the Jewish Journal, Shmuel Rosner writes:

"There comes a time in any successful movement for change or reform for cashing in, and it is often a time of crisis. Getting so close to achieving a goal, one has to struggle with two challenges:  the temptation to overreach - and pass on a deal that might be the best realistic one - and the difficulty of having to accept the less glorious (and more mundane) missions of a reformed reality." (the rest of the article is here.)

In the past few months, I have heard many Jews say that the issue of prayer at the Western Wall is not a priority for them. While the question of religious pluralism in the Jewish homeland is vital and current, they would rather focus on issues such as segregation of women on buses, or the radio stations that bleep out the voices of women (including female members of the Knesset). On the one hand I think I can see their point. On the other, I cannot stay silent when women are being arrested for wearing tallitot, something which I am able to do in this country any time I wish. As for Mr Sharansky's plan - I remember being part of protests and vigils with the Women's Campaign for Soviet Jewry as we fought for his release. Many of the Women of the Wall were part of that campaign or are daughters of such activists. I think he really should be able to do a little bit better for them!

I'm (not) a Belieber

So a young Canadian popstar, a boy with millions of fans and the crazy life such attention can bring, has made a comment in the guestbook at the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam. What he wrote has caused rather a lot of fuss and bother.

The Guardian reports on it here. I'm not a big fan of the lad or his music, but I have to say that I agree with the Indy reporter (here) in that it is a pleasant surprise that this young man took the time to visit the Anne Frank House and show an interest. Indeed, his visit may bring Anne's story to many people who otherwise would never have encountered it.

Meanwhile, if people need something about which to make a fuss, perhaps there are other issues that could use their energy, e.g., how would you like to help children no longer be hungry and die from malnutrition? Check out Live Below the Line for their 2013 initiative here. If this doesn't appeal, I am sure you can find something that does. Ok, preaching over.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The Jew in the Box

I don't know if you have come across the phrase "The Jew in the box"recently, but it has been all over. The mother of ravaj is proud to note that CNN, Time magazine, The New York Times and NBC's Today show have all shown an interest in the latest exhibition at the Jewish Museum in Berlin. It is actually called "The Whole Truth:  Everything you always wanted to know about Jews". A sister of ravaj happens to be one of the curators. We are proud of her. While it is a pity that the media have fixated on one element out of thirty showcases in the exhibition, at the same time the international exposure has probably helped the profile of the museum. If you wish to form an opinion of your own, and are unable to visit Berlin before September, here are a number of links for various commentaries to help out:

Museum defends 'Jew in a Box' exhibit by CNN_International

version viewable by American viewers may be found here.

A story from the New York Times is here. This is a quote from it:

"Michal S. Friedlander, a curator at the museum and an American-born German Jew, said that most of those who criticized the show had not actually seen it. 'That's the whole point, what's appropriate and what's inappropriate and letting people come to their own conclusions.'"

btw, having always considered this sis to be a bit of a Luddite, I was delighted today to discover that she has at least one blogpost to her name!

Benjamin Weinthal's report and review in Foreign Policy may be found here.

Time magazine online

Criticism in the Jewish Daily Forward

Last for now, a link to an interview on the Today Show in the USA on the NBC channel. If you want more, you're on your own!