A noted writer penned these words: “What was once seen as an unmitigated blessing has come to be seen as a very mixed blessing.”
The blessing is the Israeli victory in 1967’s Six-Day War. The mixed blessing arises from the situation in Israel today.
Because my wife and children and I have spent 40 of the 50 years since that victory in Israel as Israelis, I want to focus on the Kotel rather than all the land won in the war.
A couple of weeks ago, quietly, the Orthodox of Israel took over the whole Kotel again. There was no fanfare in the United States. It was just done, and that was it.
The part of the southern section of the Kotel that had been a locale for men and women to be together in tefillah and celebration has been stripped from the hands of those who worked so hard to create that egalitarian prayer area.
Some of you may recall that I wrote about my experiences in conducting b’nai mitzvah ceremonies at the Kotel and at other locales so men and women could be together. I did that because I came to feel — and I still do — that participating in a wonderful simcha at the Kotel is one of the greatest acts for a Jewish family today.
Whatever has transpired at the Kotel now has tarnished the spirit of the Western Wall, but you should not let it tarnish your spirit. The Kotel’s existence is an answer to all those who would argue that we Jews have no roots in Jerusalem and Israel.
A few weeks after the Six-Day War victory, Israeli Prime Minister Levi Eshkol turned over the administration of and jurisdiction over the Kotel to the Orthodox political party leaders in Israel. Rather than protest at the time, the Reform and Conservative Jews and the secularists of the Jewish people all over the world were silent.
I have studied the whole issue of the Kotel to learn in the lifetime of this Atlanta Jew what happened. The greatest contributors then, and probably now, to the Jewish Federations, which gave the money to the Jewish Agency for Israel, permitted their donations to be placed into areas of life in Israel that did not build the whole country but instead basically supported the Orthodox sector as a controlling body.
I state that as a fact, not as criticism of those in Israel who used the “dirty” money of the rich, non-Orthodox Jews who loved Israel and were so enthralled with victory 50 years ago that they forgot the nitty-gritty of Judaism that has given us the fervent desire as a people to survive.
As I said, I feel good that in my lifetime I can go to the Kotel, touch it, make blessings, and have both of our sons and two of our grandsons come into Jewish maturity there.
I wish the holiness of the Kotel — as it existed for Jews from 70 C.E., when the Romans defeated the Jews and destroyed the Second Temple, until 1948, when the Kotel was lost — could have been upgraded for all Jews in 1967 when it returned to the hands of Am Yisrael.
On Shavuot 1967, the first time the Kotel opened for prayer after the war, 200,000 men, women and children davened there together with no mechitza because the Kotel before 1967 never had a mechitza.
Clearly, Orthodox, Reform and Conservative Jews have tried to ensure the centrality of Israel for the Jewish people. The Orthodox seem to have worked harder.
David Geffen is a native Atlantan and Conservative rabbi who lives in Jerusalem.