Israel will finally address the decades-old issue of prayer by women and non-Orthodox Jews at the Kotel, or Western Wall, the country’s new Minister of Diaspora Affairs has promised.
As well, Israel will be more mindful of its actions which trigger antisemitism around the world, added Nachman Shai in a July 27 Zoom address to State of Israel Bonds leaders in North America.
An example of Israel’s task of renewing dialogue with all Jewish denominations in the Diaspora is the Western Wall, where “every Jew has a voice… And in the southern area of the Kotel, a small spot will be reserved for Reform and Conservative” Jews and for men and women who want to pray together, Shai pledged.
The rest of the area is “sufficient” for everyone else.
“They are all Jews and there’s enough room under the tent for all of us. This is a challenge that I assume on myself,” he said.
On Tisha b’Av, July 17, hundreds of far-right Orthodox Jews, mainly teenagers, disrupted services in the section set aside for egalitarian prayer.
Shai said Israel knows how hard it is to get a compromise on the Kotel, where the issue of prayer by the non-Orthodox Jews and women has been at times explosive.
“It won’t be easy,” said Shai, “but I hope there is some understanding now in this unity government that we should remove this issue (from) the table and get to the real dialogue between you and us.”
Shai spoke of “a new paradigm” between American Jews and Israel.
“We are not only getting from you, but we have to give back. Israelis should know that our brothers and sisters in the United States and elsewhere globally…it’s time for us to give back, to pay our debt.
“We bear responsibility for you.”
He said Israel’s military campaign against Hamas in Gaza in May “immediately affected your lives.” He said he could not remember any other Israeli military campaign that impacted Jewish life in the Diaspora so much. “We should remember this.”
He cited a “dangerous” rise in global antisemitism. “You know this very well.” Israel, he said, is carefully following events since its 11-day campaign in May. “We also should know how much (antisemitism) can impact your life, wherever you are.”
He suggested that when Israel’s cabinet makes decisions, “someone in the room should say, ‘please remember what those decisions mean in terms of our brothers and sisters, Jews all around the world.’
“This is also a certain responsibility of the government of Israel.”
Shai said the Gaza war cost about $1 billion (US), and that among the “major challenges” for the new government is to pass a budget, which Israel has not had in more than two years.
He said there were “many doubts” about the unity government’s chances for survival, but Shai called it stable.
“I believe it will last for a long time. After a few weeks together, we realized we can work together. Every decision made by the cabinet is based on a compromise. We don’t get 100 percent. They don’t get 100 percent. But the state and the people get 100 percent.”
Israel “needs unity. It’s too divided. We have to heal the wounds of Israeli society. We have to bring the four tribes back to the centre – the ultra-Orthodox, the religious, the secular and the Arabs, to live in the same place.”
The “major goal” of the government, apart from security and a budget, is “to carry the message that we should live together.”
As for wide-ranging opinions about Israel in the United States, “once in a while, we hear voices that we are not used to. So we have to pay attention to certain streams of American public opinion. We have to be accepted by both Republicans and Democrats.”
He said Israel needs to invest “as much as possible” in developing a dialogue with young people in the United States.