A Wall for all
The Reform Movement, the Women of the Wall, and the secular public must leave the old Wall to the fanatics, and all those who are ready to accept it should admit that that section of the Wall has ceased being a national site, and has become a shtieble.
For the last six months, two Western Wall plazas have been operating. At the old one, men and women are separated, comments are made about the way you dress and you are watched for the way you behave. In other words, people who are not ultra-Orthodox or Orthodox national-religious are made to feel like second class Jews and not wanted there.
The second, new site, the alternative wall plaza at the southern end of the wall underneath Robinson's Arch, has in effect been turned into Conservative Judaism's wall. Many dozens of groups visit, and according to Rabbi Ehud Bendel, president of the Conservative Movement in Israel, they are very pleased. The services are mixed, women wear tallitot, kippot, lay tefillin and read from the Torah - and nobody responds violently.
The location of the new plaza - amid the piles of stones that some believe are from the original Temple - and the quiet that prevails there, grants the place a real spirituality, says Bendel, making prayers there special.
But the Women of the Wall and the Reform Movement reject the new plaza on the grounds it is not the real Wall. It is a little strange that two such revolutionary movements are so insistent on sanctifying the traditional precisely on the issue at which section of the Western Wall they will pray.
The debate seems taken straight from the world of advertising, which should come as no surprise since religions always depend on marketing. The argument is that the old Wall is identified with the brand "The Wall," and with it 2,000 years of longing. Is it really 2,000 years? Until 1967, the "plaza" consisted of a narrow courtyard. The Jewish world very quickly grew accustomed to the huge plaza big enough for several tennis courts.
The alternative plaza solution is not as ridiculous as its opponents claim. It is the same wall, the same stones. Yes, there's room at the new wall for notes to God, and couples can even put a note in together.
Most of the affiliated Jewish world is made up of Reform and Conservative Jews. If those two movements decide that the Robinson's Arch wall is their wall and the focus of their identity, if the new wall is the one that appears in their postcards, books and most important, Web sites, then within a few decades the new Wall will become the magnet of longing for most of the Jewish people.
Meanwhile, there are quite a few bureaucratic hassles in the matter of operating the plaza. One of the main problems is the state's preference to operate the site as an archaeological garden. Worshipers who arrive during the garden's operating hours have to pay an entrance fee. On Friday evenings Conservatives are not allowed to pray there because the garden is closed.
The state, particularly the Antiquities Authority, must understand that just as they gave up their control over the old Wall, since it is a place of prayer, and even though it is one of the most important archaeological sites in the world, they will also have to give up the control over the new plaza. A separation must be made between the Herodian-era street that serves as the place of prayer - or at least a large part of it does - and the archaeological garden, and a separate entrance should be created for the place of prayer.
The Antiquities Authority, which in recent years has been ready for far-reaching compromises with the ultra-Orthodox, will have to swallow its pride in this matter for the sake of peace with the progressive movements. If that means it will have to return the money to the donor who financed the archaeological garden, the progressive movements can pay for that.
The Reform Movement, the Women of the Wall, and the secular public must leave the old Wall to the fanatics, and all those who are ready to accept it should admit that that section of the Wall has ceased being a national site, and has become a shtieble - a small, local synagogue. The progressive groups that are interested in the Wall should create a joint representative body that demands the state give them the authority to run the new plaza and pass a law allowing them to do so as they see fit. Just like the old Wall has been given over to the ultra-Orthodox.
The progressive groups have enough power to impose this on the state. Presumably, within a short time, some of the nationalist religious will find out they prefer the open, mixed atmosphere at the new wall over the hostility and messianism at the old one. Those who prefer the old Wall, deserve it.