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So All Jews Can Worship Together at the Kotel

As we prepare for Shabbat, for relaxation, spirituality and community, we take a moment to recognize that there are some who would like to dictate how all Jews should celebrate this holy day. In Israel, some ultra-orthodox are pressuring the Israeli government to transform Israel’s holiest religious sites into orthodox synagogues, excluding progressive Jewish women. Before, or after you celebrate Shabbat, take some time to read and speak out:

FROM: Rabbi Robert Orkand, ARZA President, Response to Interrogation of Anat Hoffman, Executive Director of IRAC
RE: Interrogation of Anat Hoffman, leader of Israel’s Women of the Wall

On behalf of almost a million and a half American Reform Jews, I react with dismay and alarm to the recent report that Anat Hoffman, leader of Israel ’s Women of the Wall, was interrogated and fingerprinted on January 6 by Jerusalem police. She was told that she may be charged with a felony for violating the rules of conduct at what many consider to be Judaism’s most sacred site. The action against Ms. Hoffman who is the Executive Director of the Israel Religious Action Center, follows on the arrest in November of Nofrat Frenkel a member of the Conservative movement and a medical student. The crime: wearing a tallit (prayer shawl) not at the Wall itself, but at an area that had been previously designated a place where Women of the Wall can gather for a once-a-month worship, as they have done for the past 21 years.

These recent actions at the Wall insult all Jewish women for they are being reminded, as they have so many times in the past, that they are second-class Jews at a place that is not a synagogue but rather, an historic site of great importance to all Jews, not just those who are Orthodox. The insults to which Women of the Wall have been subjected cannot be repeated in polite company. The fact that the police have seen fit to arrest women who went to the Wall for peaceful prayer and not those who have screamed that the Nazis should have murdered these women is a stark reminder of the lengths to which the ultra-Orthodox in Israel will go to force their religious practice on an entire nation.

One must wonder why the people of Israel tolerate a religious fanaticism that is no different than what we have witnessed in Iran and elsewhere. There have been riots on Shabbat by ultra-Orthodox Jews protesting the opening of a parking lot near the entrance to the Old City of Jerusalem. There have been riots in Jerusalem protesting the fact that an Intel plant operates on Shabbat. There are now segregated busses in Israel on more than 90 routes, with demands that the number of routes be increased. There is a growing crisis in Israeli education due to the fact that there is not a core curriculum required of every Israeli student, which means that increasingly students are being exposed to a narrow religion-based curriculum and are not learning the subjects that will allow them to function in a modern society. In short, Israel is the rare democracy today that tolerates and even worse endorses religious discrimination against Jews. The promise of Israel’s “Declaration of Independence that Israel will be a homeland for all Jews appears to be nothing more than a dream.

Make no mistake: What appears to be a growing religious crisis in Israel is as much a threat to Israel’s survival as are the external threats, perhaps more so. Israel has shown that she can protect herself from armies and terrorists. Protecting herself from religious extremism may be Israel’s biggest challenge—a challenge that cannot and must not be ignored by those who care about Israel’s soul.

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FROM: Anat Hoffman, IRAC Executive Director—Personal Call to Action A Call to Action—Make the Wall for all Jews

On January 5th, 2010, I, Anat Hoffman, Executive Director of the Israel Religious Action Center, and leader of Women of the Wall was called in for questioning and fingerprinted by the Israeli police. They warned me that I was being investigated for the felony offense of wearing a tallit, and holding a Torah at the Western Wall.

My interrogation comes less than two months after the November 18th, 2009 arrest of the Women of the Wall member Nofrat Frankel for wearing a tallit and holding a Sefer Torah at the Wall.

We are asking you today to contact your local Israel Ambassadors and Consulates and tell them that you will not tolerate religious discrimination or be forced to practice the religious ideologies of the Ultra-Orthodox community. You can write your own letter or sign the letter we have attached. (see below)

Israel must understand that the will of a small fundamentalist minority cannot take the Wall away from Klal Yisrael.

  • Please send your letter to your Ambassador Michael Oren
  • Send a letter to your local Israeli consulate
  • Please also send this communication to your friends and family so that the message will come from as many people as possible
  • Other ways that you can show your support are to purchase a Women of the Wall tallit ([email protected]) or by making a donation to IRAC’s work advancing Jewish pluralism and tolerance in Israel and fighting to end religious coercion and discrimination. http://www.irac.org/Donate.aspx
  • Lastly, organize a solidarity rally or prayer service for the Women of the Wall on the next Rosh Hodesh, Erev Shabbat January 15th 2010

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Local and International Advocacy Action within the Jewish community

Dear________________________

On behalf of the Jewish people fighting for religious pluralism in Israel , I am outraged that one of our leaders, Anat Hoffman, was interrogated and fingerprinted by Jerusalem police on January 5th, 2010. Police told Hoffman, Executive Director of the Israel Religious Action Center and leader of Women of the Wall, that she may be charged with a felony for violating the rules of conduct at what many consider to be Judaism’s most sacred site.

Hoffman’s interrogation came less than two months after the November 18th, 2009 arrest of the Women of the Wall member Nofrat Frankel for wearing a tallit and holding a sefer Torah.

We will not tolerate this discrimination and abuse to continue among our own people. Women are treated as second-class citizens at a holy and historic place that has great symbolic importance for all Jews.

We are shocked by the brutal and callous insults to which Women of the Wall have been subjected. Many of these curses cannot be repeated in polite company. Israeli police have seen fit to arrest women who go to the wall for peaceful prayer, and make no attempt to reprimand those who spit and curse at them, a stark reminder of the power enjoyed by the Israeli ultra-Orthodox, and their success in forcing their religious practices on an entire nation.

If this were to happen in any other country in the world, the Jewish community would be up in arms. Israel is the rare democracy today that tolerates and even endorses religious discrimination against Jews.

Make no mistake: What appears to be a growing religious crisis in Israel is as much a threat to Israel’s survival as are the external threats, and perhaps more so. Israel has shown that she can protect herself from armies and terrorists. Protecting herself from religious extremism may be Israel’s biggest challenge—a challenge that cannot and must not be ignored by those who care about Israel ‘s soul.

We cannot allow this discrimination to continue any further. We must protect our religious rights in Israel.

Pass on our message to the Israeli government, that the Kotel is the beating heart center for the whole of the Jewish people, and not an Ultra-Orthodox synagogue. The arrest and intimidation of women praying at the Wall must stop and it must become a place in which all Jews can pray and connect spiritually to Israel.

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