Controversies surrounding the Israeli government’s freeze on an egalitarian prayer space at the Western Wall are indicative of a need for “interdenominational conflict resolution” among Jews, according to Ruchi Koval, Jewish Family Experience co-founder, director and guest panelist for the season’s first “Tribe Talk: New Jewish Conversations” program.
The Sept. 18 interactive discussion program, hosted by Case Western Reserve University’s Siegal Lifelong Learning Program, in partnership with the Cleveland Jewish News and the Cleveland Jewish News Foundation, covered the Western Wall controversy and last month’s violent white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va.
The controversy surrounding the Western Wall involves whether Israel will implement an egalitarian prayer space, where men and women can pray together at the holy site. The government made plans to create such an egalitarian space but suspended the plan in June, leading to rifts between the Israeli government and many non-Orthodox American Jewish groups.
Koval, who is also a columnist for the Cleveland Jewish News, told the audience of about 65 people, that at the core of the issue is whether diverse Jewish groups make efforts to understand alternate points of view, and thus far is a missed opportunity to do so.
On one end, she said the Western Wall controversy is a reflection of Israel’s historic compulsory Orthodoxy shifting to a more secular society.
“(The Western Wall) is an Orthodox synagogue right now,” she said. “One could argue that it shouldn’t be, but right now it is.”
Also, American groups who support the country financially want influence over what happens at the Western Wall. In turn, Orthodox Israelis feel vulnerable by such secular demands, she said.
“There are religious people in Israel who are feeling newly threatened,” she said.
Siegal Lifelong Learning Program director and moderator Alanna Cooper said, “For us in America, the wall is a bigger issue because it symbolizes our relationship to Israel.”
On Sept. 20, the Israeli government said it has no plans to reconsider the Western Wall freeze, according to The Times of Israel.
The discussion transitioned to the events in Charlottesville last month and President Donald Trump’s reaction to it. Koval said, despite being Orthodox and very active in an Orthodox community that tends to lean conservative in elections, she has been vocal that she didn’t vote for Trump.
“It was, for me, a gutsy thing to be vocal about my opinions,” she said. “For me, Charlottesville was proof that I was right.”
Siegal Lifelong Learning Program Executive Director Brian Amkraut discussed how some conservative Jews supported Trump’s comments on the rally, where the president did not specifically admonish white nationalists and neo-Nazis. He said some feel as though neo-Nazi groups are not a true threat the way anti-Israel movements are.
“Does leadership of the organized Jewish community truly believe that the rise of neo-Nazism and the alt-right is currently a threat to Jewish continuity and the fate of the state of Israel?” he asked, adding that some believe, “as bad as the Nazis are, they are essentially yesterday’s news.”
Kevin S. Adelstein, publisher and CEO of the CJN and president of the CJPC, will be the next speak at 7 p.m. Oct. 16.