Who Knew Walls Could Be So Divisive?

 

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By: Isabelle Mokotoff

The wall loomed above me. Its grandeur was daunting; the ancient stones rising high above the swarms of people took my breath away. I stepped closer to the wall and extended my arm until my fingers grazed the grainy, textured surface. Worn down by millennia of hail, rain, and wind, stuffed to the brim with letters from people living in all corners of the globe. I could practically feel the history. Memories from my childhood raced through my brain. I thought back to the countless days in Hebrew school when the class had come together to construct a makeshift version with papier mache and cardboard. And now I was here. And now it felt real. However, my awe quickly faded into dismay.

This landmark of Jewish history, the Western Wall, holds great significance for the Jewish people. To many, it represents strength, reliance, and a closeness to G-d, often being hailed as the holiest site in the world for the Jewish people. However, it is not without its flaws. Controlled by the rigidly traditional Rabbinate (the supreme religious governing body in the state of Israel for the Jewish people) the Western Wall does not cater to the wishes of all Jews, but instead, only benefits a small fraction of the Jewish population. It is divided into two sections; one vastly larger side is dedicated to men, while a lesser one is reserved for the women. Neither the men nor the women are able to cross over to the other side, and women must adhere to a strict and conservative dress code. In addition, women are not allowed to bring the Torah (the holy book for Jews), into their section. For the millions of Jews whose religious practices are more egalitarian, it is frustrating for their rights to be hindered. Furthermore, women have been policed much more frequently and intensely than men, incriminating an entire gender without probable cause.

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Art by James Bolden

The majority of Jews, with the exception of those living in Israel, are focused on making this holy site more welcoming to people of all religious observances. However, in Israel, the population is more concerned with obtaining basic rights that affect their day-to-day well being, such as civil marriage. This being the case, the issues pertaining to the Western Wall get pushed to the back burner by the Israeli government. This is frustrating to Jews living outside of Israel because even if Israel is not their country, it is still their homeland. Speaking from personal experience, when I visited the Western Wall, I felt anything but at home. In a place that was holy to me, I was forced to comply with religious practices that were foreign. This experience is a common underlier with many diaspora Jews (Jews living outside Israel). These Jews are tirelessly protesting for change, and when met with complacent attitudes from Israelis, they become disconnected from their homeland. This reaction is detrimental to both sides, as diaspora Jews (specifically those living in the United States) are the linchpin of Israeli foreign policy, while diaspora Jews are losing the connection to their roots. Although civil marriage is of great importance, the Israeli government should be more than capable of tackling two issues at once. Steps can be taken to improve the situation by making the men and women’s areas equal size, as well as opening a third, egalitarian section at the Robinson’s Arch area of the wall. All in all, the purpose of this wall should be to unite people through a common spirituality and love of history, not tear people apart.

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