JERUSALEM, ISRAEL - A headline-making debate in Israel and abroad over the status of alternative women's prayer services at the Kotel (the Western Wall) was reflected at a town hall - style session held at the Board of Governor's Committee of the Unity of the Jewish People on Tuesday.
This last Rosh Chodesh, while on a mission to Israel, sponsored in part by The Jewish Agency for Israel, two female members of the Rabbinic Cabinet of the Jewish Federations of North America were arrested alongside the Women of the Wall, an ongoing prayer quorum that gathers each month for morning shaharit prayer services.
In December, Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu asked Jewish Agency Chairman for the Executive, Natan Sharansky, to speak with all parties involved in the matter and to make suggestions as how to best move forward in resolving the hotly-debated issues involved. Tuesday's meeting served as a platform for Board members to offer their take on the subjects involved.
Hosted by Sharansky, introduced by Committee Chair Shoel Silver Natan and run by Deputy Chair Lori Klinghoffer, most of the comments in the session emanated from both local and international Reform and Progressive Judaism adherents.
The resounding message was that the "Kotel belongs to all Jews," as Gilad Kariv, Executive Director of the Israel Reform Movement said, citing a 2003 Supreme Court ruling. He added that it should be remembered that the Kotel is both a religious and a national site.
Board members from Great Britain and South Africa also spoke about the additional negative press that this issue has earned Israel in the international media.
Local residents also spoke out on varying aspects of the arguments.
"I don't like what the Charedi did to my society—but they also have rights!" said Jerusalemite Zvi Raviv. Others also brought up what they said were an imbalance of views in the room. Most agreed that the only feasible solution would be a compromise that satisfied all of the sides.
A Reconstructionist-affiliated speaker from Canada used her own family as an example of Jewish Unity, noting that while she herself leins (reads) from the Torah, her son is an Orthodox rabbi.
"What is important is to keep our family together," she stressed - wherever the resolutions lay - and added that was fundamental to find a way to keep the "glue of our family" together.
Sharansky concluded that "Our power as The Jewish Agency is that we can provide a platform for discussion," and emphasized that the Agency does not serve as a lobby for US Jewry in the Israeli government.
He thanked the participants and said that the discussion would open up in the Knesset parliament only once a coalition government was formed.