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Despite recent attack on Diaspora relations, we should continue to support Israel

Karen N. Bodney-Halasz, Guest Columnist

Nov. 4, 1995, was a pivotal day for me.


I was 20 years old and studying abroad in Jerusalem when I received word that Yitzchak Rabin, z”l, had been shot. Overwhelmed with emotion and unsure of how to process what had happened, my roommate and I intuitively donned long skirts and called a taxi. We took a cab downtown and then made our way by foot through the post-Shabbat crowd until we reached our destination — the Kotel, or Western Wall. Inexplicably, we had been drawn to that particular place at that precarious moment. As I look back now, I understand why. I was seeking a physical reminder of Jewish community and continuity, and the Kotel provided that for me. At least it did then; my relationship with the Kotel changed forever that night.

After spending some time by the wall, I was approached by a young Israeli who asked me: “Why are you here?” I responded that Rabin had been shot, as if she hadn’t heard. But she repeated the question. So I answered that I was there to pray. She looked at me quizzically, and asked: “Are you praying because you are happy or because you are sad? To celebrate or to mourn?” Looking up, I was filled with a macabre understanding. When I first had arrived, before we knew that Rabin had died, the wall felt eerily empty, dark and quiet. But now, I saw a cluster of ultra-Orthodox Jews dancing, tzitzit swaying, celebrating Rabin’s assassination. It was at that horrible moment that I was filled with the understanding that, more than Israel’s enemies, a divided Jewish community had become Israel’s biggest threat.

Ever since then, the Kotel women’s section has felt smaller and smaller and the section divider felt taller and taller. No longer a symbol of Jewish community to me, the Kotel became just the opposite — a symbol of intolerance, and even zealotry. And the decision made by Prime Minister Netanyahu to cave to the will of the ultra-Orthodox, reneging on an agreement reached to create a pluralistic, egalitarian prayer space at the Western Wall, has only amplified my feelings.

This irresponsible move has been described in the news and blogs as a “slap in the face,” or even “How Bibi Just Gave Liberal Jews The Finger.” In fact, some have decried this as an “abandonment of Zionism” and that “Tisha b’Av came early this year.” Indeed, baseless hatred (said to be the cause of the destruction of the Second Temple) seems to have gotten the better of us again.

Until l I began to see images of the Women of the Wall being dragged into jail over the past few years, I hadn’t raised my voice about it; I believed that Israel had far more pressing issues to address and, with the boom of the anti-Semitic BDS movement, calling attention to Israel’s faults felt ill timed. I also held increased hope for the Israeli liberal Jewish community, as congregations continue to flourish. But the recent attack on Diaspora relations under the influence of the ultra-Orthodox crossed a line. I have no ill will toward Orthodoxy and traditional Judaism; in fact, I find great beauty in it and recognize its role in the Jewish community. However, I do harbor resentment for those within Orthodoxy who do not afford me the same courtesy. I am sickened by the hypocrisy that those who celebrated the death of Israel’s prime minister are now able to dictate proper religious etiquette over that same exact spot.

For some, it may be tempting to turn our backs on Israel right now, to feel defeated and diminished by a country we have always supported. But we can’t allow that to happen. Our love of Israel and our commitment to honor the Jewish people needs to be demonstrated by fighting for an inclusive and diverse understanding of k’lal Yisrael (Jewish community) in Israel. Just like with relationships, we can love people unconditionally, without particularly liking everything they do. Unfortunately, there are times we need to call our loved ones to task, so that others may love them too.

As Reform Jews, now more than ever we need to support the work and achievements of progressive Judaism in Israel. We need to hold the Jewish state accountable: for representing world Jewry, not just Orthodoxy, and for fulfilling the hope of more than 2,000 years for ALL Jews.

Rabbi Karen Bodney-Halasz is senior rabbi at Temple Israel in Dayton, Ohio. She grew up in the Kansas City Jewish community and was a member of The Temple, Congregation B’nai Jehudah, where she interned for two summers while a rabbinical student. Her parents, Lynn and Martin Pollman and Howard and Beatrice Bodney, still live in the area and are members of B’nai Jehudah. This article originally appeared in the August edition of the Temple Israel newsletter.