One of the frequent activities in which we engage as we mark time is a review of this past year. While the passing of 2012 holds no import for us religiously, the endeavor to look back upon the last twelve months is worthwhile. At the very least it reminds us of what we have lived through and the issues with which we are still dealing. There were a number of important Jewish issues that made headlines this past year. Allow me to recount some of them for you.
We were saddened by numerous reports of sexual abuse in the ultra-Orthodox and Chasidic communities, incidents that keep coming to public notice despite the attempts of the communities themselves to suppress them. Nothing good will occur until the communities themselves acknowledge the prevalence of such behavior and take steps, such as we are with J-Safe, to make their yeshivot and synagogues havens for the victims instead of offering protection to the offenders.
Hurricane Sandy devastated New York and New Jersey, taking a terrific toll on Jewish families and institutions throughout the area. It will months, if not years, before the area recovers. We did our part by sending numerous truck loads of needed goods and food stuffs to synagogues in the New York and New Jersey region which were acting as distribution centers. Oheb Shalom can be proud of the part it played in bringing some comfort to the needy.
Billionaire Sheldon Adelson failed in his attempt to buy the presidential election for Governor Romney. Adelson, a right wing Zionist, contributed millions of his own money to the Republican Party and to Gov. Romney’s campaign. He wanted to ensure a Romney victory because he thought it would be better for Israel.
After Hamas in Gaza shot hundreds of missiles against Israeli targets, Israel responded with a campaign to neutralize Hamas’ weaponry. This latest campaign was a victory for Israel’s anti-missile system, Iron Dome, and a defeat for the Iranian supplied Hamas. Iran, however, still is a major threat to Israel and the entire Middle East. It bears close scrutiny in the coming year.
Perhaps the most positive Jewish story of the year was that of Aly Raisman winning Olympic gold in London. Aly, an 18 year old Reform Jew, did her routine to the sounds of “Hava Nagila.” Jews everywhere rejoiced with Aly and her family. She made us all feel very proud.
Of course, the most depressing story of the year is that of the 27 murders in Newtown, Connecticut. We will take a leading role in the push for better gun laws and mental health treatment in the coming year.
The most under-reported story of this past year is one that continually captures our interest. Two years ago, during our Oheb Shalom visit to Israel, we had Shabbat dinner in Tel Aviv with Anat Hoffman, chairperson of IRAC, as our special guest. IRAC is the IsraelReligiousActionCenter, an organization sponsored by our Reform movement that works on behalf of religious pluralism in Israel. Anat, a dear friend and former Jerusalem city councilperson, spoke to us about the situation of Liberal Jews in Israel. After her presentation, she presented me with this beautiful tallit, made for the Women of the Wall. Who are the Women of the Wall? They are a group of Liberal Jewish women who hold a woman’s only prayer service at the Kotel once a month on Rosh Chodesh. The women read Torah and wear tallitot. Some even wear tefillin. Many of these women, Anat included, have been arrested by the religious police at the Kotel, strip searched, and jailed. What do they want? They desire the right to pray as Jews at the Kotel, just as do men. They want to break the Orthodox monopoly on prayer at the Western Wall. Anat was last arrested in late October while chanting the Sh’ma. The police manhandled her and bruised her before throwing her in jail. Religious life at the Kotel is managed by a government board headed by the ultra-Orthodox rabbi, Shmuel Rabinowitz, who maintains that the law prohibits public prayer by women at the Kotel. He recently said, “I will say this loud and clear: As long as I have authority, placed upon me by the State of Israel, over the Western Wall, there will be no place for zealotry there.”[i]
The denial of religious freedom for Jewish women has spurred Diaspora Jewish organizations to challenge the Israeli government. Just a few days ago, Prime Minister Netanyahu commissioned Jewish Agency head Natan Sharansky to find an equitable solution to this situation. Sharansky, known for his refusenik activity and a hero in the Jewish world, has not been shy about expressing his solidarity with the Women of the Wall. We will have to see how he navigates the shoals of Israeli politics as he strives to ensure equality for all Jewish people at our holiest site. This will be one of the major Jewish stories to follow during this coming year. IRAC, which defends Women of the Wall before the Israeli courts, is one of my very favorite organizations. You will receive information about it in an e-mail blast from Oheb Shalom. It is an organization very worthy of your tsedakah.
This is a situation which we will closely watch in the future. We will do our part to ensure that the Kotel belongs to all Jews, male and female.
Kein y’hi ratson, May it soon come to be.
Amen and Shabbat shalom
[i] Jewish Daily Forward, December 28, 2012.