‘One Wall for One People,’ Sharansky Says During Visit to Western Wall’s Egalitarian Section

JTA
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Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky, left, and Israeli government minister Tzachi Hanegbi, right, speak to members of the Jewish Agency Board of Governors, at the egalitarian section of the Western Wall, October 30, 2017. At center is Yizhar Hess, head of the Masorti Movement in Israel. (David Shechter courtesy of The Jewish Agency for Israel)
JERUSALEM — The Jewish Agency for Israel remains committed to the principle “one wall for one people,” Natan Sharansky said during a visit to the Western Wall.

Reiterating his support for an agreement that would have formalized a prayer section outside the control of the Wall’s current Orthodox authorities, Sharansky, chairman of the executive of the Jewish Agency for Israel, visited the egalitarian section of the Western Wall on Monday.

He was accompanied by a delegation of dozens of members of the Jewish Agency’s board of governors, from around the world.

The Israeli government in June suspended the agreement it reached in 2016 to expand and upgrade the egalitarian prayer section at the southern end of the Western Wall. The government had negotiated the agreement with the Reform and Conservative movements along with the Women of the Wall group and the Jewish Agency.

The agreement put the upgraded egalitarian section on equal footing with the single-sex section and allowed it to be run by a special committee with no input from the Chief Rabbinate.

Monday’s delegates were accompanied by government minister Tzachi Hanegbi, who has been charged with coordinating efforts to find a solution to the crisis over the cancelled Western Wall deal.

“While it was important that the members of the Board of Governors had the opportunity to hear from Minister Hanegbi as a representative of the government, we have seen no progress on any of these issues since the government’s regrettable decision in June, and no directions toward progress were evident today,” Sharansky said. “What was frozen four months ago remains frozen. We nevertheless remain committed to the principle originally articulated by Prime Minister Netanyahu: one wall for one people.”

Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, and Rabbi Steven Wernick, CEO of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, also joined the group and spoke to them at the wall.

Jewish Agency board members are scheduled to hold meetings on Tuesday at the Knesset with dozens of Israeli lawmakers from both the ruling government and opposition parties. They plan to discuss the ramifications of the government’s suspension of the Western Wall agreement and its advancement of a bill to establish the Chief Rabbinate’s exclusive authority over conversions conducted in Israel.

In July, the Israeli government announced that despite the freeze of the agreement that it would go ahead with the physical expansion and upgrade of the egalitarian section, at a cost of about $5 million.

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