I am the Rabbi of Brighton and Hove Reform Synagogue, the largest synagogue in Sussex. We have always been a Zionist stronghold. As I write in this moment I have in front of me the autobiography of Abba Eban: it has a dedication by the author to our first Rabbi, Erwin Solomon Rosenblum z”l.
Israel has always been a core element of our identity, as you can experience if you visit us on Shabbat Atzmaut, the Shabbat before Yom HaAtzmaut, or on Shabbat Yerushalayim, the Shabbat before Yom Yerushalayim. I am sure that our wardens in such a case will be glad to give you and your wife an alya, and I hope you’ll join us in singing HaTikvah at the end of the service. Yes, there are synagogues, Reform synagogues, in the UK, where Yom HaAtzmaut is celebrated, where Yom Yerushalayim is celebrated, where the fallen Israeli soldiers are honoured.
As per myself, I am proud to call myself a Zionist of the Revisionist persuasion. I graduated with a dissertation on Rabbi Louis Israel Newman, z’’l, whom your father Benzion Netanyahu knew well.
Before becoming one of the greatest scholar of Jewish history, your father of blessed memory was a nationalist Zionist activist. He was with other activists, the “Bergson Boys” they called themselves, in New York in 1940, and worked tirelessly to wake up American Jewry and to lobby in favour of military intervention in WWII.
And following that, they also lobbied in favour of the Zionist struggle for independence. Rabbi Louis Israel Newman, a Reform Rabbi, was close to that group. Your father’s Rabbi, Mr Netanyahu, was a Reform Rabbi.
Mr Netanyahu, I have always defended You and Your government in easy and less easy circumstances. I always have put effort in defending -among my colleagues- your reputation, the reputation of the Zionist movement, and the good name of Israel. Sometimes it’s easy, sometimes it’s not. But my integrity demands me to do it.
Now I write to you in distress.
Few months ago a compromise was reached between the Jerusalem Haredim and the major Diaspora organisations. Such a compromise had been one of the many merits of your Government, and of the Chair of the Jewish Agency, Nathan Sharansky. It would have allowed Jews belonging the majority of the Diaspora Jews, like us, to worship at the Kotel according to our customs and minhagim, without separation between men and women.
At the moment we have access only to an area in front of Robinson’s Arch, an archeological site, removed from the sight of the Haredim: as if the sight of Jews different from them was offensive. We are, literally, kept at a lower level. This is not decent, neither respectful, as it has been acknowledged by scholars of civil and Jewish law. Therefore it was agreed to build an extended egalitarian area, on the same level of the ultra-orthodox’s. It would have a considerably beneficial effect on tourism and ion the attendance to State ceremonies, that take place in front of the Kotel, such as the yearly oath taken by the IDF soldiers at the beginning their term of service.
Jewish soldiers, Mr Netanyahu. Like the many who decorated the story of your family. Soldiers of the Army of the Jewish State. By the way, none of them is ultra-orthodox.
The new platform would have caused no harm to the existing situation. Haredi men and women can continue to worship as they like, men and women strictly separated, like in a mosque. Now this compromise, a decent and honourable compromise had been “frozen” by your government. The platform will not be built, we learnt. We will have to continue with the existing setting, where Jews belonging to the majority of the Jewish organisations are confined in a narrower place.
Nathan Sharansky has noted that this decision of yours favours one sector of the Jewish people against the majority of Am Israel. I agree with him. We know: your government, Mr Netanyahu, needs the votes of the Haredi parties, who are currently offering their support to the Left, and to the two States solution, if the Left is (they say) bold enough to abandon the Reform.
That’s it. There are in your government, in the Israeli Parliament, parties who are willing to do literally everything in order to damage us, the Reform, the Masorti, the Liberal. Is it decent to pay attention to these divisive voices? May I remind you that these people not only encourage their youth not to serve in the military. They also forbid their flock to take serious and productive jobs, and they encourage them to live out of benefits. That is taxpayers’ money, and Diaspora’s money! They perpetrate family’s abuses by turning to Rabbinic courts and not to civil courts. Are these the people you are working for, Mr Netanyahu? Or are you the Prime Minister of the Jewish State, that is of every Jew, including us? You have alienated Sharansky, a hero of freedom of thought and religion, one of the most inspiring Jewish personality, whose very name mobilised the Jewish people worldwide.
Mr Netanyahu, the Jewish people does not want to see the Kotel turned in an ultra-orthodox synagogue! The Kotel should rather be a symbol of unity, where different Jewish denominations are allowed to pray and worship according to their own customs.
In our Reform synagogue we celebrate every year Yom Yerushalayim, the anniversary of the reunification of the eternal capital of the Jewish people. Now, you are telling us that we, and our children, are not welcome anymore in the very place where we turn our hearts in prayers and hope!
Mr President, I was born after the Six Day War. I am one of the first Jews born after the reunification of Jerusalem. We all owe to you, and to your generation, an enormous debt of gratitude. You belong to the generation who has restored the Hadar, the glory of being a Jew after centuries of oppression and humiliation and now I wonder, and I ask you, how is this political petty manouvering going to advance the cause of Israel and Zionism amongst the Jewish people?
Mr Netanyahu, remember that we are taught Kol Yisrael ara’vin zeh b’zeh, all Jews are responsible for each other and I ask you to show leadership and responsibility, for the sake of our unity.
Please, Prime Minister, repair your damage before it is too late.
Ki shekhet hu refesh. Because silence is despicable.