18 months ago, I was excited to stand on this bima and talk about the Western Wall agreement that would give men and women the chance to pray at the Western Wall together, free from the shackles of ultra-Orthodox governance that has dominated much of Israeli religious policy. Although it was not a perfect agreement, it was a wonderful symbolic step toward acceptance, pluralism, and tolerance. It was a move toward Shalom Bayit, peace in the home, as Jews would acknowledge the legitimacy of other Jews, regardless of gender or halachic observance.
But unfortunately, it seems that the monopoly of ultra-Orthodox governance still rules the day. A few weeks ago, Netanyahu decided to 'freeze' the deal, essentially cancelling the assurances from 18 months ago.
The president of our movement, Rabbi Rick Jacobs, wrote these words in a press release:
Prime Minister Netanyahu's decision to say 'no' to his previous 'yes' is an unconscionable insult to the majority of world Jewry ... The Israeli Supreme Court will rule, but even in waiting for the coiurt we will not be still or silent. The stranglehold that the Chief Rabbinate and the ultra-Orthodox parties have on Israel and the enfranchisement of the majority of Jews in Israel and the world must - and will - be ended.
In this week's Torah portion, a king named Balak hires the prophet Balaam to curse the Israelite people. But upon seeing the Israelites living peacefully, opening their homes and their hearts, building community, his curse turns into a blessing, and he says: Ma Tovu Ohalecha Ya'akov, How lovely are your tents, O Jacob, you dwelling places, O Israel.
We are no longer that Israelite community. The infighting amongst Jews is horrible, especially as our Jewish identity is questioned by the very same people who are meant to be our brothers and sisters. The Talmud instructs us, Kol Yisrael arevim zeh ba zeh, All of Israel is responsible for one another. We are failing to live up to this teaching.
When Balaam looked down from his perch upon a mountain, seeing the Israelites go about their daily lives, I like to believe that he saw Jews of all kinds. Old, young, men, women. He saw Jews pursuing Judaism, each in their own way. There was one community, but they weren't doing the same thing.
I hope that Israel learns that we can stand side by side in solidarity and not see eye to eye. But we must have a place at the table. We not only have a right to exist, we serve to enhance the Jewish people with our uniqueness.
I pray that in the near future, we can again be one Jewish people, am Yisrael, so that one might look at us and say, Ma tovu ohalecha Ya'akov. Shabbat Shalom.