Want Jewish pluralism? Get political

On Saturday night, I re-learned what it means to love Israel.

With at least fifteen hundred of my closest friends.

In Jerusalem. In front of the Prime Minister’s official residence.

What brought us there?

It's very simple. Look at the photo that accompanies this essay. That beautiful little girl is holding a sign that begs Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu: “Bibi, don't divide the Jewish people.”

Because this is what this whole struggle about the Western Wall —and who can pray there, and how, and next to whom — is all about. It's also what the proposed (and now in hiatus for six months) conversion bill is all about.

It's about whose Judaism “wins” in the Jewish state. And based on the diverse crowd that demonstrated in front of the Prime Minister’s residence, it is clear that there are many Israelis who refuse to have ultra right wing hareidi Judaism as the default setting for Jewish religious expression.

There were Reform, traditional/masorti (Conservative), and secular Jews at the rally. The secular Jews are not saying that they don't care about Judaism. That's not (all) of what Israeli secularism is.

They're saying: “This is a grand tradition. Our texts, poetry, prayers, and history are precious to us. To all of us. No one Jewish sect can ever own them exclusively."

And, when I say “diverse,” let me hasten to add: many visibly Orthodox Jews attended the rally as well. They are unbent in their orthodoxy, but they are equally conscious of the great temptation to abuse power in order to impose their orthodoxy on the Israeli body politic.

And, when I say “diverse,” let me just say that the woman who was standing on one side of me was an old friend from Reform summer camp. The man standing on the other side of me wore a black suit, a beard, and a large black hat.

I thanked him for being there. This is what he said to me: “It's really important to me to hear opinions that differ from the ones that I usually hear.”

As we say in Israel: wow. Mamash wow. Really wow.

Frankly, the Western Wall has come to mean less and less to me. It was never supposed to have become a synagogue -- much less a synagogue dominated by state Orthodoxy. And as anyone's who has ever seen an old photograph of that space can report, there was a time when men and women prayed together at that national shrine.

I think we call those the good old days.

So, what do we have to do to change Israel, to make it embody a larger and broader Judaism?

We have gone to the streets.

We have gone to the courts.

It is time — way past time — for Israeli Jews who care about pluralism to do the only thing that, in the long run, really matters.

It's time for them to form a political party, and let Israelis themselves decide what kind of country they want, and what they want from public Judaism in the Jewish state.

After all, how many religious parties are represented in the Kenesset?

You don't think that there is room for one or two more -- this time, representing the hardly unarticulated religious longings of the majority of Israeli Jews, as well as Jews of the Diaspora?

Would such a non-Orthodoxy religious party get a sufficient number of votes -- votes not already committed to other liberal parties -- to make a difference?

I think that it was Theodor Herzl who famously said: "If you will it, it is not a dream."

Actually, I know that it was Herzl who said that.

Truth be told, we should have done this decades ago. But, if the totally "woke" activism of the organized world Jewish community  means anything, it is hardly too late.

Because, let us understand what is at stake here.

Only the utter totality of American Jewish emotional attachment to Israel.

Which means financial support.

Which will mean political support.

This is no time for Israeli leaders to engage in self-delusion.

Because here is the summer's shofar blast: you know how the aftermath of the Six Day War swept American Jewry into a passionate love affair with Israel?

That was a half century ago.

Have Israeli leaders noticed how much pressure young American Jews, especially those who subscribe to progressive causes, are under to abandon any feelings about Israel?

Or, do Israeli leaders really believe that they can rely solely on American hareidi support for Israel?

Good luck with that.

At the rally, my friend, teacher, and hero, Rabbi Donniel Hartman, president of the Shalom Hartman Institute, reminded us all -- that Jerusalem is supposed to be the place where no one will ever need to say: "There is no room for me."

For let us be clear: if Jerusalem/Israel should tell the Jews of the world that there is no room for their Judaism, then expect those Jews to say that there is no room in their Judaism for Jerusalem, and for Israel.

When you realize that within a short time, there will only be two Jewish communities of any consequence -- North America and Israel -- the implied message will be devastating, and permanent.

You want that on your record, Bibi?

I didn't think so.