Hundreds in Jerusalem protest freeze on Western Wall deal, conversion bill

JERUSALEM (JTA) – Hundreds gathered in front of the prime minister’s residence in Jerusalem to protest the freezing of the Western Wall agreement and the conversion bill.

The demonstrators who gathered Saturday night carried signs with slogans like “Judaism without coercion,” and “We are all Women of the Wall.”

The rally was organized by liberal movements of Judaism and the Women of the Wall multi-denominational prayer group, which has spent decades advancing egalitarian prayer at the wall, known in Israel as the Kotel.

“We came to the wall every month. We ‘voted with our feet.’ We fought for equality. The prime minister understood. That’s why he initiated the negotiations. That’s why he brought the agreement to a vote. It gave us hope. Hope for democracy. Hope for the people of Israel,” Anat Hoffman, chair of Women of the Wall, said in an address to the crowd.

“But suddenly, he changed his mind. Suddenly, he gave in to the ultra-Orthodox. To those Jews who see themselves only. Who will keep biting and biting, whatever possible, at other people’s expense. Those who think that people who don’t pray the way they do are not Jews.”

She also said: “It’s time for women to wake up. It’s time for secular Jews to wake up. And all religious Jews like us, who believe in sharing space with everyone. Those of us who believe in equality must wake up. Because today it’s the Kotel agreement and tomorrow it’s everything else.”

The demonstration began at the close of Shabbat with a Havdalah service and religious songs.

“The cry from the Israeli street and from the Jewish communities cannot be underestimated,” Rabbi Gilad Kariv, executive director of the Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism, told the crowd.” We will not allow an ultra-Orthodox monopoly in the field of conversion and we will not give up until the full implementation of the Western Wall outline is reached.”

Israel’s Cabinet last week froze a government decision to expand a non-Orthodox prayer section at the Western Wall. The same day a ministerial committee approved a bill that would have made the haredi Orthodox-dominated Chief Rabbinate the only body authorized by the government to perform conversions in Israel. On Friday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office announced the legislation will not be considered for six months while a “team” he will appoint comes up with recommendations for an “arrangement” on the issue.

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