Jewish leaders say Bennett shirking promise to fix up Western Wall egalitarian space

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's religions and Diaspora affairs correspondent.

Heads of the Reform and Conservative movements in Israel say they were disappointed by the near-total lack of progress on the prime minister’s promises to improve the egalitarian prayer space at the Western Wall, following a meeting with Cabinet Secretary Shlomo Shalom.

“In some ways, there weren’t just no steps forward; we went back further. This is greatly disappointing,” says Yizhar Hess, the former CEO of the Masorti/Conservative movement and current vice-chairman of the World Zionist Organization.

Shalom spoke with those present about the long-stalled Western Wall compromise, under which non-Orthodox streams of Judaism were meant to gain representation in the management of the site, and about interim improvements that the prime minister had promised to make to the egalitarian prayer space located at the southern portion of the Western Wall, often referred to as Robinson’s Arch. Attendees say there has been no movement on either matter.

A family celebrates a bar mitzva at the small egalitarian prayer platform at the Robinson’s Arch, July 2018. (Amanda Borschel-Dan/Times of Israel)

“It’s very disappointing to come in and hear that nothing has happened,” says Anna Kislanski, the head of the Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism.

At a meeting earlier this year, attendees came away buoyed by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s promises to take a number of concrete steps to improve the egalitarian prayer space. Bennett said the more comprehensive Western Wall compromise — an arrangement under which non-Orthodox streams of Judaism were meant to gain representation in the management of the site — would likely remain frozen for the foreseeable future, but promised to at least better fund the egalitarian space and provide more security against ultra-Orthodox hooligans.

According to Kislanski, Bennett’s promises have not been kept.

“They haven’t done anything except add two sunshades,” she says.

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