I bet most of us have had our fill of snow for the year (although kids are loving it, right?). I have experienced multiple 20”+ blizzards in my life, but NEVER have those cities felt as paralyzed as Portland. Maybe we should run a special campaign every few years to buy snowplows? Anyways, all I know is I keep joking with my children to forget about summer break since they will be in school until August.
One of the benefits of being home these past few days has been the wonderful civics lesson for my children. We have been watching the various confirmation hearings on television. They have been quite interested in the questions (the tone, how asked, and by whom), the frequent evasive “non-answers,” and the politicization of the entire process. But most importantly, they are watching our democracy in action.
On Monday, we will observe the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, a national tribute to an incredible leader and visionary. I have read many of Dr. King’s writings and watched multiple videos of his speeches. His memory and words should be an inspiration for our country today. Dr. King was a remarkable man who wanted our country and our world to understand the beauty of diversity and the importance of tolerance.
In the spirit of honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., mazel tov to Oregon Hillel for being recognized by the University of Oregon’s Office of Equity and Inclusion at their upcoming MLK Award ceremony for its Manzil Midrash/Conflict Series that supports cooperation and understanding among Jewish and Muslim students. We applaud Oregon Hillel for its ongoing effort to create open space for dialogue and learning between Jewish students and others.
Speaking of diversity and tolerance, earlier this week Israel’s Supreme Court ruled in favor of women being allowed to read from the Torah in the women’s section at the Western Wall and declared that an egalitarian prayer area set aside at nearby Robinson’s Arch does not constitute access to the holy site. This is a historic ruling.
It should be noted that an agreement to create an egalitarian prayer space at Robinson’s Arch near the Western Wall was passed by the government almost one year ago. The agreement was negotiated by the Reform and Conservative movements, the Women of the Wall organization, the Jewish Agency for Israel and the Israeli government. Under the agreement, which was approved by the Cabinet, the egalitarian section of the wall near Robinson’s Arch would be expanded and placed under the authority of a pluralist committee. The plan called for solidifying Haredi Orthodox control over the site’s traditional Orthodox section.
The court gave Western Wall administrator Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, the Western Wall Heritage Foundation and state agencies — including the Prime Minister’s Office and the Religious Services Ministry — 30 days to submit their response and find “good cause” why a woman may not read aloud from a Torah scroll as part of prayer services at the Western Wall.
It also declared that women should not be subjected to body searches before entering the plaza. The Western Wall Heritage Foundation, the Orthodox-run body that oversees activity at the site, has authorized such searches to prevent worshippers from entering the women’s side with Torah scrolls, prayer shawls, tefillin and menorahs.
“Just when it seemed the rabbinate’s power was overwhelming, the court’s verdict regarding our demand to read Torah at the women’s section of the Western Wall reflects both courage and wisdom,” said Anat Hoffman, head of the Women of the Wall activist group. “Today, we have come much closer toward implementation of the Western Wall agreement on gender equality and religious freedom at the Wall. I am elated because when I was looking for justice, and then courage, they were missing, and now the highest court in the land has shown me both.”
According to a recent poll conducted by the group Hiddush: Freedom of Religion for Israel, 62 percent of the Israeli public supports female prayer quorums at the Western Wall. Among Israel’s religious population, however, 81% of modern Orthodox object to women’s prayer groups at the wall, along with a resounding 95% of ultra-Orthodox.
Prior to the Supreme Court’s ruling, Haredi Orthodox lawmakers and members of other parties in December submitted a bill to the Knesset to prevent non-Orthodox public prayer at the Western Wall.
What I have learned from people like Dr. King and leaders with whom I have worked over the course of my career is that the ones that have the most impact—the ones that tear down barriers and create social change—are those who immerse themselves in the work. I know so many people (Jewish communal professionals, rabbis, volunteer leaders, etc.) like this in Portland and beyond. They are the ones who engage themselves in their communities and create lasting bonds. They are the ones who transform differences into an open dialogue of ideas, beliefs, and opportunities.
And being “open” to those conversations and potential changes are key if we are to make our country and world a better place.
In the days and months ahead, let’s all heed the words of Dr. King, “Life's most persistent and urgent question is, 'What are you doing for others?...The time is always right to do what is right.” Stand up, be counted, and make the change you believe in!