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Finding unity in our diversity




The Jewish Agency is furious about this as its chairperson, former human rights activist, Natan Sharansky was a central figure in formulating the plan for the prayer section. Because of this broken promise, the Jewish Agency and other religious leaders snubbed the Prime Minister by cancelling a scheduled dinner engagement with him. They are not against the government, but its decision that puts a further wedge between Orthodox and other sectors of the Jewish world.

Sharansky explained: “Five years ago, the Prime Minister asked me to lead a joint effort to bring about a workable formula that would transform the Western Wall into – in his own words – ‘one wall for one people’.

“After four years of intensive negotiations, we reached a solution that was accepted by all major denominations and was then adopted by the government and embraced by the world’s Jewish communities.”

He believes that last week’s “change of heart” will make the Jewish Agency’s work in bringing Israel and the Jewish world closer together, much more difficult.

Looking at this from a South African perspective where most Jewish people are Orthodox, this may not seem like a big deal. But it is. You just have to read the article on page four to see how upset it has made the local Progressive Jewish leaders.

What Sharansky was trying to do was simply to bring Jews of all religious persuasions, political leanings and views, together as “one people”.

That makes sense to me. We may all choose to practise our Judaism in slightly different ways. Some of us may choose to wear a sheitel, others may choose to drive on Shabbos.

Some in our community won’t watch television and make a point of putting on tefillin every day. Others see the inside of a shul only on Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah. And those are just the Orthodox community.

I may not feel comfortable praying in the midst of men and I certainly haven’t considered putting on tefillin myself, but that is not my background or a path I chose. But I believe every Jew has a right to practise Judaism and be a part of this greater community.

It is about unity in diversity! It is about accepting that we are all different and we may not agree with the way someone else does things. As long as that person does it with integrity, honesty and morality, surely they have a right to do it.

When people, like Steven Goodson – the Holocaust denialist who appears to have influence over our new Public Protector – considers Jews, they don’t care how we pray or the nuances in our traditions.

Goodson doesn’t care whether we are Chabad, Ohr Somayach or Modern Orthodox. He sees us as Jews, all the same and paints us with his Nazi-sympathising brush.

He is not alone. All those people who look down their noses at Jewish people, couldn’t care about our differences – to them, we are all the same.

We aren’t, though. We are a fascinating, colourful, opinionated (in the most positive sense) and diverse-thinking community and that makes us wonderful.

We all know the saying: “Two Jews, three opinions”.  What about the story of the Jewish man who was found on a desert island after living there for years? He had built two shuls: one in which he prayed and the other into which he would never set foot.

We all chuckle at this, knowing it epitomises how we are. We also know that if that person praying in the “other shul” needs help, we are going to move mountains to help him. 

But isn’t it time we realised that we are just brothers and sisters from the same family? We need to care for each other and look out for one another – see our similarities and not just our differences.

I hope that Netanyahu gets off his political high horse and backtracks, because it is right. “One people, One wall!”

Let him and all of us find unity in our diversity!

Shabbat Shalom.



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