Finally at Home: Cincinnati Jews at the Kotel, Summer 2016

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Rabbi Lewis and Renee Kamrass

Rabbi Lewis Kamrass is the rabbi at Isaac M. Wise Temple in Cincinnati, Ohio.

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Rabbi Lewis and Renee Kamrass share their experience praying at the Western Wall Plaza with an egalitarian minyan. Below is their account of that Shabbat afternoon and the profound impact it has had on their lives. 

Finally at Home: Cincinnati Jews at the Kotel, Summer 2016


On Shabbat afternoon, July 26, 2016, eight Cincinnati synagogues who were on a combined community-congregational trip to Israel invited their tour participants to actively advocate for religious pluralism in Israeli Jewish life. Over 350 Cincinnati congregants from Reform, Conservative, and humanistic synagogues joined together in the plaza area of the Kotel (Western Wall) to join in prayer and song.


It was our intention to make the Diaspora presence known in that important geographical space, and to spotlight the American Jewish community’s great desire for immediate and responsive action by the Israeli government to fulfill their promises about constructing a permanent egalitarian section of the Kotel so that all Jews could pray together. It was a powerful statement of solidarity with both the Reform and Conservative movements’ efforts in Israel.


By joining in this large gathering of advocacy, we hope that the Israeli government views religious pluralism in general, and the Western Wall Egalitarian Prayer section specifically, as critical issues that merit full action and fulfillment of prior promises. The voices of 350 American Jews joined collectively in this effort was a compelling experience for us all, as it enabled each participant to feel that we were doing something positive for Jewish life in Israel during our visit, and not just learning about the issues and the problems. Progressive and Masorti (Reform and Conservative) leaders in Israel made clear to us how important it was to have a gathering of this large number of American Jews on the ground, advocating in solidarity with their ongoing efforts.


We also experienced the new egalitarian section at the Kotel. Since my student days at HUC in Jerusalem, the Kotel has always been important to me personally. And now, after thirty years of regular visits to Israel, separated from my wife and some of my family in prayer, it was especially meaningful to stand together, hands clasped, arm in arm, praying together for all that we hold dear. To do so at the temporary platform, only a day after our public gathering advocating for a permanent space, was a statement of our future hopes and deepest expectations, symbolizing not only geography at the Kotel, but the larger hope of recognition of Reform/Progressive Judaism in Israel for Jews there and everywhere.


And after dozens of visits to the Kotel through the years, where we would glance at each other through the mechitza separating us by gender (a structure for prayer that we as Reform Jews completely reject), standing at the Kotel’s egalitarian prayer platform, we finally felt at home in prayer in the one place where all Jews should feel at home—in Israel, in Jerusalem, at the Kotel.


When we next return, we hope to claim our place and our prayer in a permanent place of being at home.


Rabbi Lewis and Renee Kamrass

Isaac. M. Wise Temple, Cincinnati, Ohio