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“This is one step and is part of a larger plan to create a permanent prayer plaza for pluralistic and egalitarian services at the Kotel,” Bennett said. “We are continuing to promote those plans but wanted there to be a solution already now ahead of the Jewish holiday season.”
Though Sharansky has welcomed the new concourse, Hoffman and others worry that it will inevitably morph into a permanent arrangement and that Sharansky’s proposal — for an egalitarian prayer section equal in size and status to the Orthodox section and accessed from a joint plaza — will be dropped because of the opposition that has come from the ultra-Orthodox who now control the Kotel.
“We were given a glimpse of a Promised Land,” she said. “The vision of Sharansky really is a vision of tolerance, pluralism and mutual respect. It was a good plan, and then the bullies won.”
Women of the Wall’s longtime allies, the Reform and Conservative movements, don’t share Hoffman’s pessimism. “We need to tell the Jewish world: ‘Don’t get too excited about this plan. It doesn’t prevent any advancement, and it’s not a breakthrough,’” said Gilad Kariv, executive director of the Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism. He is reserving judgment until the government’s intentions for the long term become clear.
A spokesman for Israel’s Conservative movement expressed some frustration at the extent to which Women of the Wall is dominating the discourse. “The Women of the Wall meet about a dozen times a year, while in 2012 we had about 740 minyanim [at Robinson’s Arch],” said Andrew Sacks, director of the Conservative Religious Affairs Bureau, in an interview.
Sacks described Bennett’s interim arrangement as “truly wonderful,” a “positive step” and a breakthrough for the status of non-Orthodox worship. He said he is hopeful that the interim arrangement will lead to further concessions to the non-Orthodox in the long-term government plan, and argued that the area around Robinson’s Arch is as important as the main section of the Kotel.
“Over the centuries most of the yearning and thoughts were directed to the section that was exposed, but historically and archaeologically there was no difference between the areas,” Sacks said. He downplayed the significance of the fact that worshippers cannot touch the stones from the new concourse, as they can touch the stones from other areas within the archaeological park.
“We see this as going a long way towards meeting our needs,” Sacks said.
Contact Nathan Jeffay at firstname.lastname@example.org