“Instead of being a place of peace where all the Jewish people pray together, the Western Wall – the Kotel – has turned into an arena for all sorts of sociological issues,” says Lavie.
“Israel’s diverse society means there are all sorts of groups who don’t interact on a daily basis. Each of them works in his own area, they study in their own schools, some of their children don’t go to the army – but the one place they meet is at the Kotel.”
Simultaneously, “there is another phenomenon, of people trying to move closer to Judaism, many of them actively – and the Kotel is at the epicenter of this movement.”
"After decades of neglect by the secular public, people are seeking to reconnect."
“When you go there on a Monday or Thursday, you can barely move there are so many bar mitzvahs. That phenomenon only began to develop during the last 10 years,” she points out.
"But as this trend increases, so does the friction, as non-traditional worshippers aren’t always willing to conform to the status-quo. In response, haredi extremists push back – recently illustrated in the placing of anonymous signs asking women not to sing during prayers, even in the women’s section." Lavie insists it’s a perversion of halakha (Jewish law) which preys on ignorance.
“Someone who wants to take chumrot (stringencies) upon himself, can take them upon himself. But if they want to force chumrot onto the public sphere, this is not something I am willing to accept.”
“Unfortunately, a generation in Israel has grown up which doesn’t know or understand [the halakha], so for many people, when they see a notice like this they just say ‘oh, it’s forbidden!’… because on the one hand there is ignorance, and on the other hand there are many haredim who increasingly take up chumrot and pass them off as Torah law."
“When things like this happen I take it upon myself to say: This is not Judaism!”
“People who don’t want to hear singing in the women’s section should go to pray in a yeshiva which doesn’t have a women’s section.”
Exacerbating the problem is the fact that neither side is open to dialogue, she says. Lavie notes how for years the Women of the Wall clashed with haredim at the Kotel, before a compromise was reached – through dialogue.
“We don’t talk to each other,” she laments. “The State of Israel has returned to a culture of ’12 tribes’ – everyone wants to be with his own ‘tribe’… but the problems occur in the public sphere, like the Kotel, or Beit Shemesh.”
As much as she opposes extremism she is also against deliberate provocations, and insists a compromise solution can always be found.
“This isn’t an issue of halakha. For me, anyone who wants to go and pray at the Kotel should be able to. ‘My house will be a house of prayer for all peoples’ – God himself said that, not me.”