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Leaders from Congregation B'nai Israel, a Reform Jewish congregation in Sacramento, CA, sent a letter today to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressing “great concern and distress” about the detainment of Lesley Sachs, director of Women of the Wall, at the Kotel today. The New York Times reports that Sachs was detained for bringing a Torah scroll to the Western Wall; that Holocaust-era scroll, which has a storied history, was on loan from the California congregation. Read Women of the Wall’s statement about Sachs’ detainment.
Sachs’ detainment comes less than a week after Reform and Conservative Jewish leaders met with the Prime Minister to discuss the pending plan for creating an egalitarian prayer space at the Western Wall. That meeting was characterized by “disappointment and frustration,” URJ President Rabbi Rick Jacobs told the Times of Israel, speaking to the delay in implementation of the plan.
The letter from leaders of Congregation B'nai Israel (including past president Jennifer Kaufman, vice-chair of the URJ's North American Board) reads:
Dear Prime Minister Netanyahu:
It is with great concern and distress that we just heard the news that Lesley Sachs, the director of Women of the Wall, was detained by the Jerusalem police along with a blessed Torah that our congregation, B'nai Israel in Sacramento, California, lent to Women of the Wall, to express our solidarity with their cause and our belief in the unity of the Jewish people. The fact that the Torah scroll was taken by the police and that the police actions appear to have been coordinated with Shmuel Rabinowitz, the rabbi who oversees the Kotel, is especially disturbing.
It is our understanding that you had committed your government to a compromise that shows unity of the Jewish people and a place in the state of Israel for all streams of Judaism. Today’s action appears to be yet another step backwards in that commitment. We can only assume that Reform Jewry, the largest stream of Judaism in North America, is not welcomed in Israel’s holiest places, but this will not deter us. On the contrary. Our love for Israel and our devotion to our authentic worship, embracing Torah, pluralism, democracy and equal roles for men and women, will continue to inspire us as we demand our rightful place.
This Torah holds a special place in the heart of our congregation and in the heart of the Jewish people. “Rudy's Torah” belonged to Rudy and Ann Michaels, of blessed memory. Rudy was the president of Congregation B'nai Israel in the 1960s and was a longtime beloved and respected member of both the Jewish and Sacramento communities. Rudy and Ann Michaels were both refugees from Nazi Germany. The small Torah that Rudy so lovingly and proudly carried as he stood before our congregation on Kol Nidre belonged to his family. The Torah was from Germany and after surviving the Holocaust came to the United States to be in his family's possession once again. When Rudy and Ann passed away in 2009, their family entrusted our congregation with the Michaels’ Torah and we entrusted it to the Women of the Wall.
We look forward to your reply and to the implementation of the agreement already passed by your government.
Rabbi Mona Alfi
Senior Rabbi, Congregation B’nai Israel
President, Congregation B’nai Israel
Vice-Chair, North American Board of the Union for Reform Judaism
Past President, Congregation B’nai Israel