Neither haredi nor Conservatives are winners at Wall

The jostling began near the Western Wall on Shavuot during the last moments of lifnot boker, those precious cool, dark minutes before the ink-blue, star-studded night sky gives way to dawn.

As one of thousands of Jews who streamed toward the Kotel on Sunday, I was anxious to climax a night of learning with prayers to rejoice and commemorate the receiving of the Torah at Sinai. I watched as a group of about 100 men and women separated themselves and quietly set up in the southern corner of the plaza in front of the unused exit gates.

Donning multicolored prayer shawls, they pulled out English-Hebrew prayer books. Almost immediately, groups of teen haredi, or fervently religious, males ran up and started jeering at the group of mixed male and female worshippers. Within the space of a few minutes, attracted by the noise, black-hatted reinforcements arrived, outnumbering the worshippers more than three to one.

A small group of older men dressed in black waded into the crowd to hold up signs in English and Hebrew voicing their opposition to violence against the mixed prayer group: "Such violence is, according to all Gedolei Yisrael [leading rabbinic authorities] a desecration of G-d's name."

It didn't take too long for the mob to express their feelings about such moderation, as they tore down the banners and trampled to the ground fliers with the same message.

The mixed group stood its ground — backed against a wall on one side with the protesters all around them. They had little choice but to await the arrival of the police to protect them. Jerusalem police are finally learning what New York cops have practiced for years — that their role is to keep battling groups separated. Nothing more, nothing less. At the Kotel, some 50 officers took up positions surrounding the prayer group, facing the angry crowd who jeered, pushed and shoved.

Sadly, both groups ultimately fulfilled their Shavuot objectives in the most divisive manner. The Conservative Jews, whose avowed goal is to conduct mixed prayer services at the Western Wall, succeeded in doing so, but only in such a way as to arouse the anger of Jews who disagree with their form of worship and with the world's media alerted to report on the ugly spectacle of Jew fighting Jew.

Conservative leaders surely knew that with the massive crowds present, minyanim would spill out all the way back to the rear wall of the Kotel plaza, allowing for dozens of prayer groups to form with an invisible mechitzah separating men and women.

We stood separated by a few inches, and sang the beautiful melodies of Hallel and Kedushah together with the men, reveling in the holiness of the place and the moment. Would it have been such a compromise for them to join us?

The haredi troublemakers achieved their goal of vociferously opposing any change in the status quo at the Wall, and asserting their power through the despicable threat of violence against other Jews. Where were their leaders who surely knew that the principle of ahavat Yisrael, or love of fellow Jews, was being brutally violated?

No doubt both groups were satisfied with the following day's headlines proclaiming the results of the Shavuot morning confrontation. But in the final analysis, all of am Yisrael (the people of Israel) are the big losers. In the struggle to welcome back into the fold those millions in Israel and the diaspora who are Jews in name only, no one will be attracted by those who practice internecine violence nor by those who publicly revel in snubbing longstanding customs at sacred places.

As I walked away after the sun had risen on the bright Shavuot morning, it became clear that we still have a lot to learn from the message of Shavuot as a time when 600,000 Jews stood together to accept the Torah at Sinai.