A curse on Columbus

Over 50% of the "Reform Jews" who demand free expression of worship at the Kotel aren’t Jewish at all. Op-ed

Tzvi Fishman ,

Bar Mitzvah celebration at Kotel
Bar Mitzvah celebration at Kotel
Collel Chabad

Once again, the controversy surrounding Reform Jewish Prayer at the Kotel is back in the news. Passionate proponents, for and against, speak out vociferously in the media. The Reformers raise the banners of democracy and equality while the Orthodox cry out “Tradition!” In my opinion, the matter is blown out of proportion, especially when you consider the fact that a large percentage of the Reform Jews who demand free expression of worship at the Kotel aren’t Jewish at all.

Allow me to explain. Firstly, when it comes to Israelis, the Reform Movement in Israel is very small. I doubt if the official number of “Reform Jews” in the country reaches a few thousand. In Israel, instead of card-carrying Reform Jews, we have secular Jews. All day long these non-religious Jews stream to the Kotel to pray alongside the Orthodox. They may not join a minyan, but they stand by the Wall, offering their supplications to God, whether in a fervent manner or as casual visitors. No one bothers them. No one stops them from praying. The worst form of religious coercion you will see is when someone offers them a yarmulke to cover their head. I have never seen any commotion or fight erupt because of this.

The secular Israeli invariably accepts the offer of a kippah with respect for the custom and for the holiness of the site. In addition, if you come to the Kotel on Monday and Thursday mornings, you will see groups of secular and “traditional” Israelis who come to the Kotel to celebrate bar mitzvahs in the normal Orthodox fashion. No bat mitzvahs in the men’s section, mind you, and no women called up to the Torah in the women’s section – everything is peacefully and happily celebrated according to the generations of Orthodox Jewish tradition.

The controversy arises when leaders of the Reform Movement in Israel demand equal rights for their prayer services at the Kotel, not because they are eager to pray there, but rather to make a political issue out of their demand and thus weaken the influence of the Orthodox in the country. One solution was to create a special place of prayer for Reform and Conservative Jews, in a lovely section of the Western Wall, a little south from the main Kotel Plaza. Here, in what is called the Israel Plaza, Reform Jews are free to worship and hold ceremonies according to their preferences. The fact is that the area is rarely used.

There really is no public demand. The secular Israeli celebrates bar mitzvahs at the Kotel in the traditional manner, and even visiting Jewish tourists prefer to hold their simchas in the main Western Wall Plaza, respecting the Orthodox worshippers and the laws of the Torah without any qualms. It is only the leaders of the Reform Movement who make all of the squawk for purely political and anti-Orthodox motives. But like I said, it’s an over-inflated balloon when you consider that vast numbers of “Reform Jews” aren’t Jewish at all and there is no problem about non-Jews praying at the Kotel – as long as they don’t try to set up statues of Buddha, sacred cows, or Jesus.

Who are the Jews who aren’t Jews you ask? Here are a few examples non-Jewish Jews – Jews who think they are Jewish but who really aren’t. You can multiply them by a million. In my family, for some miraculous reason, both my brother and I married Jewish women. In contrast, three of my cousins on my father’s side of the family married non-Jewish women, and one cousin, call him Peter, married a non-Jewish man. The three cousins who at least coupled their lives with women are raising their Gentile children with no religious affiliation whatsoever. None of my cousins nor their children have ever visited Israel, so for them, praying at the Kotel isn’t an issue at all.

On my mother’s side of the family, there is a twist to the story. Her immigrant father divorced his Jewish wife and remarried with a pretty Catholic nurse. While he was a proud Jew as far as family heritage was concerned, he didn’t let it stand in the way of his desire to become as American as everyone else, symbolized by marrying a pretty Gentile. Ignorant about Jewish halakha (or not caring about it), he instructed his two (non-Jewish) daughters from his non-Jewish wife to marry Jews, even though he himself married out of the faith. Believing they themselves were Jewish, when the girls matured they dutifully obeyed their father’s wishes. Both daughters (my half aunts) found themselves un-observant Jewish doctors and strode hand-in-hand with them to the chuppah. In like fashion, the Jewish doctors proudly told their non-Jewish children that they were Jews and that they should marry Jews themselves.

One of these non-Jewish offspring (my half cousin) is the proud head of his local Reform congregation. And on and on and on. Today, when a Jewish college student (assuming he is really Jewish) meets a pretty Jewish girl (who thinks she is Jewish but really isn’t) at a party, these two Gentiles may get happily married by a Reform rabbi who may or not be Jewish himself or herself. In short, the situation is a tragic mess. The assimilation in America is out of control amongst secular Jews, and that’s generally the way it is throughout the Diaspora.

When I was eight-years old, my grandmother, of blessed memory, an old-fashion Yiddisher Momma, exclaimed, “A curse on Columbus!”

“But Granny,” I protested. “Columbus discovered America.”

“America Shamerica,” she answered. “Columbus discovered the ‘Land of the Free,’ and the Jews discovered the freedom to intermarry. At least in Russia, Jews married Jews!”

That was back in the Fifties when the rate of Jewish intermarriage was only 8 percent. When I married less than three decades later to a genuine Jewish woman in Israel, the rate of intermarriage in America had increased to 55 percent. Today it has soared past 70 percent, leading the non-religious Jews in America toward inescapable extinction – unless they abandon their non-Jewish mates and fly off to live in Israel where, in comparison, assimilation hardly exists.

“A curse on Columbus,” my Granny Dora repeated every time she heard that a Jew had married a goy. I can clearly hear her words now. “A curse on Columbus.” Maybe that’s what saved me.

Tzvi Fishman was awarded the Israel Ministry of Education Prize for Jewish Culture and Creativity. Before making Aliyah to Israel in 1984, he was a successful Hollywood screenwriter. He has co-authored 4 books with Rabbi David Samson, based on the teachings of Rabbis A. Y. Kook and T. Y. Kook. His other books include: "The Kuzari For Young Readers" and "Tuvia in the Promised Land". His books are available on Amazon. Recently, he directed the movie, "Stories of Rebbe Nachman."

Tzvi Fishman books