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August 11, 2017

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PAGE 16A HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, AUGUST 11, 2017 The fact fiction By Adam Abrams Before an Arab terror at- tack that killed two Israeli policemen ignited the latest wave of tension over the Temple Mount, much of the Jewish world's attention had focused on an internal Jew- ish controversy surrounding prayer rights at the adjacent Western Wall. In June, American Juda- ism's Reform and Conserva- tive movements as well as other Jewish organizations reacted with outrage to the Israeli government's decision to cancel the construction of a new egalitarian prayer pavilion at the Western Wall. Yet a mixed-gender prayer facility called "Ezrat Yisrael," situated in the Robinson's Arch compound near the Western Wall's main worship area, remains intact. American Jewish Commit- tee CEO David Harris decried the Israeli government's move as a "setback for Jewish unity." Abraham Foxman, former national director of the Anti-Defamation League, called the decision a "slap in the face" to diaspora Jews. Eric Goldstein, CEO of the UJA-Federation of New York, charged that Israel deepened "the already accelerating divide between diaspora Jews and Israel." The reactions are strong- worded, but what is the real- ity on the ground regarding Israel's decision and current prayer rights at the Western Wall? What Israel's decision means The Ezrat Yisrael egalitar- ian section was founded in 2000 and was significantly upgraded in 2013 under the direction of Israel's Diaspora Affairs Minister Naftali Ben- nett. The Israeli cabinet ap- proved plans for the creation of additional egalitarian prayer facilities in 2016, in an agreement brokered by Natan Sharansky, chairman of The Jewish Agency for Israel. Prior to the cancellation of the 2016 plan this summer, new egali- tarian prayer facilities would have been constructed in the Ezrat Yisrael section. Mixed- gender prayer in the existing Ezrat Yisrael space, however, has not been affected. The reactio America's Reform and Conservative movements have long called for an egali- tarian section outside of the Western Wall's main prayer space, which separates men and women in accordance with Orthodox tradition. Following the Israeli govern- ment's rescinding of the new construction plans, the top institutions of Conservative Judaism issued a joint state- ment declaring that "the ris- ing influence of an intolerant religious establishment" is "an existential threat to [Is- rael's] future." Anat Hoffman, director of both the Women of the Wall prayer rights group and the Reform movement's Israel Religious Action Center, pub- lished a video in early July claiming the Ezrat Yisrael facility is "a second-rate plat- form for second-rate Jews." In the video, which was subsidized by the Reform movement's Israeli opera- tions, Hoffman appears in a small area of the Ezrat Yisrael section, which was specifically designed so that worship- pers can touch the Western Wall without harming an archaeological site beneath the pavilion. The video doesn't show a full view of the Ezrat Yisraei section, which has sufficient space for dozens of worshippers. Further, progressive Amer- ican Jewish groups launched a contentious billboard cam- paign across Israel, calling on the government to "free the Western Wall" from "haredi control." The Israeli haredi political parties Shas and United Torah Judaism, which form part of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's governing coali- tion, said the government's cancellation of the construc- tion plans reflected "the will of most of the nation that seeks to safeguard the Western Wall's sanctity and status." Bennett, the diaspora af- fairs minister, acknowledged that "mistakes were made" with Israel's decision to freeze the construction plans, but emphasized that the dis- pute largely resulted from a "campaign of misinformation claiming the [Western Wall] is being closed to diaspora Jews." What American rabbis are saying The Coalition for Jewish Values (CJV), which repre- sents some 200 North Ameri- can rabbis, directly addressed the "misinformation" in a July 16 statement, saying the progressive groups' billboard campaign in Israel disenfran- chised "all traditional Israeli Jews." "It doesn't merely demonize the haredim, it insults all Jews who do not follow Reform's lead in the abandonment of classical Jewish practice," CJV said. Rabbi Rick Jacobs, presi- dent of the Union for Reform Judaism, told the Western Wall plan that had been reached in 2016 "includ- ed a dramatically enhanced space--open and visible to all with a joint entrance, and a policy and budget oversight committee including lead- ers from the Reform and Conservative Movements Gershon Elinson/Flash90 A mixed-gender Jewish prayer service at the Robinson's Arch compound, near the Western Wall's main worship area, in July 2014. and Women of the Wall. The space being offered [Ezrat Yisrael] falls far short of even the physical space and is completely unacceptable, violating the letter and spirit of the Israeli government's historic compromise." Echoing Jacobs's senti- ments, Rabbi Eric Gurvis, rabbi emeritus at Temple Shalom in Newton, Mass., told the cancelled deal would have allowed for greater access for mixed- gender prayer. "There are places where mixed groups can gather in that plaza, but that new space was meant to be for mixed groups... [with] avail- ability and access for more than just the ultra-Orthodox community," Gurvis said. "I think it's mostly a symbolic problem." Rabbi Richard A. Block, se- nior rabbi of The Temple- Tife- reth Israel in Cleveland, and a past president of the Central Conference of American Rab- bis, told the current egalitarian prayer space at the Western Wall is "a small, temporary platform in the vicinity of Robinson's Arch," that is "distant from, below and much inferior to the exist- ing, gender-segregated prayer spaces along the wall that are now essentially an outdoor ultra-Orthodox synagogue." Block added that the "ex- haustively negotiated" agree- ment that Netanyahu can- celled "would have created a dignified, accessible per- manent space for egalitarian prayer that would have been overseen by a committee that included representatives of the Reform and Conservative movements and two non- Orthodox women." Yet the CJV rabbinic group said the current Ezrat Yisrael egalitarian facility, though it is claimed by the progressive American Jewish denomi- nations, is "never" utilized by those movements for its intended purpose. "[The Conservative and Reform movements] are de- manding an 'equal' space for political reasons, while falsely claiming that current facilities for their use are in- adequate and discriminatory," said Rabbi Pesach Lerner, ex- ecutive vice president emeri- tus of the National Council of Young Israel. The CJV's Rabbi Yaakov Menken, who is also the co- editor of the Orthodox online journal Cross-Currents.corn, said the video published by Hoffman and the Reform movement exploits "the fact that most American Jews have not come to Israel to see the truth for themselves." Oppo- nents of Israel's Western Wall decision, Menken said, should end their "dishonest" attempt to "divide the Jewish people." Counter-Terrorism Branch helps Israel 'be ready for the next war' | Training at the IDF's Counter-Terrorism School, near Modi'in in central Israel. By Yaakov Lappin On Friday night July 21, Maj. Hanan (full name with- held for security reasons) received word of a gruesome development. A knife-wielding Palestin- Jan terrorist had killed three members of an Israeli family in the settlement of Halamish. The terrorist, a 19-year-old Palestinian from a nearby village, was shot and injured by an Oketz K9 unit soldier, who lived next door. By the time Hanan, who heads the Counter-Terrorism Branch in the IDF's Counter- Terrorism School, arrived at the blood-stained scene, there was little he or his soldiers could do. "We scanned the area searching for more potential attackers, and spent the rest of Shabbat there," he said. Hanan and his soldiers are not an ordinary response unit--they're the ones re- sponsible for training all of Israel's elite special forces. "We can't be a school that is disconnected from what is happening on the ground," Hanan told "I arrived there with my team, and we started to work." The IDF's Counter-Ter- rorism School, based near Modi'in in central Israel, was founded in the 1970s as a re- sponse to a wave of terrorist airplane hijackings and bus attacks. Since then, Hanan said, the threat has evolved in a major way, and the IDF branch's job is to make sure that it's up to date, as it shapes Israel's counter-terrorism combat doctrine. The Counter-Terrorism School is made up of Hanan's branch as well as a branch that trains soldiers in un- derground warfare, which Hanan had helped set up and command. His experience as a paratrooper company commander who fought in Gaza during the 2014 sum- mer conflict proved useful for that job. An additional branch is dedicated to training the mili- tary's snipers, and a fourth specializes in rope climbing and abseiling (also known as rappelling) techniques for combat units. Taking part in operations on the ground is one way Hanan's branch makes sure it stays up to date, he said. "Outside of Israel, we see states falling apart, and many terrorist organizations filling up vacuums, which enable them to grow stronger. Some are becoming semi-military," he said. Such enemies threat- en Israel with rockets, missiles and plans to infiltrate Israel, either overground or through tunnels. The Counter-Terrorism Branch monitors tactics used by lone-wolf terrorists. The special forces that are trained by the branch range from commando units to covert elite units. They also include reconnaissance units that are part of every IDF infantry bri- gade. After completing their lengthy, grueling training, the units go on standby, ready to move into action in several areas if called upon. "We try to give them the best training and equipment," Hanan said."Theywill need to conduct complex missions." According to Hanan's assessments, the forces he trains will need to know how to operate skillfully in civil- ian areas. The Counter-Terrorism Branch studies incidents such as the July 14 terror at- tack near Jerusalem's Temple Mount, in which a cell of three Arab jihadist gunmen shot dead two Israeli Druze policemen, and looks for les- sons. The branch pours over speeches made by Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, in which he threatens to "con- quer" the Galilee, and draws its conclusions. "We understand that the enemy will try to enter Israel, and move the fighting into our territory, with large numbers of attackers and weapons. This calls for selective combat, but at a higher level of intensity than we have known," Hanan said. "We could find ourselves in an Israeli village near Gaza, engaging a Hamas cell, which is backed by Hamas fighters launching mortars at us. And civilians would be stuck in this," the branch chief added. "We need to prepare for that, and come up with suitable replies. If this occurs, our objective will be to finish it as quickly as possible, with minimal achievements by the enemy, and maximal achieve- ments by us." To make that happen, Hanan said, his instructors must take part in real-life operations. "As a school, our approach says that you can't teach some- thing that you're unable to do alone, or have no experience in," he said. "Therefore, We instruct our cadets, individu- ally and in teams. Afterwards, we instruct them on how to instruct...And where we can, we go out and do operations." The IDF is keen to use Counter-Terrorism School's personnel and experience. The instructors are placed on standby shifts in case of emergencies. "My soldiers, who train oth- er units, stood in that home in Halamish, in which a terrorist had murdered civilians a few moments ago," Hanan said. "They emerged from that as different instructors... We need to be ready for the next war, not the last one."