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Cultural Appropriation and the Kotel

I hesitated about writing this on the blog, as it only deals with Jerusalem secondhand, but I do think American appropriation of Jerusalem and Jewish symbols still relates to our course, and I am so angry about this that I really do feel like I have to write about it somewhere.

A few days ago, an American anti-choice group announced plans to build a replica of the Western Wall in Wichita, Kansas as a symbol for abortions had in the US. Now, I can write for hours about how the anti-choice movement is one run largely on incredibly false information or how insensitive it is do build this in Wichita, where three years ago, Dr. George Tiller was assassinated, but beyond all that, I’m really angry at this, and the movement’s appropriation of the holiest site in Judaism.

When it comes to cultures that frequently fall victim to cultural appropriation, Jewry isn’t exactly too high on that list. Jews aren’t exactly considered exotic – largely because it’s thought of as a ‘white culture’ (nevermind that this erases so many Jews of color). Despite Jews only making up about 2% of the US population, many of them are very privileged individuals who definitely get a voice in society. Cultures that are higher up on the (imaginary, made up of my non-scientific guesstimates) CA list are often non-Western and Native American, ones that are not in the position of privilege in the US. Still, this is hardly to say that Jewish cultural appropriation never happens.

I think this also goes far beyond just Christians claiming Jewish symbols, since, let’s face it, that’s been happening for a couple thousand years. The article linked features some lovely soundbites from spokesman Pastor Mark Holick, such as when he explains that the Kotel is “a place that memorializes what happened during the Holocaust”. Seriously?! I’m sorry, but does this guy even know what the Kotel is? Even a little bit? Does he actually realize that it’s been the holiest site in Judaism for thousands of years before the Holocaust, or even what the Second Temple actually was? Later, he says that he and his team may travel to Jerusalem to actually see it in person. Maybe, before they do that, they could at least bother with a Google search about it if they plan to replicate the site. And don’t even get me started on how anti-choice folks have appropriated the Holocaust, because that offends me on so many levels that I might just prefer to not even think about that.

The anti-choice movement in the US is made of up of a huge Christian majority. Unfortunately, because of this, I have been misled to think that I wouldn’t see so much of the War on Women in Israel. So, I was both disgusted and disappointed to see an ad for a Crisis Pregnancy Center (a center posing as a clinic similar to Planned Parenthood which tries to talk pregnant women out of having abortions, often by showing clips from 1970s horror movies posing as aborted fetuses and telling them that abortions lead to breast cancer despite countless studies proving otherwise) in the back of the Jerusalem Post, and then another on a bus and then another in City Center. Lest we forget how some Israeli politicians feel on the subject, a few weeks ago MK Anastassia Michaeli made a very public statement that she thinks abortions make women become lesbians. So, I have unfortunately discovered that the stupidity and misogyny I associated with a group made up of mostly American Christians  exists with some Israeli Jews as well.

Still, I would hope that regardless of any Jew’s opinions on the subject (or, for that matter, their opinions on the Wall itself), they can still see how hugely problematic this project is, whether or not it actually comes to fruition (and I really hope it does not). Throughout the seminar we discussed how so many of the holy sites in Jerusalem have become symbols that have been interpreted in so many different ways. While it is important to consider how such sites have evolved in society’s imagination, it is still important to recognize how problematic and harmful some of these interpretations are.


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