The new egalitarian prayer area near Robinson's Arch adjacent to the main Kotel (Western Wall) prayer areas (but cut off from them by a large earthen ramp to the Temple Mount) is empty and rarely used because rank-and-file non-Orthodox Jews want to pray at the actual Kotel like Women of the Wall has been fighting for.
…[Religious Services Minister Naftali] Bennett’s intention in building the new prayer platform [at Robinson’s Arch near the traditional Kotel (Western Wall)] may have been to reach out to Conservative and Reform Jews, by providing them with a space at the Kotel to hold mixed services. But, rather ironically, according to security personnel at the site, the vast majority of worshippers at the new egalitarian prayer platform have been Orthodox Jews…and even ultra-Orthodox. “It’s an opportunity for these families to pray together, because there aren’t many other people around,” said one security staffer. “Last week, we even had a Haredi family conduct a tefillin-laying ceremony for their son here.”
During the course of several hours one morning this week, barely a dozen people showed up at the new prayer platform, located right next to the archeological excavations at Robinson’s Arch. Most of them, unlike the Harazis, were drawn more by curiosity than a desire to pray.
And, while many Orthodox bar mitzvah ceremonies were taking place across the way, at the crowded, gender-segregated main prayer plaza, there were none being performed in the new egalitarian space.
Traffic at the site has been pretty thin, according to security personnel who screen visitors at the entrance, and most of those who have come in recent weeks have been either on their own or accompanied other family members. “The only Reform Jews I’ve seen coming here are a man and woman who come every day,” one guard reported.
How did he know they were Reform? “I don’t know for sure, but the man wears a Bukharian-style kippa, and the woman wears pants,” was his response.
According to officials in Bennett’s office, no official count has been taken of the worshippers at the new prayer site, “but, from what we know, there have been several dozen bar and bat mitzvahs there in the past three weeks.” The officials said it was difficult to assess whether worshippers visiting the site were Conservative, Reform or Orthodox, “because we don’t ask those sort of questions, and there are no restrictions on who can pray there.”…
Bennett constructed the new, 450-square-meter provisional plaza (equipped to accommodate almost 500 worshippers) before the [government-appointed] Mendelblit committee had finalized or submitted its recommendations [for solving the Kotel crisis]. The reason he gave for circumventing the government was that it was important to provide worshippers interested in holding mixed services at the Kotel with a place to do so before the High Holy Days.
But according to eyewitness reports, even on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, there were very few worshippers at the new prayer plaza.…
Ha'aretz goes on to report about individual Jews coming to see or use the new site, most of whom make it clear that they are actually going to pray at the Kotel proper because the new area does not meet their needs.
Bennett's real reason for building the makeshift platform allegedly was to permently circumvent the government process and the courts by changing the facts on the ground – something he thought he could do because the very craven head of the Conservative Movement, Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, was willing to help him do so in exchange for defacto control over the new egalitarian prayer area at Robinson's Arch.
Schonfeld is nearly universally hated by rabbis inside her movement that know her and deal with her regularly, and she may easily be the most offensive person active in senior Jewish communal leadership in America.
But being a dishonest, obnoxious, craven and abusive person is no bar to holding a rabbinic leadership position – even if you are not Orthodox.
Update 4:05 pm CDT – A spokesperson for Schonfeld tells me that the Conservative Movement has not given up on having access for non-Orthodox prayer at the main Kotel itself, and that the Robinson's Arch prayer area is temporary, not a permanent solution. The spokesperson also denied that Schonfeld spoke with Bennett or collaborated with him in any way, although he admitted other people Schonfeld may speak with could have spoken to Bennett.