Report from Israel Affairs Chair by Rabbi Stuart Weinblatt
Rabbi Stuart Weinblatt, RA Israel Affairs Chair, met with Minister of Diaspora Affairs Yuli Edelstein and Ambassador Michael Oren last week on the issue of religious pluralism. Dr. Oren is very sensitive to the issue and has raised it with members of the government of Israel at his most recent visit back home in January. Minister Edelstein told me that he intends to inform Prime Minister Netanayahu of the need to convene a group of officials to discuss all the issues we have raised. He also affirmed this at a press conference he held at the Embassy in Washington with Israeli and American Jewish press immediately following my meeting with him. Full Article Below
AIPAC's annual Policy Conference will be held in Washington, D.C. from March 21 - 23, 2010. There will be a meeting for RA members who attend on either Monday or Tuesday morning, prior to the Plenary Session. We will keep you informed of the meeting. We are also coordinating the egalitarian Minyan as we did last year. We hope you will join us for the Minyan and bring your congregants if you are hosting a delegation. If you wish to register, click here. We hope you will come with members of your congregation to the conference.
This year is the 150th anniversary of the birth of Theodore Herzl, the founder of modern Zionism. I want to call to your attention some excellent materials and resources available to colleagues which you may want to use in educational or programmatic settings. Check out these resources from the American Zionist Movement and DoingZionizm.org
Masorti Mission to Israel by Rabbi Alan Silverstein
Two weeks ago, the Masorti Foundation led an inspiring mission to Israel. We should be proud of the work that our Masorti institutions and staff are doing in Israel - we are thriving programmatically! We now number 55 kehillot and havurot. Our colleagues serving Masorti kehillot are incredibly dedicated and a new generation of young rabbis are bringing amazing energy and creativity to the t'nuah. To read more click here. For full article see below. Back to top
Rosh Hodesh Adar at the Kotel by Rabbi Barry Schlesinger
Our collegue, Barry Schlesinger, president of the Israel RA and rabbi of Kehillat Moreshet Avraham in Jerusalem, describes his experience at the Kotel area on Monday morning, Rosh Hodesh Adar which included a large representation from Masorti. Click here to view the press release
USCJ Israel Affairs Our colleague, Paul Freedman, serves as director of the United Synagogue Israel Commission. If your synagogue, KOACH chapter, or school has an Israel Affairs chair, please check if its chair is on the USCJ mailing list for Israel Affairs. If not, please send Paul, the appropriate name and email and the chair will be subscribed to the listserv. For more information on the USCJ Israel Affairs Commission see below. Back to top
Report from Israel Affairs Chair by Rabbi Stuart Weinblatt
Update on Pluralism Issues in Israel - A Masorti delegation just returned from a visit to Israel and raised a number of concerns about the issues pertaining to the area of the Southern Wall designated for our worship services as well as the recent arrest of Nofrat Frenkel and Anat Hoffman for wearing tallitot at the Wall. I have also had private meetings with Israel's Minister of Diaspora Affairs Yuli Edelstein to convey our perspective on these matters, as well as with Israel's Ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren. Ambassador Oren is very sensitive to the issue and has raised it with members of the government of Israel at his most recent visit back home in January. Minister Edelstein told me that he intends to inform Prime Minister Netanayahu of the need to convene a group of officials to discuss all the issues we have raised. He also affirmed this at a press conference he held at the Embassy in Washington with Israeli and American Jewish press immediately following my meeting with him. He explained that it is complicated, in part, due to the fact that there are so many jurisdictions and different governing bodies involved. While others in the government are not focused on these issues, because of the threat to Israel's security posed by Iran and others, he assured me he would try to let them know that the matters we have raised also need to be addressed and that although not all matters will necessarily be resolved to our satisfaction, at least they all deserve to be heard and discussed by the appropriate individuals so that they are given serious consideration.
You can contact Stuart Weinblatt by email or by phone at (301)299-0225 Back to top
Masorti Mission to Israel by Rabbi Alan Silverstein
Two weeks ago, the Masorti Foundation, chaired by Alan Silverstein, led an inspiring mission to Israel. Among the participants were our RA colleagues - Michael Siegel, Neil Sandler, Shalom Lewis, Rob Tobin, Amy Katz, Menachem Creditor, Scott Glass and Seth Sternstein - along with Masorti Foundation Executive VP David Lissy, Masorti t'nuah executive director, Yizhar Hess, and members of the board of the Masorti Foundation.
We should be proud of the work that our Masorti institutions and staff are doing in Israel - we are thriving programmatically! We now number 55 kehillot and havurot. We have seen new or expanded buildings in Omer, Kfar Saba, Karmiel, Kfar Vradim, French Hill, Modi'in, Zikhron Yaakov, Herzliya, Raanana, Tel Aviv and several other locations.
We witnessed the exciting dedication of a permanent "home" for the NOAM Tel Aviv chapter and we have two dozen NOAM chapters in the country with hundreds of students! NOAM serves not only children of members of our kehillot but hundreds of unaffiliated Jews. MAROM, the university student movement, has blossomed from 1500 to 2500 during the past 18 months and continues to grow with students from unaffiliated families. The mission visited one of several "Ayaleem", student communities in the Negev and the Galilee, committed to restoring a pioneering Zionist spirit to these demographically crucial areas. Our MAROM students provide the Jewish programming so it has our Masorti hashkafah.
Our colleagues serving Masorti kehillot are incredibly dedicated and a new generation of young rabbis (including, Sabras, Latin Americans, and Anglos) are bringing amazing energy and creativity to the t'nuah --- Chaya Baker who serves the kehillah in French Hill, Elisha Wolfin in Zikhron Yaakov, Yoav Ende at our own Kibbutz Hanaton, Hagit Sabag in Beer Sheva, Dubi Haiun in Haifa, Reuven Resnick in Karmiel, Ary Glikin in Herzliya, Jeff Cymet in Tel Aviv, Gustavo Szurazki in Ashkelon among others.
In our kehillot, the members (remember in Israel, synagogue membership is counter-intuitive), exhibit remarkable passion for their shuls. The core groups are activists committed to reaching out and transforming Israeli society through Yiddishkeit. Their ganim serve the entire neighborhood by the hundreds. The kehillah rabbis often mentor teachers and serve as a Judaic studies resource at the local TALI school. De facto, they become the rabbi for hundreds of families in local schools.
Our rabbis officiate at hundreds of life-cycle events for their communities and become the focus of adult Jewish education in their communities. The t'nuah sponsors batei midrash in our kehillot which serve hundreds of unaffiliated Jews. A prime example of our work is Kiryat Bialik where our colleague Mauricio Balter estimates that his efforts directly impact upon more than 8000 people of all ages each month with services ranging from performing groups for teenagers to a "thrift" store and extensive social service programs.
The very nature of being a Masorti "kehillah" has tremendous implications. Synagogues in Israel which are government supported serve primarily as batei t'filah (primarily for men). Masorti kehillot are pulsating with a wide range of activity for prayer, for study, for socialization, for social activism, for cultural programs, for Ganim, for NOAM, and so much more.
Secular and self-styled "Masorti" Israelis feel comfortable for the very first time when they enter a Masorti kehillah. For the first time, they see religion practiced by fellow-Jews who are like them socio-economically, are often their neighbors and have similar personal and professional interests.
The inequities from the lack of religious pluralism have presented themselves in recent days. The outrage generated by the arrest of a religiously committed Masorti Jewish woman, Nofrat Frankel, at the Kotel -- for the "crime" of wearing a tallit and holding a Sefer Torah with Women of the Wall. We met with Nofrat, a humble, moral and genuinely inspiring person! This injustice was compounded one month later by the arrest at the Wall of activist, Anat Hoffman.
We were shocked once again by the arson committed against the Masorti synagogue building in Arad (much damage was done, but the trauma was even greater). All of these dire events remind us that Orthodox institutions receive hundreds of millions of Israeli tax dollars each year, while Masorti and Reform religious institutions are virtually excluded from most government funding. (Some money does flow to the t'nuah via the Jewish Agency, thanks to the efforts of our Movement's delegates.)
Three thousand Orthodox rabbis are employed annually by the government.
Aspiring Orthodox synagogues receive both land and a building at government expense. For Masorti and Reform keihllot however, it is rare that either land or especially a building are provided. Even then, once approved, often the process is caught in a bureaucratic morass (e.g., the case in Kfar Vradim where we were privileged to participate in the cornerstone ceremony).
We met with deputy prime minister, Dan Meridor, to advocate for Masorti.
He acknowledged the justice of our cause. As reported in The Jerusalem Post, Meridor said he was upset by a recent incident at the Western Wall in which a woman was arrested for praying with a tallit and Torah scroll. He did speak with the rabbi of the Wall, Shmuel Rabinovich, about this injustice but failed to change his mind:
"The truth is that there is no equality between religious streams in Israel," Meridor said. "There is no free market.
"What happened at the Western Wall bothers me. It doesn't have to be a synagogue. It is a national site. I would change the status quo if I could, but it cannot be done with the current coalition."
Regarding conversion, "Who knows what would have happened had Ruth the Moabite tried to join the Jewish people now, with the way the rabbinate handles conversions?" he said.
The bad news is that MK Meridor reflected despair and defeatism, saying "there is nothing that can be done, given the reality of coalition politics."
He remembered however, that singular exception was during the "Who Is A Jew" controversy in the 1990s, when American Jewry "raised hell."
Meridor's candid admission should be a call to action for us. We must redouble our efforts to advocate on behalf of, to raise funds for, and to give encouragement to the full agenda of Masorti Israel's exciting institutional life.
USCJ Israel Affairsby Rabbi Paul Freedman Accept this an invitation to join our Israel listserv. Join us in helping to enhance our services to your synagogue or other institution by sending suggestions and ideas which we can implement.
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Thanks to a partnership with Nefesh B'Nefesh, establishing "Ma'a lot - Taking Steps Towards Israel Awareness" a program offering modest grants to synagogues for either new initiatives or a new complement of an extant program. With three pilot regions functioning this year and ten grants approved, this program will expand to all USCJ regions in North America in 2010-2011. Back to top