May 19, 2014

Conservative Rabbis are Masorati, Jewish, and Zionist!

Connecting the Dots

Dear Rabbi, 

As you may know, the closing program at last week's Rabbinical Assembly Convention featured Knesset Member Aliza Lavie of Yesh Yatid.  The Masorti Movement in Israel was happy to assist the RA in making this connection that brought one of our major religion and state partners to address the convention.  It would be neither fair nor polite to criticize an MK who flew thousands of miles to address us - a time commitment which of itself deserves our respect. Moreover MK Lavie stands alone in her left-center, chiluni party - an Orthodox Jew who cares about the Chief Rabbinut's descent into a very deep, dark place.

Despite our respect for her hard work and scholarly writing, we couldn't help but notice that MK Lavie's journey towards pluralism doesn't include legislation that would legitimize recognition our rabbis and the 1.2 million US Conservative Jews - the  same Conservative Jews who are disproportionately represented among America's most ardent Zionists, and financial supporters of the Federation system and organizations that help fund and support Israel's security and well-being (AIPAC, Israel Bonds, JNF, etc.)   

We thank Rabbi Menachem Creditor for being the first to break the silence with his succinct but moving statement on the apparently unforeseen consequences of MK Lavie's position on rabbis who have devoted their lives to Am Yisrael.  We applaud RA Executive Vice President, Rabbi Julie Schonfeld for her most eloquent and passionate response that so articulately expressed why it is so necessary to Israel's democracy and her relationship with North American Jewry, that leaders like MK Lavie call for equal treatment of each of the religious streams so that Israel may become a true homeland for all Jews.  
Yeish Yatid's 19 Knesset seats definitely represent a window of opportunity for Masorti's brand of traditional, egalitarian Judaism. However, we have a vast education project ahead of us if our rabbis, our kehillot, our conversions, our weddings and the children of our Jews by Choice are to be recognized in the State of Israel.  

But it goes even deeper than that.  If we want the next generation of American Jewish leaders to stay committed to the Zionist enterprise then we must do more to create an Israel that recognizes all Jews.

Two years ago, Masorti effectively launched Al Mishmar Ha'Knesset (Jewish Pluralism Watch/JPW),  a non-partisan, watch dog institute that monitors MK's statements on our issues. JPW staff are visible in the Knesset, collating and monitoring statements, votes and legislation initiated by MKs on civil marriage, gay rights, rabbinical courts, divorce, and conversion.  

Last week, we learned what our Israeli colleagues have been trying to tell us all along. Even our best friends in the Knesset, such as MK Lavie, struggle with the embracing Israelis right to practice non-Orthodox Judaism. A lot more education needs to be done. 

I write to ask you for your help. $100,000 is all it will take to launch our advocacy education project dedicated to further educating MK's and - most importantly - engaging Israel's high school and mechina students in social activism in this arena.  

Building a "vital religious and political center" that embraces democratic values is so important to Israel's future and it is critical to our ability to maintain her connection with the next generation of American Jews.

I couldn't help but be impressed by the number of our younger colleagues who came to Dallas - they are our future congregational rabbinic leaders. They, like all other Millennials and Generation X and Y'rs have no memory of wars in which Israel was the underdog. Their connection can be much more fragile.  Like the people who are or will soon be sitting on the synagogue committees that hire them, these young rabbis will most likely work with  their congregants in keeping Israel at the top of their community's agenda if they see democratic values reflected in Israeli life through religious pluralism.

What will become of the Zionist enterprise without the support of American Jewry's Conservative Jews?  I urge you to consider advocating making Israel truly into a homeland for all Jews. Please use your pulpits to stress the immediacy of this issue with the same urgency you give to other worthy causes.

Jewish Pluralism Watch, your own Masorti movement's effort to support the kind of Israel that truly is a homeland for all Jews demands your time, passion and financial commitment.

Laura J. Lewis
Executive Director

Chag Sukkot Sameach, dear friends.