The Masorti Foundation for Conservative Judaism in Israel

As we begin 5779, it has been heartening to see major government officials from different spectrums of political life in Israel espousing Masorti values that advance pluralism, tolerance and inclusion in what must remain in every aspect the homeland for Jewish people of all backgrounds and denominations. This is reflected in the Jewish Pluralism Watch (JPW) analyzing the Knesset’s summer assembly, which highlights how MKs who often represent different political points of view are unified in their commitment to make Israel a welcoming place that unites Klal Yisrael – not divides it.

The arrest of Rabbi Dubi Haiyun, who is now running on the Haifa Meretz slate, brought the issues of religious tolerance and inclusion to the fore this summer. As an active member of the Masorti Movement, MK Yael Cohen-Paran (Zionist Union), so ably points out in the JPW: “The Likud MK’s have ceased to represent their electorate,” which according to a poll conducted by the Dialogue Institute shows that two-thirds of Likud supporters are in favor of civil marriage, public transport on the Sabbath, and recognizing different streams of Judaism.

It is polls like this that reflect an upward trend of Israelis from all backgrounds becoming increasingly open to a more pluralistic view on state and religion issues. We are beginning to see some increased support by Knesset members on these issues thanks in part to the Masorti Movement’s JPW holding MKs accountable to vote on legislation that reflects the values their constituents want the State of Israel to uphold. With the help of this vital watchdog publication and the Movement’s advocacy efforts, we will keep this positive trend moving ahead.

For its High Holiday mailing, the Masorti Movement received a ringing endorsement for its work to make Israel a spiritual home for all Jewish people by Daniel Shapiro, former US Ambassador to Israel who served in the Obama Administration, and Julie Fisher. And, a few days before Rosh Hashanah, Israeli Deputy Minister Michael Oren (formerly of Likud and now with Kulanu) told the nearly 600 people who attended his talk at B’nai Shalom in West Orange, New Jersey that they should join the fight to give Israelis of all denominational streams the right to conduct the marriage of their choice.

Oren, who spoke at the Conservative synagogue on the topic of “Israel and American Jews: Common Destiny or Separate Paths?” said, “Israelis should have the right to choose a Reform or Conservative rabbi for their wedding…They shouldn’t have to go to Cypress.”

Ambassador Daniel Shapiro, Julie Fisher with Reuven Rivlin

MK Yael Cohen-Paran (Zionist Union),

Deputy Minister Michael Oren addressing nearly 600 people at B’nai Shalom in West Orange, NJ.

Oren stayed for over an hour after the address to speak with event attendees.

The right for all Jewish people to have the wedding of their choice within the denominational tradition they follow is a key area that brings together these political leaders who disagree on many other issues. In his letter, Shapiro speaks out strongly in favor of the Masorti Movement’s leadership in promoting marriage and conversion legislation that is inclusive of non-Orthodox practices.

In his speech, Oren said that the Orthodox Rabbinate’s monopoly on religious life issues in Israel goes beyond the objections of Masorti and Reform Jews. Oren said he supports the Modern Orthodox Tzohar rabbis who are part of an effort to increase flexibility within Jewish tradition in the Jewish State.

Oren, who grew up at B’nai Shalom before making Aliyah, said, “This shul and the values it taught me have deeply influenced my life. It gave me a pervasive sense of community and of faith.” He added, “One can never leave home entirely. Part of Pleasantdale (West Orange) lives in me to this day. That is why it saddens when I see the American and Israeli communities moving apart.”

He reiterated the sentiment that he expressed to the Masorti movement in the past that, “If Israel does not work to make itself the nation-state of all the Jewish people and be truly pluralistic and open…then we risk losing these people.”

Whatever their respectful disagreements, both Oren and Shapiro agree that it is important to begin mending the relationship between Israelis and American Jews. In his High Holiday letter, Shapiro said that Masorti can play a key role in bringing this about because its values represent Israel at its best: deeply Zionistic, committed to Jewish values and tradition, promoting tolerance and pluralism, and strengthening ties with Diaspora communities.

While giving the crowd in West Orange assurances that that Israelis still care passionately about American youth and strengthening their Jewish identity, Oren said there must be more bonding experiences between American Jews and Israelis. He added that both sides should do more tikkun olam activities together, and there is a need to bring more Israeli youth to the United States to gain a better understanding of American Jewry.

May 5779 be the year when we all can respect our differences on political and social matters while still working together through Masorti and other unifying movements within Judaism to build an inclusive and democratic Israel that will be all we want for ourselves, our children and our grandchildren.

This is a Masorti Foundation blog by Alan Grossman, Assistant Director of Development for the Masorti Foundation for Conservative Judaism in Israel.