The August 9th issue of Haaretz includes Judy Maltz’s fascinating profile of Tzipi Livni, who was just appointed as Israel’s new opposition leader in the Knesset. While the interview is wide-ranging, Livni makes several comments that show that she really gets the importance to Masorti in Israel.
Family first. The daughter of right-wing Zionists from a largely observant home, she first came to appreciate Masorti through her son’s experience in NOAM, the Zionist youth movement of Masorti. Livni notes: “Suddenly my son would come home all excited about the Jewish holidays and the new songs he had learned, and I remember thinking to myself…that is was really nice and maybe he liked it so much because it wasn’t being forced on him.”
The notion that her son and his NOAM friends could be drawn to Judaism through Masorti and it’s vision of Jewish life that is not under the control of the Ultra-Orthodox Chief Rabbinate, helped lead Livni to oppose the Chief Rabbinate’s monopoly over many aspects of religious civil life in Israel, including marriage, conversion, and kashrut. She officiated at marriage ceremony for two men in 2014, which like Masorti marriages breaks the taboo of non-Rabbinate weddings. And she fully supports the Kotel agreement which afforded recognition of Masorti (and Reform) Judaism and created a new and equal egalitarian prayer space at the Kotel. With the government’s abrogation of the agreement, Livni is now fighting to restore the hard-won compromise at the Kotel.
Livni made clear that she sees the state of Israel-Diaspora relations as having “hit rock bottom: Progressive Jews…have grown increasingly anxious about the direction the country is taking, both religiously and politically. “I believe that being the nation-state of the Jewish people means representing World Jewry,” she tells Haaretz. “I know that many Jews living abroad today–especially young people–feel very alienated from the State of Israel because of certain trends. What I am setting out to do is to reverse these trends.”
The Masorti Foundation welcomes Livni’s commitment to the bond between Israel and Diaspora Jewry. This is something we share and believe must be a priority for all Jews.
The one area where I would strongly challenge Livni’s conclusions in the profile is around Conservative and Reform being essentially expressions of Diaspora Jewry. Masorti Israel is growing with approximately 80 congregations, over 1600 NOAMniks, a record-breaking 711 campers at Ramah NOAM camp, and ever expanding numbers of Israelis identifying with Masorti and coming to the movement for bnai mitzvah, weddings, conversions, funerals and other life-cycle events. And contrary to the common misunderstanding, Masorti isn’t in fact an “Anglo” movement, but over 50% of Masorti members are native-born Israelis, while the others are from all corners of the Jewish world.
With the above reservation, there is much to be optimistic about Livni’s leadership in the Knesset. In fact, she mirrors the core principles presented in the Israeli Masorti Movement’s critique of the Nation-State Law, where our partners recommended legislation of the Israeli Declaration of Independence as a core expression of Israeli and Zionist values. As Livini declared about the next election, it “will be a referendum of Israel’s Declaration of Independence.” She says: “Who is for the Declaration of Independence and who is against it? If you are for it, you are with us. And I believe the vast majortiy of Israelis are for it.”