Nearly every week a new story appears in the Israeli or American press that highlights the distress and disillusionment of mainstream American Jewish leaders, philanthropists and intellectuals with certain aspects of Israeli government policy.
The latest is New York Times Columnist Thomas Friedman, who was interviewed by the prominent Israeli National Religious weekly Makor Rishon. Freidman declared that he:
“… wanted Conservative and Reform rabbis to be officially recognized by the state, so that “their weddings and conversion be recognized…”I think the Kotel settlement should have been respected. You can’t tell American Jews: We want you to come to Israel, but your form of Jewish-religious expression is unacceptable to us.” [Quoted from a story in Haaretz.]
Friedman’s statements echo some of themes from mega-philanthropist Ronald Lauder’s earlier op-ed in The New York Times. The Friedman interview is particularly significant because of his prominence as an opinion-leader on Israel, the passion of his statements, the predominantly Orthodox audience of Makor Rishon and the link in the story to a move by some synagogues away from Israel Bonds. Friedman underscored that he and his congregation would find alternative ways to support Israel, but were not comfortable operating through a government that he believes disrespects their Judaism.
The Masorti Foundation, and the Masorti Movement in Israel, continue to associate with Israel Bonds and at times receive Bonds when congregants choose to pass them along to Masorti as gifts. However, Friedman’s story highlights a roiling debate as some congregations follow his approach, while others that continue in the program have chosen to focus their Bonds work on support for Masorti, or have included direct giving to Masorti as an option.
The Masorti Foundation sees the religious services, Knesset advocacy, community-building and educational work of our partners in the Israeli Masorti Movement as a powerful expression of our core Jewish values – unity, pluralism, egalitarian practice, Jewish tradition and Zionism. Fighting for these values is an investment in Israel’s future as a democratic and Jewish state, as envisioned in its Declaration of Independence, and a firm basis for Israel-Diaspora relations. And whether one follows Friedman away from traditional philanthropic tools like Israel Bonds, or seeks to re-frame them, Masorti, here and in Israel, are struggling for a respectful, values-based, 21st century relationship between Israel and Diaspora Jewry. We look forward to working with all in the community to find compelling ways to support this essential work.