Young Jewish entrepreneur Ariel Beery made waves around the Diaspora a few months ago. Not for some incredibly cool new Jewish social innovation which, as the co-founder of PresenTense Group, he often has occasion to spotlight, but rather for an article he co-wrote with his wife Erin Kopelow for Tablet Magazine, called “State of Her Own.” The impetus of the piece was the impending birth of their first daughter, who regardless of being born in Israel to a religiously observant couple, will not be considered Jewish.
The Beery-Kopelow story is deeply personal and indicative of the broadening ideological divide between Diaspora Jewry and the Chief Rabbinate of Israel. The facts: Because Kopelow’s mother converted to Judaism in Canada in a Conservative ceremony, Kopelow is not considered Jewish by the rabbinate, regardless of the fact that she was raised in the religion and culture. And neither will her daughter.
The couple couldn’t marry in Israel and, if things don’t change, neither will their daughter be able to.
In the much-shared article, the couple describes their frustration at the rabbinate’s stranglehold control over all life-cycle events in the State of Israel and what they call “systematic discrimination against women.” The couple’s solution? A battle cry to concerned Diaspora communities to take action and put their money where their mouths are regarding the issues of who is a Jew and equality for women.
Ayela Ruth’s birth last week makes these issues that much more real.
“Then [before the birth] I was frustrated. Now I get a violent rage thinking about it,” a tired Beery says. He then asks incredulously, “Somebody will call into question the membership of my daughter to the Jewish People?”
But Beery, who made aliya alone from the US and served in the IDF before going back to the States to earn two degrees and founding PresenTense with partner Aharon Horwitz, is not one to take a passive approach. Capitalizing on the article’s buzz, he’s helped bring together what he calls a “swarm” of organizations, thinkers and activists into a network in which they will have the opportunity to work in tandem on projects promoting basic rights in Israel.
“The second we realized it will not be the choice of our daughter to marry here, that the only community in the world where she can’t marry in the Jewish tradition is here in Israel, that she can’t even aspire to be a religious judge, deciding on religious issues. And not because she’s not considered Jewish; because she’s a woman. If there was a law that a woman couldn’t be a surveyor, would we accept that? You start realizing, like, Holy crap! That’s ridiculous!”
The original thought was to influence the Israeli political system through Diaspora donors withholding funds unless things started to tip toward equal rights. Now he’s taking a more grassroots approach of educating and enlisting the Diaspora first.
“In the past two months I’ve had to get a little more realistic in the possibilities. It’s one of the things that on the one hand I’m worried, on the other hand there’s so much time [until any potential change in her personal status, i.e., wedding]. But if I don’t worry about it now, we’ll get there and there won’t be anything to do.”
Like PresenTense, the informal network Beery is helping to put together is all about community and leverage. “It gives the ability for people to work together, and at the same time on their own; find ways to do what they’re already doing, but with each other to increase success.”
Though Israel-based at the moment, come Passover, the network hopes to start a US campaign, which currently has the working title of “Double Down.” The idea is based on a poker concept in which players, instead of folding, up their stakes in a game.
‘We say, “Don’t fold, double down: Mobilize your community and make sure the rabbinate will respect your Judaism”‘
“All the Conservative, Reform, even Orthodox rabbis while studying in Israel, learn their Judaism isn’t acceptable to the rabbinate. It causes a discord, or disconnect between their communities and Israel. We say, ‘Don’t fold, double down: Mobilize your community and make sure the rabbinate will respect your Judaism.”
On the US side, a major Jewish Federation has been enlisted to build a fund, which will make grants available to Israelis to address these issues.
Speaking as an American Jew, he says, ”If you don’t think we’re legitimate, why should we support you, feel community with you?
“For thousands of years we’ve celebrated the differences of Jewish practice. Now, with the foundation of the State of Israel, to drop it doesn’t make sense, but desecrates the memory of our ancestors.”