Israel’s envoy in NY says Jewish state neglecting Reform, Conservative
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Israel’s envoy in NY says Jewish state neglecting Reform, Conservative

Dani Dayan laments Israelis' lack of understanding and unwillingness to engage with liberal Jewish streams

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Dani Dayan speaks during an interview with The Associated Press in Jerusalem, on July 20, 2016. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)
Dani Dayan speaks during an interview with The Associated Press in Jerusalem, on July 20, 2016. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)

Israel can live without the financial or political support of American Jewry, Israel’s consul general in New York said Monday, but he counseled the country should nevertheless take responsibility for helping to preserve the identity of Jewish communities in the US.

Speaking to Israel Radio, Dani Dayan lamented the harsh criticism recently directed by some Israelis at members of Reform and Conservative streams amid a spat over prayer rights at the Western Wall in Jerusalem and conversion to Judaism. He dismissed as Israeli media hype the notion that US Jews were considering pulling their financial support for the Jewish state.

The dynamics of Israel’s relationship with US Jews has changed, Dayan said, and while in the past Israel was dependent on support from the American Jewish community, now it is Israel that must take responsibility for the challenges facing US Jewry.

“The relationship between Israel and the Jews of the US has reversed itself,” he said. “Fifty, 60 years ago we needed their financial support; we even needed their canned goods — and of course, their political support. Today, we don’t really need their financial support, it is nice that we have it… but we can also live without.”

Members of the Reform and Conservative Jewish movements hold torah scrolls during mixed men and women's prayer at the public square in front of the Western Wall, in Jerusalem's Old City, on May 18, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Members of the Reform and Conservative Jewish movements hold torah scrolls during mixed men and women’s prayer at the public square in front of the Western Wall, in Jerusalem’s Old City, on May 18, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“As for their political support, in the Trump era, the truth is we don’t need them so much. Today, we are the ones responsible for the future of world Jewry, including the Jews of the US, and we are not meeting the challenge. It is as though we have become a state for Israelis and not a state for Jews. This is apparent in a reduced interest in what happens to US Jews, as well as in what is said about US Jews, which, if you will excuse me, is just insulting.

“People who have no idea what a Reform prayer book looks like have decided that Zion has been removed from the Reform prayer book,” he said, referring to the derogatory view taken by some traditional and Orthodox Jews who maintain that Reform and Conservative movements are watered-down versions of Judaism that have abandoned key beliefs and principles in favor of political ideology.

As an example, he pointed to opponents of Rabbi Rick Jacobs, head of the Reform Movement, who have charged that he “hates Israel.”

“I am simply disgusted,” Dayan said. “This man supports Israel with all his heart and soul, though I don’t agree with him politically on anything. But to say that he doesn’t support Israel? That is slander of someone who is a Zionist in every fiber of his being.”

At the end of June, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his government backtracked on a January 2016 plan to officially recognize a permanent pluralistic prayer area at Robinson’s Arch, adjacent to the main Western Wall prayer area, in a compromise reached after years of negotiations between liberal Israeli and American Jewish groups and the Israeli authorities. The deal would have given non-Orthodox Jewish leaders a joint role in the oversight of the pluralistic site. Currently, a temporary prayer facility exists there.

Jewish women pray at the Western Wall, Judaism's holiest prayer site in the Old City of Jerusalem, March 7, 2017. (Nora Savosnick/Flash90)
Jewish women pray at the Western Wall, Judaism’s holiest prayer site in the Old City of Jerusalem, March 7, 2017. (Nora Savosnick/Flash90)

Much of the concern that donations from US Jews were likely to be cut off in a backlash to the decision was Israeli media hype and not what the US Jews were talking about, Dayan asserted.

“The dialogue was over concern for the future, how it will influence the next generation of young Jews, will they be distanced from Judaism, will they be distanced from Israel,” he said. “There was no dialogue about donations.”

Under ultra-Orthodox management, the main Western Wall area is separated between men’s and women’s prayer sections.

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