Israel-Diaspora ties are in peril
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Israel-Diaspora ties are in peril

When will the Jewish state let non-ultra-Orthodox Jews pray as they choose?

A group of American Conservative and Reform rabbis and the Women of the Wall movement members hold Torah scrolls during a protest march against the government’s failure to deliver a new prayer space, at the Western Wall in Jerusalem Old City, November 2, 2016. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
A group of American Conservative and Reform rabbis and the Women of the Wall movement members hold Torah scrolls during a protest march against the government’s failure to deliver a new prayer space, at the Western Wall in Jerusalem Old City, November 2, 2016. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

For more than two decades, the Conservative and Masorti movements, along with our partners the Jewish Agency, the Jewish Federations of North America, the Reform movement and Women of the Wall, have worked tirelessly together to find a way to include all Jews, no matter their denomination, in prayer at the Western Wall. After countless meetings, protests and arrests, our struggle for equality hit a breakthrough with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Cabinet’s agreement in January 2016 to create an egalitarian prayer space at the Kotel.

Seventeen months later, however, the prime minister withdrew from the agreed-upon plan — a plan that he himself had negotiated. Adding to the disappointment of Jews across the globe, pending legislation in the Knesset would place the question of “who is a Jew” (in Israel, anyway) under the official authority of the Israeli government’s ultra-Orthodox rabbinic establishment, the Rabbanut.

These decisions threaten to tear apart Diaspora Jewry’s extraordinary relationship with the State of Israel, a relationship in which the Diaspora traditionally has put Israel’s security ahead of its own parochial issues.

With each passing day, the Israeli government and the religious authorities continue to drive a wedge between Diaspora Jews and our homeland.

We can no longer let the status quo stand. Last week nearly 600 Conservative rabbis and congregational presidents representing more than 400 institutions signed a letter to the prime minister expressing our “dismay, anger and sense of betrayal” concerning both these matters.

The Israeli government’s and chief rabbinate’s resistance to Jewish pluralism has left those of us in the Diaspora feeling alienated by the government of our historic homeland. As proud Zionists, we are horrified and saddened that the State of Israel stands alone as the only democratic nation that does not guarantee all Jews the right to pray in the public square as they choose.

Diaspora Jewry set the Zionist movement in motion with the dream of “lihiyot am chofshee b’artzeynu — to be a free people in our Land.” Along with the decision to renege from the Kotel agreement, political legislation questioning the Jewish characteristics of non-ultra-Orthodox Jews is creating an anger among Diaspora Jewry toward Israel that is unprecedented in the Jewish state’s history.

As leaders of Conservative Judaism, we see this as one of the most pressing issues facing the future of the Jewish community.

Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist and secular Jews alike deserve the same religious rights under Israeli law.

With each passing day, the Israeli government and the religious authorities continue to drive a wedge between Diaspora Jews and our homeland. The conversions that we officiate, as well as those overseen by thousands of our colleagues, are not deemed legitimate in the eyes of the Israeli government. In July, the Rabbanut released a list of 160 Conservative, Reform and even Orthodox rabbis whose certifications attesting to immigrants’ Jewish identities were rejected the previous year. Immigrants need those certifications to be married in Israel.

Just last week, the Sephardi chief rabbi of Jerusalem and a former chief rabbi of Israel, Shlomo Amar, said that Reform Jews deny Judaism “more than Holocaust deniers.” This insult to the level of one’s faith and Jewish identification does nothing but divide a community that is dependent on unity.

We ask world Jewry to stand united for religious pluralism. Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist and secular Jews alike deserve the same religious rights under Israeli law. If Israel will not offer those protections, where does that leave Diaspora Jewry’s relationship with our homeland?

Rabbi Julie Schonfeld is CEO of the Rabbinical Assembly. Rabbi Steven Wernick is CEO of United Synagogue for Conservative Judaism.

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