Israel’s consul general in New York, Dani Dayan, on Sunday chided Israeli government ministers who refuse to visit Reform congregations in the United States or address its clergy as rabbis.
“The fact that ministers in Israel don’t visit Reform temples is problematic,” Dayan told an online conference on Israel-Diaspora relations organized by the Makor Rishon newspaper. “It’s not that they ‘don’t have a chance’ to visit, but rather that they make a conscious decision not to visit Reform synagogues.”
“Someone who cannot address a male and female Reform rabbi as a rabbi should not be dealing with Israel-Diaspora affairs,” added Dayan of the largest Jewish denomination in the United States.
“I don’t expect an Orthodox person to come pray in a Reform synagogue, but to be hosted for a conversation, why not? It’s basic. This is the place where many Jews in the United States congregate. It’s the obligation of the Jewish state to respect that and go there.”
Many Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox politicians in Israel openly denigrate Reform Jewry and ties between Israel and the Diaspora have hit a nadir in recent years after the cabinet pulled its plan to build a mixed-gender prayer plaza at the Western Wall, in addition to a decades-long fight over recognition of non-Orthodox worship in the Jewish state.
Dayan also addressed the new Diaspora Affairs minister, Omer Yankelevich, an ultra-Orthodox woman from the Blue and White party, whose appointment raised some eyebrows among liberal Jewish leaders abroad.
“I wish Diaspora Minister Yankelevich all the luck in the world. And I hope and believe that she will be open to all the streams, and all parts of US Jewry.”
He advised her to invest much of her ministry’s budget in advocacy about Diaspora Jewry directed at Israelis. “I would sink a large portion of the money in Israel, to teach the public about Jewish solidarity and explain why it’s necessary,” he said.
Dayan, who is nearing the end of his four-year term, said Israelis must accept that American Jews are not merely “Israelis-in-waiting.”
“I am a Zionist with every bone in my body,” said Dayan, the former head of the Yesha Council settlement umbrella group. “I want to believe that the place for all Jews is the State of Israel and the land of Israel. But I’m a realist. Millions of Jews won’t immigrate to Israel from the United States in the coming years.
“Sometimes we imagine them to be ‘Israelis-in-waiting.’ But they’re not. They’re Americans. When an American Jew tells me, ‘I love your country,’ it stabs my heart. ‘It’s not my country, it’s your country,’ I say. But we must understand this. You cannot say that if they’re not immigrating to Israel, then they’re of no interest to me.”