Reform Zionist Leaders Respond to Leah Aharoni’s Op-Ed on the Kotel Agreement

Leah Aharoni’s “Undermining unity at the Kotel won’t make Reform great again” (op-ed JJ, July 11) is so riddled with mistakes and faulty metaphors that we are compelled to respond in order to set the record straight. http://jewishjournal.com/opinion/221495/undermining-unity-kotel-wont-make-reform-great/

Ms. Aharoni began her tirade against the international Reform and Conservative movements, the Jewish Federations of North America, and Women of the Wall in our advocacy of an egalitarian and equal prayer space at the holiest site in Judaism by citing a Chassidic tale in which a father tells his son that “If you want to be taller, make yourself a mound and get up on it. But don’t drive your brother into a hole.”

We in the Israeli and international liberal religious community are not trying to knock anyone down. All we are doing is reminding the Prime Minister and his government that the Kotel Agreement that he himself initiated and oversaw negotiations in good faith led by Jewish Agency Director Natan Sharansky is about equal recognition for all Jewish religious streams in Israel and preserving Israeli democracy.

Despite Ms. Aharoni’s false claim that our protest is a way to prop up a failing liberal Judaism, the facts are otherwise. The liberal movements in fact are growing rapidly.

Her claim that Reform and Conservative Judaism represent only a combined 25% of American Jews is wrong according to the Pew Survey that reports that 35% of the American Jewish community is Reform and 18% are Conservative (http://www.pewforum.org/2013/10/01/jewish-american-beliefs-attitudes-culture-survey/)

Her statement is pure nonsense that “Outside of North America, in Israel, Europe, Russia, and Australia, when Jews want to pray they go to an Orthodox synagogue, even if they are not observant in their private life. Reform and Conservative movements are negligible there.”

There are, in fact, vibrant Reform and Conservative movements and synagogues in every country in the world where there is a Jewish community.

Ms. Aharoni’s claim that “the main reason the Kotel is run like an Orthodox synagogue [is because for] the overwhelming majority of Jews worldwide, this is the face of Jewish holy places” is also false.

The Kotel became an orthodox “synagogue” after 1967 because the Chief Rabbi of the army was given jurisdiction over the area and because the Israeli government has handed over the official power of religion to the most extreme and fanatical ultra-Orthodox authorities.

The Kotel area is a national site and we in the non-Orthodox world believe it should be open and accessible to all. After the Kotel Agreement was made, Prime Minister Netanyahu said with pride that the agreement now enabled the Kotel to be “one wall for one people.”

Ms. Aharoni wrote: “By creating an alternative at the Kotel, Judaism’s holiest place, the liberal movements had hoped to create legitimacy in the eyes of Israeli and visiting Jews. For if you can pray this way at the Kotel, why not look up (or establish) a liberal community back home. While I disagree with the Reform and Conservative rejection of the Torah, attracting new membership is certainly their prerogative. But tearing the holiest Jewish site apart is not the way to do it. Questioning the relationship between Israel and Diaspora Jewry only hurts all of us. Bashing the Israeli Orthodox community isn’t what’s going to make the liberal movements great again.”

No – Ms. Aharoni. Our idea is to grant equal access to the Kotel as a national site to the majority of Israelis who do not consider themselves Orthodox and who would like to pray there without interference by the extremist Orthodox authorities.

Ms. Aharoni’s most egregious accusation is her assertion that we in the Reform and Conservative movements reject the Torah. To the contrary, we in the liberal streams believe that women ought to have the right and to be able to read and hear the Torah at the Kotel just like men.

We are not bashing Israeli Orthodoxy, though we vehemently disagree with its claim to be the only true and authentic expression of Judaism. Rather, we insist that Orthodoxy and the liberal movements should have equal rights to pray according to our customs and values at the Kotel. We do not at all wish to supplant Orthodoxy.

Ms. Aharoni says that “Maybe they [Reform Jews] should consider what makes traditional Jewish practice attractive to young Jews and do more of that.”

She ought to realize that extremist Orthodox religious claims that there is only one way to practice Judaism is among of the single greatest turn-offs to the younger generation of Diaspora Jews and is one of the reasons that young Jews are turning away from the State of Israel.

In her op-ed, Ms. Aharoni is called the “co-founder of Women For the Wall.” Her organization is to be distinguished from “Women of the Wall” which has been the driving force for equal rights for women at the holiest site in Judaism for more than 25 years. Ms. Aharoni has nothing to do with that large group of Israeli Jewish women.

Rabbi Josh Weinberg, President, Association of Reform Zionists of America (ARZA)

Rabbi John Rosove, National Chairperson, Association of Reform Zionists of America (ARZA)

 

Righteous Dissent – Thurgood Marshall

“We must dissent from the fear, the hatred, and the mistrust. We must dissent from a nation that buried its head in the sand waiting in vain for the needs of its poor, its elderly, and its sick to disappear and just blow away. We must dissent from a government that has left its young without jobs, education, or hope. We must dissent from the poverty of vision and timeless absence of moral leadership. We must dissent because America can do better because America has no choice but to do better.”
-Thurgood Marshall, US Supreme Court Justice (1908-1993)

“Netanyahu is Finished as a Jewish Leader” – Rabbi Eric Yoffie (Haaretz- July 13, 2017)

Note: Rabbi Eric Yoffie has written a powerful, cogent, and true message to the non-Orthodox Jewish world that ought to be read by anyone who loves Israel and cares deeply about its future as both a democratic state and the homeland of the entire Jewish people. [Please share this with others]

Several weeks have passed since “Black Sunday,” the day on which Israel’s cabinet decided to suspend the Western Wall agreement and hand total control over conversions in Israel to the ultra-Orthodox forces in the religious establishment. (The conversion decision was later delayed for 6 months.)

In Israel, the attention of the press and public has turned to other things. But in America, an anguished debate continues throughout the Jewish community. Disbelief and dismay remain the dominant sentiments of U.S. Jewish activists. Community leaders who view themselves as Israel’s staunchest defenders now feel dismissed by an oblivious and uncaring Israeli Prime Minister.

Among engaged non-Orthodox Jews – and the non-Orthodox are 90% of the American Jewish community – the anger is virtually universal, but a consensus has not emerged on what to do with that anger.

How should we give expression to the resentment that we feel? How should we convince Israel that there are times when nurturing the Jewish world takes precedence over coalition politics? On these and other questions, there are as yet no clear answers.

Still, if you listen closely, responses are beginning to take shape. Based on conversations I have had and my own sense of the community, I suggest that American Jews have reached three conclusions about their recent trauma.

  1. American Jews have given up on Benjamin Netanyahu as the leader of world Jewry, a role that usually belongs as a matter of course to Israel’s Prime Minister.

Netanyahu remains his country’s political leader, responsible for Israel’s economy, foreign relations, and defense. Diaspora Jews will recognize that fact whether they agree with him on these matters or not.  But that is not true for other things that the prime minister of the Jewish state has always undertaken to do. As spokesman and defender of the Jewish people, unifier of the Jewish world, champion of Jewish interests, and advocate of Jewish values, Netanyahu is finished, forever.

There is a simple explanation for this. Diaspora Jews have concluded that Netanyahu views the Jewish world – or at least the non-Orthodox part of that world – with contempt.

And while the immediate reason is his suspension of the Kotel agreement, this was, in fact, only the last straw. Netanyahu never visits Reform or Conservative synagogues when travelling abroad and shuns Reform and Conservative institutions, rabbinic ordinations and conventions in Israel. And he stays away from major celebratory events that would suggest a public embrace of the Jewish world’s largest religious movements.

Terrified of offending Haredi sensibilities, the Prime Minister has spent four terms distancing himself from millions of Jews who care deeply about Israel and want only a modicum of respect in return. And now, finally, it can be said that his personal credibility on religious matters with those Jews has been dealt a blow from which he will never recover.

  1. American Jews will not withhold financial donations to Israel as a means of influencing Israel’s government.

This issue has been raised by Daniel Gordis in a widely-discussed blog post. Gordis affirms the right of American Jews to be heard on religious issues and suggests that the time has come to “use the power of their purse” to force the government’s hand. At the same time, he expresses doubts that they will have “the unity and stomach to use it.”

Rabbi Gordis is to be commended for his tough line, which some Diaspora donors have applauded. But most American Jewish leaders do not find it compelling. And it is not because they don’t have the stomach for it but because they know it won’t work.

Gordis talks of Diaspora “leverage,” but it doesn’t exist.

Israel is a rich country, ranked 21st in per capita GDP, between Italy and Spain, on the OECD list. American Jews withholding contributions might hurt some institutions a bit but would cause barely a blip in Israel’s economy. It would also be seen by most Israelis as petulant and patronizing. And this too: Philanthropic giving, wisely done, is one of the few areas that builds real bridges between American and Israeli Jews, creating opportunities for cooperative projects and face-to-face interaction. Why fiddle with that?

Some American Jews will redirect some of their giving and offer greater support to projects that promote religious pluralism in Israel. That will be welcome, but that is as far as the donor rebellion will go.

  1. American Jews will expect AIPAC to readjust its priorities and become an advocate for religious freedom in Israel.

The only organization in America that has the clout to change religious realities in Israel is AIPAC, and American Jews are beginning to understand that. AIPAC, after all, is responsible not for the relatively piddling sums that are donated by charitable groups to Israel but for the massive amounts of American military aid that are essential for Israel’s survival.

Traditionally, of course, AIPAC steers clear of Israel’s internal concerns. But that is certain to change.  Immediately after the Cabinet decisions on the Kotel and conversion, AIPAC leaders arrived in Jerusalem to warn Netanyahu of a “crisis of faith” between Israeli and American Jews.  These leaders denied, of course, that they were exerting pressure.  They were there, they insisted, only to offer the Prime Minister their “analysis.”

But the fact is that AIPAC was feeling the heat from their grassroots activists, most of whom are non-Orthodox Jews who are as furious as everyone else at decisions that they see as foolish and gratuitous. And not only that. AIPAC’s leaders know that American support for Israel is not automatic but rests on the values that America and Israel are seen to share.

Every religious crisis in Israel strengthens America’s growing sense that Israel is an ultra-religious place, filled with extremists and fanatics. Religious fanatics are in fact a small minority in Israel, but as a recent survey has demonstrated, most Americans do not know that. And when they think of Israel’s brand of Judaism, it is the Ayatollah brand that comes to mind.

This is unfair, but it is the reality of the moment. And it is also very dangerous for Israel’s cause. And AIPAC members, locally and nationally, understand this very well.

Right now, what is going on in AIPAC is mostly behind-the-scenes whispering. But I am betting that the actions of Mr. Netanyahu will change AIPAC’s culture. And the day will come, very soon, when AIPAC leaders will arrive in Jerusalem not with “analysis” but with demands – for religious freedom, religious change and religious sanity.

Principle over Politics – 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

Do read this article in the Times of Israel (see link below).

In Israeli’s political arena, one would have thought that Dani Dayan would align himself with the most right-wing in Israel on every matter – but it just isn’t true.

He was the head of the Yesha Council of settlers before becoming Israel’s Consul General for New York. As it turns out, on the pluralism issue the non-Orthodox have in Dayan a friend.

Dayan himself is not religious, and perhaps that’s why he is open-hearted to the non-Orthodox streams in Israel. But there may be something else as well.

I don’t know what Dayan’s attitudes towards the Reform movement in America were before he arrived in New York. He may already have been a religious pluralist. If so – terrific, but since coming to the US he has been nothing shy of a friend to all the religious streams.

In my own encounters with Mr. Dayan in New York as Chair of ARZA, I found that he couldn’t be more open-hearted towards non-Orthodox Jewry if he tried. His magnanimity is both surprising and refreshing.

What we need now is a Prime Minister to show a measure of courage and stop cow-towing to the ultra-Orthodox political parties on the Kotel issue and Conversion Law, and then on civil marriage and civil divorce, on women’s issues, on the rights of NGOs to operate on behalf of human rights in the state of Israel and the West Bank, and everything that makes for a true democracy that Israel is and ought always to be.

The greatest leaders are those who stand for principle over politics – Dayan is showing himself on the issue of who is a Zionist to be a democrat (with a small “d”).

http://www.timesofisrael.com/israels-envoy-in-ny-says-jewish-state-neglecting-reform-conservative/

 

When Mortality Stares Back at Us

A good friend, a few years older than me, told me this week that he just received a heart stent to open one of his 90% occluded arteries. His doctors explained that without the stent he risked suffering a massive and likely fatal heart attack at any time.

He appeared vulnerable and in shock and confessed that he felt both terrified and grateful: “My mortality stared me in the face.”

Relieved, I responded: “Thankfully, you have yet to write more chapters of your life!”

Eight years ago following cancer surgery and radiation therapy (I’m fine now), I learned two important truths. The first is that healing physically from surgery and treatment is the easier part of a post-traumatic and life threatening event, but it is very different than the emotional and spiritual healing that’s also required. The latter takes much longer and necessitates far more introspection and inner emotional, psychological, and spiritual struggle to adjust to the new reality of our lives.

Most young people don’t think much about the end of life, but as we age we realize that there are fewer years ahead of us than there are behind us. When we suffer an event as my friend did this past week, we necessarily become excruciatingly aware of our life circumstances.

Thankfully, advances in medicine have extended life expectancy substantially, and there is little doubt that my friend has been given a reprieve by the angel of death.

Twenty years ago after his father died, he told me that he had read all 150 Psalms and had found great comfort and perspective in its verse.

Tradition attributes the authorship of the Psalms to King David as an old man who had lived a full, dramatic, challenging, and often heart-breaking life.

When my friend told me about his experience reading the Psalms, I said that perhaps I ought to teach them in my community. He liked the idea but thought I was too young and though I’d experienced much in my own life already and witnessed much in the lives of the people in my community, the Psalms, he reflected, required a person of age to teach them as they ought to be taught. He believed that no young person could adequately understand them.

I put aside the idea and wonder now if I’m ready.

 

 

 

Devotion to the Innocent – An Essential Virtue for Leadership

The contrast between Moses and the central figure of this week’s parashah, the Prophet Balaam, is as stark as one finds in all the Hebrew Bible and Jewish tradition despite the fact that both men were prophets.

It’s odd that among the most famous blessings in all of Judaism that appears in this week’s Torah reading “Balak”, was uttered by Balaam and not by Moses.

The portion, despite its title, is about Balaam and not Balak, the King of Moab who was so threatened by the Israelites that he sought to hire Balaam to curse them as they passed through his territory. God, however, put different words in Balaam’s mouth:

“Mah tovu ohalecha Yaakov mish’kenotecha Yisrael …..

How good are your tents Jacob, your places of dwelling Israel…” (Numbers 24:5)

Who was Balaam?

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks notes that an inscription was found on the wall of a pagan temple dating to the eight century BCE at a place called Dier ‘Alla that lays at the junction of the Jordan and Jabbok rivers. It refers to a seer named Balaam ben Beor (see “Lessons in Leadership,” p. 217).

The Torah notes that Balaam was an impressive religious figure with shaman-like skills and was a known miracle worker which is why Balak sought him out: “I know that whomever you bless is blessed, and whomever you curse is cursed.” (Numbers 22:6)

Our rabbis also recognized Balaam’s prophetic gift: “In Israel there was no other prophet as great as Moses, but among the nations there was. And who was he? Balaam.” (Sifrei, V’zot Ha-b’rachah, 357; Midrash Bamidbar Rabbah 20).

Yet, they note that Balaam had a physical deformity that reflected a spiritual deficiency: “Balaam suma b’achat m’einav hayah – Balaam was blind in one eye” and, they added, he was lame in one foot (Talmud Sanhedrin 105a). They wondered how such a prophet could be so foolish as to imagine that he could effectively curse God’s treasured people, the Israelites?

They concluded that Balaam was able to see clearly the world with his seeing eye but when considering the Israelites’ fate either he used his blind eye or allowed all the gold that Balak was offering him to blind him to the truth that he would not be able to curse Israel. The Mishnah explains that this deficiency of sight and insight was the reason Balaam was denied a share in the World to Come (Mishnah Sanhedrin 10:2).

Despite Balaam’s renown as a prophet, he had no followers at all. The rabbis read his name not as “Balaam” but as “B’lo am – without a people” (Rashi).

Moses, of course, was entirely different. Not only did he lead a people, God’s people Israel, but he was completely devoted to their well-being. This moral virtue of care is an echo of Abraham who challenged God’s justice at Sodom and Gomorrah, that if there could be found even one righteous human being in those condemned immoral cities (Genesis 18:25), it would defy God’s own sense of justice to destroy them.

At the incident of the Golden Calf, again Moses pleaded with God to spare the innocent even if it meant blotting his own name from history: “… if You would forgive their sin, well and good; but if not, m’cheini na mi-sif’r’cha asher katavta – erase me from the record which You have written!” (Exodus 32:32)

Moses challenged God again when Korach and the tribal leaders rebelled against his leadership. Moses fell to the ground in prayer and said to God: “Ha-ish echad yecheta v’al kol ha-eidah tik’tsof – When one person sins will you be wrathful with the whole community?” (Numbers 16:22)

Moses also empathically forgave his sister Miriam who was stricken with leprosy when she and Aaron initiated a rebellion against their own brother saying “El na r’fa na la – Please God, heal her.” (Numbers 12:13)

Balaam was concerned only for himself. His chief goal was to line his pockets. He was available to the highest bidder even if it meant devastating other human beings. He lacked utterly in compassion and empathy. Self-centered and selfish, he had no integrity and no honor. He was morally, spiritually, and prophetically corrupt.

Moses’ utter devotion to his people, his consistent defense of the innocent, his absolute humility before God, his lack of care for self-enrichment, and his willingness to sacrifice his own life and place in history for the sake of the well-being of the people are the moral virtues that not only distinguished him as prophet and leader, but set the standard for all leadership to come.

Just as our ancestors needed inspired leaders, we too need leaders of moral virtue. Sadly, today, we especially deficient.
 

What’s the current struggle in Israel all about?

As a consequence of the cacophony provoked by the President’s tweets coupled with the introduction of the Republican Senate’s “wealth-care” bill that there is another story with major implications for the unity of the Jewish people and the well-being of Israeli democracy about which many American Jews seem to be unaware.

My colleague and the President of Association of Reform Zionists of America (Rabbi Josh Weinberg) in his weekly email to ARZA members got to the heart of the matter on Friday that expresses concisely what is happening and why it’s important for the American Jewish community (regardless of whether one is Reform, Conservative, or Orthodox) to be aware. Rabbi Weinberg wrote:

“In the world of the struggle for religious pluralism in Israel, rarely has there been a week like this.

On Sunday [June 25], the Government of Israel decided to cancel the already-agreed upon deal to build an egalitarian prayer section at the Kotel, with full signage and administrative authority by the liberal movements, JFNA [Jewish Federations of North America] and WoW [Women of the Wall].  In addition it supported the passing of the conversion bill, which would place control of all conversions in the hands of the Chief Rabbinate and could have serious implications for already existing conversion programs as well as implications for Israel’s relations with Diaspora Jews in particular. Fortunately, as of this writing, the vote on the conversion bill has been stayed for 6 months due to significant pressure on the government from all sides and angles. We must acknowledge the tireless work of Rabbis Rick Jacobs [President of the Union for Reform Judaism in the United States and Canada], Gilad Kariv [Executive Director of the Israel Movement for Progressive Reform Judaism], Noa Sattat [Executive Director of the Israel Religious Action Center], Anat Hoffman [Chair of the Women of the Wall] and many more, who ably represent our [Reform] movement in Israel and abroad.

The week continued with the Jewish Agency for Israel, in an unprecedented move, canceling a dinner with the PM [Benjamin Netanyahu] and taking out ads in the Israeli media openly criticizing the decision beginning a wide spread response from mainstream Jewish organizations breaking stride and expressing their outrage to the PM and his government.  

We all know that this essentially is about coalition politics. That PM Netanyahu made a calculated decision to renege on his promises to implement the [Western Wall Egalitarian Prayer Space Agreement] deal and at the same time take action that put his support firmly behind his ultra-Orthodox constituency, ensuring that he’ll last another day. This is neither shocking nor surprising, and the uproar is due to the coinciding events (The reneging on the Kotel agreement and the introduction of the Conversion bill into the Knesset) as well as the leadership of the organized Jewish community feeling the sting of this blatant betrayal. 

Let’s be clear this is NOT about two things:

  • This is not just about the Diaspora. Many headlines read that this is a slap in the face to Diaspora Jews and it is important to note that this is an insult and a complete rejection of the growing trends of Israeli frustration and rejection of the Chief Rabbinate.* This is not only about Reform and Conservative Jewry. The conversion bill was set to transfer power away from a great deal of modern Orthodox (National Religious) rabbis. This is bigger than just angry Reform and Conservative Jews. We are angry. We’re outraged, hurt and betrayed. But this has now risen to the level of a “Gog and Magog” style battle over who holds the keys to Judaism in the Jewish State. Make no mistake, the Haredim [Ultra-Orthodox religious political parties] see the inroads the liberal movements are making [in Israel], and are (justifiably) feeling threatened. The Prime Minister will do everything he can to maintain his coalition even if it means going back on deals and promises (pittance) compared to risking losing his [governing] Our [non-orthodox] movements are gaining strength and building coalitions – including with Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman who is also considerably concerned about the conversion issue [Liberman represents a very large Russian Israeli community among whom are roughly 700,000 individuals who are not Jewish by traditional Jewish legal standards], but will unlikely risk his prize position over this issue.
  • Many have asked why the Reform and Conservative movements have not expressed equal outrage over the Occupation [of Israel in the West Bank beyond the Green Line], the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Gaza, Syria, and the list goes on. Those do continue to be ongoing issues that we care deeply about. Each organization, movement and individual has to engage in the struggles that it can and fight the good fights that it can. אלו ואלו דברי אלוהים חיים. “These and Those are words of the living God.” [A famous principle found in the Talmud said by Rav Shmuel who believed that it is important to find truth in all sides to an argument].

We hope you join us in the struggle and work wherever you are for a Jewish and democratic State.

 

 

ARZA Statement on the Kotel Crisis and Conversion Bill: Two Attempts to Disenfranchise Non-Orthodox Jews

On June 25, the Israeli cabinet capitulated to extremist pressure and froze its agreed-upon plan to develop an egalitarian worship space at the Western Wall (Ha-Kotel Ha-Ma’aravi). On the same day, it advanced a bill that would grant the ultra-Orthodox Chief Rabbinate exclusive control over conversions in Israel. 
 
ARZA condemns both of these outrageous actions which, if allowed to stand, will cement the power of the ultra-Orthodox minority in Israel at the expense of Jewish unity and pluralism, undermine religious freedom in the State of Israel, and open a schism between Israel and world Jewry.
 
ARZA and the Reform Jewish movement celebrated the January 2016 agreement that promised investing in and constructing an egalitarian prayer space at Robinson’s Arch, just south of the existing Western Wall plaza, that would be equal in size and significance to the traditional Kotel prayer space. This was a milestone for compromise and unity; in Prime Minister Netanyahu’s words, it endorsed “One Wall for One People.”
 
Unfortunately, the compromise (that included the ultra-Orthodox Administrator of the Western Wall Plaza) was rejected by other religious extremists, who opposed any proposal that legitimates non-Orthodox Judaism. In the days following the agreement, extremist officials and the publicly funded Office of the Chief Rabbinate littered Jerusalem with placards calling for the “liberation” of the Kotel from the “demonic” machinations of liberal Jews, and threatened a coalition crisis for the government.
 
Prime Minister Netanyahu and his ruling coalition government’s succumbing to ultra-Orthodox pressure by halting the implementation of the Western Wall compromise is a tragic selling-out and betrayal of non-Orthodox Jews for the sake of political expedience, as vocal critics on the right and left have maintained. Reneging on the Kotel compromise is an abandonment of the principle of klal yisrael (Jewish unity) and a denial of the legitimacy of the majority of American Jews’ religious expression.
 
It is also a rejection of Zionism itself, which is premised on the idea of collective Jewish peoplehood as expressed by the Jewish state. These two decisions give preference to one extremist interpretation of Judaism over that of the majority, exacerbating a disturbing antidemocratic movement in Israel where religious freedom is endangered.
 
Some commentators have called these bills the trigger for American Jewry to abandon Israel. As the voice of Reform Zionism in America, we refuse this option: In fact, the reason for our outrage is precisely because of our movement’s deep and unending commitment to Israel. We fear that the extremist ideology expressed in the government’s action against the Kotel compromise and the conversion bill will drive Jews—especially the younger generation—away from Israel. We will continue to express our Zionist love for Israel by working for an Israel that reflects the vibrant tapestry of Jewish expression, free from religious coercion.
 
We call upon the Israeli government and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to resume their commitment to establishing a Kotel for all, and to reject the conversion bill that would hand more unfettered powered to the ultra-Orthodox political parties and Chief Rabbinate. We call upon synagogues in every religious stream, Federations, and all Jews to demand that Israel enact measures to be open and inclusive to all forms of Jewish expression in the face of antidemocratic forces from within the government and society at large.
 
Israel must remain true to its founding Zionist vision expressed in its Declaration of Independence:  “[Israel] will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture.”
 
It is a sad irony that in the 21st century, Israel remains one of the few remaining places where Jews cannot express their religious freedom. For the sake of Zion, we cannot remain silent; even in the face of this betrayal, we remain committed in love to building Israel based on our people’s ideals of freedom, inclusion, and democracy.                  
Rabbi John Rosove                                      Rabbi Josh Weinberg
ARZA Board Chair                                        ARZA President        

Statement by Jewish Agency Chairman Sharansky on the Suspension of the Western Wall Agreement

Note: Unfortunately, the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has caved in to the Ultra-Religious Political parties that are part of his ruling government coalition. It is now up to world Jewry in support of Women of the Wall, the Reform and Conservative movements in Israel and Diaspora Jewish communities, and the Jewish Federations of North America all of which were engaged in good faith with Natan Sharansky, a hero of the Jewish people, to find a way to unify the Jewish people at the holiest site in Judaism, the Western Wall (i.e. The Kotel). The Ultra-Orthodox parties wishes cannot stand.
The following is Natan Sharansky’s statement from Jerusalem this morning:
JERUSALEM, ISRAEL – Chairman of the Executive of The Jewish Agency for Israel Natan Sharansky has released the following statement:
 
“As Chairman of The Jewish Agency for Israel, and on behalf of our partners, I must express my deep disappointment at today’s decision by the Government of Israel to suspend the implementation of its own decision to establish a dignified space for egalitarian prayer at the Western Wall.
 
“Five years ago, the Prime Minister asked me to lead a joint effort to bring about a workable formula that would transform the Western Wall into, in his own words, ‘one wall for one people.’
 
“After four years of intense negotiations, we reached a solution that was accepted by all major denominations and was then adopted by the government and embraced by the world’s Jewish communities.
 
“Today’s decision signifies a retreat from that agreement and will make our work to bring Israel and the Jewish world closer together increasingly more difficult.
 
“The Jewish Agency nevertheless remains staunchly committed to that work and to the principle of one wall for one people.”