Ameinu Welcomes Decision to Allow Women to Pray at Western Wall

— by Haim Simon

Ameinu, the leading progressive Zionist membership organization in North America, welcomes the decision rendered by the Jerusalem District Court ruling that there is no basis for the detention of women for praying at the Western Wall.

Members of Women of the Wall — an organization devoted to achieving the right for women to pray, wear prayer shawls and read from the Torah at the Western Wall — have previously been arrested for trying to exercise this religious right.

“This ruling is an extremely positive step towards greater religious pluralism and inclusiveness in Israel,” said Ameinu President Kenneth Bob.

More after the jump.

The ultra-Orthodox monopoly over the Kotel must end. However, it is part of a larger problem of Orthodox control over many aspects of Israeli life. That must end as well and all streams of Judaism must be recognized as equally legitimate.

The legal ruling today follows the announcement by Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky of plans to create a space for egalitarian prayer at the Wall. This plan was approved by Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“We are heartened by these recent events and look forward to praying at the Kotel with our friends and colleagues from Women of the Wall. Mazal Tov to them and to the State of Israel,” Bob concluded.

Israel Recognizes Conservative, Reform Rabbis


Rabbi Miri Gold

Israel’s Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein office announced yesterday that 15 Reform and Conservative rabbis will be recognized as rabbis of non-Orthodox communities and put on the state payroll for the first time — on a par with Orthodox community leaders. This out-of-court settlement brings to a close the 2005 petition before Israel’s Supreme Court by the Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism and Reform Rabbi Miri Cohen of Kibbutz Gezer. The decision allows for equal financing of non-Orthodox rabbis in regional councils and farming communities throughout the country, but so far does not extend to the larger cities.

Rabbi Gold, who first heard the news on the radio said, “This is a big step for religious pluralism and democracy in Israel.  Israeli Jews want religious alternatives and with this decision the State is starting to recognize this reality. There is more than one way to be Jewish, even in Israel.”

The ruling in this case follows other successes by the Israel Religious Action Center including the placement of a Reform Rabbi in Mevasseret on the Religious Council there, the finding that forced gender segregation on public transportation is discrimination and prohibited, and the allocation of pre-fab units to non-Orthodox congregations for synagogue buildings.

According to DEBKA, “they have a long way to go before their authority is accepted for performing marriages, conversions and other religious matters along with Orthodox and Haredi rabbis.” However, this decision has hailed as an important milestone by the Conservative and Reform movements.

Reaction after the jump.  
Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, Vice-President of the Rabbincal Assembly
The Rabbinical Assembly is the international body of Conservative rabbis

This is a historic day for Israelis and Jews around the world. In order for Judaism to grow and thrive in Israel, it is necessary that the government recognize its obligation to provide equal funding to various Jewish religious streams and expressions that flower in the Jewish state.

Rabbi Gerald Skolnik, President of the Rabbinical Assembly

The announcement of Israel’s Attorney General Weinstein represents a dramatic step forward in the struggle for religious pluralism in Israel. The historic inequities in the funding of local community rabbis in Israel has long hampered efforts to bring a greater variety of spiritual options to Israelis.  Hopefully, this decision will open the door to new and exciting Jewish spiritual opportunities that will strengthen Israel, and bring Israelis to a new appreciation of Jewish tradition.

Rabbi Daniel Allen, Executive Director of ARZA; The Reform Israel Fund
ARZA is the major American Reform Movement funder of the Israel Religious Action Center, an arm of the Israel Reform Movement, that brought the case to court six years ago.

Miri’s success is success for all of us. With patience and perseverance, we will build an inclusive democratic Israeli society. Israel’s Declaration of Independence guaranteed religious freedom, it has to be that this freedom is for all Israeli’s, Jewish as well as Christian and Muslim. This decision brings us closer to the day where this will be the reality in Israel rather than the ideal.

Rabbi Rick Jacobs, President of the Union for Reform Judaism

This is a watershed moment for the Reform Movement and for religious pluralism in Israel. Mazel tov to Rabbi Gold and the many activists who work so diligently to ensure the eventual and thorough embrace of liberal Judaism in Israel.

Kenneth Bob, President, Ameinu

This historical decision is an important first step toward the recognition of non-Orthodox streams of Judaism by the State of Israel. There is still much work to be done, but it’s a big victory for pluralism and religious freedom in Israel. We salute the efforts of the Conservative and Reform movements and will continue to stand with you.

Occupy Wall Street – Commentary Still Doesn’t “Get” Young Jews

— by Kenneth Bob

“It’s déjà vu all over again,” Yogi Berra’s overused aphorism, fits this moment perfectly.

Mid-week before Yom Kippur, Daniel Seiradski, a new media activist, asked on Facebook whether people would attend a Kol Nidre service at the site of the Occupy Wall Street. First there were a hundred people who responded in the affirmative, then two hundred and by the time the service was held a few days later, press reports estimated that there were 1000-1500 people in attendance.

In addition to the impressive numbers, the press quotes and online comments from the mostly young attendees, whether they skipped their regular synagogue observance or would not have attended services otherwise, were uniform in their appreciation of the organizers and in their sense of meaning they felt from their participation. All in all, an inspiring story of organization and communal engagement.

Mathew Ackerman, writing for Commentary, was not pleased. He admitted that

“it must be said there is, of course, justification to be found for specifically economic protests of a leftist variety in the prophets, perhaps most especially Isaiah. But it stretches truth far beyond the breaking point to claim such texts based on conditions in ancient Israel offer much guidance for the policy questions of our day, or impel a religious believer to a particular side of the political aisle.”

His tone became harsher, suggesting that “the organizers’ attempts to combine Judaism and today’s fashionable politics are simply incoherent.”

Seeing this critique of young, Jewish progressives by a Commentary writer took me back 40 years. In the February, 1971 issue of the magazine, four articles were dedicated to the Jewish role in the brewing “revolution” in America. In particular, writers took aim at Arthur Waskow‘s recently published The Freedom Seder and the entire radical Zionist movement that emerged on campuses at that time in response to the anti-Israel New Left.

More after the jump.
Norman Podhoretz, the magazine’s editor, wrote that the The Freedom Seder should be considered “a contribution to the literature of Jewish anti-Semitism” and suggested that Waskow and his ilk “belong to the tribe of the wicked son.”

Walter Laqueur, the noted historian, wrote that “the hope that young radicals of this generation will become “good Jews’ is a slender one, comparable perhaps with the hope of a psychoanalyst for the recovery of a patient with a weak ego structure or a serious intellectual deficiency.”

With the benefit of time, we now know that these “young radicals” have become Jewish Federation directors, Rabbis, not-for-profit executives, Jewish Studies professors, Jewish journalists, and active lay leaders in a wide range of Jewish life. Laqueur also challenged the sincerity of the movement’s “strong identification with Israel,” but that prediction was terribly off the mark as well when considering the number of kibbutzniks, social activists and others the movement produced for Israel.

As satisfying as it may be to settle old scores, what is truly important is that the Jewish community ignore >Commentary’s hope regarding the organizers: “Let their successes be few, and the passage of their movement from the American Jewish scene swift.” On the contrary, efforts like those on Kol Nidre should be encouraged and supported by the community.

Why? Regardless of your view of Occupy Wall Street (I am supportive) the related Jewish effort inspires creativity, develops leadership and results in community. Are these not all values that the Jewish community strives for?

I, for one, would expect that “graduates” of 2011 Wall Street Kol Nidre service and other such events will be activists in our community for years to come.

And one footnote, for historical purposes, linking this span of 40 years that I have described. Arthur Waskow, the author of the The Freedom Seder, is now a Rabbi and contributed the inspiration that became the New York Kol Nidre service this year.

Kenneth Bob is the National President of Ameinu.

Ameinu Contributes Funds to Burned Israeli Mosques

— Haim Simon

Ameinu, the leading progressive Zionist membership organization in the United States, is designating funds to buy holy books to replace those destroyed by arsonists in the northern Israel Bedouin village of Tuba-Zangariyye. “Ameinu unequivocally condemns the mosque burning, the latest in a series of attacks by Jewish extremists in the West Bank and Israel proper,” said Ameinu’s president Kenneth Bob. “This is not Zionism, this is not Judaism and there is no place for this in a civilized society,” he added.

Ameimu joins Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Peres in condemning this attack. “This despicable act, which took place during these Days of Awe, should serve as a wake-up call to Israelis and Palestinians alike that a negotiated peace is the only way to silence extremists on both sides,” Bob continued. “It is our hope that Ameinu’s small act can bring some measure of comfort to the people of Tuba-Zangariyye,” he concluded.

Four Questions for a Young Israeli Social Entrepreneur

Dyonna Ginsburg
Dyonna Ginsburg is the Executive Director of Bema'aglei Tzedek ("Circles of Justice"), an Israeli NGO that uses cutting-edge educational tools and social action campaigns to create a more just Israeli society informed and inspired by Jewish values. Upon completing her B.A. in political science at Columbia University, Dyonna Ginsburg made Aliyah in 2002 and obtained an M.A. in Jewish Education from Hebrew University. Dyonna is a frequent guest lecturer and has appeared on Israel's Channel Two TV, Galei Tzahal and Reshet Bet radio.

1. Your mission statement speaks of "empowering the next generation of young Israelis to engage their Jewish identity and become powerful agents of social change." How are you finding the response from young Israelis to you call for action?

The cynics among us point to an Israeli society that is moving away from a collective identity to radical individualism, and lament the bygone days of a pioneering spirit. My experience, however, is very different. On a day to day basis, I encounter hundreds of young Israelis who care deeply about shaping our society and are willing to give of themselves to create better and more just communities. In the early days of the state, we needed pioneers to build the country's physical infrastructure. Nowadays, we need pioneers to build the country's spiritual and ethical infrastructure. Many young Israelis, religious and secular alike, are looking for opportunities to return to their Jewish roots, and in particular to Jewish learning, as a source of inspiration for the pursuit of justice.

More after the jump.
2. Your Tav Chevrati is "a seal of approval granted free of charge to restaurants and other businesses that respect the legally-mandated rights of their employees and are accessible to people with disabilities." Can you describe the typical encounter you have with a business owner when you first raise this issue with them?

The Tav Chevrati has succeeded in reaching a tipping point in Jerusalem, where over a third of restaurants and cafes bear our certificate. In Jerusalem, there is now a waiting list of restaurants who have turned to us and are currently awaiting our approval. For the most part, these restaurants are interested in the Tav Chevrati not because they are more ethical than others; rather, because they understand the economic power of the certificate. As such, it is not really accurate to speak of our "first raising the issue" with restaurant proprietors. Instead, the restaurant owners are the ones who first raise the issue with us. One chef, who is the co-owner of three exclusive restaurants in Jerusalem, recently told us that, even though he doesn't personally connect to the ideas underlying the Tav Chevrati, one out of two of his customers demands to see the Tav Chevrati. In his own words: "If you can't beat them, join them!" This chef-owner, like 90% of the business proprietors who have received the certificate, had to make concrete changes – changes that cost him money – in order to abide by our certificate and its legally-mandated standards.

3. Israelis speak about the divide between the secular and the orthodox communities, but it seems that you work in both worlds, and try to combine them. Can you share the challenges and successes you are experiencing in that effort?

Bema'aglei Tzedek is unique on the Israeli scene, as our staff, volunteers and target populations transcend religious and political lines. I often say with pride that, in the last Knesset elections, every person on staff voted for a different political party. This reflects the true diversity of our activists. And, yet we manage to sit around the same table and find common ground, rallying around issues that should be consensus – fair labor practices, accessibility to people with disabilities, etc. – but all too often are not.

Bema'aglei Tzedek believes that a Jewish State is not just about public ritual observances, such as the fact that there is no public transportation on Shabbat or that Jewish holidays are official state holidays, but that it is also about the ethical fiber of this society – about taking care of the "orphan, widow and stranger in our midst."

4. How can Diaspora Jews be involved in your efforts?

If you ask a typical restaurant proprietor in Jerusalem which is a more important target population – local Israeli customers or the tourist population – the vast majority will respond: tourists. As such, the Tav Chevrati is the one initiative I can think of in which someone, who is visiting Israel, doesn't know a word of Hebrew, and knows little about the culture, can make an even greater impact than an Israeli peer just by buying a cup of coffee and telling the waiter that he or she came because of the Tav Chevrati. Jews from abroad, therefore, have an important role to play in the ultimate success of this homegrown Israeli initiative. For a list of Tav-certified opportunities or to find out other volunteer or donation opportunities, check out our website www.mtzedek.org.il

Reprinted courtesy of Ameinu http://www.ameinu.net

Reactions to the Terrorist Attack in Itamar

Saturday morning in Itamar terrorists killed five members of an Israeli family, including three children, in their sleep. We collected responses from the White House, Ameinu, the Union for Reform Judaism, Agudath Israel of America, and B’nai Brith International.

Jay Carney, White House Press Secretary:

We condemn in the strongest possible terms the murder of five Israelis in a terrorist attack in the northern West Bank, and we offer our condolences to their loved ones and to the Israeli people.  There is no possible justification for the killing of parents and children in their home. We call on the Palestinian Authority to unequivocally condemn this terrorist attack and for the perpetrators of this heinous crime to be held accountable.

More reactions after the jump.
Kenneth Bob, President of Ameinu:

“This act of terror can not pass silently. Nothing can justify the killing of innocents, particularly children. Israelis and Palestinians must remember their shared humanity and reject brutality and violence.”

Rabbi Eric H. Yoffe, President of the Union for Reform Judaism:

We condemn in the strongest of terms the senseless massacre of an innocent Israeli family in their sleep. The thought of a knife slaughter which included victims, ages eleven, four and three-months is sickening to us. There is no place in this world, or in the struggle for peace in the Middle East, for this sort of violence.

We pray for the three surviving children in the family, all under the age of 12, who are left without their parents and siblings. No child should ever be forced to go through what these children are undoubtedly going through and our hearts go out to them and all members of the community of Itamar.

We welcome the condemnations of the attacks by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. We urge them to follow-through on their statements with actions that bring the perpetrators to justice and strongly reinforce the message that violence like this will not be tolerated by the Palestinian leadership. Further, we support Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s pledge to safeguard the citizens of Israel and punish the murderers.

We call for swift justice for the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, the armed wing of Fatah, which claimed responsibility for the attack, characterizing it as a “heroic operation.” This sort of blatant disregard for the value of human life is appalling and we hope that together the Israelis and the Palestinians will work to ensure that this violence remains an isolated incident and does not escalate.

Agudath Israel of America:

Every person with a Jewish heart-in fact every person with an unsullied human heart-feels only sorrow, anguish and outrage over what befell the Fogel family in Itamar this past Shabbos night.

There comes a point when words cannot convey the depth of evil.  No phrase in any language can truly describe the depravity of people who are capable of creeping into a peaceful home in the middle of the night and stab to death an 11-year-old, a 4-year-old, a baby girl three months of age and their parents.

And so we are left with only the heartbreak and tears, and the pools of innocent Jewish blood that the perpetrators of these despicable acts left behind in their evil wake.

May the world be left with something too: a better appreciation of why Israelis might be reluctant to trust the intentions of people who hate them so viscerally, and of authorities whose media and school textbooks feed demonization of “Zionists” to their violence-prone culture.

May the blood of these precious innocents be avenged soon and fully by the Av Harachamim.

B’nai B’rith International:

B’nai B’rith International condemns the brutal and horrific murders of Udi and Ruth Fogel and their children Yoav, 11; Elad, 4 and Hadas, 3 months, in their home in the West Bank settlement of Itamar on March 11, on the eve of Shabbat.

“An attack of this nature defies comprehension,” B’nai B’rith International President Dennis W. Glick said. “Acts of brutality like this make a total mockery of the peace process.”

The attack was claimed by terrorist group Al-Aksa Martyrs Brigades of Imad Mughniyeh.

“The murder of this family was the act of inhuman and depraved individuals,” B’nai B’rith International Executive Vice President Daniel S. Mariaschin said. “The constant stream of anti-Semitic and anti-Israeli hate speech and incitement condoned by the Palestinian authorities, since the Oslo Accords of 1993, breeds the kind of despicable violence that ended the lives of this family.”

B’nai B’rith International stands in solidarity with the friends and family of the Fogels, and with the Israeli people as they struggle to cope with the aftermath of the attack.

Not The Jewish Voice of Peace

— Kenneth Bob

When I was a teenager, the late Phil Ochs was a folk-singing hero of mine. In his classic song, “Love Me, I’m a Liberal,” he skewered armchair liberals who talked a good game, but wouldn’t go as far as their more radical comrades. This attitude, of course, appealed to many in my generation as we took to the streets and demonstrated for civil rights, against the Vietnam War and to free Soviet Jews.

I was reminded of Ochs’s song when Jewish Voice for Peace demonstrators disrupted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech at the Jewish Federations of North America’s General Assembly in New Orleans. While I agree with JVP’s opposition to the occupation of the West Bank and the proposed loyalty oath, I am afraid that I am feeling like the liberal in the Phil Ochs song, as I will not join arms with the more radical JVP.

Why can’t I find common cause with this self-defined Jewish group that opposes Israeli policy toward the Palestinians?

More after the jump.

Note that the Philadelphia Jewish Voice is unrelated to the Jewish Voice of Peace, The Berkshire Jewish Voice, The Jewish Community Voice, The Deep South Jewish Voice, Kol Yehudi, Jewish Voice and Opinion, and The Progressive Jewish Voice.
My opposition to the ongoing occupation, the proposed loyalty oath, the treatment of non-Orthodox religious streams and other troubling developments in Israel all stem from my commitment to a Jewish, democratic Israel that realizes the vision of a state “based on the precepts of liberty, justice and peace taught by the Hebrew Prophets” as described in Israel’s Declaration of Independence. I oppose destructive policies of Israel’s government precisely because of my love for Israel and my concern for its security and well being.

Unfortunately, JVP refuses to support the notion of Israel’s existence as a sovereign state, much less as a homeland for the Jewish people. Instead, JVP states that it “endorses neither a one-state solution, nor a two-state solution… we have members and supporters on both sides of this question, as well as many others who, like the organization as a whole, are agnostic about it.”

That is what separates progressive Zionists from JVP. We cannot be “agnostic” about the most central issue in the conflict, the importance of a solution that includes two states for two peoples, Israel and Palestine. It is ludicrous to suggest that one can be involved in the Jewish communal discourse about the future of the Middle East without having an opinion on whether Israel should exist. In addition, JVP’s stated support for a complete suspension of American military aid to Israel just emphasizes the organization’s cavalier attitude toward Israel’s survival.

News reports from New Orleans quoted G.A. participants who expressed support for the sentiment expressed by the demonstrators, if not for their tactics. This is understandable, since many young Jews are looking for ways to voice their own criticisms of Israel’s ongoing occupation of the West Bank. This should motivate the Jewish community to increase its efforts to foster open and frank discussions around controversial issues related to Israel, both in our local communities and at national events like JFNA’s G.A. Unfortunately, our communal track record has not always been good in this regard.

While those of us who are committed to Israel’s survival won’t be joining JVP’s demonstrations, we also cannot afford to emulate the liberals depicted by Phil Ochs, settling for reading the correct magazines (or blogs) but avoiding direct action. We need to find our own ways of letting the prime minister, as well American political leaders, know that American Jews strongly support action to bring about a two-state solution. Raising our voices can hopefully influence the decision makers and let concerned young Jews know that there is a place for their voices within the Jewish community.