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.

President Obama and Israel

— by David Streeter

Special Assistant to the President and National Security Council Senior Director for the Middle East and North Africa Steve Simon addressed the Anti-Defamation League’s annual conference in Washington, DC. During his remarks, Simon explained just some of the actions taken by the Obama Administration to support Israel and prevent a nuclear-armed Iran.

Highlights after the jump.

“The U.S. Government has done more to ensure Israel’s security under the President’s leadership than under any previous Administration. From providing record-level security assistance that is saving lives, to leading vigorous diplomacy that is defending Israel at the UN, to championing sanctions against Iran, our record is rock-solid. Based on my own firsthand experience working these issues day in and day out, I can assure you that Israel’s security is at the top of the agenda of President Obama’s national security team. And as for the President himself, he said he has Israel’s back-and he meant it. And that’s one of the reasons why I’m very proud to serve in this Administration.”

Special Assistant to the President and National Security Council Senior Director for the Middle East and North Africa Steve Simon addressed the Anti-Defamation League’s annual conference in Washington, DC. During his remarks, Simon explained just some of the actions taken by the Obama Administration to support Israel and prevent a nuclear-armed Iran. Highlights of Simon’s remarks appear below. Click here to download this information as a pdf.

Simon said on the state of the current state of the U.S.-Israel relationship:

“For more than 60 years since Israel’s founding, during periods of war and peace, and common crisis, U.S. administrations of all stripes have worked to safeguard Israel’s security-Republican and Democrat. But I would maintain that no administration and no President has done as much as President Obama has done to promote Israel’s security. And I say this having served in every Administration but one since Ronald Reagan was in office… Thus, Prime Minister Netanyahu has rightly said that our security cooperation with Israel is ‘unprecedented’ … and if you have relatives or friends in southern Israel they can tell you what this has meant in practical terms in recent months….

“In a period of sweeping regional change that brings new opportunities but also new challenges and uncertainties, the United States will continue to bear Israel’s security in mind as we develop and implement our foreign policy.”

He noted that in addition to the Obama Administration $3.1 billion aid request for Israel – the largest ever-the Obama Administration has:

  • Provided substantial funding-and intends to seek more-for the Iron Dome missile defense system that has protected southern Israel from nearly 80% of the rockets fired into the country.
  • Cooperated with Israel in developing the Arrow and David’s Sling missile defense systems that are designed to stop medium and short-range missiles, respectively.
  • Laid the framework for linking Israel into a U.S. satellite system that can provide early warning about incoming missiles.
  • Committed thousands of U.S. troops to operation Austere Challenge-the largest U.S.-Israel joint military exercise ever.
  • Participated in over 200 high-level exchanges between senior American and Israeli officials in 2011.

Simon explained many of the diplomatic steps taken by the Obama Administration to support Israel:

  • Working against the Palestinians’ attempt to unilaterally declare a state.
  • Fiercely combating the campaign to delegitimize Israel.
  • Standing up for Israel’s right to self-defense-including as the only country to back Israel following the flotilla incident.
  • “Always” rejecting efforts to equate Zionism with racism.
  • Working to preserve Israel’s peace treaty with Egypt.

Simon reiterated that the

Obama Administration is committed to preventing a nuclear-armed Iran


“We know that Israel sees the threat posed by Iran as existential. And make no mistake, an Iran armed with nuclear weapons would pose a direct and serious threat to the security of the United States as well. This is about both allies-Israel and the United States … And that’s why our policy is not to contain Iran, but to prevent it from acquiring a nuclear weapon….

“We believe now is the time to speak softly and carry a big stick, to let our increased pressure sink in, to sustain the broad international coalition that we have built and to engage Iran in good faith as the window for diplomacy shrinks-and it is shrinking….

“We have backed up that commitment by building an unprecedented coalition to impose the most far-reaching sanctions that Iran has ever faced. As a result, Iran finds itself increasingly isolated from the international community….

“Iran’s leaders should have no doubt about the resolve of the United States or about Israel’s sovereign right to defend itself. As the President has said, ‘we take no options off the table.'”

He specifically noted that Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad declared to Iran’s parliament, “the West has imposed the most extensive and dastardly sanctions ever. … This is the heaviest economic onslaught on a nation in history.”

Some of the reasons include:

  • Iran is having serious difficulties conducting international transactions.
  • Iran cannot access 70% of its foreign currency reserves.
  • $60 billion worth of foreign projects in Iran have been cancelled or suspended.
  • Companies like Shell, Total, ENI, Statoil, Repsol, Toyota, Siemens, and Lukoil have all pulled out of Iran-as well as foreign subsidiaries of American companies such as GE, Honeywell, and Caterpillar.

Simon also spoke about the Obama Administration’s efforts regarding the pursuit of peace:

“Israel’s own leaders understand the imperative of peace. And they speak about it. Prime Minister Netanyahu, Defense Minister Barak, and President Peres have each called for two states, a secure Israel that lives side by side with an independent Palestinian state. … Both Israel and the Palestinians continue to believe that our involvement is important to making progress. Both Israel and the Palestinians want the United States to persevere. So as President Obama said recently … ‘we will make no apologies for continuing to pursue peace.’ And that is why from the President down, we remain deeply engaged with Israel and the Palestinians to continue to work toward a resumption of direct negotiations….

President Obama has also made clear that there will be no lasting peace unless Israel’s security concerns are met. Period.

Simon made clear that the

United States’ policy of blacklisting Hamas as a terrorist organization “has not changed.”

Seder Held For 400 Seniors In The Greater Philadelphia Area

Over 400 guests enjoyed this year’s Golden Slipper Club Seder.

The Golden Slipper Club of Philadelphia‘s tradition of holding a Passover Seder for the senior Jewish community continued in 2012. This year’s Seder took place at Har Zion Temple in Gladwyne, Pennsylvania on Monday, March 19, a short time before this year’s actual Passover holiday on April 6-12, 2012. Passover is a holiday in which Jews celebrate their liberation from slavery to freedom.

This year’s Seder committee members, along with events coordinator, Ann Hilferty and executive director, Paul Geller, worked hard coordinating the various entities to make the Seder run smoothly. The 2012 committee includes co-chair Jackie Gilberg and Michael Simon, as well as members Chuck Barsh, David Biloon, Jeffrey Brenner, Robin Cohen, Bob Gilberg, Jessica Gomel, Charlie Hoffmann, Roy Kardon, Howard Levin, Linda Ostach, Barry Sacks, Dan Singer, Shelby Simmons, Lee Tabas, and Scott Wechsler. Stephen H. Frishberg is Club president.

More after the jump.

Golden Slipper Club President Stephen H. Frishberg addresses the Seder guests. (L-R) Golden Slipper Club member Cantor Sherman Leis, Frishberg, Club member Rabbi Fred Kazan, and guest Cantor Lisa Litman.

The Golden Slipper Seder may be the only one that these appreciative guests attend each year. The seniors look forward to seeing friends from other centers, dancing to the music of Hal Martin, singing with Lisa Litman and Sherman Leis, hearing prayers, enjoying stories by Rabbi Kazan’s and, of course, a delicious meal provided by Betty the Caterer. Over 400 seniors enjoyed the Seder, as thousands of others have over Golden Slipper’s 90 year history.

Each year, approximately 40 Golden Slipper members volunteer and/or attend the Seder. They organize
transportation of the seniors from various centers including the Golden Slipper Center for Seniors, Klein JCC, Tabas House, and Ner Zedek-Ezreth in Northeast Philadelphia and as far away as Saltzman-Dubin House in New Jersey. They ride buses with the guests, escort them from their buses to the tables, set up, clean up, and generously sponsor tables and donate goods and services. Golden Slipper Club extends is thanks to all those who volunteered or donated services.

Golden Slipper Club & Charities, celebrating 90 years in 2012, has taken a hands-on approach to support programs and services for the Greater Philadelphia area’s youth, needy and elderly, with some 600 active men and women who volunteer their time to serve people in need. Golden Slipper’s motto is charity, good fellowship and loyalty, first and foremost, in all its endeavors. It provides charitable services to those in need in the community. Golden Slipper Camp sends approximately 600 children to overnight camp in the beautiful Pocono Mountains. Golden Slipper Center for Seniors provides a daytime activities facility which offers social and recreational activities and meals for over 300 senior citizens. Other programs offered to help the community include HUNAS (Human Needs and Services) which gives emergency grants to those in need and the Slipper Scholarship Program, which provides college scholarships to deserving and promising young students.

Two Fabulous Films About Kibbutzim and Refugees

— by Hannah Lee

The Academy Award winner for Best Documentary Short Topic for 2010, Strangers No More, was shown on January 30th as part of the Philadelphia Jewish Film Festival as well as the 2011 documentary,  Inventing Our Lives: The Kibbutz Experiment, at the Prince Music Theatre.

More after the jump.
Inventing Our Lives: The Kibbutz Experiment, is Toby Perl Freilich’s 79-minute new film, which explores “the longest experiment in collective living,” says presenter Dr. Ranen Omer-Sherman, Professor of English and Jewish Studies of the University of Miami, and the “final word on the kibbutz movement has not been said.”  Freilich’s film intersperses interviews with the three generations of kibbutzniks (kibbutz residents) with actual footage from the time.

At its peak, the kibbutz movement only comprised 5% of the population in Israel, but its influence has been far-reaching, with its radical proposals for change in social organization– parenting even, as children were raised in separate children’s quarters– and economic cooperation.  It was said in the film that Israel’s defense forces and Knesset (parliamentary government) have both been affected, with many of its leaders coming out of the kibbutz movement.  Indeed, the current consul general of Israel for the Mid-Atlantic region, Daniel Kutner, hails from Kibbutz Ein Shemer where his family landed when they first arrived to Israel.

Philosopher Avishai Margolit of Hebrew University was quoted in the film calling the kibbutz movement “a children’s crusade,” because the pioneers were young men and women who’d moved to the barren land that was Israel before the intensive efforts at re-forestation and drying out the swamps.  They worked without older adult supervision and they taught themselves– many with an urban upbringing– how to work the land.  In the film, a first-generation kibbutznik called her peers “children of nature.”

The population in Israel in 1948 was 600,000 and four years later, the population tripled, mostly from the influx of immigrants from Islamic countries.  Alas, according to one person interviewed in the film, a major tragedy for the kibbutzim was that they did not try to integrate the newer immigrants.

The golden period was of the second-generation, who enjoyed the rewards of their pioneer parents– the kibbutzim now had running water and some even had swimming pools– while still proud that they were the heroes of a new country.  Then, two outside forces greatly stressed the movement:  In 1977, Begin’s Likud party of Oriental Jews gained power and rejected Labor’s Zionist ideals.  And during the 1970’s, inflation rose to 400%, and many kibbutzim could not survive the economic pressures.   The youth left and the remaining kibbutzniks were demoralized.  

At the Prince Music Theatre, Professor Omer-Sherman noted that two groups that have faced re-identification in modern times are the Negev Bedouin and the kibbutzim members.   Many kibbutzim experimented with privatization to lure new investments and new members.  Now only 1% of the remaining 270 kibbutzim are still purely socialistic and egalitarian.  Kibbutz Ein Shemer voted three times to reject a differential income plan; it passed on fourth try.  Kibbutz Tamuz in Beit Shemesh is an urban kibbutz—  another variation for bringing the original values to a contemporary society.

>Strangers No More is the 40-minute long documentary directed by Karen Goodman and Kirk Simon about the remarkable Bialik-Rogozin School in central Tel Aviv where students hail from 48 countries.  This public school, encompassing  Kindergarten through 12th grades, and in addition to the local citizens (mostly from the lowest socioeconomic sectors of Israeli society), it welcomes the children of migrant and refugee families, with and without legal status.  Professor Omer-Sherman noted while Jews have long had the Biblical tradition of welcoming the stranger; for the first time, Israel has the opportunity to do so and it’s finally with the power to help others.  But, does it have the will?

The staff and faculty of the Bialik-Rogozin School are shown as generous, patient, and kind, even visiting parents in their home when they cannot meet them at school for the regular student evaluations.  Principal Karen Tal (and now superintendent) extended her school’s hours from 7 am to 7 pm, when she realized that her parents worked way beyond the average work day, because  “We want to be like a home, and a home doesn’t close at 1 in the afternoon.

The film highlights one school year for three new students: 16-year-old Mohammed from Darfur who came to the school after witnessing the killing of both his grandmother and father; 12-year-old Johannes from Ethiopia and a Sudan refugee camp who had never attended school before entering Bialik-Rogozin; and Esther from South Africa who’d also witnessed her mother’s murder.   Mohammed is an orphan who has to work to support himself, but he is so determined to succeed that he “made up four years [of study] in one year.”  He wants to return to his own country and start a school modeled after the Bialik-Rogozin.  Johannes is struggling with the language and formal study until the school fits him for prescription glasses and he can finally see the teachers’ writing.  In just a few months, he is able to translate for a new boy in his native Tigrit.  In another poignant– and ironic  moment– Esther tells about her prized souvenir from her mother, a jewelry box for which “she must have paid a fortune” and the camera pans to show her layered plastic box.

The film does not detail the way that Tal financed her school, in order to provide her needy students with hot lunches, school books, and extracurricular enrichment (some lucky few get bicylces), but she reached out beyond Tel Aviv and Israel and has received financial assistance from the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles (in cooperation with the Chais Family Foundation and the Rashi Foundation) and a committee that included support from high-tech companies and business leaders.

Afterwards, Professor Omer-Sherman reported on recent developments after the movie was released.  On the day the film won its Oscar, Esther’s family was threatened with deportation.  Last month, the Knesset approved “harsh new penalties on illegal migrants, a measure aimed at stopping the flow of African asylum seekers and economic migrants across Israel’s southern border with the Egyptian Sinai.  The amendment, to the existing Law to Prevent Infiltration, makes it possible to detain illegal migrants and their children for up to three years without a trial. Anyone caught aiding illegal migrants found to be carrying weapons, or trafficking in humans or drugs, could face prison terms of 5 to 15 years.” [10 January 2012, New York Times]  One angry audience member denounced this amendment and suggested diverting the money needed to enforce such measures to funding more schools like the Bialik-Rogozin , so that these children of circumstances beyond their control can become productive citizens and even serve in the Army.  Consul General Kutner rebutted this view, saying that Israel has become a magnet for Africans, not just political refugees but also economic aspirants to “the Promised Land.”  These government measures are a reluctant reaction to stem the tide of migrants, which totaled 400,000 40,000 last year.  That’s a big burden on a small nation.

The Philadelphia Jewish Film Festival concludes its “Documentaries and Dialogues” series with Eichmann’s End on February 6th at 7 pm.  

In addition, it’ll feature Louder than a Bomb and Live Poetry Slam on Sunday, February 12th, at 2:30 pm, also at the Prince Music Theatre at 1412 Chestnut Street.

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.