There are aspects of this issue that yet to surface in public attention, and very few people work to foster new ideas that will mend fences among Jews at this time.
The Reform and Conservative movements in Israel themselves do not recognize the aberrations of the new standards of American Reform, that now includes some Rabbis who perform interfaith marriages, the majority who recognize people as Jews even if only their fathers are Jewish, and some who allow for same-sex marriages.
These are not the traditional standards that my grandfather taught me when he was an active Reform Jew. And only because Reform has changed my grandfather’s standards, Israel now protects itself by not extending general recognition to all conversions and all standards of Jewish identity.
Secular Israeli society fears that if Reform and Conservative were allowed free reign in Israel, then they would do the same thing that they have done in the US, namely, to abandon principle in favor of “pluralism”.
Imagine what a situation we would face if we would see ads in the Israeli papers here for a “same-sex” wedding at the King David Hotel, an interfaith wedding ceremony at the LaRomme Hotel, and to then to get an invitation to a wedding at the Carelton Hotel to a couple who have no pretensions about being Jewish because only their fathers are Jews.
Reform and Conservative Jews are more than welcome to come to Israel to help Judaize a country that now copes with a strong internal Israeli antisemitic fervor, that was expressed in the previous government, when retired Israel Minister of Education Shulamit Baloney virtually eliminated Jewish instruction from the public education school system, as a result of which we have a new generation of Israeli children who are growing up without any sense of Jewish or Zionist history, let alone exposure to Bible, Talmud or other Jewish sources, even from a secularist point of view.
Tragically, instead of the small Reform and Conservative movements joining with the Orthodox to find ways to reach out to the majority of the Israeli Jewish population who see themselves as “traditional”, if not Orthodox Jews, both the Conservative and Reform movements have joined a coaltion known as HEMDAT, which is currently conducting a vigiorous campaign to force an observant Jew to open the shopping center that he owns on Shabbat. HEMDAT is also working to stop the government from protecting the rights of Jews so that they will not have to work on Shabbat. The previous Israeli government worked to allow new firms in Israel to open their industries also on Shabbat, making it difficult for even traditional Jews who would rather rest one day a week to get a job.
I will close with a practical, positive and constructive suggestion, and that is to weave the best of Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist Jews into informal educational facilities throughout the state of Israel. They would be more than welcome, by Orthodox and non-Orthodox alike.
To relate a short personal and professional account: more than twenty years ago, I ran educational summer camping day programs for junior high school students from religious schools in Israeli development towns. The idea was to enthuse these kids to stay in school and to stay with their Jewish identity. I hired fifteen counselors with experience at Camp Ramah and UAHC, and they worked for two summers in the art of applying the best of their know-how from where they came from. Having children wake up in the morning to debbie friedman songs of prayer and having children write their own poems to God were powerful lessons that these kids never forgot. At the end of the first summer, I was called in by an elderly Yemenite superintendent of religious education at the main office of the Israel Ministry of Education in Jerusalem. I did not know why he wanted to see me. I remember to this day how I opened the door to his office, and how HE greeted me with a warm handshake, asking me if I could get some more counselors like this who worked from their hearts in education. He could have cared less that none of the counselors were Orthodox in practice.
The message is very clear. The non-Orthodox Jewish world can make a deep and serious contribution to Israel. They will be loved, appreciated and not patronized if they do so. That is what KLAL YISRAEL – the people of Israel- should be like.
Media Research Analyst
Beit Agron International Press Center,
Fax: (+972-2) 623-6470