More Than the Kotel - by Rabbi Jennifer Gorman
Beth Tzedec
Jul 28th 2017

"Shall we end by having a theocracy? No, indeed… We shall prevent any theocratic tendencies from coming to the fore on the part of our priesthood… Rabbis shall receive honors high as their valuable functions deserve, but they must not interfere in the administration of the State which confers distinction upon them, else they will conjure up difficulties without and within." "All that you have cultivated will be worthless and your fields will again be barren, unless you also cultivate freedom of thought and expression, generosity of spirit, and love for humanity."   —Theodor Herzl

What a turbulent summer. Starting with the “freeze” of the Kotel plan, followed by news of a conversion bill that would solidify power in the hands of Israel’s state rabbinate, then the rabbinate’s blacklist in just a few short weeks. Of course, it doesn’t end there. Waves of anger, disappointment, and frustration have washed over Jewish communities in Israel and around the world. The significance of this summer isn’t only in what occurred, but in what was missing. Here at home, we discovered a dozen Canadian rabbis on the blacklist, with more than half serving Conservative congregations. Noticeably missing- any of the thousands of women rabbis around the world. This omission was noted at every level.

All too often the stereotype of all or nothing, Haredi or secular, or ‘the shul I don’t go to is Orthodox’ is cited as a proof that Orthodoxy is the only way of religion in Israel. The facts tell us differently. Our first Conservative kehillah, Emet V’emunah in Jerusalem, predated the founding of the state. Today, 13 Masorti kehillot serve Jerusalem and the surrounding area. Haifa’s Kehillat Moriah, established in 1955, still serves as centrepiece to the multicultural Haifa community. The Masorti Movement has almost 80 active kehillot across Israel, and we are not alone in wanting something different. The Reform Movement established its first kehillah in 1958. Women of the Wall held their first service in 1988. Non-Haredi Judaism is woven as tightly into the fabric of Israel as our right to self-determination.

On November 10, 2015, PM Netanyahu stood before the assembly of Jewish Federations in North America promising he would “always ensure that all Jews can feel at home in Israel.” “All Jews,” he stressed, “Reform Jews, Conservative Jews, Orthodox Jews, all Jews.” But on June 25, 2017—512 days after the Kotel agreement, the product of three years of negotiations with all parties, was signed—the Prime Minister turned his back on pluralism and equality.

On July 4, just 10 days after the freeze, PM Netanyahu stated, "I am committed, and I remain committed, to making every Jew feel at home in Israel, including at the Kotel." Netanyahu added that "all we need is patience and perseverance." Our love and support of Israel is unwavering, but no longer can we play the abused partner in this relationship, asked to be quiet and accepting for the sake of shalom bayit, for the sake of unity. Non-Haredi Jews have a place and a voice in Israel. We will continue to speak, to demand that Israel turn back to the words of its Declaration of Independence, to be a land “based on freedom, justice and peace … [ensuring] 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 will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions.”

MERCAZ-Canada and Canadian Foundation for Masorti Judaism represents your voice in Israel. Together, with your help, we will continue to stand strong for pluralism and equality in Israel. We should never forsake Israel. Rather, we should support those institutions that reflect our values, redirecting resources to MERCAZ membership and donations for Masorti and other organizations that support pluralism in Israel.

With your help through membership in MERCAZ-Canada and donations to Canadian Foundation for Masorti Judaism, we will continue to fight to make religious pluralism for all Jews in Israel a reality.

Rabbi Jennifer Gorman, Executive Director
MERCAZ-Canada & Canadian Foundation for Masorti Judaism

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