WASHINGTON – Close to 50 protesters, among them a dozen rabbis, warned the Israeli government on Thursday that the recent arrest of a woman carrying a Torah at the Kotel risked alienating American Jewry.

“I’m a proud Zionist, and I’m in love with Israel,” said Rabbi Jonathan Roos, addressing a crowd standing outside the Israeli Embassy in 90ºF (32ºC) heat. But he said the July 13 arrest of Anat Hoffman “sullies the entire Zionist enterprise.”

Another demonstrator, Washington lawyer Rebecca Sendor-Israel, said, “I love Israel, and I’m scared of what the Israel that I love is becoming.”

The arrest of Hoffman, a leader of the Reform Movement in Israel, comes at a delicate time in Israeli-Diaspora relations, as members of the American community have mobilized to oppose a conversion bill in the Knesset that would anchor in law Orthodox rabbis’ control over the process in Israel.

It was an Orthodox rabbi, however, who organized Thursday’s protest, in part to show that many Orthodox Jews embrace the right of women to hold Torah scrolls, and oppose Hoffman’s arrest.

“This is the greatest desecration of God’s name, the fact that Jews arrested other Jews for holding a Torah,” Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld of Washington’s National Synagogue said. “According to Jewish law, a woman is permitted to hold a Torah scroll.”

At Thursday’s rally, Herzfeld called on Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren to denounce the arrest.

“He should come out publicly and say this arrest doesn’t represent Israel, this arrest doesn’t represent him and that he’s embarrassed by it,” the rabbi said.

He recalled that Oren hadn’t objected when he celebrated Rosh Hashana at Herzfeld’s synagogue and women carried Torah scrolls on their side of the mehitza, a barrier separating men and women.

Herzfeld added that Oren had declined a subsequent invitation to return to his congregation to address the arrest or meet with him at the embassy.

An embassy spokesman did not return a call seeking a response.

At the protest’s conclusion on Thursday, Herzfeld stood outside the gate to the embassy demanding to see Oren or other officials.

In the end, he met with Galit Baram, counselor for public affairs.

Herzfeld said that at the meeting, he had urged the government to speak out against what happened.

“Their silence here is just adding to the upset of the people here in America,” he told The Jerusalem Post after the meeting. “We expect them to recognize that this was something that was deeply, deeply offensive to the American Jewish community, and we want the Israeli government to forcefully distance themselves from this policy.”

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