In an address to the General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America on Monday, President Reuven Rivlin attempted to heal the growing rift between Diaspora Jews and Israel resulting from broken promises over the right for different streams of Judaism to worship at the Western Wall in Jerusalem.
“The symbol of unity, the Wall of our tears and joy, has become a symbol of division and disagreement,” said Rivlin. He voiced the hope “that in the future we can return to the table together, and reach an understanding on this important issue. We must all respect Israel’s democratic process, the decision-making process.
Whether we like it or not, in the only Jewish democratic state, religion and state is a political issue.”
The GA meeting had not initially been on Rivlin’s overseas travel schedule for this year, but his concern for Jewish unity and the possible loss of a Jewish Diaspora connection to the Jewish homeland, caused him to divert his plans for this week and to accept the JFNA’s invitation and to go to America only a few days after returning home from Spain.
In his first major address to the American Jewish community since taking office three-and-a-half years ago, Rivlin declared that the “State of Israel always was and always will be the home of every Jew – Orthodox, Reform, Conservative, secular, traditional, Ashkenazi, Sephardi.”
He did not mention the problems encountered by some converts to Judaism whose conversions are not recognized by the Israeli Chief Rabbinate regardless of how observant such converts might be.
Rivlin preferred to focus on challenges facing Jews in general, such as the fight against antisemitism, the preservation of Jewish identity, the safeguarding of Israelis security and the need to pass on such duties to future generations.
Rivlin also underscored that Diaspora Jewry, especially the Jews of North America, had been full partners in the establishment and development of the State of Israel.
“You are true shareholders,” he told them. “You stand beside us at times of crisis and joy. You dream with us. You challenge us. You help keep us strong. And we are strong.
I am here today to say that this cannot be taken for granted. We thank you for this sense of family – for your unconditional support and love, for your consistent message that ‘we Jews stick together’, and that ‘all Jews are responsible for one another.’ In this, we have a lot to learn from you – that is the truth.”
Rivlin emphasized the need for Israel and American Jewry to get to know each other better in order to rebuild the close relationship of the past.
On the subject of antisemitism, Rivlin noted the importance of Israel and Diaspora communities to stand together against vandalism of Jewish cemeteries, terror attacks against Jews around the world, BDS on campuses and attacks on Israel’s legitimacy in the United Nations.
“There is no room for hesitation, we must continue the fight against it as one united front,” he declared.
Rivlin also stressed the dangers posed by Iran not only to Israel but to the world at large. Iran is establishing its control through Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, and up to the Mediterranean,” he said. “This is not just a threat to Israel – it is a threat to the entire world. Iran is the number one exporter of international terrorism. It is a country whose leaders call openly for the destruction of the State of Israel.
We cannot allow Iran to have a nuclear capability. That is madness.
We must work together to prevent that. The current agreement puts both Israel and the United States in danger, and shakes the stability of the entire region. It is not enough to enforce all parts of this agreement.
It has to be improved so that we will be prepared for the day after it expires.”
Referring to the need to find a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Rivlin said: “Maintaining the security of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state is also a founding principle in any future agreement with the Palestinians.”
He also made the point that “the Israel-Palestinian conflict will not be solved by boycotts or by unilateral steps. The political hijacking of international bodies, from the UN to Interpol, only harms the chance of reaching a solution.”
Repeating the mantra that has been his watchword since his inaugural address as president, Rivlin said: “The Jewish People, the State of Israel, has never been and will never be at war with Islam. The lives of Palestinians and Israelis, Arabs and Jews, are bound together.
We live side by side, and with each other. We share the same land, the same holy places, the same water and the same sky. There will be no peace, until we all understand that we are not doomed to live together, it is our destiny to live together; Arabs and Jews.”
Rivlin also mentioned Israel’s fallen soldiers, Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin, as well as civilians Avera Mengistu and Juma Abu Ganima, who are being held in Hamas captivity and gave assurances of Israel’s commitment to their return.
In his concluding remarks, Rivlin urged his vast audience to put differences aside and to work together for the good of the Jewish people and the State of Israel.
Following his address, Rivlin met with members of Mengistu’s family who had also been invited to attend the GA.
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