#30 Jerry Silverman - Fighting the diaspora’s uphill battle

Silverman was among leading US Jewish figures who expressed their anger and disappointment in June after the Israeli government indefinitely froze an agreement for an egalitarian prayer.

September 20, 2017 13:38
2 minute read.
Jerry Silverman standing at the Western Wall.

Jerry Silverman standing at the Western Wall. . (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)


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It’s been a challenging year for Jewish Federations of North America president and CEO Jerry Silverman. An uptick in antisemitism in the US, including dozens of threats to JCCs across the country, was cause for grave concern at the beginning of 2017, as was the deepening rift between major players in Diaspora Jewry and the Israeli government over issues of religious pluralism.

Silverman was among leading US Jewish figures who expressed their anger and disappointment in June after the Israeli government indefinitely froze an agreement for an egalitarian prayer section at the Western Wall and on the same day advanced controversial legislation on conversion. In an internal email to executive chairs and leadership of the federations, Silverman described legislation that would give the Israeli Chief Rabbinate total monopoly over conversion as potentially ‘disastrous’ for global Jewry. Silverman spoke directly with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu about the matter.

“I believe he did listen and I am hopeful we can stop the conversion bill as it is right now,” Silverman told The Jerusalem Post at the time. A temporary solution has since been reached on the conversion issue, under which the state, together with the Reform and Masorti movements will request that the High Court of Justice delay by at least six months a ruling on a petition to grant non-Orthodox converts recognition by the state. In return, the haredi parties agreed to suspend their legislation. Silverman told the Federation’s executive directors that their activity, along with other Jewish groups, had been effective after they pressed the issue to local Israeli consuls general, wrote letters and emails to those of influence and spoke out to the media.

In recent comments to the Post, however, Silverman --who usually takes an optimistic approach to Israel and the Jewish people--raised doubts that the the country is acting as the nation state of all the Jewish people. He noted that the sudden suspension of the Western Wall agreement after three and a half years of negotiations and the conversion legislation, which would permanently prevent non-Orthodox converts in Israel obtaining citizenship, “devalued 85% of Diaspora Jewry” and created doubts as to the country’s commitment to its brethren abroad.

In June, Silverman told the Post that he is “the eternal optimist when it comes to the Jewish people, because I believe in the people of Israel...I believe that over time we’ll be able to bring this back together and focus on what is really key, which is the Jewish people.”

It seems, however, as though his faith --and that of the Jewish communities he presides over--has been severely shaken.

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