Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh CEO, Jeff Finkelstein speaks at a news conference the day after the Tree of Life synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh.
(photo credit: REUTERS/AARON JOSEFCZYK)
Jeff Finkelstein, the representative of Diaspora Jewry who lit a torch at the annual Independence Day ceremony earlier this month, has called on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to implement the Western Wall resolution and ensure that progressive Jews feel welcome in the Jewish state.
In a letter to Netanyahu, seen by The Jerusalem Post, he “implored” the prime minister to “fight harder” to ensure that all Jews feel welcome in Israel, and to implement the 2016 Western Wall agreement which was indefinitely frozen in 2017.
Finkelstein, the president of the Jewish Federation of Pittsburgh, was chosen to light the torch by Culture Minister Miri Regev because of his work and that of his federation in helping the victims of the Tree of Life Congregation shooting last year and the victims of the Christchurch mosque shootings in New Zealand in March.
Regev initially decided not to grant a Diaspora representative the honor of lighting a torch, but was heavily criticized as having insulted world Jewry. She eventually reversed her decision.
Finkelstein began his letter to the prime minister by stating that he and his community had been greatly honored by the opportunity to light a torch at the ceremony, and spoke of Diaspora Jewry’s love for Israel.
He nevertheless alluded to the strained ties between Israel and North American Jewry, in particular over the lack of equal status for the non-Orthodox denominations, and asked the prime minister to work harder on these issues.
“As you are well aware, the Jewish Federations of North America are deeply concerned about the state of pluralism in Israel and the lack of acceptance of our progressive movements,” wrote Finkelstein.
He said that he knows Netanyahu is also concerned for the rights of “Jews of all backgrounds” and asked him to “fight harder to ensure that all Jews are made to feel welcome – and equal – in the Jewish state.”
Finkelstein “urged” the prime minister to make this issue a priority, “along with completing the work on the Kotel you had committed to, making an egalitarian prayer space with a unified entrance a reality.”
One of the key components of the 2016 Western Wall agreement was that both the egalitarian prayer section at the southern end of the site and the central prayer plaza have one, shared entrance so that the entire complex includes both prayer spaces.
The plan was formally adopted by the government in 2016, but frozen in June 2017 due to pressure from the haredi and hardline national-religious political and rabbinic leadership, who strongly oppose any recognition of non-Orthodox Judaism and practices in Israel.
Finkelstein pointed out that recent polls have indicated that significant majorities of Israeli citizens back greater Jewish pluralism in the Jewish state.
“Mr. Prime Minister, allow me to conclude by once again thanking you for this honor, and by asking that you continue to take into account those members of our People who do not live in our Homeland,” ended Finkelstein’s letter.
“Just as you were there for Pittsburgh in our hour of greatest need, please continue to be there for us throughout the year, by ensuring that we feel welcome and respected in the Jewish state.”
The Prime Minister’s Office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
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