American Jews partcipate in the annual Israel Day Parade 370.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Two months ago, my family and I buried my father next to my mother in Israel.
My parents taught us that we are a blessed generation to have Israel, as so many previous generations did not. They would have done anything to support the Jewish state, and we took that to heart.
My brother and sister made aliya. My aunt Anne has 19 sabra great-grandchildren. However, my parents would have both struggled, as I and so many North American Jews are right now, with the issues challenging our relationship with Israel today – among them pluralism, conversion and the Western Wall.
In Israel, these issues have become political challenges that cause us to ask another difficult question: can Israel truly be the nation-state of the Jewish people – the entire Jewish people – when there is no official recognition of non-Orthodox movements there? This is not an Israeli issue, and this is not a Diaspora issue. This is a Jewish issue.
When we say “kol yisrael arevim zeh lazeh,” that all Jews are responsible for one another, we mean it.
And the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) demonstrates this through its actions every single day. We believe Israelis need to demonstrate that same feeling of responsibility for and inclusion of all of world Jewry as well.
That’s why it was deeply challenging and frustrating for so many of us this past June when the Israeli government suspended its commitment – its long-negotiated contractual promise – to implement the Western Wall agreement. The agreement would have not only created a much-enhanced space where men and women could pray together, accessed from the main Western Wall plaza, but would also have provided for a governing council that included those who would utilize the space. At the same time, the government tried to advance a conversion bill to give the Orthodox Chief Rabbinate full legal control over conversions in Israel.
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Since that time, many of us have sought and created opportunities to tell Israeli officials from the prime minister on down how hurt and angry we are, how such decisions are creating a rift between Israel and far too many Jews worldwide. Last week, at the 2017 General Assembly (GA) of the JFNA, we passed a resolution that both reaffirms our unending support for the people and State of Israel, and urges the Israeli government to reverse its decision on the Western Wall agreement and permanently halt the conversion bill. We want Israeli leaders to understand the strong feelings on these matters, and their detrimental effect on Jewish unity and world Jewry relations.
We continue to work closely with our partners at the Jewish Agency for Israel – in particular its extraordinary chairman, Natan Sharansky – to develop a sustainable, long-term plan to bring the egalitarian space to fruition. Just as Abraham and Sarah opened their tent to all, we look to Israel to deliver on its promise as a truly welcoming home for all Jews.
Last week at GA 2017, we heard both Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, via live satellite feed, and President Reuven Rivlin, in person, suggest, as the president put it, that the Western Wall “has become a symbol of division and disagreement.”
But both leaders told us that they remain committed to creating the egalitarian space. In his first public speech in North America since assuming office a year ago, President Rivlin spoke of his hope that “in the future, we can return to the table together and reach an understanding on this important issue. It is our mutual responsibility and a common interest.”
Prime Minister Netanyahu also said he “remained committed to moving forward.”
We have been patient. For a long time, Jewish Federations have worked with our partners and invested considerable time and effort to reach a compromise.
We understand the political realities. However, our patience is wearing thin. It is critical that we come together around the table and discuss the path forward.
JFNA will bring its General Assembly to Israel for the fifth time next October. We are hoping that these issues will be behind us by then, and that we can celebrate a promise fulfilled: “One Wall for One People.”
My parents – who are resting at Har HaMenuchot, the cemetery at the entrance of Jerusalem – always believed that our greatest strength lies in the unity of the Jewish people. I look forward to our moving closer together over the coming year.The author is president and CEO of the Jewish Federations of North America.
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