Conservative Movement promotes aliya

Special liaison appointed ahead of new campaign; immigrants to be matched with Masorti communities.

conservative rabbis 248 88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
conservative rabbis 248 88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The Conservative Movement will launch a campaign to encourage immigration to Israel from North and South America during the movement's annual Rabbinical Assembly convention this week in Jerusalem. "In the next two to three years we want to at least double aliya to Israel from North America," said Tzvi Graetz, executive director of Mercaz Olami, the Conservative Movement's international political arm. In 2008 there were 399 Conservative immigrants from North America, which represents 15% of the total, according to Jewish Agency statistics provided by Graetz. "Our rabbis will be talking more about aliya in the synagogue. Rabbis will also be made aware of the tools available to potential olim, such as the Conservative Movement's special shaliah aliya Naomi Freedman." Freedman was appointed as the movement's special liaison for immigration to Israel in December. She is based in New York. Rabbi Andy Sacks, director of the Masorti [Conservative] Movement's Rabbinical Assembly in Israel, said the timing of the new campaign was the result of an internal decision-making process. "There are a few people in the movement's leadership, such as Rabbi Graetz and Rabbi Paul Freedman, chair of the Aliya Committee, who see aliya as very important," he said. "Although the Conservative Movement has always been Zionist, this campaign is a little bit radical." Sacks doubted that the current economic crisis would significantly increase immigration to Israel from North America. But he estimated it might have an impact on aliya from South America. Graetz said the decision to launch the campaign was also connected to the success of Nefesh B'nefesh. "We saw what they were doing and we reached the conclusion in the movement that we are not doing enough to encourage aliya," he said. Graetz said the campaign would be launched in coordination with the Jewish Agency and Nefesh B'nefesh. Graetz said a concerted effort would be made to help new Conservative immigrants to Israel by matching them with the various Masorti communities in Israel. One of these communities is Kibbutz Hanaton, the only Conservative kibbutz, which has been radically revamped in the past few years and will soon be populated by 20 new Israeli families, including rabbis and educators. Graetz said the campaign would also target Conservative communities in South America. He said that one community in Israel, headed by Rabbi Mauricio Balter of Kiryat Bialik, has successfully attracted 300 families from South America. Various steps will be taken to encourage immigration among North and South American Conservative Jews. For instance, rabbis from Israel will visit communities abroad to explain about Israel. In addition to the immigration campaign, the Rabbinical Assembly will vote on several resolutions. One of them is a resolution to support the dissolution of the Orthodox Chief Rabbinate of Israel. "We challenge the efficacy of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel in light of the country's diverse, and increasingly non-Orthodox citizenry," said the RA in a press release. Assembly participants will include the newly-appointed executive vice president, Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, who is the first full-time female rabbi to assume the helm of a Conservative rabbinical organization in a salaried professional capacity; Rabbi Joel Meyers, the outgoing executive vice president, who has led the organization for 20 years; Rabbi Jeffrey Wohlberg, president of the RA; Rabbi Barry Schlesinger, chair of the convention; Rabbi David Golinkin, president of the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies and Dr. Arnold M. Eisen, chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary.