Amichai Chikli's father: He has 'openness, tolerance of inclusion' - interview

Last week, Chikli emphasized that he was not a member of the Conservative movement and did not grow up as a Conservative Jew.

 MK AMICHAI CHIKLI attends the House Committee meeting in the Knesset last week at which he was declared a defector. (photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)
MK AMICHAI CHIKLI attends the House Committee meeting in the Knesset last week at which he was declared a defector.
(photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu knew what he was doing when he chose Amichai Chikli to be Diaspora affairs minister (and social equality minister), according to Chikli’s father, Dr. Eitan Chikli, a former Conservative rabbi.

“He has this openness to him,” he told The Jerusalem Post. “He breathes Judaism. He grew up in a house where our best friends were Conservative and Reform rabbis. He knows that they [progressive Jews] don’t have horns or tails.”

“Amichai has an openness and tolerance of inclusion, which is so important for a Diaspora [affairs] minister,” Chikli said from his home in Mexico.

Last week, Amichai Chikli emphasized that he was not currently a member of the Conservative movement and did not grow up as a Conservative Jew.

“There is no such thing as a Conservative Tunisian, but I have a deep acquaintance with Conservative Judaism,” he said at a conference.

New Knesset member Amichai Chikli  seen at the Knesset , ahead of the opening Knesset session of the new government, on April 05, 2021. (credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)New Knesset member Amichai Chikli seen at the Knesset , ahead of the opening Knesset session of the new government, on April 05, 2021. (credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)

Affiliated with the Conservative movement

Chikli, 41, is a member of Kibbutz Hanaton, which is affiliated with the Conservative movement.

Eitan Chikli is the president and rector of the Hebrew University in Mexico (Universidad Hebraica México) and was a Conservative rabbi in Israel for a decade, though he never practiced.

He was “a leading Conservative rabbi in Israel,” the Post recently reported.

In the interview, Chikli said that was not true, adding: “If you want to claim that I was a leading educational figure in Israel, I’m willing to accept [that characterization], but I never was a community rabbi, and after 10 years, I cut ties with the movement for personal reasons.”

“Our home was always a warm Jewish household with a festive Shabbat dinner,” he said of his son’s upbringing. “As a child, Amichai prayed with me at traditional Moroccan synagogues.”

Raising his son in Jerusalem, he said they attended synagogues affiliated with other religious streams.

“We were open to different expressions of Judaism,” he said. “This is something that is true about me and has greatly affected my family... We just want to feel welcome and at home in any Jewish community. You don’t have to have a limited, closed identity. This is how I grew up and how I live my Judaism. This probably affected Amichai’s Jewish identity.”

Amichai “lives in a kibbutz founded by the Conservative movement, which has more Reform members than Conservative ones,” he said. “Yet most of the people on this Kibbutz are just Israelis. Sometimes Amichai prays at the liberal synagogue on the Kibbutz and other times at the Sephardic synagogue” due to the emotional weight it carries for him.

“There are attempts to put him in a closed box,” Chikli said. “People are trying to [portray it] as though Amichai has a conflict with the Orthodox, but that has nothing to do with reality. It is difficult for people in Israel to accept Jewish identities that are not boxed, and this is one of Israel’s problems.”

Who is Eitan Chikli?

EITAN CHIKLI was born in Tunisia and moved to France with his parents at the age of 10 after the Six-Day War. He made aliyah on his 19th birthday and lived in Israel through 2020, when he was asked to run a private Jewish university in Mexico.

Chikli received rabbinic ordination from the Schechter Rabbinical Seminary in Jerusalem, affiliated with the Jewish Theological Seminary of the Conservative movement.

“I held the title of rabbi for 10 years and then informed my colleagues in the movement that I decided to suspend my membership,” he said.

Chikli said he did not leave the movement “out of anger, but rather because it didn’t define me. I was unwilling to live according to Halacha, and a Conservative rabbi has an obligation to do so. I realized that it did not reflect my lifestyle anymore.”

Chikli said he was happy for his son’s position, but it creates a problem for him because his institution receives funding through a subsidiary of the ministry.

“Until now, I had a relatively good relationship with the Diaspora Affairs Ministry,” he said. “There is now a conflict of interest, and Amichai is very tough on conflict-of-interest matters. He will refuse to talk to me about any assistance.”

Chikli said he was working for the university, an academic institution that also deals with Jewish education, as the local representative for UnitED, the Diaspora Affairs Ministry subsidiary that works with formal Jewish education outside of Israel, “way before Amichai was even considered becoming the Diaspora minister.”

Asked if he gave his son any tips, Chikli said he only gave him one tip of advice: “Cooperation with the national institutions in Israel,” such as the Jewish Agency, the World Zionist Organization and the Jewish National Fund. “The biggest problem Jewish people in the Diaspora face today is Jewish education and lack of a high level of teachers for Judaic studies. The most difficult problem is that there is no new generation of proper teachers for Hebrew and Judaism.”

Hebrew-language studies are weak at best, Chikli said, adding that he would like to establish a fund “that will change these trends of abandoning the field of education [in Jewish schools in the Diaspora]. If this won’t be done, generations after us will remember this moment.”

“Diaspora Judaism seems to be weakening – not disappearing but weakening,” he said. “The challenge is substantial.”

Last week, Chikli visited the largest Jewish school in Mexico. It has 2,000 students, and some “95% of the teachers don’t even have a bachelor’s degree in education or in any other field,” he said. “They didn’t learn anything. The principal said he does not have enough money to pay a respectable salary.”

“I am very sad that in the only state of the Jewish people, they do not allow alternative expressions of Judaism,” Chikli said. “The fact that we live in a country that tries to establish a situation where only Orthodox Judaism is legitimate saddens me.”

Furthermore, “the gap is getting stronger,” he said of the divide within Israel. “My best friends are Reform and Conservative Jews. I know their sadness, and I feel that Israel is making an extremely difficult strategic mistake.”

“Many Israel[is] are unfortunately creating a disconnection from the Jews of the Diaspora,” Chikli said. “That’s a shame. The attitude of American Jewry would be different if we didn’t treat it with disdain and lack of respect, and that’s a shame.”