Oren’s plea

Michael Oren’s plea should be heeded by an Israel that wants to be the homeland of all Jews.

Michael Oren at Zedekiah’s Cave (photo credit: GPO)
Michael Oren at Zedekiah’s Cave
(photo credit: GPO)
In late November, some 150 journalists and bloggers from 30 countries visited Israel for four days as part of the Government Press Office’s 3rd Jewish Media Summit, and were treated to the whole gamut of the Israeli experience, from tours of the country to talks by a range of personalities and politicians.
Hosted by GPO director Nitzan Chen, we heard the affable President Reuven Rivlin declaring that there are four tribes in Israel – the national religious, ultra-Orthodox, secular and Arabs – and Diaspora Jewry represents the fifth. “The world is a small village and the Jewish people is the fifth tribe,” he said. “Whether we like it or not, the Diaspora and Israel are all in it together, with the same goals and the same needs.”
In a question-and-answer session in the Knesset later that day, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the journalists that “every Jew who wants to has Israel as his home.”
Referring to the shrinking Diaspora, he added: “The disappearance of Jewish identity is what concerns me. There are disturbing demographic trends, especially in assimilation, which is chipping away at our numbers.” On the positive side, he noted, almost half of the world’s 14 million Jews now live in Israel, and he claimed that “the secular Jews of Israel have the highest growth rate in the advanced world.”
“Did you know that the Jewish birthrate exceeded the non-Jewish birthrate this year for the first time in a decade?” he asked the journalists, predicting that “very soon, within a period of a few years, for the first time since the Second Temple era which was 2,000 years ago, the majority of Jews will live in Israel.”
But perhaps the best speech we heard came from Dr. Michael Oren, deputy minister in the Prime Minister’s Office, who urged Israel to recognize Reform and Conservative Judaism in the wake of the massacre at the Tree of Life, a Conservative synagogue in Pittsburgh, in which 11 Jews were murdered.
“The State of Israel has not recognized Conservative and Reform movements in the United States as legitimate Jewish movements, and that has become increasingly painful for the people who belong to these two movements,” Oren told the opening of the summit at the spectacular Zedekiah’s Cave in Jerusalem. “They are the largest two movements in American Jewry, at a time when American Jewry is challenged by assimilation, and it feels deeply threatened by rising antisemitism on the right and on the left. This is not the time for this community to be alienated in any way by the State of Israel, particularly for young, liberal American Jews. When you look at their feelings about the State of Israel, it’s very disturbing indeed.
“In a New York Times op-ed that I wrote after the Pittsburgh Massacre, I called on my own government to finally recognize the Reform and Conservative movements in the United States, and that this was a very fitting response to this horrible event in a way of shoring up American Jewry and showing that we truly stood with them at this difficult moment. But beyond that, I mentioned in this article that only a few weeks before we had passed the Nationality Law, and the law states expressly that Israel is the nation state of the Jewish people, of all the Jewish people, irrespective of where they live, irrespective of how they practice as Jews or don’t. By recognizing the Reform and Conservative movements, we would actually be complying with the statute that we had passed.”
Rivlin and Netanyahu might not be on the same page on this issue – but Oren’s plea should be heeded by an Israel that wants to be the homeland of all Jews.