US Conservative rabbis visit Israel

Two fallen soldiers, captive Gilad Shalit have ties to Masorti Movement.

conservative rabbis 248 88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
conservative rabbis 248 88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
A group of lay leaders and rabbis from the Conservative movement in the US arrived Monday on a solidarity mission, made poignant by the movement's connection with three IDF victims of the violence in Gaza and Lebanon. Cpl. Gilad Shalit, the soldier kidnapped by Hamas near Gaza on June 25, and two soldiers killed in action on July 12, Sgt.-Maj. Eyal Benin from Omer and St.-Sgt. Yaniv Bar-On of Modi'in, all had ties with the Masorti (Conservative) Movement in Israel. The high representation of soldiers with ties to the Conservative Movement "shows the extent to which the movement has made serious inroads in Israeli society. It's unfortunate that this is the way we discover how much impact we are having," said Rabbi Neil Zuckerman of Temple Israel Center in White Plains, New York, who is leading the group. The delegation - from New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, California, Connecticut, Illinois and Michigan - will visit the Bar-On family in Modi'in on Wednesday. Asher and Carlene Bar-On, Yaniv's parents, are among the founders of the Masorti Shalhevet-Hamaccabim congregation, said David Ginsberg, a fellow congregant and friend. Eyal Benin celebrated his bar mitzva at the Magen Avraham Masorti synagogue in Omer. Rabbi Michael Graetz, who headed the congregation at the time, said, "Our bar mitzva program included activities that continued after the bar mitzva ceremony. Eyal headed the synagogue cleaning committee and took part in the high school graduation ceremony also." Shalit also celebrated his bar mitzva in a Masorti synagogue. But the Shalit family did not stay involved with the congregation, according to Rabbi Zvi Berger of Kfar Vradim, a Galilee town adjacent to Mitzpe Hila, where the Shalits live. "The Shalits are the type of family that comes to us for answers to their spiritual needs," said Berger, who has visited the family three times since the kidnapping. The US delegation of rabbis is slated to visit both Omer and Kfar Vradim. They will also meet with Conservative rabbis in the Haifa area, including Rabbi Maurizio Banter, who has been providing spiritual and material assistance to thousands of families forced to spend long hours in bomb shelters. David Lissy, executive director of the Masorti Foundation and a member of the delegation, said that Camp Noam-Ramah, located near Givat Haviva, will expand its ranks to include children from the North, and provide scholarships to needy families. Zuckerman said that the goal of the visit is "first and foremost to strengthen our Israeli brothers and sisters. "We have a sign in front of our shul in White Plains that says: 'Wherever we stand, we stand with Israel,'" he said. "It has a theological meaning. But it also has a very practical meaning. And that's why we are here."