Maia Morag — Israeli Chronicles
Our Open Letter Regarding the Kotel Agreement, Conversion Law
As the dust begins to settle after the frustrating announcements regarding the Kotel agreement and the conversion law, I wanted to assure you of the Federation’s commitment to pursuing religious pluralism in Israel.
I dedicated much of the last ten years to creating a Jewish pluralistic reality in Israel. Before coming to work in the Cincinnati Jewish community as a Shlicha, I was the Director of the educational department at BINA, a social action agency that strives to strengthen Israel as a democratic pluralistic society. Judaism belongs to all of us, and there needs to be a change in Israel that allows different ways of expression of Judaism.
Why is that important? Living in a Jewish State means that all aspects of public life are Jewish: language, history, literature, culture, the arts, even street names. All decisions made by the government shape public life and influence Israelis every day. These decisions shape what Shabbat looks like; if restaurants can stay open on Shabbat, and if so, where; if public transportation runs on Shabbat; who can get married and divorced in Israel, and how; what is considered a kosher place, and who determines that; who teaches children in public schools, and what is taught. All of these are burning questions, questions that affect daily life in Israel.
To many Israelis, the Kotel agreement and the conversion bill don’t affect their daily lives. To many, the Kotel battle is one for the Women of the Wall. The conversion bill mainly affects Russian immigrants. So it’s a challenge to explain that these two issues are important and worth fighting for. How do you explain that these decisions affect liberal Jews all over the world? How do you show that failing to recognize the diversity that exists around the world and in Israel severely affects other decisions that impact Israelis’ daily lives and damage the Israel-Diaspora relationship?
I felt the need to take action – to let the Israeli government know how important this issue is to Diaspora Jews and to Israelis, and to support the work of Natan Sharansky, the Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI), and the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA). I am one of a few hundred emissaries, or Shlichim, of the Jewish Agency, serving Jewish communities and college campuses around the world, who work to foster mutual understanding and appreciation between Diaspora Jews and the State of Israel. We strive for unity without uniformity.
On behalf of the other Shlichim, I, together with three colleagues, composed an open letter to Sharansky, addressing Jews in Israel, Diaspora Jews, and the government of Israel. The letter has been signed by more than 200 Shlichim. It was published in Haaretz and in The New York Times. In the letter, we expressed our collective concern that these decisions are harming the delicate bonds between the two communities; and that these actions cause irrefutable damage to our collective future as a united Jewish people, to Israel’s security and economic interests, and to the very essence and character of the Jewish nation state.
The Jewish Federation of Cincinnati was a pioneer in defending religious pluralism in Israel. Kim Heiman and Shep Englander served on the Global Planning Table of JFNA and advocated that the Israel Religious Expression Platform (iRep), an initiative which focuses on freedom of marriage in Israel, become a priority for Jewish Federations to support. The Israel & Overseas Committee of the Jewish Federation of Cincinnati decided to make a lead gift in support of the iRep platform. Since then, 17 other Federations including Washington, DC and New Jersey Metro West have followed suit. This past year, iRep launched a major billboard and media campaign promoting freedom of marriage in Israel. Through our Annual Campaign, the Federation continues to support iRep and other grassroots programs advancing the cause of pluralism in Israel, showing a strong commitment to this effort.
I call on you to continue to take a firm stance on the importance of religious pluralism.
- Contact the Israel Consul General in New York and share with him the community’s disappointment on the government decision to suspend the Kotel agreement, and ask the Consuls General to communicate with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to tell them how disastrous this new conversion legislation would be. If you send an email, please cc: Shep Englander (email@example.com).
Consul General Dani Dayan
Consulate General of Israel in New York
- Send a letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Send to Dani Wassner, Director of Government Relations, Jewish Federation of North America’s (JFNA) Israel Office (firstname.lastname@example.org). Please cc: Shep Englander (email@example.com).
- Share your concerns with anyone you know who lives in Israel or has family there.
You can also share your concern about these decisions on social media using #onewallonepeople or sharing our post. This is an opportunity to raise the issue of religious pluralism to the top of the agenda in Israel. The change you are hoping for is within reach, but we need your help, partnership, and love to get us there.