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Rabbi leads Knesset’s first egalitarian minyan

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Rabbi Jennifer Gorman, wearing a tam, led services in the chapel of Israel’s Knesset.

TORONTO — On Tuesday, Jan. 24, Rabbi Jennifer Gorman, executive director of Mercaz-Canada and the Canadian Foundation for Masorti Judaism, led what was described as the first mixed-gender prayer service in the chapel of the Knesset building in Jerusalem.

Rabbi Gorman was the only Canadian on a four-day mission of 21 Conservative and rabbinic and lay leaders from North America. Mercaz-Canada is the Conservative movement’s Zionist organization, and the Canadian Foundation for Masorti Judaism supports the work of Israel’s Masorti movement, which is affiliated with the Conservative movement.

The group, which was joined by counterparts from the Masorti movement in Israel, visited the Knesset to meet with Israeli lawmakers and discuss issues of religious pluralism and religious extremism in Israel. Following the meeting, the group held an afternoon service in the men’s section of the Knesset synagogue, which traditionally holds only Orthodox worship services, according to Ynet.

The visitors were not “looking to make waves” with the prayer service, Rabbi Gorman told The CJN in a phone interview. Mission participants davened every day, and they asked if the chapel would be available during their Jan. 24 Knesset visit, she said.

The politicians “came out favourably in saying [the chapel] is a public space, even some from the far right,” she said.

The group met with Dan Meridor, Israel’s deputy prime minister, and MKs Uzi Landau (minister of energy and water resources), Yohanan Plesner, Isaac Herzog and Orit Zuaretz. Opposition leader Tzipi Livni, head of the Kadima party, spoke to participants at their opening dinner.

Rabbi Gorman is heartened that politicians want to speak to the Masorti group – “not just the Kadima party but from Labour and Likud and Yisrael Beitenu, so it’s not just the people who agree with us.

“We want them to hear what we are looking for… We’d like to see the guarantees in law for pluralism, not just for Masorti. We’d like to see equal funding for different schools.”

She’s optimistic that change is on the way. “They’re realizing Israelis want something more. Their constituents also want something that’s a little different. There’s a realization among many Israeli politicians that there needs to be more to Jewish identity than to live in Israel. As Orthodoxy moves further right, most Israelis aren’t going there. That’s significant.”

She added: “We need people who identify as Israeli. If you move further right [religiously], you have people who don’t identify as Israeli living in Israel.”

Rabbi Gorman noted that the group was not suggesting that Masorti “is instead of Orthodoxy. We’re saying this is in addition to Orthodoxy, so that your choice isn’t [only] to send your child to an ultra-Orthodox school or a completely secular school.

“Many Israelis today don’t know what it means to be Jewish. They just know what it means to be Israeli.”

Rabbi Gorman, who was visiting Masorti sites for the first time since taking on her new position last year, said the movement has made “amazing strides” in Israel in recent years. In the past two years alone, she said, 10 new kehillot have been established

With files from JTA

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