Yes, it may be easier to be a Reform or Conservative Jew in Canada than it is in Israel. That’s how I read the title of last month’s symposium at York University in Toronto, “No Better Home for the Jews… than Canada?” Here, Jews of all religious persuasions – or none – enjoy equal rights in every respect, together with all other citizens.
Not so in Israel, alas. For example, if a Conservative or Reform rabbi there marries a Jewish couple, the marriage won’t be recognized by the state. The couple would have to go abroad for a civil marriage to be accepted as a married couple by authorities in Israel.
The issue that’s currently threatening Israel-Diaspora relations is the rescinding of a commitment by the Netanyahu government, in an effort to placate Orthodox coalition partners, to provide equal space for egalitarian worship at the Western Wall. Conservative and Reform Jews all over the world are outraged.
As Israel becomes more economically secure and politically allied to the present U.S. administration, its prime minister and his colleagues seem to falsely and ominously assume that Israel no longer needs the influence and affluence of American Jewry, where most of the world’s non-Orthodox religious Jews live.
Naama Klar, the managing director of the Reut Institute, a Tel Aviv-based think- tank, wrote in this paper last month that, in response to the discrimination against non-Orthodox Jews, some leaders from those denominations have urged their communities to take political and economic action against Israel, and a growing number of young Jews in the Diaspora appear to be distancing themselves from the Jewish state.
READ: THE JNF REACHES COMPROMISE WITH THE ISRAELI GOVERNMENT
This is alarming. The response by all of us should, of course, be the very opposite. In view of the onslaught against pluralism in Israel, Jews living abroad should endeavour to strengthen politically, psychologically and financially the institutions that promote equality and democracy in Israel.
The response to the York University symposium should be that though it may seem easier to lead a non-Orthodox Jewish life in the Diaspora, the safety of Jews and the future of Judaism are inextricably bound up with the State of Israel. Therefore, despite the frustrations and the sense of betrayal by opportunistic politicians, it behooves Conservative and Reform Jews in the Diaspora to forge even stronger links with Israel, especially with like-minded people and organizations, and to increase support for them.
Opportunities abound. The Reform movement in Israel has today some 50 congregations and several significant educational and advocacy institutions. This week, the Israel Rabbinical Programme of the Hebrew Union College ordained its 100th rabbi who was trained in Israel and, like most graduates, was born in the country.
These women and men, together with the role models who inspired them, the institutions that trained them and the congregations that employ them, deserve the commitment of like-minded men and women from all over the world. Turning away from Israel is a cheap protest that plays into the hands of opponents and harms the cause of protesters.
What’s true for Reform Jews in Israel is in equal measure true of their Masorti (Conservative) sisters and brothers in the land.
The lies their opponents spread want the public to believe that the Conservative and Reform movements are agents of erosion of authentic Judaism and promoters of assimilation. A former chief rabbi has even dared to aver that they’re worse than Holocaust deniers.
Those who attack liberal Judaism refuse to see that it has made Judaism possible – not easy, but possible! – for millions of Jews all over the world. Their close links to Israel are essential for their lives as Jews.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu describes himself not only as the leader of the Jewish state, but of the entire Jewish People. It’s for us to remind him in every possible way that, to earn this title, it behooves him to act in the interest of all Jews, not only his political allies.