The trajectory is clear

Religion & State was front and center at the 2017 General Assembly

The religion-state stew is clearly boiling. This week, the General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America convened in Los Angeles, and these challenges were front and center.

Jewish Federations of North AmericaJewish Federations of North America

The trajectory is clear. Given the intensity of the ultra-Orthodox political parties' pressure and the Knesset's legislative docket (which promises to keep the religion-state debate on high flame week-in and week-out in the coming months), we will, in all likelihood, see a parallel process for Diaspora Jewry in general and American Jewry in particular.

This development is not only important to strengthen the hands of groups (like Hiddush) that work on the ground in Israel to counter these churning theocratic currents and advance the realization of Israel's founding vision of freedom of religion and equality. It is a development that is also welcomed by the overwhelming majority of Israelis, as we have demonstrated in numerous polls that Hiddush has commissioned.

Given the increasing realization of American Jewish leadership of the direct impact of recent political and legislative initiatives launched at them in Israel, there is little surprise that these issues occupied a large portion of the JFNA President & CEO's opening address. “Can Israel truly be the nation-state of the Jewish people when there is not official recognition of non-Orthodox movements in Israel?” he asked. We only wish that the JFNA were more ready to embrace a wider, more principled and more proactive agenda, as put forth in the recent Vision Statement for Israel as a Jewish democratic state.

There is no doubt, though, that the growing, deliberate, insulting blows delivered by Israeli political leaders to American Jewry, particularly its non-Orthodox segments, will ultimately bring about the realization that what is at stake is not just the Kotel and the Conversion Bill. What should be demanded is not merely returning to the status quo and removing these two matters from the political docket. These issues also occupied a significant place in the intensive GA program.

Hiddush's Chairman Stanley Gold, a past President of L.A. Federation, moderated a session on Federation investment in Israel religious freedom initiatives.

Einat Hurvitz, Director of the JFNA's Israel Religious Expressions Platform (IREP) provided a briefing at the GA. Hurvitz covered IREP's strategy to advance religious diversity, as well as its work to build grassroots support for freedom in marriage in Israel and the impact of this effort. Also, Hiddush's Chairman Stanley Gold, a past President of L.A. Federation, moderated a session on Federation investment in Israel religious freedom initiatives. During this session, representatives of three key Jewish Federations spoke about their respective Federations' work in advancing religious pluralism in Israel. Additionally, Yaakov Katz, Editor-in-Chief of the Jerusalem Post, moderated an Israel-Diaspora roundtable, which focused on Western Wall access and conversion acceptance. Other GA sessions also touched upon these sensitive issues.

Similarly, Israel's challenge of religion & state was reflected in a pointed JFNA resolution, calling on Israel to reverse its “divisive and damaging” steps to freeze an agreement on egalitarian prayer at the Western Wall, as well as its support of a bill that would grant a monopoly to Orthodox authorities in Israel over conversions to Judaism. The resolution warns that ignoring the concerns of the non-Orthodox Jewish movements could “undermine the Zionist vision and the State of Israel’s sacred role as a national home for the entire Jewish people.” We couldn't have said it better ourselves.

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