Jun 27, 2017

Urgent Message From Our CEO in Israel

Friends,

At 4:00 a.m. this morning, my 17 year old son and over a hundred of his peers landed at Ben Gurion airport after a week in Poland with Ramah Seminar. In Poland, these young adults paid witness to the extermination of millions of Jews, Christians, gypsies… all who the Nazis scapegoated and deemed of no value. The Nazis didn't discriminate among our people. They murdered traditional Jews, secular Jews, Haredi Jews, Jews of all kinds. They didn't ask, nor did they care, if you were a Conservative Jew in Berlin or an Orthodox Jew from a rural community in Poland.

I tell this story because I, too, am in Israel, where I am attending the Jewish Agency meetings in Jerusalem. This has been a dark few days in Israel's history. Prime Minister Netanyahu and his cabinet made a pair of decisions that together could threaten the unity of the Jewish people and diaspora-Israel relations.

First, the Israeli government suspended the historic 2016 Western Wall (Kotel) Agreement for cynical political reasons. Prime Minister Netanyahu and all parties had already negotiated and signed the "one wall for one people" agreement to enable egalitarian prayer on an equal basis in an area of the Wall.

Second, the government introduced a bill that, if passed, would reverse the recent opening of an alternative route to conversion to Judaism and instead would return a full monopoly to Israel’s Chief Rabbinate.

My son and his Ramah chevre (friends) woke up this morning to the message that, here in what they regard as their homeland, they are not Jewish enough. They can come for the summer but will never be accepted because as primarily Conservative Jews, their mode of religious practice is not recognized. And the young women will continue to face jeers and discomfort when they pray at the wall.

This week, I participated in an emergency session to craft a unified response from The Jewish Agency for Israel and the Jewish Federations of North America. I was honored that Natan Sharansky, Chairman of the Jewish Agency and world renowned humanitarian, helped us find a balanced, principled response.

We voted to cancel a celebratory dinner with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that I would have attended last evening. Instead, we went up to the Knesset, Israel's legislature, today to push back against these dangerous steps backward.

We consulted with the leaders of the Reform and Conservative movement as well as prominent modern Orthodox Rabbis. As Rabbi Rick Jacobs, President of the Union of Reform Judaism, said when he addressed us today, we must mobilize our communities to show that we are serious about our Judaism and serious about our vision for and commitment to Israel.

My son will be part of a next generation of activists to fight against injustice. This newly proposed conversion law will establish a process in which the Chief Rabbinate will hold absolute authority over conversions and other aspects of civil life. To my son and his chevre it is clear: Jews can be murdered together without regard to their stream of Judaism but cannot pray together at the wall and their observance is invalid in the eyes of the Israeli government in their Jewish homeland.

To convince the Israeli Prime Minister to have taken these steps, cynical politicians told him that American Jews would not react. Let's show them how much we do care.

Jewish Federations have played a central role in combating previous efforts to pass harmful conversion legislation that would disenfranchise many members of our communities. South Palm Beach County has been a national leader in understanding that pluralism is crucial for Jewish unity.

So please help get the word out:

B’shalom,

Matthew Levin
President & CEO

We will continue to keep you updated. Below are additional informational resources:

Articles and op-eds: