MERCAZ USA New Year's E-Letter for 5772
MERCAZ USA

September 2011 MERCAZ USA New Year's E-Letter Elul 5771
Wishing one and all a Shanah Tovah Oometookah. May 5772 be a Year of Peace and Blessing for the State Of Israel, the Jewish People and the Entire World. From Janet Tobin, President &  Rabbi Robert R. Golub, Executive Director
WELCOME to the MERCAZ USA New Year's E-Letter being sent to MERCAZ members and supporters. Information to Unsubscribe is available below.

MERCAZ USA is the Zionist membership organization of the Conservative Movement, the voice of Conservative Jewry within the World Zionist Organization, the Jewish Agency for Israel, the American Zionist Movement and the Jewish National Fund to support religious pluralism in Israel and strengthen the connection between Israel and the Diaspora. Click here for our mission statement. Click here to (re)join for the current 2011-2012 fiscal year.

IN THIS ISSUE:
NEWS
FEATURE STORY

NEWS

SYNAGOGUE TRIPS TO ISRAEL
Looking to join an organized trip to Israel? Click here for a list of upcoming Conservative Movement synagogue trips for 2011-2012. Click here for a list of different short-term and long-term programs to Israel.

MERCAZ USA IS NOW ON FACEBOOK
Take the time now to "friend" us and let everyone know that you "like" us. Find us at www.facebook.com/mercazusa.

SAVE THE DATE FOR THE MASORTI OLAMI TRIBUTE DINNER:
The annual Masorti Olami Tribute Dinner will be taking place on Sunday, December 11th, at the Jewish Theological Seminary. Honorees include MERCAZ USA leaders Rabbi Vernon Kurtz and Dr. Marilyn Wind, along with Cantor Aliza Pomerantz-Boro. For more information, go to http://masortiworld.org/tribute2011.

VOLUNTEER IN ISRAEL FOR ISRAEL:
Skilled Volunteers for Israel (SVFI) matches experienced professional North Americans visiting Israel with meaningful skilled volunteer opportunities in the Israeli non-profit sector. A customized volunteer position can be arranged with a minimum time commitment of one-month in Israel. For more information, go to www.skillvolunteerisrael.org.

LOOKING FOR ALL JERUSALEM-BORN AMERICAN CITIZENS
The U.S. Supreme Court has scheduled to hear the case of Zivotofsky v. Clinton, regarding the right of Americans born in Jerusalem to have the listing on their birth certificate read "Jerusalem, Israel" as mandated in 2002 by the U.S. Congress and not just "Jerusalem" as is being practiced by the State Department. Supporters of the suit are looking to make contact with all Jerusalem-born U.S. citizens, born after 2002, who were denied the right to add Israel on their birth certificate. For more information, go to the special ADL-sponsored website www.borninjerusalem.org.

MASORTI SHOWS SOLIDARITY WITH ISRAELI SOCIAL PROTEST:
The Masorti Movement in Israel designated the Fast of Tisha B’Av, which was observed last month, as a day of solidarity with Israel's "tent protest" movement. In its press release, the Masorti Movement declared that "as a religious movement, [it] calls upon the government of Israel to concern itself with the welfare of the weak and disempowered in the society – not from the perspective of charity, but from that of justice." For more information about the Tisha B'Av fast of solidarity, go to www.masorti.org.

SAVING SAMAR: THE LAST OF ISRAEL'S SAND DUNES
Picture a desert and you'll probably envision rolling hills of sand like those traversed by the nomadic caravans of the Sahara. Yet, even though the majority of Israel is desert, almost none of it is like the Sahara except for a small section near the southern tip of Israel in the Arava Valley: the Samar sand dunes.

Originally about five square miles in size, today less than one square mile of the Samar sand dunes remains and now most of the last remaining dunes – and the unique species that live in them – are threatened with destruction.

Join the campaign of the Green Zionist Alliance, partners of MERCAZ Olami, to save Israel's Samar sand dunes. For more information, go to www.greenzionism.org/resources/articles/166/#text.


FEATURE STORY
"JUDAISM AND RELIGION" By Rabbi Reuven Hammer

[Ed: This op-ed piece originally appeared in the Jerusalem Post on October 14, 2010. Rabbi Hammer is the founder of the Masorti movement in israel and a past president of the movement's Rabbinical Assembly. He is presently head of the Masorti Beth Din in Israel.]

Choosing to live in Israel rather than in America is making a choice between being Jewish in a setting in which ones Judaism is only a part of ones indentity and being Jewish in a place where it is almost all consuming. It is also the difference between a place in which Judaism is thought of almost exclusively as a matter of religion and a place in which religion is only one of a number of components that make up Jewish identity. Of course for the haredim religion is what being Jewish is all about, and for the dattiim or anyone who is observant, the religious component is to say the least a major component of their Jewish identity in Israel or anywhere in the world. But what about for those in Israel who do not place themselves in those categories?

I thought about this recently after spending some considerable time in America recently. Part of this was connected to Conservative synagogues. Over the High Holy Days I was in a very vital and active synagogue in Washington D.C. where thousands of people – perhaps as many as 4000 – gathered at various times on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. It was obvious that the vast majority of these thousands were not to be found in that synagogue or any other on a regular basis during the year. They were what has come to be called pejoratively "three (or two) day a year Jews." And yet they do come to synagogues sometimes. They do feel at home there. On the High Holy Days they are active participants in the prayers. They know what one does in a synagogue and they are familiar with the language and the thought of religious Judaism, at least on a superficial level. And that is more than can be said of the masses of "secular" Jews in Israel. At some time they go to a Jewish school and are familiar with the Jewish tradition and the Jewish religion. They have had Bar/Bat Mitzvah training and a ceremony that was more than just a party (although all too often the party was overwhelmingly extravagant, it must be admitted) and they have no difficulty identifying themselves with a religious stream within Judaism. The word 'God' is not totally foreign to their lips.

As I considered these people – the typical American Jew – I pondered the thought that these people, in essence, were not terribly different from my non-religious neighbors in Israel. Had they been born in Israel and educated in Israel they probably would never have been in a synagogue on Rosh Hashanah or any other day. Why yes in America and no in Israel? That is a complicated question not easy to answer briefly, one that has to do with the history of Zionism, and, not least, with the perception of the Jewish religion caused by the intertwining of religion and politics in Israel. Israelis have been trained to see this as a question of black and white – am I observant or not – and all too often to go to one extreme or the other. My question is: is it good for Israel and is it good for the Jews for this to be the case? My answer is that the alienation of Israelis for the religious component of Judaism – not only observance but even understanding and knowledge – is disastrous. Some find Judaism quaint but irrelevant. But among all too many Israelis there is an aversion to religion, sometimes bordering on intense dislike. Yet, like it or not, Judaism throughout its history has been based on religious tradition. Take it away and the heart of our being has been removed.

I am not expecting all Israelis to suddenly become observant and believing Jews. And I certainly do not want to do anything that would compel anyone to do so. But I am concerned to remove the barriers that stand between Jews and Judaism and to abolish the misapprehension of what the Jewish religion is. All too many think of religion as riddled with superstition, wonder-working 'rabbis', a negative attitude toward women and suppression of their rights, denial of scientific and historical truth, an attempt to preserve a way of life that was suitable for the ghetto and the middle ages but rejects modernity as well as attempts to force observance upon an unwilling population. What we need is an enlightened Judaism, one which accepts truth wherever it may be found, one which embraces the times in which we live while rejecting those aspects of modernity that contradict morality and the ethical basis of Judaism. Our tradition is rich and is perfectly capable of bringing us a dimension of holiness and decency that is sorely needed. Unfortunately that is not the Judaism that seems to dominate the public square and the common discourse. Until we can replace our religious leadership – of whatever denomination – with enlightened rabbis and thinkers, the situation will not improve and improve it must if the Jewish State is to be Jewish in any meaningful way.


to top of page

Your comments about organization's activities and publications, including this E-letter, are very important. Click here to share with MERCAZ your thoughts.