November 2009

MERCAZ USA Fall E-Letter

Heshvan 5770

WELCOME to the new MERCAZ USA E-Letter being sent to MERCAZ members and supporters from the 2006 World Zionist Congress elections. 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 to see how MERCAZ represents our Conservative/Masorti Movement institutions in Israel and throughout the Diaspora. Click here to (re)join for the current 2009-2010 fiscal year.



Looking to join an organized trip to Israel or to Masorti communities around the world? Click here for a list of upcoming Conservative Movement synagogue trips for 2009-2010. Click here for a list of different short-term and long-term programs to Israel.

Looking for a summer to remember in Jerusalem? Join the Conservative Yeshiva, located at the United Synagogue's Fuchsberg Center, for a great Hebrew ulpan and Jewish text study program. Two sessions are being offered: June 27 – July 15 and July 18 – August 5. For more information, visit the Conservative Yeshiva website or contact

MASA, the joint project of the Jewish Agency and the Government of Israel to oversee long-term programs in Israel, has created a new website to assist Jewish youth (18-30) find appropriate study, volunteer and internship opportunities in Israel.


Masorti leaders Rabbi Paul & Nina Freedman and Judy Gray awaiting the arrival of Shira and Boaz Gura, new immigrants to Israel, who were moving to Kibbutz Hannaton.

Recently, Kibbutz Hannaton, the Masorti kibbutz in the Lower Galilee, was featured as part of an NPR program on the reinvention of kibbutz life. Click here to read or hear the entire program online. (If you cannot access the page online, click here for the pdf.)

For more information about Hannaton, go to or contact Rabbi Yoav Ende, Director of the Hannaton Educational Center, at

The Masorti Movement joined forces with the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals to fight against the pre-Yom Kippur tradition of "kapparot" that involves slaughtering chickens as a way of gaining atonement for sin.

Rabbi Jeff Cymet, spiritual leader of the Masorti congregation Adat Shalom Imanuel in Rehovot, joined forces with animal rights groups to protest the custom, citing sources from the Shulchan Aruch and other rabbinic works that characterize the popular custom as a type of idolatry.



In a letter addressed to the leadership of the Conservative Movement, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu assured "that Israel's government is committed to strengthening the relationship between Israel and all major religious streams in Jewish life."

The letter came in response to a firestorm of protest from the Conservative/Masorti Movement earlier this year to a statement by Israel's Religious Affairs Minister Ya'acov Margi, from the Sephardic Orthodox SHAS Party, who declared that if Reform and Conservative Jews in Israel want more synagogues or mikvaot, they should fund them themselves with private money and not expect the state to foot the bill, adding "since Conservative and the Reform do not conform to halacha, they are not eligible for state funds."

Criticizing the minister's remarks, Rabbi Peretz Rodman, former president of the Rabbinical Assembly-Israel Region wrote an op-ed article in the Jerusalem Post entitled "The Hopeless Irrevelance of the State Rabbinate", while here in the United States, all the arms of the Conservative Movement signed on to a letter addressed to the Prime Minister, which called for "a clear statement from you that the policy of your government is not as Minister Margi states and that you and your entire government are committed to assuring fair and equal treatment for the major recognized streams of Jewish life."

Click here for the story from the Jerusalem Post online. If the story is inaccessible online, click here for the pdf. Click here for the Letter to the Prime Minister.

Netanyahu's response finally arrived a couple of weeks ago, following the intervention of the Chairman of the Jewish Agency Natan Sharansky, who "remind[ed] that the Religious Affairs Ministry is not a halachic body and is responsible for providing religious services to all citizens of the state of Israel from all religions, streams and congregations who need these services."

In the letter from the Prime Minister's office, Ron Dermer, Senior Advisor to the Prime Minister "assure[d] that Israel's government is committed to strengthening the relationship between Israel and all major religious streams in Jewish life. We have informed Minister Margi that his recent statements in the Jerusalem Post do not reflect the positions of the Prime Minister and made it clear that decisions regarding the allocation of public funds must be fully consistent with Israel's laws."

In the meantime, SHAS Party head Eli Yishai, the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Internal Affairs, remained defiant in the party's opposition to the non-Orthodox streams. Speaking at the recent international conference hosted by Israeli President Shimon Peres, Yishai blamed Reform Judaism for assimilation among American Jews: "Look what is happening with the Reform [Jews] because of assimilation. They are disappearing." Click here to read the article at Y Net News online. If the article becomes inaccessible online, click here for the pdf.

Commenting on Netanyahu's letter in a recent interview, Yizhar Hess, Director-General of the Masorti Movement, said that while he was pleased with the response, he hoped that the prime minister would "follow through with actions. We are waiting for the day when non-Orthodox streams of Judaism will be given an equal standing here in Israel from a budgetary perspective and will stop being discriminated against."

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