Our Masorti Affiliates in Israel
Masorti Fighting for Rights of Non-White Jewish Converts (Spring E-letter 2013)
While the Law of Return speaks about Jewish birth or conversion as the only criteria to make aliyah, repeatedly over the years the Israeli Interior Ministry has put up obstacles against Jewish “converts of color” wishing to fulfill this mitzvah.
Most recently, it was a group of nearly 300 mixed-race Peruvian converts, also known as the “Jews of the Amazon,” who were refused permission to immigrate, despite meeting all the requirements for eligibility and having first-degree relatives who have been living in Israel for more than a decade. Click here for more about this story.
Rabbi Andrew Sacks, Director of the Rabbinical Assembly-Israel Region, has had firsthand experience defending the rights of non-white Jewish converts to live and study in Israel. Besides the Peruvians, Rabbi Sacks has been working on behalf of a 62-year old African-American, who, following Reform conversion in his hometown of Gary, Indiana, moved to Israel and joined the Masorti Moriah Synagogue in Haifa and a 32-year old lawyer and father of two from the Abuyudaya Jewish community of Uganda who arrived in Jerusalem to study at the Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem.
Commenting on these cases, Sacks wrote: “A few days ago I posted an article about the arrest by Interior Ministry officials of an African-American Jew-by-Choice who was ordered deported for no crime. Recently I wrote of a Chinese Jew denied aliyah after his conversion in California. Now it is Native Americans in Peru. Racism is running rampant in the Interior Ministry and nobody there will lift a finger to even look into the matter. [But] I am pleased to say that the Jewish Agency is backing us fully.”
It is hoped that with Prime Minister Netanyahu’s new government and the change of Interior Minister from Eli Yishai from the Shas Party to the Likud’s Gideon Saar, these kinds of cases will cease. For more information, contact Rabbi Sacks at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Masorti Welcomes New Kehillot (Spring Newsletter 2013)
The steady growth of the Masorti Movement in Israel continues unabated. From just a handful of congregations composed almost entirely of immigrants from English speaking counties, today, Masorti has close to 70 kehillot covering almost all of Israel’s geography, including five new congregations just since the High Holidays, and the bulk of the new members are younger Israelis who do not want their children to grow up lacking Jewish identity.
KIBBUTZ HANNATON LAUNCHES PRE-ARMY MECHINA (Spring Newsletter 2013)
There are currently about 40 pre-army programs (mechinot) operating in Israel that combine Jewish studies, with leadership training, army preparation, Land of Israel studies, field trips and volunteering. And since the fall, Israel has had its first Masorti mechina, housed at Kibbutz Hannaton. As Rabbi Yoav Ende, Executive Director of the Hannaton Educational Center, said, this is "the only mechina in the country where we are living, breathing, sleeping, learning and doing as Masorti Jews." For more information, go to http://eng.echannaton.org/hannaton-mechina.
Masorti Protests "Tag Mechir" Attacks (Winter Newsletter 2012-2013)
In the wake of a series of vigilante attacks on Arab property which have been termed by its Jewish perpetrators as "Tag Mechir" ("price tag") attacks, the Masorti Movement in Israel has joined the "Tag Meir" (" 'light' tag") coalition to protest the violence.
Joining with groups like The Action Committee of the Kibbutz Movement, Bina, Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism, Oz VeShalom Netivot Shalom and Rabbis for Human Rights, the Masorti Movement condemned the attack at the Latrun Monastery which included not only setting fire to the entry way of the church but also anti-Christian graffiti sprayed on the outside walls.
As Rabbi Mauricio Balter, President of the Rabbinical Assembly in Israel, said, "Disparaging the religions of others certainly does not bring glory to Judaism. Quite the contrary! A place for religious gathering where people express their connection with the divine must be immune to the political divide... and it is certainly unconscionable to destroy property which is deemed holy by others."
For more information on the Masorti Movement's involvement with Tag Meir, go to www.masorti.org.il/page.php?pageId=876.
Masorti Movement Prepares For Next Stage In Rabbinic Funding Fight (Fall Newsletter 2012)
As the Ministry of Culture and Sports clarifies the procedures needed to implement the government's decision this Spring to fund 15 rural positions for "Rabbis of non-Orthodox communities", the Masorti Movement is actively involved in the pending litigation, due to be heard next Spring, with regard to salaries for non-Orthodox rabbis working for urban congregations.
While the decision announced earlier this year is an important precedent-setting step forward, in contrast to the voices of protest heard from Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox circles, the practical impact of the government's decision will be limited. First of all, the government recognition being extended to Conservative/Masorti and Reform/Progressive rabbis is not to "rabbis" per se, with all the attendant rabbinic powers to decide and implement Jewish law, but rather to "rabbis of non-Orthodox communities" without any official halachic powers.
Secondly, the non-Orthodox rabbinic positions being funded are only for those serving in farming communities and regional councils, like Rabbi Miri Gold, the Reform rabbi at Kibbutz Gezer in whose name the litigation for rabbinic funding was introduced 7 years ago, and it does not include similar congregational rabbis working in urban areas.
Thirdly, the Rabbis of non-Orthodox communities being funded will be receiving their salaries not from the Ministry of Religious Affairs like their 2,000 Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox rabbinic counterparts but rather from the Ministry of Culture and Sport, like community center sports counselors.
Finally, there is question, in the absence of published guidelines and procedures, if there are any Reform and Conservative rabbis, other than Rabbi Gold, working in positions that could qualify for the 15 positions being made available. It is not clear even if Rabbi Yoav Ende, a graduate of the Masorti Schechter Rabbinic School and Director of the Hannaton Educational Center at Kibbutz Hannaton in the Lower Galilee, would make the cut.
Nevetheless, as Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky notes, "The government's decision to recognize Reform and Conservative leaders gives official recognition to these dynamic community leaders and rabbis who work tireless to build strong and vibrant Zionist and Jewish communities throughout Israel... [and] contribute significantly to the strengthening of the relationship between Diaspora Jews and Israel."
The next step in the legal battle by the Reform and Masorti Movements was introduced in January 2012, although a hearing is not scheduled until April 2013. The pending litigation is directed to the appointment of non-Orthodox neighborhood rabbis in Jerusalem, the city with the highest number of Orthodox rabbis in official neighborhood positions (33). Jerusalem also has the largest concentration of Masorti and Reform congregations, 9 and 8 respectively.
The petition filed with the court notes that unlike Orthodox neighborhoods, non-Orthodox communities must finance their own rabbinic services, "a blatant case of discrimination in favor of the Orthodox public, which enjoys State-funded religious services."
If you wish to support the work of the Masorti Movement in Israel and its current legal case, please make a donation online at www.masorti.org/donate.php, or mail a check to: Masorti Foundation for Conservative Judaism in Israel, 475 Riverside Drive, Suite 832, New York, NY 10115-0122.
Hotel Denies Torah For Conservative Service (Summer Newsletter 2012)
While on a trip to Israel earlier this year, a group of students from the Solomon Schechter High School in Westchester, New York, were denied use of a Torah scroll for their prayer service at a hotel because they were conducting a mixed-gender service.
As a result of this and similar incidents, the Israeli Masorti and Progressive (Reform) Movements have now formally sent a letter of complaint to the Israeli government regarding discrimination against non-Orthodox Jews.
The 66 students were in Israel on their senior two-month trip and spending Shabbat at the hotel at Kibbutz Shefayim, located between Herzliya and Netanya.
Although the hotel had agreed to the group’s request that a separate room be made available for their prayer services, when one of the counselors requested the use of a Torah scroll from the hotel’s synagogue, the group was informed that they could only use it if their service was not mixed and they would not call women up to the Torah.
The group refused to accede to his demand and held their service without using a Torah: As Rabbi Harry Pell, the Upper School Rabbi at the Westchester Solomon Schechter School, put it: "Every year, Schechter Westchester’s Lev v’Nefesh program brings the entire senior class to Israel for two months to experience Israel in all of its beauty and complexity. Unfortunately, the students got an unanticipated dose of this complexity."
"Ultimately, we chose to highlight the hotel’s denial with our students as a real-time teachable moment. The Zionist enterprise to establish and perfect the Jewish state is not a hypothetical in the classroom; it is real and ongoing and for the students it became personal that Shabbat. Israel should be a state where all Jews have equal access to ritual, and until that becomes a reality, I am confident that our students will continue advocating for change."
Court Orders Limiting of Samar Sand Mining (Spring Newsletter 2012)
The Beersheba District Court has sided with Tel Aviv University's Environmental Justice Clinic and other environmental groups and has placed a significant limitation on the extent of sand mining that the Israel Lands Authority can have done from the Samar sand dunes.
For months, protesters have attempted to prevent mining in the sand dunes, a unique eco-system located near Eilat. The dunes contain a particular set of flora and fauna that are closer in genetic makeup to plants and animals of the Sahara Desert than to those nearby in Israel.
While ecology groups based in Israel led the fight to preserve the Samar sands or, minimally, to limit as much as possible the extent of permitted mining, here in the United States, the Green Zionist Alliance, partners with MERCAZ Olami within the World Zionist Organization and Jewish National Fund-KKL, helped rally the troops. For more information about GZA, go to www.greenzionism.org.
Young European Masorti Leaders Meet (Spring Newsletter 2012)
While the Jewish world has recently been focusing on the divisions between Haredim and secular Jews in Israel, the worldwide Masorti/Conservative movement made history recently, with the first "Kiyum Leadership Institute".
The seminar brought eleven dynamic young leaders from "Masorti Europe" – from UK, France, Spain and Hungary – to Israel for a unique week-long seminar to develop, together with their Israeli peers, their Jewish knowledge, practice and understanding of Masorti Judaism as well as their understanding of and connection of Israel.
Masorti Olami, the convener of the "Kiyum Leadership Institute" will be running a similar seminar for young leadership from "Masorti Amlat" (Latin America) later this Spring, all part of an annual grant from the World Zionist Organization to provide spiritual services to non-Orthodox Jewish communities in countries located outside of North America and Israel. Since its inception over a half-dozen years ago, this grant has grown from $160,000 to nearly $750,000 annually.
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