Spring 2001

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MERCAZ USA Newsletter — Spring 2001

News from Israel

Celebrating the Centrality of Israel

MERCAZ USA has received a grant from the World Zionist Organization's Department of Zionist Activities to produce and distribute a new educational package for Yom HaAtzmaut to Conservative synagogue religious schools and Solomon Schechter-affiliated day schools throughout the United States. The package, entitled "U-l'faatay Mizrach: Celebrating the Centrality of Israel", focuses on the tradition of the mizrach, the artistic sign or symbol placed within the house on an eastern wall to indicate the direction of Jerusalem for prayer. The program culminates on Yom HaAtzmaut with the dedication in the school of the MERCAZ-designed poster "A Modern Mizrach for the Conservative Movement". Curricular guidelines are included with age-appropriate activities for students from second grade through high school. For further information, contact the MERCAZ office: 212-533-7800 ext. 2016; email:

Religion Bill Passes First Vote

The Knesset approved in December in a preliminary reading a bill for a Basic Law guaranteeing freedom of religion. The Basic Law, initiated by Meretz MK Naomi Chazan, is designed to protect the freedom of religion and conscience by anchoring Israel as a Jewish and democratic state. It guarantees that "no person can be forced to belong to a religion, a religious community or a religious group of any kind" nor can a person be discriminated against as a result of his religion, beliefs or lifestyle. The bill, supported by the Masorti Movement, also aims to separate religion and state and to equate between the various branches of Judaism in Israel. As a private MK's initiative, three more readings are required before the bill is voted into law. Opposition to the bill came from the Orthodox and Ultra-Orthodox MKs as well as from the Likud.

No Place for Tefillin-laying Women

Israeli Masorti women who lay tefillin have recently found that there are few places in the country willing to accept them. Earlier this year, three women soldiers belonging to the Masorti Movement's Nahal unit were thrown out of a base synagogue after male worshipers complained to the camp chaplain about their wearing tefillin. The women, serving at a combat training base, said that they simply wanted to worship with tefillin according to their tradition, but the men who were in the synagogue praying at the same time objected. The Masorti Movement has lodged an official complaint demanding that the women be given full freedom of religion and full access to the synagogue like all other soldiers. In the same vein, a Masorti student ran into problems this past fall with the Hebrew University's housing office over her religious practice. Shani Balter, daughter of Rabbi Mauricio Balter, the Masorti rabbi of Kiryat Bialik, had requested to live in a four-person apartment with other religious women who also kept Shabbat and kashrut. However, when one of the girls assigned to the suite discovered that her roommate prayed with tefillin, she demanded a transfer to another apartment, thereby leaving Shani's suite under the minimum quota for residents. As a result, the University, which regularly provides students the opportunity to select secular or religious and smoking or non-smoking housing, sought to force the tefillin-wearing student to choose an apartment with either non-observant or Orthodox roommates. After a formal complaint by the Masorti Movement to the housing authority, however, the University relented, allowing the apartment to be rented by the three remaining girls.

MERCAZ welcomed Dr. Marina Solodkin, a Member of Knesset from the Israel Ba'Aliyah Party, on a study mission to the Conservative Movement this past December. Dr. Solodkin, who made aliyah from the former Soviet Union 10 years ago, visited Conservative institutions in the greater Washington D.C. area and was a guest speaker at the opening evening session of the Women's League biennial convention. Pictured here (from left to right): Rabbi Robert Golub, Women's League President Janet Tobin, Evelyn Seelig, Dr. Solodkin and Masorti Movement President Rabbi Ehud Bandel.



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