We Must Support Religious Pluralism in Israel

I don’t come from a very big family. My father was an only child and my mom has one brother. We were very lucky that my aunt and uncle and our two cousins lived in the same town and that we were and are very close.

 

Recently, Uncle Mike and Aunt Fran took their kids, their spouses, and the four grandchildren to Israel. I’ve been captivated for the last two weeks watching them experience Israel together, many of them for the first time. Through the pictures and YouTube videos they posted to Facebook, I’ve been able to follow along, kvelling as they went the length and breadth of the country I love so much. 

 

At the same time, I’ve been following other pictures and articles and letters and videos posted to Facebook. These images didn’t make me kvell, not in the least. I was reading instead about the growing controversy in Israel surrounding the relationship (or lack thereof) between segments of the ultra-Orthodox population and their neighbors.

 

The various issues of buses segregated by sex, separate sidewalks, and the reaction of religious soldiers who refuse to listen to women singing were all covered in the media and opined about in social media outlets ad infinitum. All of this culminated in the confrontation between members of a far-right, ultra-Orthodox group and a young girl in Beit Shemesh that horrified many — and then the even more outrageous use of children dressed as concentration camp prisoners and wearing the “Jude” yellow star.

 

The cognitive dissonance between the joyful trip of 10 American Jews and the painful discussions about what is the true role of Judaism in the Jewish State was striking. I was thrilled that yet another generation of my family has had the chance to begin an actual relationship with the land of Israel. But I was heart sore at the prospect of so much causeless hatred among Jews in the Jewish State. And very concerned that the reaction of many American Jews would be to back even farther away from engagement with Israel.

 

I am very proud of the role that MetroWest continues to play in creating dialogue about religious pluralism in Israel and creating opportunities for Israelis to experience their Judaism in ways that may be new or novel to them and that create a closer relationship to that Judaism. And I am proud that we stand up for those values publicly. Below is the MetroWest statement about the latest controversies:

 

UJC MetroWest is home to all streams of Judaism and proud of its diversity. We are a leader among Federations in promoting religious pluralism and tolerance among diaspora Jews and Jews in Israel. UJC strongly condemns the acts of violence that are occurring in Beit Shemesh and other acts of intolerance towards fellow Jews and women in particular. These provocative acts disregard our Jewish values and promote dangerous conflict within Israel and among Jews worldwide. Together, we must stand up against this violence and work tirelessly to instill a sense of mutual respect in all our people.

 

But what I really want is to be sure that we can convey the power we, as Jews not living in Israel, have if we remain engaged. I’ve been casting about for a way to say this, when Facebook provided me with just the right outlet.

 

A friend from my days on the National Young Leadership Cabinet, Laura Cutler, posted a blog post from Anton Goodman, the shaliach (Israeli emissary) in her federation. The reason this is so relevant is that Laura’s federation is Washington, D.C., and the blog post was about their Partnership 2Gether community of — Beit Shemesh. Partnership 2Gether is the successor entity to Partnership 2000, the same program through which MetroWest is partnered with the city of Ofakim and the surrounding area of Merchavim. 

 

Anton’s full post does an excellent job of explaining the 15-year relationship between Washington D.C. and Beit Shemesh. It struck me as so similar in many ways to our story in Ofakim and Merchavim, in terms of the growth from giver/receiver of programs, dollars, and services to a shared partnership with strengths to share on both sides of the equation. Please read the full post for a better understanding of the nuances of the situation there. But whether you have a chance to do that or not, it is Anton’s closing words that I believe must compel us to remain engaged with our very big, very important family in Israel:

 

“American Jewry knows that it is not, and has never been, easy to partner with Israel. The early economic challenges have taken a backseat to political controversy and societal fragmentation; and Israel can no longer be cured with dollars. This is a new age of supporting Israel. It is about partnering with those (and we are still the majority, even in Beit Shemesh) who hold dearly to the original values, and together to make a stand on the future of the Jewish State.

 

Happy New Year to my family here, in Israel and around the world!

 

Leslie

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