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Saturday, 30 June 2007

Pro-Zion update 29th June

Dear Members,

Our e-mail service resumes it's normal service this week!
We have three articles again. Two on conversion issues at the Vaad
Hapoel and Jewish Agency Board this week - it seems overall the
resolutions haven't been successful from our perspective but the
conversion issue is again very much on the table and it looks like there
will be movement sooner rather than later. We hope to bring you some
more personal accounts from our partners involved in this over the
coming weeks.
Another general interest article is about education in Haredi schools.

If you have any trouble opening articles do let us know - all articles
are posted on our blog at
We also value all of your feedback and we do hope that you pass many of
these articles on to other friends or organisations.

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom
Daniel and all at Pro Zion

JAFI conversion resolution quashed

JAFI conversion resolution quashed
Haviv Rettig, THE JERUSALEM POST Jun. 26, 2007
A proposal calling on the government to recognize non-Orthodox
conversions conducted in Israel was prevented from reaching the Jewish
Agency Assembly's plenum for a vote in Jerusalem on Tuesday following
complaints by delegates from several organizations that the resolution's
timing violated procedure.
"You can't give a resolution from one day to the next," one Jewish
Agency official told The Jerusalem Post. "The resolution was submitted
after the [May 15] deadline. It could only have been considered by the
Assembly if [it] decided to suspend the rules."
The resolution's sponsors are considering resubmitting it ahead of the
Jewish Agency Board of Governors meeting in October, but much depends on
what they hear on Thursday at a panel on the "Unity of the Jewish
People" at the capital's Inbal Hotel.
There, former justice minister Yaakov Ne'eman will report on his
meetings with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo
Amar regarding the appointment of more lenient dayanim (religious
judges) to deal with conversion.
According to the Assembly resolution, the courts have failed to deal
with converts appropriately and do not understand the gravity of the
situation. Citing the lack of a civil alternative to Orthodox rabbinical
control of personal status issues, it urged the government to recognize
conversions from all streams of Judaism.
Jewish Agency Chairman Ze'ev Bielsky recently called on the government
to recognize non-Orthodox conversions in order to encourage North
America aliya.
Ne'eman "is a serious man, and he really wants to accomplish something,"
said one of the resolution's sponsors. "In the short run, we expect that
Rabbi Amar and the prime minister will appoint some dayanim and that
real, substantial conversions will take place between now and October."
Rabbi Yosef Blau, the head of Religious Zionists of America, the
American branch of the Orthodox-Zionist Mizrachi movement, spoke against
allowing the proposed resolution to reach the plenum.
"We're deeply concerned with conversion problems," he told the Post
after the committee meeting that rejected bringing the resolution to the
plenum, "but before making a radical suggestion that will have many
unforeseen consequences," there should be an appropriate period of
Blau said that mere official recognition was not going to solve the
problem. "Even in the US, where we have free religious expression, it's
not as though Reform and Conservative conversions are accepted by the
"Groups that want change should work through the process," he said.

Jewish Agency to enter conversion fray

Jewish Agency to enter conversion fray

A resolution calling for Israel's official recognition of non-Orthodox
conversions is expected to pass at the Jewish Agency Assembly in
Jerusalem this week.
For many at the Assembly meetings, the lack of government recognition
for the non-Orthodox streams has become a barrier to Israel-Diaspora

"The Israeli Orthodox establishment is probably the major religious
obstacle to building a world Jewish community today," one Reform
activist told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday. "It attacks the credibility
of Israel as the state of the Jewish people, especially when the vast
majority of Jews are not Orthodox."
This sentiment is felt most acutely for those who've received
conversions, where non-Orthodox conversions are recognized for the
purpose of aliya, but not recognized by the official Israeli rabbinate
for matters such as marriage, divorce and burial.
"We will be calling for the [Jewish Agency] Assembly Board of Governors
and Executives to take comprehensive action regarding the untenable
conversion situation in Israel," said one Assembly member who will be
working for the resolution's passage in at least one of the resolution
committee meetings Monday.
If the resolution passes at least one of these meetings - it will be
presented in more than one - it will proceed to the general Assembly
plenum on Tuesday morning, where it will be voted on by the Assembly,
the Agency's 518-member representative body.
According to the representative, the resolution will "urge that
conversions conducted by rabbinic courts of the [non-Orthodox] streams
be recognized."
The current system, according to which the official conversion study
program, the Joint Institute under the direction of Prof. Benjamin
Ish-Shalom, represents different streams while the conversion itself is
conducted in an Orthodox rabbinic court, has broken down, the
representative said. "We found the rabbinate just doesn't do [the
conversion] in the end," he said

The Rabbis and the saw

The rabbis and the saw
19.6.07 | 16:08 By Meirav Arlosoroff
Paradoxically, the situation of the girls in ultra-Orthodox schools is
better than that of the boys. A lot better. The boys are designated to
spend their lives studying Torah, while the girls are left the burden of
supporting the family. Therefore, the schools for girls are thought to
be more open and a lot better than the schools for boys in the
ultra-Orthodox - haredi - world.
The boys' curriculum is confined to religion. The girls need to work in
the future and instead learn regular subjects, after which they can
study for a bachelor's degree at one of the haredi seminars for
teachers. Then they can teach in one of the ultra-Orthodox education
That reality has changed the balance of power in haredi society. The
women are established as the breadwinners, and are more independent
within the family. The desire to protect the men and leave them
ensconced in the world of Torah has led the omen to accumulate power,
education and status. Perhaps too much power, education and status.
That may be one of the explanations for the backlash.
At the start of the year, the Rabbinical Council for Education, which is
the rabbinate's mechanism to set policy that influences most segments of
haredi society, announced that the party was over. The rabbis flung
chains over study at the women's teacher seminars. They claimed that the
studies at the seminars were lasting too many years and that the women
were therefore delaying getting married and procreating.
No more bachelor's degrees at the seminar, the rabbis ruled. The girls
could study until being certified as teachers, but there is a catch:
after two years the girls have to take a break, get married and only
then could they continue onto the third year.
The rabbis also ruled that only certified teachers could teach at the
seminars, and that means, ultra-Orthodox teachers with little education.
Teachers with a Master's degree, who until now had taught specialty
subjects such as special education, would be banned.
At one swoop, through education, the rabbis have cut off the advancement
that ultra-Orthodox women might have wished for. Without a bachelor's
degree, most potential advancement within the education system is barred
to them, and so are commensurate raises in wage with rank.
Since the women are the main breadwinners, what the rabbis have done is
cut off the potential earnings of the only breadwinners in haredi
society. Thus has haredi society chosen, eyes wide open, to impoverish
itself, all in the name of religious extremism.
What enabled ultra-Orthodox society to do this was naturally the
capitulation of the Education Ministry before the dictates of the rabbis.
The Education Ministry is the one that finances the seminars. It
participates in paying their teachers, and wages for teachers are a
function of their education. The rule among secular teachers is that a
bachelor's degree is essential to obtaining higher pay. Until now the
ultra-Orthodox women teachers could take advantage of that too, by
obtaining degrees at the seminars. After the intervention by the rabbis,
a degree has become a far-off dream - but a raise in pay may be another
Although the ultra-Orthodox women teachers will, from now on, have no
bachelor's degree, this month the Education Ministry agreed not to hurt
their pay. For their sake, the ministry created a whole new rank, "Rank
1", which links their pay to that of teachers with a bachelor's degree.
The rank will only apply to the ultra-Orthodox sector.
The women teachers have lost at least a year of education; the faculties
will have less educational background; and the range of courses that
they teach has been censored by the rabbis. But for the purposes of pay,
the Education Ministry has recognized them as possessing a regular
bachelor's degree.
In parallel the ministry agreed that lecturers at the seminars would
have no formal academic education. The extra knowledge that they need to
teach at a seminar for teachers, can be obtained through specialization,
under the full supervision of the rabbis.
The rabbis set out to curb the education of the haredi woman, and her
employment options too, and the State of Israel, via the Education
Ministry, let them do it. The budgets of the Education Ministry will
continue to finance pay for the ultra-Orthodox women teachers as though
nothing had happened, though their basic education, their skills and
their capacity to find work outside the ultra-Orthodox education system
has badly diminished. With that, haredi society is sawing off the branch
on which it sits, and the Education Ministry paid for the saw.

Sunday, 24 June 2007

Pro Zion Update - 24th June

Dear Members,

Apologies again for the long delay between our previous e-mail and this one.

We hope you enjoy the three articles we send today. The first is an
article related to last weeks gay pride parade in Jerusalem which
despite the many hurdles places in the way went ahead successfully. We
hope to give a more personal detailed account of this in the coming
weeks by my co-chair Charlie who is in Jerusalem at the moment for the
Vaad Hapoel of the World Zionist Organisation, he participated along
with a large contingent from our partners at the Israel Religious Action
Centre who work hard fighting the battles of those who face religious

The other two articles are of a different flavour. One on the progress
of Ethiopian Olim in Israel which points out how much more needs to be
done. The final article is the shocking story of Sudanese refugees who
have found sanctuary in Eilat, it is long but is well worth reading and
highlights the problems faced by the Sudanese even outside of the Darfur
regions as well as the debate in Israel on what to do with the refugees.

If you have any trouble opening the attachments remember all articles
are posted on the Pro Zion news blog available via our website at
As always we are glad to receive your feedback.

Pro Zion

64% oppose Gay Pride Parade in capital

64% oppose Gay Pride Parade in capital
Matthew Wagner, THE JERUSALEM POST Jun. 17, 2007
A survey conducted last week by Geocartography Knowledge Group found
that 64 percent of Jewish Israelis oppose holding the Gay Pride Parade
in Jerusalem.
The 64% either voiced complete opposition to the parade or agreed with
the following statement:
"Even if authorities permit the homo-lesbian pride parade in Tel Aviv or
in other cities, it should be banned in Jerusalem due to the sanctity of
the city in the eyes of many in Israel and in the world, and because of
the sensitivity of more than half of Jerusalem's population who are
Prof. Avi Degani, head of the Geocartography Knowledge Group, said he
was not surprised by the results.
"Previous surveys have revealed the same opposition among Israelis to
the parade," said Degani, who added that his polling agency had
initiated the survey. "We often do independent surveys on issues that in
the news," he said.
Jerusalem Open House Director Noa Satat said the survey reflected a
marked rise in support for the parade, which would go ahead on Thursday
as planned.
"The Gay Pride Parade in Jerusalem is not a provocation and not a
party," Satat said. Holding it in Jerusalem, with its heavily religious
population, "expresses a [special] message of both pride and tolerance.
"It is no small feat that since last year, support for the parade has
risen by 25 percentage points. We believe that the Israeli public
understands that the struggle for the right to have the parade and for
tolerance is not only the struggle of the homo-lesbian community.
Rather, it is the struggle of the entire Jewish people to protect the
democratic character of the State of Israel.
Meanwhile, Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz's name appeared on a press release
calling on Jews to protest the parade.
"The previous parade brought upon us the Second Lebanon War, with 150
dead and 1 million refugees... We call on all Jews to come to Jerusalem
to use lawful means to stop the parade," the statement read.
Steinsaltz is the honorary president of a revived version of the
Sanhedrin, the ancient 71-man governing body of the Jewish people, which
published the press release.
Steinsaltz could not be reached for comment.

Working Ethiopians into the fold

Working Ethiopians into the fold
Karin Kloosterman, THE JERUSALEM POST Jun. 13, 2007
You can see them sweeping debris off the streets in Tel Aviv and Petah
Tikva. They protect us from terrorists while we sit in cafes drinking
milky coffees; the rest of them - most of them - are either unemployed
or working as skilled and unskilled laborers in factories and carpentry
Israel's Ethiopian Jewish immigrants once led simple agrarian lives. Now
in Israel - a culture fuelled by adrenaline, coffee and hi-tech - are
Ethiopian men able to adjust to the frenetic pace?
A recent study by the Brookdale Institute, Israel's leading center for
applied research on human services, suggests that they cannot. Fewer
Ethiopian men between 22 and 64 are finding work than were 10 years ago
(from 63 percent to 46%), reported the institute recently; and even with
first and second degrees, Ethiopian men are still not finding jobs that
match their education.
Employers' prejudice may be to blame, says Ethiopian employment expert
Tal Haasz from the Association for Ethiopian Jews, but other factors
come into play such as lack of military and social connections,
frustration at home as their women, once homemakers, become breadwinners
and the fact that fewer jobs for unskilled laborers are available.
When Metro found Shmuel Beru, 31, a single Israeli-Ethiopian stand-up
comedian and filmmaker, he was riding a mini-bus from Jerusalem to Tel
Aviv, telling jokes along the way. Even though the first wave of
Ethiopian aliya was more than 20 years ago, "Ethiopian men are still in
culture shock," says Beru, who came to Israel in 1984 as part of
Operation Moses and now lives in Tel Aviv.
"Ethiopian men haven't woken up yet in Israel. Most of them are still
confused," he says.
And as the men age, their situation becomes worse. "They feel frustrated
when their wives get work outside the home. In the traditional society
of Ethiopia, women have different duties, but here in Israel, it's
easier for Ethiopian women to adjust," explains Beru, who is about to
start filming a feature-length film about Ethiopians in Israel: Zubabel
("This is Babylon"), which he hopes to take to the Cannes film festival.
A number of educational programs at Tel Aviv University (TAU) aim to
reduce the disparity in education and opportunities between Ethiopians
and other Israelis. Programs with names such as "Thinking Science,"
"Reaching Higher," and "Youth University" attempt to educate young
Ethiopians as early as seventh grade to be prepared for higher education
and matriculation exams.
"The concept that we are trying to implement here at TAU is that we work
with what we are strong at - which is education," says Danny Shapiro,
TAU's director of development and public affairs. "We are not going into
preschools and giving hot lunches. We are combining expertise in
education and student resources to create a continuum of education from
junior high though university that will target Ethiopian youth with
desire and motivation to learn."
The list of programs for Ethiopian youth developed through TAU's student
welfare and social involvement unit share a common theme: preparing
Ethiopian youth to be successful in their future careers in science or
the arts, and help them choose higher education, even if it means
studying at a community college and not TAU.
"Whether a student should apply in soft sciences or go to a college that
is less demanding, we will encourage that direction for the student,"
says Shapiro. "We will help for that six-year period, as long as we are
helping them get to places with useful education."
Most of the about 70 Ethiopian students at TAU this year are working
toward their first degree. One student is Yalfal Siyum, 23, a chemistry
undergrad in his second year. Siyum and his seven siblings came in 1991
after two unsuccessful attempts at reaching Israel via Sudan in 1984.
"In Ethiopia, we worked the land. We had wheat, corn and sugar cane
fields," relates Siyum.
Do Ethiopians really need to learn how to cross the road and use flush
toilets and refrigerators before they come to Israel?
"Refrigerators?" replies Siyum, "Yes. We didn't have electricity. And
even in big cities, the roads are different."
Siyum, as an Ethiopian, enjoys added financial, social and academic
support at TAU. On May 15, he spoke before an audience of TAU staff,
American donors and young Ethiopian women paying tribute to American
philanthropist Joel Tauber from Detroit who recently infused TAU's pot
of Ethiopian education initiatives with a sizeable donation.
Tauber's donation to TAU under the Tauber Initiative for the Advancement
of Ethiopian Youth is earmarked to help Israel's Ethiopian community
integrate more smoothly. Through his fundraising efforts at various
organizations, Tauber has helped raise $1 billion to bring Diaspora Jews
to Israel. "I saw Diaspora Jews and Israelis were not integrating
properly and it was wrong," he said.
Jewish Agency Chairman Zeev Bielski was there to comment: "[Tauber's]
vision was not only to bring Ethiopian Jews to Israel, but to see that
they are well absorbed. 107,000 [Ethiopian] Jews came to Israel with
nothing. There is a huge gap. For every little step we are making, they
have to make ten."
David Eisenstadt, who works in fundraising for the Association for
Ethiopian Jews, comments on the initiative at TAU: "Tel Aviv University
has done very good things on behalf of Ethiopian students. Even though
they don't have many Ethiopians themselves enrolled at the school, they
are working to advance employment of Ethiopians."
The Ethiopian community is young, he points out, and employment among
Ethiopian men is not decreasing because of an ageing population. Over
50% of all the Ethiopians in Israel today are under age 21, he says.
"That means projects like what TAU is doing to direct youth to integrate
into the community will have a tremendous impact for the future. Opening
their eyes to institutes of higher learning like Tel Aviv University is
an incentive for Ethiopians to be more diligent students and to pursue
studies, given that the Ethiopian community has a high dropout rate,"
Eisenstadt added.
Tal Haasz, director of strategic research at the Association, studies
employment statistics of Ethiopian men and explains the reason why after
more than two decades in Israel, Ethiopian men are not fitting into the
workplace: "There is difficulty for them mainly because of the decline
of opportunities for unskilled people," he says, "As Israel becomes more
hi-tech oriented, there are less opportunities for Ethiopian men."
The reason why more Ethiopian women are employed today than 10 years ago
is that it "took time until women participated in the work force. In
Ethiopia she was the property of the man."
Continues Haasz, "There is no real responsibility taken by the
government. People from Ethiopia come to the Jewish Agency but they
don't get professions. They learn about the Israeli working culture. Not
more than this. They are getting out after 18 months without any skills."
And as for the Ethiopians born in Israel, Haasz believes they don't have
a better chance than their fathers, brothers or uncles born in Ethiopia:
"I am afraid that if the young generation will see that their brothers
don't find work after university and end up working in security, we will
get a generation that will say, 'Why should I work hard, if anyway I
will have to deal with discrimination?'"
When it comes to hiring an Ethiopian man, Israeli employers should be
encouraged to give them a chance, concludes Haasz. "Ethiopians are hard

Hotel Sudan

Hotel Sudan
It was about three in the morning, there was a full moon over the Sinai
Desert, and Robert and his two young sons were about 500 meters from the
Israeli border when they made their run for it.
"The Egyptian soldiers were chasing us, shooting and shouting, 'Stop,
stop,'" recalls Robert, who fled Sudan in 1992 for Egypt, then fled
Egypt on April 1 for Israel. "I got the boys over the fence, and my
shirt got caught. They were on the other side crying for me. The
Egyptians were getting closer, and then I just jumped over that fence. I
had no choice. All of us know that if the Egyptians catch you, they kill
you, and if they don't kill you, some of them will rape you, they'll
treat you real bad."
Mary, also Sudanese, made her middle-of-the-night escape at the
beginning of May with her husband John, after spending six years in
Egypt. (For fear of endangering family members still in Egypt or Sudan,
the Sudanese in Eilat interviewed for this story insisted that their
names not be printed nor their faces photographed.) In their ragged
sprint to the border, says Mary, a Sudanese friend they'd made the trip
with from Cairo was shot to death by Egyptian soldiers.
"Our life in Egypt was no good," she says. "Because we are black, the
Arabs there don't like us, the same as in Sudan. Many Sudanese are
killed in Egypt. We heard of housekeepers from Sudan who got thrown off
balconies. Sometimes if you work for an Egyptian, he doesn't pay you and
beats you instead and threatens to send you to the police. The police
can deport you back to Sudan, and then your life is over."
Mary shows me the welts on her left arm. She explains: "Once a car
pulled up beside me in Cairo and some man got out and slashed me with a
Robert says his children - he has two younger ones still with his wife
in Cairo - used to get chased by Egyptian kids throwing stones and eggs
at them. "They laugh at you, make fun of you, call you 'black slave.'
That's how the Egyptians see us - because we're black, they think we're
their slaves."
Robert, 35, John, 36, and Mary, 31, were interviewed last Friday in the
Eilat hotels where they've been working for the last month or so, under
house arrest in the custody of their employers. (So long as they show up
for work, though, they're free to come and go as they please.) They are
among the 580 Sudanese refugees who've illegally crossed the border into
Israel since late 2004 after enduring years of racist cruelty and
brutality in Egypt, where they had first sought refuge from the civil
war, genocide and famine in their homeland.
Thus, while they are originally refugees from Sudan, they are in this
country as immediate refugees from Egypt. And despite what Israelis
commonly think, only a minority are from Darfur, the western Sudanese
region where lighter-skinned Janjaweed Arab Muslim militias are
committing genocide against black Muslims. Instead, the refugees here
are mainly black Christians and Muslims from southern Sudan who fled
that region's other lighter-skinned Arab militias, described as "the
same sort of characters as the Janjaweed" by George, an Eilat hotel
employee from southern Sudan who fled Egypt in April.
On Saturday night, a day after these interviews took place, two more
Sudanese refugees racing through the Sinai for the border were shot to
death by Egyptian soldiers, says Gal Lousky of Israeli Flying Aid, an
NGO that helps foreign refugees.
The last roughly 30-km. leg of the journey through the Sinai, which is
guided by local Beduin, involves days of waiting out the passing
Egyptian army patrols, and hours of crawling, walking and running in the
desert. Many aren't strong enough to survive. "Some refugees told us
about places along the route where it was difficult to pass because of
the stench from the corpses lying on the sand," says Sigal Rozen of the
Hot Line for Migrant Workers.
Last Saturday night, although two Sudanese were shot to death, others
made it safely into Israel, notes Lousky. Like their countrymen who
preceded them, these survivors waited for IDF soldiers to arrest them.
(Soldiers ordinarily make these arrests not only peacefully but
helpfully, although once, in March of last year, a soldier killed a
refugee, mistakenly believing he presented a threat, says Rozen.)
Chances are pretty good that these newest arrivals won't have to sit in
jails like many other Sudanese did and still do, and instead will soon
be living in Eilat and working in the hotels as part of their house
arrest - which they consider to be paradise compared to the life they'd
THE ABSORPTION of many Sudanese as janitors and housekeepers in Eilat
hotels marks the biggest improvement yet in the country's handling of
the refugees; ever since they started arriving about three years ago,
the authorities haven't really known what to do with them.
For the first year after their arrival, all the refugees were held in
jails except for mothers with small children, who were placed in women's
shelters. The state's argument was that they were all illegal
"infiltrators" from an enemy country - Sudan. The Shin Bet (Israel
Security Agency) argued further that since they came through the Sinai,
which is thick with al-Qaida operatives, they also presented a potential
terrorist threat - even though not one shred of evidence of involvement
in terror was ever found against any of the refugees.
"They're really generous, warm people," says Dina Cohen, social worker
at Eilat's Isrotel chain, which employs more than 90 of them while
caring for the 16 children they brought with them. "They're very
industrious," adds David Blum, Isrotel's head of human resources.
A year or so after the first refugees' arrival, a few teenage boys were
released from jail to kibbutzim. However, the refugees' situation only
changed substantially for the better after the Supreme Court ruled last
year that every one of them was entitled to a hearing before a legal
authority to try to win release from prison. A legal authority was
appointed and he went to the prisons where the refugees were held -
Ketziot, Ma'asiyahu, Ramon, Nafha and Shikma - to hear the appeals. The
result is that all of those early refugees who spent a year or more in
prison have by now been released and given over to the custody of Eilat
hotels - Club, Herod's and the Fattal and Isrotel chains - or to Negev
kibbutzim and moshavim.
Of the 580 Sudanese now here, 110 are in prison, with some there for
nearly a year, says Michael Bavly, local representative of the United
Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Since April, when the
Eilat hotels, with the IDF's consent, began to take custody of the
refugees - "for both business and humanitarian reasons," explains Blum -
the new refugees crossing the border every month are now usually
transferred to the hotels within a few days.
"The ones who come to us straight from the border arrive with nothing,"
says Blum. "Two days ago we got this man - two meters tall and
barefoot." Between the newcomers and the "veteran" refugees released
from prison, about 200 Sudanese are now working in Eilat, with more on
the way. "We have a terrible shortage of hotel employees in the city,"
he notes.
Some of those arrested at the border, though, are still being sent to
jail. Asked what determines a refugee's destination, Bavly replies: "I
can't explain it. I don't see any consistency to the policy." Rozen,
however, says a refugee's immediate fate "often depends on whether the
jails are full on a particular night or not."
Still, the big question is what to do in the long run about the refugees
who've come here from Egypt - and about the unknowable number of others
planning to risk the journey in the future.
IT IS a very difficult question. The country's leading Holocaust
scholar, Yehuda Bauer, and Yad Vashem director-general Avner Shalev are
among those who have called for these refugees from catastrophe to be
granted citizenship. Rozen points to the 1977 precedent of Menachem
Begin's granting of citizenship to 66 Vietnamese boat people.
But there are an estimated 3.5 million Sudanese refugees in Egypt. Asked
how many would like to come here, Lousky of Israeli Flying Aid replies:
"All of them. Their life in Egypt is terrible." She notes that a cottage
industry has sprung up in Cairo with agencies transporting refugees by
van to El Arish in Sinai, where they are picked up by local Beduin who
guide them to the border across the sands by night. "The going rate is
$300 per refugee," says Lousky.
Blum hopes that at least many of those already here will be allowed to
stay, but he agrees that the country has to be very careful about the
message it sends to those still in Egypt. "Our workers talk to their
families in Cairo on the phone and tell them it's like the Garden of
Eden here, and the news travels very fast. If we grant citizenship to
whoever wants it, one day we could wake up with a crowd of 3,000
Sudanese waiting at our border. What do we tell our soldiers to do?" he
Rozen, however, says these fears are exaggerated, insisting that the
cost, hardship and danger of crossing the Sinai are prohibitive for all
but relatively few refugees.
Since the Sudanese first began arriving, Israel has asked the US,
Australia and other Western countries to grant them political asylum -
with no success. Led by the US and Australia, Western nations have
granted asylum to about 50,000 in recent years, and Rozen says their
response to Israel's request is: "We're already giving asylum to tens of
thousands, why can't Israel give asylum to a few hundred?"
Israel has promised not to deport the refugees back to Egypt because
Egypt has been known to deport them to Sudan, which can be a death
sentence. At any rate, says Bavly, Egypt "hasn't shown any interest in
taking them." What the refugees want is political asylum - either from
Israel or a Western country - so they can start new lives without having
to worry about being jailed or deported or otherwise persecuted.
George, who fled to Egypt six years ago at 15, and crossed the border in
April, says: "If Israel gives me asylum and allows me to go to school
here, then I'd like to stay. Israel is one of the best countries there
is. But if I can't stay here and study, then I want to go somewhere
else. All of us are young; we want to do something with our lives. How
many more years will I have to study?"
This drive for education is common among the refugees mopping floors and
making beds at Isrotel, says Blum. When they were invited to choose from
the used clothing, household goods, toys and other belongings donated to
them by the staff, he says, "The first thing they chose were the books
in English."
DURING MY interviews with six refugees in Eilat - five of whom spoke
broken English, the other speaking Arabic through a Sudanese translator
- only George broke down in sobs while describing scenes from his past.
Dina Cohen, the social worker, says that as far as she's seen, "they
haven't shown signs of psychological suffering, but I'm sure they will
later. For now, they're still caught up in the culture shock of being in
But whether they show it or not, these people have been battered or
traumatized by their experiences - worst by far being what they went
through in Sudan, but also what they endured in Egypt.
Recalls Robert: "I had buckets of dirty water thrown on me by Egyptians
from their balconies. People called me 'slave,' and I kept it all inside
because if you make a scene, they'll call the police on you and then
you're in real trouble. I didn't want my children to have to go on
living with that, being chased and called names all the time."
Robert says he had to leave his wife and two younger children in Cairo
because after borrowing money from a friend in the US and selling what
he could, he still only had enough money to take his two older boys
across the border. "I don't know what's going to happen to my family
back in Cairo."
I asked an official at the Egyptian Embassy if anyone there would
explain why Egyptian soldiers shoot refugees trying to flee the country
or respond to the accusations of systemic racist abuse of Sudanese in
Egypt. He said he would pass the request on, but he doubted there would
be a reply because "we are here in Israel, and these matters are handled
by the authorities in Egypt."
However bad it was for the refugees in Egypt, their memories from
southern Sudan are another matter entirely. Mary, sitting in the
functionally furnished room in an Eilat high-rise she shares with her
husband, says she "ran with many other people" from her village one day
in 1990, "because of the war between the Arabic people and the people
from southern Sudan. Everybody saw the Arabs' guns and started running
in different directions. There were bombs. There was fire. You know - war."
Her father survived, but she doesn't know what happened to her seven
brothers and sisters. "My mother died in the war. We were there." Her
ordinarily animated expression becomes slack. I ask if she saw her
mother get killed. "Yeah. I saw."
Like other refugees in Cairo who have gone to the UN office for asylum
papers - and where, in December 2005, Egyptian police killed at least 27
of them in a crowd protesting the UN's endless delays - Mary has a
letter detailing why she fled Sudan. In faulty English (corrected
below), it describes what happened to her at the end of 2002, when she
was a street vendor in Khartoum, the capital.
"Three men in plain clothes came to my door one night. They searched my
room, blindfolded me and accused me of being an informer for the
Sudanese People's Liberation Army rebels. I denied these false
accusations, but they didn't listen to me. I was taken into another room
and tortured. They poured cold water over my body and whipped me all
over until I collapsed. They put me in a cell for seven days, giving me
little food and water and refusing to let me go to the toilet for hours
on end.
"When they released me, they ordered me to report to the police station
every Monday morning with names and addresses of rebel spies. I didn't
know the rebels, so I knew I couldn't do what they ordered. So on
January 2, 2003, I took a train to the Egyptian border, then a ship to
Aswan and then a bus to Cairo. I believe that if I go back to my country
of citizenship, I will be arrested and killed because I violated the
conditions of my release. I don't think the present authorities will
protect me because they are part of the same government that was in
power when I escaped."
AFTER WHAT they went through in Sudan and Egypt, the refugees are almost
glowing with gratitude toward Israel and the way Israelis have treated
them, beginning with the soldiers who arrest them after they cross the
Recalls Robert, who was arrested with his two sons: "The Israeli
soldiers started talking to us in Arabic, and I thought we were dead.
But then they smiled at us, and gave us food, water and blankets. They
took us to some army base so we could shower and sleep."
Mary says she was shocked that the soldiers didn't point their guns at
her. Her husband John, who is very quiet during the interview, grins
widely and gives the thumbs-up sign at my mention of Israeli soldiers.
"They are good people," he says.
Even George, who sat in jail for 11 months before being released to go
to work in Eilat, doesn't seem to hold any grudges. "Look, jail is jail,
but I can't say the Israelis there were bad to us. We had no problems,
all the police were very nice to us. Ramon [Prison] was the best - Dudu
was a very nice guy. They had a very nice social welfare lady, Galit.
Really nice people. No one hits you. I've been in different jails, and
the ones in Israel are the best."
It's clear they're also being treated extremely well at the Eilat
hotels. "Fantastic," is how Sigal Rozen of Hot Line for Migrant Workers
describes the arrangement. "I only wish all Israeli employees were
getting the salary and benefits they're getting," says Gal Lousky of
Israeli Flying Aid.
The salary they get from Isrotel, says Blum, is NIS 4,000 a month for a
40-hour workweek, slightly higher than the minimum wage. "But they're
very eager to work, and with overtime and Shabbat they can make NIS
5,000 or NIS 6,000," he says, adding that they also get health insurance
and other standard employee's benefits "just like any of our other
Everyone is examined by doctors and treated if necessary; the children
are inoculated; each adult gets NIS 300 pocket money and a free monthly
bus pass; and everyone receives toiletries, donated clothing, three free
meals a day at the hotels and an apartment that costs them about NIS 600
monthly rent. Isrotel has set up a nursery and kindergarten for the
children, while the two oldest kids have been enrolled at Eilat's Etzion
Gever Elementary School. A Hebrew ulpan is in the works. "The goal is
for them to become fully independent," says social worker Dina Cohen.
While they're all working as janitors and house cleaners in this, their
first or second month at work, Blum says that as they gain experience,
they'll be eligible for higher-paying jobs such as waiters.
"The Israelis have done something good for us. For the rest of our
lives, we will not forget this," says Mary.
On Monday, the subject of what to do about the refugees was discussed in
a meeting convened by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert with people from
various government ministries and the IDF. No policy was decided on, but
Interior Minister Roni Bar-On was told to report back with proposals for
how to ensure decent treatment for the Sudanese here without signaling
an open-door policy to those in Egypt.
For them, Israel is the promised land. But it can't be said that getting
to Israel is the happy ending to their story.
George is sitting in an office at the King Solomon Hotel, dressed in the
hotel janitor's uniform of white polo shirt and khaki slacks. He says
the Arab militias invaded his village in southern Sudan about 4 a.m. one
day in 1998. He was 13 and living with his parents, four brothers and
four sisters.
"They came on horseback, large numbers of them. They killed all the
adults and the young children. I saw them come into our house and rape
my sister. My mother heard her crying and she came into the room, and
they killed my mother and my sister in front of me. I don't know what
happened to the rest of my family. They kidnapped the older children in
the village to work for Arab farmers. They beat me and blindfolded me
and made us walk. I don't know how many days, I had no sense of time.
"We were put on a train and when it stopped, a man told me to get into
his car and he drove me to a big house with a farm. The owner's name was
Muhammad Suleiman. Later I learned that he was a very powerful man in
the government. The first thing he told me was: 'You are a black boy and
you are now my slave.' I was there for two years."
To life stories such as these people have to tell, there really is no
happy ending.

Tuesday, 5 June 2007

weekly update 05/06/07

Dear Members,
We have two articles for you this week by two Rabbis of different
streams. One article by a Reform Rabbi, Rabbi Eric Yoffie the head of
the Reform movement in the USA and one by Rabbi Marc Angel, senior Rabbi
of a New York city Spanish & Portugese Synagogue.
The first is an interesting article on Jewish education versus secular
education and Israeli schools - it is a topic that I'm sure our members
will have a wide variety of opinions on. The second article is on the
Israeli Chief Rabbinate including agunot and conversion issues.
As always we are delighted to hear your feedback.

Over the next couple of weeks our e-mail updates may get to you on
different days of the week than you are used to. Ralph - who sends out
the e-mails is off on holiday so other people will be taking over the
system while he is away.

Pro Zion

Put religion into Israel's schools

Reform Reflections: Put religion into Israel's schools
Posted by Rabbi Eric H. Yoffie |
A number of years ago, a group of high school principals came to visit
the United States under the auspices of the American Jewish Committee.
The AJC invited 3 rabbis – Reform, Conservative, and Orthodox – to meet
with the educators, most of whom were secular, in order to discuss with
them Jewish religious life. I was the Reform representative, and when
the three of us had finished talking, the principals attacked us with
great fury.
Since all of us had spoken about commitment to Torah and Jewish
religion, the differences among us were of no importance; we were all
religious apologists in their eyes. As secular Jews, they were angry
that we did not accept their view that a secular approach to Judaism was
every bit as valid as a religious one.
At the time, I was stunned. Had the Jewish people created a Jewish state
and rebuilt Jerusalem, the eternal capital of the Jewish people, so that
Jewish children in the "State (secular) school system" could be taught
that Jewish religion was useless superstition?
The "State religious school system" does, of course, teach Jewish
religion, but I read not long after that a significant number of
children in this system do not believe it important that Israel be a
democratic state.
The time has come to reform Israel's balkanized education system. In
every democratic country in the world, there are public schools that
teach students their national language, the principles of democracy, and
the values that their nation cherishes. Private schools exist as well,
paid for by parents, with or without government support, but these
schools too are required to teach national values and the fundamentals
of democracy.
In Israel, however, there are three separate school systems for Jews:
secular, religious, and independent (for ultra-Orthodox children).
Subject matter is taught in different languages and reflects a variety
of values—sometimes anti-democratic, sometimes anti-Zionist, and
sometimes anti-Jewish. Nonetheless, the State of Israel continues to
support all of these schools, with minimal supervision.
I have a humble suggestion: Let the State of Israel create a core
curriculum for all its schools. Its purpose would be to tie all Jews in
the Jewish state to each other and to the Jewish people throughout the
world, and to strengthen the central symbols and democratic values of
the State of Israel. It would be pluralistic and tolerant, but openly
and assertively Jewish and rooted in Jewish religious tradition.
It would address religious values and practice in a way that would
aspire to transcend ideology and historical circumstance. As a core
curriculum, it would occupy only a segment of instruction time, leaving
each school system free to teach the remaining subjects in its own way;
but the core elements would be required in every Jewish school in
Israel, and would be available, in adapted form, for use in Diaspora
Jewish schools (which, of course, have their own educational problems).
Would we not agree that Jewish children in Israel should value democracy
and be positively inclined toward Jewish religion, Jewish culture, and
Jewish peoplehood? If so, then these values must be taught in all
Israeli schools

Re-think Israel's Chief Rabbinate

Re-think Israel's Chief Rabbinate

The Chief Rabbinate has had a 59-year monopoly on many aspects of the
religious life of the State of Israel. It controls marriages, divorces
and conversions to Judaism; it regulates public kashrut as well as
offering kosher supervision to private establishments.
It operates a network of rabbinic courts. It has a visible, public
platform for teaching the ideas and ideals of Judaism to Israeli
society, and for serving as a religious beacon of inspiration to world
One would think that after these 59 years, then, the Chief Rabbinate
would be one of the most beloved and revered institutions in Israeli
society. The rabbis have had daily opportunity to interact with all
Israelis - religious and otherwise - and to show them the beauty of
Judaism, the kindness of Torah, the pleasantness of the Orthodox message.
Yet, amazingly and tragically, the Chief Rabbinate seems to be one of
the least beloved and revered institutions in Israeli society. It has
little or no authority in the haredi community; it generates little or
no enthusiasm among religious Zionists; it is of little positive
significance to the remainder of Israelis.
Although the Chief Rabbinate and its many functionaries include some
fine, sincere and wonderful people, the overall image - and reality - of
the rabbinate appears to be negative.
IN THE field of kashrut, the supervision of the Chief Rabbinate is
disdained by the haredi community, which has set up its own kosher
supervision system (the Badatz). Apparently, the Badatz has achieved -
in many circles - a higher level of trust for its supervision than has
the Chief Rabbinate. Indeed, in all areas of Jewish law the haredi
community turns to its own authorities, and not to the Chief Rabbinate.
In the area of marriages, stories are legion of couples, especially
non-Orthodox ones, who have had unpleasant experiences with rabbinic
functionaries. The growing demand for civil marriage in Israel is an
indication of dissatisfaction with the rabbinic marriage bureaucracy.
In the area of divorce, the Chief Rabbinate has been notoriously
unsuccessful in addressing the aguna problem, allowing a situation to
fester where husbands refuse to grant a divorce unless they are paid
off. I myself have been involved in several cases where Israeli rabbis
have actually encouraged the husband to demand payment and various other
rights before granting a divorce.
The Chief Rabbinate finally felt compelled to convene a conference to
deal with the issue, but then cancelled it at the last moment -
apparently under pressure from haredi elements. It seems increasingly
clear that a solution to the aguna problem will not emerge from the
Chief Rabbinate, but will have to be found in the civil courts.
IN THE area of conversion, the Chief Rabbinate raises obstacles to
prevent non-Jews from entering the Jewish fold. It has adopted a haredi
position that conversion is available only to those agreeing to observe
Torah and mitzvot in full. This position is a radical break from the
Talmud, Rambam (Maimonides) and the Shulhan Aruch; it is capitulating to
an extreme haredi position that took root only in the 19th century.
The Chief Rabbinate not only enforces this position for the State of
Israel, but has now disqualified the conversions of Orthodox rabbis in
the Diaspora unless those rabbis are clearly under the rabbinate's
thumb. The Rabbinical Council of America has essentially bowed to the
authority of the Chief Rabbinate, since the latter has the power to
decide who is Jewish and who is not Jewish in the State of Israel. If
the Chief Rabbinate rejects the validity of a conversion - even if
performed entirely according to Halacha - the convert and his/her
children will face problems if they decide to move to Israel.
The Chief Rabbinate seems intent on demonstrating its "power," and on
showing that it can be as extreme as the haredim. How far has this
institution moved from the wise, compassionate and loving attitude of
the late Sephardi chief rabbi Benzion Uziel (who died in 1953)!
Rabbi Uziel well understood that the role of the rabbinate was not to
drive people away from Judaism, but to find every possible way of
bringing them into the fold for the sake of Jewish families and the
Jewish nation. When Israel was founded, Orthodox Jews placed much hope
in the Chief Rabbinate. They truly hoped that it would enhance the
Jewish nature of the state and win the hearts of Israel's citizens to a
deeper appreciation of the Torah traditions. Regrettably, these hopes
have not been fulfilled.
THE CHIEF Rabbinate functions as though it were leading a cult rather
than a world religion with a grand, universal message. It adopts extreme
haredi positions and attitudes because it seems to view the haredi
community as the only constituency that matters.
Should the State and people of Israel continue to grant power to this
sort of chief rabbinate? Shouldn't there, rather, be a complete review
of the rabbinate's role and functions, a top-level government commission
to evaluate its successes and failures, to recommend changes in policies
and procedures, to overhaul the rabbinic bureaucracy, to clarify the
rabbinate's mission - its responsibilities as well as its limitations?
Establishing such a commission will surely engender fierce opposition
and political infighting. Yet unless an impartial panel carries out a
serious evaluation of the Chief Rabbinate and makes necessary
recommendations, the damage to the State of Israel, to Judaism and to
the Jewish people will be immense.
All Israelis and all Jews have a stake in an honest, compassionate,
competent and courageous Chief Rabbinate, one that serves as a unifying
force. The sooner the rabbinate is reconstituted, the sooner will we be
able to say with a full heart: "For out of Zion comes forth the Torah,
and the word of God from Jerusalem."
The writer is senior rabbi of Congregation Shearith Israel, the historic
Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue of New York City.

Weekly update 01/06/07

Dear Members,

This week we have two articles, four events and one urgent call for action.
The first article is from Rabbi Eric Yoffie (the president of the
American Reform movement) on the Israeli Rabbinate.
The second article is about the evening with Ken Livingstone that some
of our members and executive attended this week. The event was organised
by the movement for Reform Judaism. Pro-Zion member Adrian Needlestone
has written a report of the meeting which we include. The movement for
Reform Judaism have a press release about the meeting on their website
as well as a recording of the event.
Click here for press release

Events: Cut out for web blog

Academic Boycott News

Call To Action:
Today the British University and College Union voted to adopt a policy
broadly supporting a boycott of Israeli academic institutions, as well
as calling for a moratorium on EU funding for Israeli research.

You can join Pro Zion, The Zionist Federation, StandWithUs, Fair Play
Campaign Group in the UK and other groups to help overturn this move,
but please act right now.

We want to place as much pressure on the UCU leadership as we can in the
next 24 hours.
We want them to call a referendum of all the members to vote on the
boycott issue.
Write an email now, keep it polite; don't make it personal, but address
the issues. They are:

*Express your dismay at the decision of the Congress to boycott Israeli
academic institutions
*The UCU conference representatives voted for a step towards a boycott
of Israeli academics
*Ask UCU leadership to condemn the boycott vocally and publicly
*Ask Sally Hunt, UCU General Secretary, to confirm that she will be
honouring her promise to call a referendum of all the UCU membership to
ask ALL the UCU members if they support a boycott.
*Express your feelings about the boycott - Boycotts are one sided and do
not help anyone;

Please send your emails to

(Above are the emails of: Sally Hunt, General Secretary / Paul Mackney,
Joint General Secretary / UCU Head Office / UCU Joint Presidents / Heads
of Higher & Further Education).

More information on Boycott Responses can be found here:
Copies of the motion at:

Ken Livingstone visit to Sternberg Centre

Livingstone knocks them in the Aisles – Adrian Needlestone

He is the original cheeky chappie of politics. A self-proclaimed rascal
whom everyone loves. Ken Livingstone is like a professional boxer who
telegraphs his punches the only difference being we the victims don't
want to get out of the way

The contest at the Sternberg Centre on Wednesday was a no contest. In
one corner an invited audience of Reform and Liberal Jews plus assorted
movement bigwigs. In the other corner was Livingstone.

After the usual formalities were completed by the movement leaders the
Mayor Of London took the stage. He immediately told it "like it is," but
in such a charming style one was reminded of the story of the King's New
Clothes. You thought you were hearing and seeing something different.

It wasn't like our Ken didn't give fair warning as he threw his
haymakers: "I have been a professional politician for 36 years," he told
his audience. code for: if a liberal open minded group seeking common
ground think they can get the better of me they are on another planet.

That was exactly what the audience thought. A series of potential
embarrassing questions had been submitted to the chair before the
meeting but Livingstone swatted them away like flies
On anti Semitism he said he wasn't, probably true. On the whole he has
an aversion to journalists of any religious persuasion and none. On
Israel, he was a friend but a concerned critic, doubtful.

It wasn't until the arranged questions had literally run their full
course that Livingstone was made to feel a little uncomfortable when a
member of the audience went into an eloquent rant pointing out that not
only was the Mayor no friend of Israel but he had pointedly said that if
60 years ago we could see what was happening to day it would have been
better if the state hadn't come into existence.

A roar of approval supported by thunderous handclapping rose from the
body of the floor. But it was a little late in the night for the mouse
to roar, and the sound soon dissipated.

The evening was capped off by Reform movement leader Rabbi Tony
Bayfield in his winding up address saying he was "pleased to hear that
Ken was against the boycott of Israel," when what Livingstone in fact
had said was he was against the boycott of Israel, "at the moment,"
because "unlike South Africa there were still a lot of avenues to try."

Doesn't evenhandedness suggest that if a boycott can ever be considered
than the Palestinians must be considered equally culpable? No mention of
that from Ken.

At the conclusion of the evening all adjourned for drinks and biscuits.
Most of the young people in the audience swarmed round Livingstone as
they scoffed their Jaffa Cakes. The young can spot a visionary miles
away. Too bad when it comes to Israel the Mayor is myopic.

Reform Reflections - Soloveitchik - Eric Yoffie

May 24 2007; 05:05PM
_Reform Reflections </index.php?cat_id=&blog_id=72>_: The Rav was right
Posted by Rabbi Eric H. Yoffie

The unchallenged leader of modern Orthodoxy in the second half of 20th
century was Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik. In 1959, it was proposed to
the Rav that he be a candidate to succeed the Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi of
the State of Israel. If he had agreed, his election was assured, but he
declined the offer, and later explained his decision as follows:

"One of the reasons why I did not accept the post of Chief Rabbi of
Israel – and the offer was made to me several times – was that I was
afraid to be an officer of the State. A rabbinate linked up with a state
cannot be completely free." While expressing his admiration for Israeli
rabbis, he nonetheless explained that "the mere fact that from time to
time halakhic problems are discussed as political issues at cabinet
meetings is an infringement on the sovereignty of the rabbinate."

In a lecture delivered in 1972, the Rav was less complimentary about the
Israeli rabbinate. "When I refused to accept the position of chief
rabbi," he said, "I explained that one of my reasons was that the
rabbinate has been institutionalized there. Willy-nilly, such a
rabbinate will disintegrate. I am sorry that my prophecy was correct. It
is now in a stage of disintegration." (See The World of Rabbi Joseph B.
Soloveitchik, by Aaron Rakeffet-Rothkoff, v. 1, p. 56, v. 2, p. 38.)

There is sometimes an assumption that only Reform and Conservative
rabbis oppose the current unholy alliance in Israel that marries the
Orthodox rabbinate to the apparatus of the state and makes each party
the servant of the other. In fact, a significant stream of modern
Orthodox thinking has expressed profound doubts about the advisability
of relying on the coercion of the state to enforce halakhic precepts.
The Rav, as we see from the quotations above, was always insistent that
Mizrachi could best encourage observance of Torah through education
rather than through legislation resulting from political influence.

There are ample sources in our rabbinic tradition that also question the
use of coercive means to further Torah observance. For example, a
critical Talmudic precept is that when the rabbis cannot get the Jewish
people to willingly accept Torah law, they should not coerce them lest
the people sin willingly rather than out of ignorance; in other words,
imposing God's law is more likely to lead to popular rejection of that
law than to acceptance of it. (See Baba Bathra 60b: "We do not lay a
hardship on the community unless the majority can endure it…let Israel
go their way: it is better that they should err in ignorance than

Similarly, Maimonides notes that divine law must have a clear popular
mandate before it can be legally valid; in the absence of such a
mandate, the decree can be abolished, even if the Court abolishing it is
lesser in wisdom than the Court that enacted it. (See Maimonides, Hil.
Mam., 2,7.)

In short, political coercion on religious matters, of the sort that we
have in Israel today, is not in fact religiously valid and does not
advance the cause of Torah. Indeed, throughout history, for Jew and
non-Jew alike, the use of the power of the state to advance a religious
tradition always results in undermining that tradition instead.

Rabbi Soloveitchik was right.