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Friday, 27 July 2007

Update 27/07/07

Dear Friends,
Again we have a couple of different items to pass on. The first is a
brief article on "legal aid centres for olim" a project run by our
friends at the Israel Religious Action Centre. The second is a
newsletter from the Leo Baeck education centre in Haifa.
Welcome to all our new subscribers this week. If you have missed any
previous articles they are all archived on our news blog available via
our website at

Pro Zion

Leo Baeck Newsletter

Please download the PDF to view newsletter (approx 500kb)


LACO Aids Victims of Domestic Abuse

LACO Aids Victims of Domestic Abuse
By Rita Konaev, IRAC staff
This year, the Israel Religious Action Center's (IRAC) Legal Aid Centers
for Olim (LACO) has handled a number of cases where individuals were
fighting not only for their emotional well-being, but at times, their
very physical survival.
Such is the case of Irena, a woman who immigrated to Israel from the FSU
to live with her husband and son.
Irena was repeatedly beaten by her abusive husband, but was able to
break away from him. After Irena and her son left their home, the
Interior Ministry cancelled her temporary residency status. Irena was
forced to choose between two evils - remain with her abusive husband -
or be deported.
She then came to LACO asking for assistance with her struggle to attain
permanent status in Israel. LACO filed a petition in Irena's name,
condemning and challenging this offensive policy which fails to
differentiate between cases of commonplace separation and those cases
where a victim breaks free from her abuser - as found in cases of
domestic violence.
The case was reviewed by the Supreme Court and Irena's residency status
was reinstated.
IRAC and LACO believe that the inspirational strength and courage of
individuals like Irena - who only hope for a better future for herself
and her family - must be awarded, and not punished.

Thursday, 26 July 2007

update 19/07/07

Dear Members,

This week we have three articles.
The first "will leaders' talk lead to action" is about a gathering of
Jewish leaders in Jerusalem where 100 leaders will try to come to some
consensus on the future of the Jewish people.
The second is about some of the important work IRAC (the Israel
Religious Action Centre) is doing to help the people of Sderot and
refugees from Darfur. IRAC is a group we work with closely with in
Israel and who we normally hear about helping Israelis with religious
legal battles in Israels courts.
The final article talks about a meeting between Ehud Olmert and three
Liberal Jewish thinkers including Rabbi Ellenson from the Progressive
Hebrew Union College - it also discusses how the Progressive movement
has much to bring to improve Jewish observance in Israel.

*Alyth Stop the Boycott Event.* Meet the people In the Front Line of this
urgent campaign for Israel's future Tuesday 24th July 8.00pm - 9.30pm at
North Western Reform Synagogue, Alyth Gardens, NW11 7EN.
Open to all — Free of charge. Full details in last week's letter

Remember all articles past and present can be view on our blog via the
news/blog link on our webpage <>
As always we would love to hear your comments.

Pro Zion

Will leaders' talk lead to action?

Will leaders' talk lead to action?
Uriel Heilman
More than 100 Jewish communal leaders assembled in Jerusalem for a
three-day conference on the future of the Jewish people. Will their
recommendations be implemented?
Published: 07/12/2007
JERUSALEM (JTA) – When more than 100 Jewish communal leaders assemble
for a conference whose stated goal is no less ambitious than to plan the
future of the Jewish people, one of two things can happen.
Either the summit falls victim to its overly ambitious goal, or
something productive actually comes out of discussions on curbing
assimilation in the Jewish Diaspora, containing Iran's nuclear weapons
program and engaging young Jewish minds and hearts.
After three days of meetings in Jerusalem, it's not yet clear which will
be the legacy of the 2007 Conference on the Future of the Jewish People,
sponsored by the Jewish People Policy Planning Institute.
"I want to challenge all of us that this will not just be talk because
talk is cheap," Shalom Saar, a professor at Harvard University's Kennedy
School of Government, said Thursday, the final day of the summit.
Speaking after the parley's working groups had delivered their policy
recommendations, Saar quoted Albert Einstein, saying: "Implementation is
the vehicle of genius."
"If we implement some of these recommendations, we will win," Saar said.
The question now is what the Jewish leaders who came to the conference
will do about what they discussed.
Among the group's policy recommendations, which would fill several
pages, were the creation of a "baby birthright" program to offer
universal, free Jewish preschool; the easing of conversion procedures in
Israel to make it easier to become a Jew; the adoption of a more
inclusive attitude toward Israelis living overseas, including the
extension of absentee voting rights; and the promotion of knowledge of
Hebrew among Jewish organizational leaders.
The working groups also made several declarative conclusions without
specific recommendations about how to achieve them. The how, they said,
will be formulated in the coming months.
The declarations ranged from the frightfully obvious to the controversial.
The former: "We identified Iran as the existential threat to Israel and
the dominant threat to the West," Anti-Defamation League National
Chairman Glen Lewy said.
And the latter: "A state monopoly on religion in Israel is emerging as a
major impediment for Diaspora-Israel relations, the Jewish identity of
Israelis and aliyah," said Stephen Hoffman, president of the Jewish
Community Federation of Cleveland.
As the conference came to a close, Barry Shrage, the president of
Boston's Combined Jewish Philanthropies, observed, "We need some
concrete outcomes."
The challenges confronting the Jewish people are hardly new, nor were
the discussions about them alien to anyone who came.
Rather the uniqueness of this summit was the breadth of those
participating and the opportunity such a gathering theoretically
presents to effectively address those challenges.
Participants included Israeli government ministers past and present,
leaders of major American Jewish organizations, philanthropists,
academicians, newspaper editors and foundation heads. Israel's prime
minister, opposition leader and president-elect dropped by, too.
As one participant noted, "The people who can effect the changes are in
the room."
The question is whether this summit will spark real solutions to address
what are perceived as the central ills of the Jewish people: declining
Jewish identification by Israeli and American Jews, the demonization of
Israel worldwide, Islamic extremism, the growing gap between Israel and
Diaspora Jewry, assimilation, low Jewish population growth and
ineffective Jewish leadership.
There was no shortage of debate on how best to address these issues.
Jewish demographer Sergio DellaPergola of Hebrew University said Jewish
leaders need to formulate policies to boost Jewish birthrates to combat
the demise of the U.S. Jewish population through assimilation, and to
change the demographic tide in Israel, where Arab population growth far
outpaces the Jewish birthrate.
J.J. Goldberg, the editor of the Forward newspaper, argued that Jewish
leaders instead need to consider the Jewish community more expansively
and not ignore the tremendous growth in American households containing
Jews – or the people in them who seek to be part of the Jewish
community, whether they are considered Jewish by Jewish law or not.
Saul Singer, editorial page editor of The Jerusalem Post, advocated more
open conversion policies to bolster the ranks of worldwide Jewry.
Ha'aretz editor David Landau beat the drum of Orthodox triumphalism,
noting that the Orthodox population in Israel and the Diaspora do not
suffer from the most significant ills plaguing the wider Jewish
community: negative population growth, lack of Jewish identity and
indifference toward Israel.
Participants from Canada, Europe and Israel suggested that the high
attrition rate in the largest Diaspora Jewish community, the United
States, suggests it has much to learn from non-American communities
where the Jewish retention rate is significantly higher, such as
Montreal or Johannesburg.
Yisrael Harel of the Israel Democracy Institute noted that the sad state
of the Jewish people is reflected in the decision of conference
organizers to hold the discussions in English.
"Hebrew is the mother tongue of the Jewish people," Harel said.
Other participants found the conference flawed for what, or who, was
France's former chief rabbi, Rene Shmuel Sirat, said he was
flabbergasted by the lack of discussion about peacemaking and the need
to build bridges between Jews and Muslims. Several participants
complained that women were underrepresented. Countless gray-haired
Jewish professionals took turns at the microphone to bemoan the dearth
of young people.
Inbal Freund, 28, responded sharply to that absence.
"I feel that as young people we are learning in a different language, in
a different territory, in a different place," said Freund, the director
of Mavoi Satum, a group for women tied to recalcitrant husbands refusing
to grant gets, or official Jewish divorces. "We have to be represented
and not just spoken about."
Of course, one need not be invited to a conference to effect change.
Some of the more effective Jewish initiatives in recent years have
started outside the organized Jewish community, such as birthright
israel. That program, which in bringing more than 100,000 young Diaspora
Jews to Israel has helped bolster Jewish identity as well as ties to
Israel and among fellow Jews, was adopted by the organized Jewish
community only after much resistance, Hoffman noted.
Perhaps the follow-up to this conference – some sort of task force is
planned – will determine whether or not the next great idea will emanate
from the people who came to Jerusalem this week.
"There are enough Jews now in this room to change the Jewish world,"
said Larry Moses, president of the Wexner Foundation, "if we would only
behave differently."

Until ignorance divides us

Until ignorance divides us
By Yair Ettinger
Last Friday, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert received three guests in his
office, all with the double-barreled title of rabbi and professor: They
are well-known scholars among American Jews and fairly well-known in
Israel: Rabbi David Hartman, who heads the Shalom Hartman Institute in
Jerusalem and is associated with liberal Orthodoxy; Rabbi Arnie Eisen,
the chancellor of the Conservative movement's Jewish Theological
Seminary (JTS); and Rabbi David Ellenson, the president of Hebrew Union
College (HUC), the Reform Movement's rabbinic seminary.

Far from the discriminating eyes of the ultra-Orthodox, the earth
beneath the prime minister's office did not tremble when Olmert
addressed each of his conversants as "rabbi" and devoted time to those
who would like to find loopholes in the wall put up by the rabbinic

The three found in Olmert a favorable view of initiatives to "increase
Jewish identity among Jews" in Israel and abroad. They declined to
elaborate on the content of the meeting, but a talk with Rabbi Ellenson,
one of the most influential leaders among American Jewry, indicated
which way the wind is blowing

During his visit to Israel, Ellenson had a hard time getting over the
depressing impression made by senior Israeli figures a few days before
his departure from the United States at an international gathering of
university presidents. On Saturday night, he related, a rabbi recited
havdalahh [marking the conclusion of Shabbat] for all the participants,
and Ellenson noticed the Israelis. "One of them, the president of a very
large university in Israel, told me he had never seen such a service and
never even heard of its existence."

He was greatly saddened, said Ellenson. "I hate the word ignorance, I
prefer to be more gentle, but I know that's how it is. What does it mean
that an intellectual doesn't know what havdalah is? How would you
describe it? And he is not the only one among the Israelis."

Since 2001, Ellenson has been the world president of HUC, and is leading
the Reform movement alongside Rabbi Eric Yoffie, the president of the
Union of American Hebrew Congregations. During those years, the movement
has become more Zionist and also more halakhic [following Jewish law],
processes that are associated with Ellenson, who is unique among those
who have led the Reform movement in that he grew up in an Orthodox home.
The smiling man with a neatly trimmed gray beard, even tells biting
jokes about Reform Jews that he heard in his father's home in Virginia.

Halakha is also his area of academic expertise. In the 1970s he wrote
his doctoral thesis on Rabbi Ezriel Hildesheimer, the founder of the
Orthodox rabbinical seminary in Germany in the 19th century. Today he
continues with searches of rabbinic rulings and the responsa of Orthodox
rabbis from the 18th century to those to date and he writes on Rabbi Zvi
Hirsch Kalisher, a leading Polish rabbi in the 19th century and one of
the harbingers of religious Zionism; Rabbi Haim David Halevy, who was
the chief rabbi of Tel Aviv-Jaffa and other rabbis. The common
denominator of these rabbis is the halakhic solutions they offered for
resolving the tension between tradition and modern life in a wide
spectrum of areas. "It's not that I always identify with all their
responsa, but I appreciate the efforts they made to cope with the
challenges of the time," says Ellenson in Hebrew, which he prefers to
use here. "I see them as a model and an example for me."

He noted that his choice of rulings by Orthodox rabbis is important not
just for him personally; he leads a movement that defined itself by the
rejection of Halakha. "There is also a symbolic importance for the
Reform movement that there is someone who can represent them in these
areas as well. Usually people don't expect to hear a Reform rabbi
quoting from Rabbi Haim David Halevy."

Ellenson is now writing a book with Dr. Danny Gordis on rabbinic
responsa on the issue of converts.

Apart from the annual seminar for rabbis held earlier this month by the
Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem, Ellenson had a busy schedule in
Israel, including a meeting with some 100 Reform rabbinical students
studying at HUC in Jerusalem and an appearance at the Jewish People
Policy Planning Institute's conference in Jerusalem last week. At a
session on identity and demography, experts presented data indicating a
decline in the number of Jewish people due to assimilation.

When he took the floor, Ellenson chose to quote in English (the language
of the discussions) from letters written by Orthodox rabbis in the 19th
and 20th centuries.

"In 1864 there were people whose mothers were Christian and whose
fathers were Jewish, and the question arose as to whether halakhically
speaking, a lenient approach should be taken to their conversion and
make circumcision and ritual immersion enough for them to be considered
Jews," said Ellenson. "The rabbi of New Orleans forbade it, but at the
same time, sent a query to European rabbis: what should the Jewish
people's policy be on such questions.

"Rabbi Zvi Hirsch Kalisher wrote to him that not only is it permissible,
but also in his opinion it is a mitzvah to convert such children. He
wrote: 'Sometimes even sinners in Israel do mitzvot.' According to
halakha, there is an obligation to circumcise them. Rabbi Kalisher did
not consider them Jews from birth, but Jews from 'holy seed' and he
wrote: 'who knows, perhaps Torah sages will spring forth from them.'

"In my opinion, it's important to address this," continued Ellenson.
"Because we are facing the challenges of intermarriage abroad and also
in Israel, there are many who immigrated from Russia and the
establishment doesn't recognize their Jewishness. How does it help the
Jewish people to reject those who wanted to be a part of the Jewish
people? The halakhic definition is too narrow. People complain all the
time about the shrinking Jewish people, and at the same time build walls
to bar people, instead of encouraging them to join the Jewish people."

Ellenson is not disturbed by the fact that most Orthodox Jews, and not
just the rabbinic establishment, would reject such converts for the
purpose of marriage, for example. "In the modern world, perhaps it is
possible that there will be a shared enviroment for the entire Jewish
people, and at the same time the methods will differ. We don't live in
the Middle Ages, when the Jewish community was really halakhic. Today
things are different, there is a variety of streams in the Jewish world.
If we look at the reality of the Jewish people in our time, we see that
whoever is part of the Jewish destiny is part of the Jewish people as a
whole," he says.

Before the conference participants, Ellenson also mentioned Rabbi
[Joseph] Soloveitchik and his famous essay distinguishing between "a
covenant of fate" and "a covenant of destiny": "Most Jews in the world
would not agree with it today, but there is a covenant of fate. Jews who
are willing to immigrate to Israel and be part of the Jewish people, who
pay taxes, who defend the state in the IDF, who identify themselves as
Jews, what benefit would be gained by the Jewish people if we don't
accept them? Rabbi Kalisher's responsa is very relevant and can guide us
in our era."

The Reform movement in the U.S. is expanding its borders and accepting
more and more people from "holy seed" who identify as Jews, as well as
homosexuals, into the rabbinate, but a no less interesting process,
seemingly contradictory, is also taking place within the movement as
more and more Reform Jews are seeking to redefine their Jewishness by
relating to Halakha more seriously.

"We see increasing numbers of people wearing skullcaps and being careful
about Shabbat and kashrut observance," said Ellenson. "Men and women are
more interested in Halakha and want to observe Halakha. In my eyes, this
is a positive phenomenon." In the U.S., he says, people of all religions
are trying to get closer to their heritage. "You could call it
tribalism," he says.

And what about ignorance? Is there ignorance only among secular Israelis?

"Apparently ignorance exists throughout the Jewish world, and that's the
line that connects to all the streams of Judaism, in a negative sense.
There is ignorance throughout the Jewish world, and it must be fought.

"The problem is that in the U.S. if people don't have knowledge about
their Jewishness, then the connection to Israel will also be cut in a
few more generations. That is our mission, to teach modern Torah. There
a lot of people who neglect Judaism and don't know anything about it.
They associate Judaism with ultra-Orthodoxy because they see something
authentic in it, and in the meantime they can abandon Judaism. They
think it can't contribute anything to their modern world. There is
relevance to Judaism, we have principles and values that can guide
people in the modern era."

Providing Dignity and Compassion: from Darfur to Sderot

Providing Dignity and Compassion: from Darfur to Sderot
By Lee Hiromoto, IRAC intern
The Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC) has recently provided
humanitarian assistance to two dramatically different - yet in some
ways, similar - populations: residents of Sderot and refugees fleeing
the genocide in the Darfur region of Sudan.
Over a period of two weeks in May, several rockets a day were fired on
the beleaguered working class city of Sderot, resulting in several
deaths and a constant atmosphere of fear. IRAC has focused its
assistance for Sderot's special-needs residents - both physical and mental.
Recently, IRAC sponsored a weeklong stay in Mishkenot Ruth Daniel, the
guest house and culture center of the Reform Movement in Tel Aviv-Jaffa,
to enable Sderot's most vulnerable individuals and their loved ones some
time away from the anxiety that has permeated the town.
Over 100 people received free room, board, transport, and activities,
including a special trip to the nearby "Safari".
A mother of two children with physical and mental disabilities,
expressed thanks for allowing her a chance to spend some "relaxed time"
with her children outside Sderot - which she called "a besieged city".
IRAC also facilitated the recruitment and transportation of 30
volunteers from Jerusalem's Reform community, many of them rabbinical
students at Hebrew Union College, to travel south and spend time with
elderly residents. These residents receive individual visits, small
gifts, and-most importantly- the reassurance of knowing that someone
cares about them.
Parallel to its efforts to assist residents of Sderot, IRAC is helping
the hundreds of refugees from Sudan's Darfur region, embroiled in
ethno-tribal fighting which has taken the lives of over 400,000 souls
and displaced over 2 million innocent bystanders to the conflict.
The refugees made the dangerous trek across the scorching Sinai desert
with nothing but the clothes on their backs in hope of finding safe
harbor in Israel. Instead, they are unfortunately often imprisoned as
citizens of an enemy state. They currently remain in a state of legal
and diplomatic limbo.
IRAC send teams of Arabic-speaking volunteers to visit the refugees in
prison and volunteers bring gifts of the most basic necessities - such
as shoes, clothing, and baby products. No less important, the volunteers
show the refugees that there are Israelis sensitive to their dire situation.
IRAC also works with Israel's Reform community to raise awareness of the
refugees' plight. These efforts have led many Reform rabbis to raise the
issue in their weekly sermons, and over $10,000 have been raised to
assist these desperate victims.
Speaking about IRAC's work, Rachel Canar, IRAC Director of Development,
draws a parallel between the two populations: "No one should be forced
to leave their home in the face of senseless violence, and when that
does happen, we as Jews have an obligation to help them."

Update 12/07/07

Dear Members,

This week we are attaching two blogs by leaders of the progressive
movement, the first by Rabbhi Tony Bayfield (Chief Executive & Head of
the Reform Movement) is from the News Chronicle, and the second by Rabbi
Eric Yoffie (President of the Union for Reform Judaism of America) is
from the Jerusalem Post. We would appreciate your comments on these

Next Monday 16 July from 6.30 pm to 7.30 pm we have been asked by the
Zionist Federation to join them outside the Syrian Embassy, 8 Belgrave
Square, London, SW1X 8PH, to "Stand up for our kidnapped soldiers, one
year after their capture". Gilad Shalit, Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad
Regev. Find out more at <>

*Alyth Stop the Boycott Event.* Meet the people In the Front Line of
this urgent campaign for Israel's future
Tuesday 24th July 8.00pm - 9.30pm at North Western Reform Synagogue,
Alyth Gardens, NW11 7EN
Open to all — Free of charge
Alyth will be the venue for an open meeting to hear about the history of
trade union involvement with
Israel, the background to the current boycott of Israel campaigns and
what we can do to make a difference
and help to bring this campaign to a stop.
The speakers on our panel will be Roger Lyons, Chair of the Trade Union
Friends of Israel ( <>) and Lorna
Fitzsimons, Chief Executive of BICOM (
Want to act now? Go to

Hope to see you at both these events which have the support of Pro-Zion.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ralph Stern and all at Pro-Zion.

Driving in the middle,Tony Bayfield

Driving in the middle
Tony Bayfield
June 26, 2007 8:00 AM
An 18th century hasidic rabbi said "the middle of the road is for
horses". Being a moderate is even more unfashionable these days,
probably because moderation can be a thinly disguised cover for lack of
sustained principles and vacuousness.
I am a moderate when it comes to Israel but not, I hope, vacuous. It is
an uncomfortable position with traffic coming at me from both sides. I
am a Zionist and define Zionism as a non-negotiable commitment to the
right of the state of Israel to exist and an equal commitment to the
pursuit of peace as the highest value, to democracy and human rights.
That exposes me to the rage of Israel's critics on the one side and to
the Jewish "realists" and cynics on the other.
But I don't really matter in this regard. Consider the position of a
group called OneVoice. OneVoice is an Israeli-Palestinian joint
initiative. It seeks to give voice to the moderate majority on both
sides and articulate their desire for peace based upon compromise.
OneVoice planned mass, simultaneous rallies in Gaza and Tel Aviv with
thousands upon thousands of people already signed up.
Today, the OneVoice Gaza office is in a state of fear and confusion. The
situation in Gaza is terrible. Friends offered to evacuate the OneVoice
staff. To which they responded: "To all of you, we love Gaza, and
whatever we do, we do because we love it and we can't leave it whatever
the situation is. Thank you for your kind offer to ensure a passage for
our safety. You should be proud because you have such a team in Gaza.
OneVoice will remain and work strongly in Gaza because such an
organisation and other civil society organisations are the last and the
only hope for a better future."
These are the principled moderates we need to support.
Last week I met an Israeli Arab, Mohammad Darawshe. Darawshe works for
The Abraham Fund Initiatives which seeks to improve the conditions and
raise the de facto status of Israel's Arab population, move Israel in
the direction of being a Jewish state and a state for all its citizens
and demonstrate that Jews and Palestinians can live side by side in
cooperation and amity. The Abraham Fund is becoming an umbrella for
dozens of reconciliation initiatives. Darawshe believes that their work
is a lesson for all and not just for those who agree with them. These
are also the non-vacuous moderates that we must support.
Christian Aid is an organisation which has made a habit of upsetting the
mainstream of the Jewish community in Britain. All too often it portrays
the Palestinians as the poor and the oppressed and Israel as the wealthy
and powerful oppressor. It fails to acknowledge the reality of the
Islamist threat and the ruthless determination of Islamist leadership.
That imbalance was present in a recent paper advocating what it called
"viability". Yet Christian Aid was absolutely right in pointing to the
poverty and deprivation of the Palestinians, particularly in Gaza, and
indicating that no solution to the situation in the Middle East is
possible whilst such conditions of wretchedness are allowed to persist.
Which is why, for once, I disagree with another "moderate" and veteran
peace activist Gershon Baskin of the Israel Palestine Centre for
Research and Information. Writing in the Jerusalem Post, Dr Baskin says:
"Gaza is lost, for the time being. The Palestinians of Gaza, both the
supporters of Hamas and their opposition have to live with this new
reality. Gaza will be detached from the world."
Peace is untenable for as long as conditions in Gaza endure which the
exponents of terrorism can exploit. A humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza
cannot be permitted by Israel, Egypt and the west - morally or as a
matter of realpolitik. The moderate majority cannot be, must not be
Jonathan Freedland, writing in The Guardian last week, rightly sounded
the alarm at what he perceived to be an American and European plan to
take advantage of the present situation and push Israel in the direction
of making concessions to President Abbas and establishing a "good
Palestinian state'"model on the West Bank in contrast to the isolated
and untouchable "bad Palestinian state" model in Gaza. But he went on to
suggest that we should not get too cosy with the moderates. It depends
on who he means are the moderates.
To me the moderates are those who want to see Israel living at peace
with a viable and prosperous Palestinian state on the West Bank and
Gaza. And if that includes President Abbas then so be it. We have to
support all those who believe in two states, a Palestinian State in
which Jews can live safely and an Israel in which the Palestinian
minority will model how minorities can live freely within a majority
culture without seeking to overthrow it.
Unrealistic? It's less unrealistic than thinking that Islamism can be
defeated by allowing Gaza to become even more of a hell than it is now.
It is also less unrealistic than ignoring or downplaying the Islamist
threat which, whatever its origins, is a mortal threat to Israel - and
not just to Israel.
Which brings me to my moderate, middle-of-the-road position.
We abandon the moderates at our peril. We simply cannot ignore the
embattled members of the OneVoice office in Gaza. We must listen
seriously to Mohammad Darawshe and the many organisations in Israel for
which his is an umbrella. We must heed Christian Aid and their
recognition that poverty and deprivation cannot be tolerated.
But equally we simply cannot ignore the traffic on the other side of the
road, the Hamas supporters, the Islamists, those who seriously threaten
many of the values we hold dear. To think we can isolate them, lock them
up with their hostages in Gaza and throw away the key is unacceptable
both morally and practically. One cannot just deal with, talk with one
stream of traffic. One has to deal with both. Even Hamas in Gaza. That's
the true middle-of-the-road position and, however dangerous it is, it's
better than standing on the pavement watching the traffic on both sides
hurtle to oblivion.

Reform Reflections:,Israel: Not a State of all its citizens

Reform Reflections:
Israel: Not a State of all its citizens
Posted by Rabbi Eric H. Yoffie |
Should Israel be a "state of all its citizens"? Should it shed its
Jewish religious and cultural character so that all Israelis – Arabs,
Christians, Moslems, Jews – can fully identify with it? More and more
people seem to think so.
Several weeks ago, an article written by an Israeli Jew appeared on the
op-ed pages of the New York Times calling on Israel's leaders to change
the words of her national anthem, Hatikvah. How, the author wanted to
know, could Arab Israelis be expected to sing those words that call for
a return of the Jewish people to its homeland?
Similarly, a number of proposals have recently been put forward by
Israel's Arab citizens demanding that Arab culture be given equal status
with Jewish culture and that Israel shed its specifically Jewish character.
Many Jews seem to be tongue-tied when confronted with these demands.
They seem uncomfortable with the idea that the position of Israeli Arabs
should be, in any way, less than fully equal to that of Israeli Jews.
Wasn't the State of Israel created to "normalize" the existence of the
Jewish people? In this view, the purpose of Israel is not to worry about
Jewish religion or culture, but to achieve "normal" living for the large
percentage of the Jewish people who are wise enough to live within its
To these Jews, we must offer a clear answer: Zionism's purpose was to
create a society that is "normal" socially and politically, but not
ethically or religiously. More specifically, the Zionist founders were
always clear that the Jewish state exists to promote the religion,
civilization, and culture of the Jewish people and its dominant Jewish
Does this mean that Israel's Arab citizens must suffer certain
disabilities? It does. They are a minority, and there is a price to be
paid for minority status. Jews have paid that price for the last 2000
years, and nearly half of the Jewish people continue to pay it today. In
Great Britain, for example, there is an established church headed by the
British sovereign. Britain's Jewish minority cannot embrace that church,
which is an established fixture of Britain's national culture. Yet it
does not occur to Britain's Jews to demand the de-establishment of the
Church of England or the severing of the Queen from her religious role.
They understand that for minorities, complete identification with
Britain's national symbols and culture may not be possible.
Israel's Arabs, therefore, are being asked to accept no more than what
Jews have always accepted as minorities, including in Arab countries. We
need not be shy or apologetic about enjoying majority status in the
country that was established specifically to create a Jewish majority
and the conditions that accompany it.
But – and this is critical – Jews as a minority have always demanded
that their host countries grant them full civil and political rights.
The Jewish state, therefore, must do no less for its minority citizens.
Yes, Israel's majority culture should be aggressively Jewish, but there
is no excuse for discrimination against individual Arab citizens in
housing, employment, or education, and neither can discrimination in
public funding for Arab municipalities be tolerated.
Also, maintaining a secure Jewish majority is the foundation upon which
Israel's Jewish character is built; therefore, taking the necessary
steps to assure that majority – including putting an end to settlement
activity – remains a priority for any government of Israel.
A proud Jewish state with a secure Jewish majority that maintains a
national culture that is openly and assertively Jewish, while also
treating its minority citizens with fairness and respect – that is the
essence of Zionism.

Update 06/07/2007

Dear Member,

During Daniel's absence, you will have to put up with me sorting out
articles of interest. We have two this week, the first an interesting
contemplation of the effect that a two day week end would have on Israel
and the second an article by Avraham Burg, a former chair of the World
Zionist Congress and Jewish Agency, advocating the separation of
religion and state.

We are always delighted to have your comments,

Shabbat Shalom

Ralph Stern.

Caesaria Conference participants address labor force, Jewish identity

Caesaria Conference participants address labor force, Jewish identity
By Moti Bassok

"We have made Shabbat a day of rest, family bonding and shopping," said
Ministry of Industry, Trade, and Labor Eli Yishai, at the 15th Caesarea

Addressing the special session devoted to "The Social and Economic
Implications of Adding Another Day of Rest" which opened the forum,
Yishai noted that we should not limit ourselves to watching what the
rest of the world does, but should consider also the nature of Israel as
a Jewish country.

A team headed by Professor Amir Barnea prepared a working paper for the
forum, which noted that 17 percent of all employees work on weekends.
When considering the implementation of an additional weekend day, Barnea
said, the main benefits that can be expected is are the social, benefit
in the form of another day of rest for employees which does not fall on
Shabbat, and increased coordination with economies of the West, in
particular with European countries.

Dr. Karnit Flug, director of research at the Bank of Israel, noted that
while the Israeli per capita production is slightly lower than accepted
levels in member countries of the Organization of Economic Cooperation
and Development (OECD), product per worker is slightly higher. The
reasons for the difference include a low rate of participation in the
workforce, and a rate of unemployment slightly higher than normal in
developed countries.

In addition, the average work week in Israel is 38 hours, and 39 in OECD
countries. Flug emphasized that adopting an additional weekend day would
result in further increasing the gap between Israel and the OECD
countries in terms of product. Our goal to put our standard of living on
par with that of the OECD nations will be jeopardized, she summarized.

'Sunday weekend is not alternative'

Shraga Brosh, chairman of the Manufacturers Association of Israel, said
that his association opposes shortening the work week to four and a half
days, with the half day being Friday. "A shortened work week means a
loss of 23.8b shekels to the economy annually, 6b. shekels in industry
alone," he said. "This translates into 40,000 additional unemployed."

Uriel Linn, president of the Federation of Israeli Chambers of Commerce,
said that Israel's identity as a Jewish country should not be ignored.
If Sunday is designated as a weekend day, he said, the erosion of Friday
as a work day will simply continue, and we will quickly find ourselves
with a four day work week. "Sunday as a weekend day is simply not an

Former finance minister Silvan Shalom revealed that toward the end of
his tenure as minister he had considered shortening the work week to
follow the global trend.

"The economy is currently undergoing complete globalization, and
everyone needs to adapt to what is happening worldwide," said Shalom,
adding that transforming Sunday into a weekend day would dramatically
facilitate the economy. He said Israel currently has no real weekend -
when Friday, particularly in the winter, is a half work day, and there
is no public transportation, there is in effect no weekend day. Making
Sunday a weekend day, when the religious public can travel, shop and
indulge in recreation, will push the Israeli economy forward, he said.

Avraham Shohat, also a former finance minister, said that "if we decide
on Sunday as a weekend day, we are essentially deciding on two and a
half-day weekends, which is unrealistic." Nevertheless he believes there
is no other option but to make Sunday a weekend day.

There's room for hope By Avraham Burg

There's room for hope By Avraham Burg

One touch unleashed a vast outcry - proof of Israel's pains, and its cry
for help. But in our country these days there is no "Guide for the
Perplexed." Values have become blurred, brotherhood is crumbling and
unraveling, and the diplomatic path is blocked and sad: From outside,
Iran, Gaza and the demographic issue are seriously threatening, and
there is practically no public debate at all about the future of our
troubled country. The political establishment is worn-out and not
involved in serious debate about the fundamental questions of our lives
and the search for new answers, including those relating to:

A Jewish state

Anyone who, like me, believes in the separation of religion and state
cannot support the "Jewish-democratic" formula. A state whose algorithm
is so heavily weighted with religion can never fully contain democracy
as well. Between "Jewish" and "democratic," Jewish theocracy will
prevail. The fact is that the "Jewish" is getting stronger and more
insular while the "democratic" - encompassing liberty, equality, rights
and humanism - is growing very weak and ebbing away.

The assertion that, whatever the circumstances, the state will always be
"Jewish" no matter what coercion that entails, is the starting point on
the road to an Israeli state based on halakha (Jewish law). The
alternative? The transition from defining Israel as "a Jewish state" to
defining it as "the state of the Jews." It's the citizens, not the
state, who define the identity. The individual is responsible for the
contents and values of the society, for preserving its cultural and
spiritual character, historical heritage, and for private and collective
memory. The most profound, fundamental questions are to be decided only
in a completely democratic manner.
Consider that the Jewish Diaspora has no governmental tools of
enforcement and, in the face of the threat of assimilation, is nurturing
and rejuvenating an impressive modern Jewish identity - schools,
charitable institutions, communal organizations and a sincere concern
for "the other." I propose that Israel expand itself in the direction of
the openness of world Jewry rather than leave our identity in the hands
of local nationalist and religious zealots. A state of the Jewish People
in all its diversity - yes! A religious Jewish state - no.

And the passport?

I read in the paper that my family and I left the country. Sorry, but I
won't give anyone that pleasure. I don't want to live "there," only here.

Here is where my duties are - taxes, laws, service and concern bordering
on anxiety for the chances and survival of our only state. I could have
thrust in your faces a list of the public figures, business people and
media personalities, and their families, who hold foreign passports. I
also could have taken cover behind the common saying that, "This is the
Jewish instinct in us." But my reasons are different. One of my duties
as an Israeli and a Jew is to sound the alarm: "The dangers are already
at the door!" And against these dangers I wish to broaden our shrinking

I, who live and write in Hebrew, belong to more than one world. For me,
world citizenship is a metaphor for my existence not only as an Israeli,
but as a son of a "nation of the world." A few years ago, when the
proposal was made to allow yordim [Israelis who leave the country] to
vote in the Knesset elections, I supported it on condition that all Jews
of the world could vote and exercise their influence, too.

Just as I want to see the entire Jewish People involved in my life, I
want to be involved in the life of the whole world. When President Bush
declares a war that might determine my fate, for better or worse, I must
openly defend myself against him and against the manipulations of the
Israeli lobby that encourages dual loyalties. When force is used in
France to prevent a vital dialogue with the children of the immigrants -
that's my business, too. There are countries that allow double voting
and countries that don't. And when I have the chance to exert my
influence, I try to do so. Because this is also my Judaism.

And the interview?

Over the course of several years, I wrote a book, "Defeating Hitler,"
which encompasses numerous topics that are both painful and hopeful.
Afterward, I was interviewed over the course of many days, and now I am
not prepared to provide a response to a superficial headline of just a
few words. Of all the things in the interview in question, I was
especially disappointed by what was omitted. The book and its thesis
were described only very briefly. None of the alternatives I posed were
cited, no expression was given to my hopes for a new humanism, for a
renewed Judaism, for less traumatic interfaces with the world. My views
were hidden, as were my proposals for ways to recover from the national
trauma and to transform weakness into strength; ideas for other trips
that high-school students could make, for changes to the curriculum, for
another, more Jewish way to commemorate the destruction of European Jewry.

Also not mentioned was the role that I envision for Israel as the
catalyst for a greater, worldwide peace process - because our very
existence should be motivated by a continual responsibility for world
peace. Also missing from the interview was my aspiration for the Jewish
people that says "Never again," not just for us, the Jews, but for every
suffering victim today in the world, for them to get the support and
protection of the Jews, yesterday?s victims who defeated Hitler.

Right or left?

These questions do not fit into the classic right-left model. Until the
day peace comes, and in general, the right has nothing to offer except
the sword and the Messiah; on the day after peace comes, the classic
left has nothing to offer as new spiritual content for a public that no
longer has to turn its energies to war.
In my book and statements I join the stifled Israeli voices that are
trying to sketch the outline of the next Israeli landscape. To add
humanity and universalism to the old equations, and new dimensions of
ethical content and national existence. A life of confidence, not a
reality that is nothing but endless trauma. All those who are ready to
ask tough questions, even if our answers are completely different, all
those who put their hand on their hearts and admit "We are afraid" -
they are my partners. And we are many.

What would your father have said?

On most of the things, he would have agreed, and where we disagreed
(particularly in regard to his position supporting the religious
character of the state), he would have argued with me as a Jew and not
as an Israeli. The Israeli raises a violent hand against me and hisses,
"Why, who are you?" And as soon as I've been disqualified he exempts
himself from having to deal with my questions. The Talmudic Jew will try
to understand: "How do you see things? What are you saying?" He will
explore my ideas in depth together with me, will understand and then
decide whether to adopt my position and change his, or to return to his
own stance. He will always leave the minority position intact, recorded
and respected, knowing that today's minority opinion may well become
tomorrow's majority opinion, whether due to changes of circumstance or
the increasing severity of the illness.

Meanwhile, I would say to him, my father, the hero of the book: There is
room for hope. People are asking, arguing, searching for answers. And
together with them I am searching for solace and for alternatives to the
contemporary Israeli frustration. Thus will Hitler be