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Sunday 25 November 2007

Update 22/11/07 New MRJ Newsletter, Mr. Gay Israel visit

Dear Members,
For your interest this week, we have a couple of slightly different
items to update about.

1. The Pluralist
Please find attached the new edition of the Pluralist, the news update
from the Israel Religious Action Centre (IRAC). IRAC is the public and
legal advocacy arm of the Reform Movement in Israel (known as the Israel
Movement for Progressive Judaism). The centre puts forward Reform
Jewish values into the public sphere of Israeli society, on issues
including gay rights; gender issues; divorce; human rights etc. This
edition of The Pluralist gives a greater insight into the Keren B'Kavod
project that IRAC runs.
If you wish to subscribe to The Pluralist, there is a link at the bottom
of the newsletter attached, or click

2. Gesher Chai, the Reform Movement's new Israel newsletter

The Movement for Reform Judaism has recently published the first edition
of a their new monthly Israel newsletter. Joseph Millis, the editor of
the newsletter says in his introduction to the newsletter, '
Welcome to the first issue of Gesher Chai - Living Bridge - the Movement
for Reform Judaism's monthly Israel e-newsletter. This newsletter offers
a platform for deepening engagement with Israel as it celebrates its
60th anniversary – and beyond'.

To find the newsletter and subscribe please click on The Movement for
Reform Judaism's website to find out more.
MRJ Website

3. Israel Connect Event
Israel Connect is a group of young people from all over Europe, who wish
to take a proactive stand in support of Israel. Israel Connect organises
a series of social, cultural and educational events. In spite of the
barrage of attacks from the orthodox world, Israel Connect is hosting
Mr. Nathan Shaked, winner of Mr. Gay Isarel and Mr. Gay International.
Mr. Shaked will speaking about gay rights in Israel. As Progressive
Zionists, the value of equality extends beyond the realm of religious
expression to include sexual expression. We support this event and ask
you to please pass the details of the event around to those who you
think may be interested. The details are as follows:

Wednesday 28th November, at 8pm
Freedom Bar, 60-66 Wardour Street, Soho W1F OTA.

Please visit to find out more.
That's all for our update this week. Remember if there is anything
Israel-related going on in your community that you wish us to publicise
then please let us know. Alternatively if you have had an event that
you would like to tell people about please send us a report of the event
and we would be happy to let our members know of the great things going
on in the Progressive Communities all around the country.

Shabbat Shalom,
Charlie Gluckman and all at Pro Zion.

The Pluralist Newsletter

The Pluralist
Newsletter from the Israel Religious Action Center

November 18, 2007
Shalom Friends of IRAC. As promised this edition features a story about
IRAC's work on behalf of the African refugees in Israel. Take your time
to read the entire story which has a compelling message. "Thou shall not
stand idly by the shedding of the blood of thy fellow man" (Deuteronomy
19). This is also the guiding principle of our humanitarian aid project
Keren B'Kavod. If you would like to support this project, we would love
to hear from you. L'shalom, Anat Hoffman

In the Spirit of "Never Again"
IRAC Aids African Refugees in Israel
On October 16th, Sharona Yekutiel, the Director of Keren B'Kavod, the
humanitarian aid program of IRAC, together with a number of volunteers,
visited a shelter for African refugees in Tel-Aviv. In a crowded, filthy
room they found a group of over 100 men, women and children, living in
deplorable conditions, without basic hygiene and health accommodations.
It was there they met Johnny Israel, a 14 year old refugee from Nigeria
Johnny is one of the 40 teenage boys, ages 14 through 17, who are
staying in this shelter in Tel-Aviv. Like many of the other boys in the
shelter, Johnny is an orphan who witnessed the murder of his parents by
militant Nigerian rebels. Afraid of being forcibly recruited to one of
the local militias, the boy and his younger sister who had been
violently raped fled to Egypt where the girl was hospitalized in serious
condition. Johnny understood that they would not be safe in Egypt for
long, so he took his ill sister and embarked on a journey to Israel by
foot. Sadly, she died on the journey, but Johnny was able to cross the
border to Israel, where he was picked up by the IDF and later
transferred to Tel-Aviv. Unfortunately, Johnny's story is typical of the
horrors the African refugees have been through.

The Situation of the African Refugees in Israel
Human rights agencies estimate that there are approximately 2000 African
refugees in Israel today, over 400 of whom are children. Most are from
Sudan, primarily Darfur, where horrible genocide is taking place. The
rest of the African refugees, who've also escaped ethnic cleansing,
political strife and economic distress, come from the Ivory Coast,
Nigeria, the Congo, Eritrea and Somalia. All the refugees in Israel make
their way into the country on foot from Egypt, which has a Sudanese
population of about 30,000, many of whom are refugees from the Darfur
The Israeli government has yet been able to find a solution or even
articulate a cohesive plan on how to address and rectify the situation
of the African, and in particular, Sudanese refugees in Israel. Many of
the men are kept in Ktziot Prison in Southern Israel while the women and
children are being dispersed throughout the country, but municipalities
are not equipped to handle refugees nor do they want to see themselves
as the long term solution. Many Israelis have offered assistance,
clothes and other donations. Some have even welcomed refugees into their
homes in kibbutzim around the country, offering them a temporary
shelter. Others, who are less fortunate, have been neglected by the
Israeli authorities after their release and are now arriving in Tel-Aviv
in search of work
These refugees live in extremely difficult conditions. Those who are
able work while the rest stay in buildings that are not fit for human
inhabitance. They live with very little food, unfit sanitary conditions
and overcrowded sleeping accommodations. Keren B'Kavod staff and
volunteers have visited two of the three large buildings where between
80 and 120 people live in the basements with one toilet and one shower.
It is in one of these shelters that they met Johnny Israel. Most are
refugees who have arrived in Tel-Aviv in the past few days and are
staying in these "half-way houses" until better accommodations are found
for them. These people have faced unimaginable horrors both in their
home countries and in their dangerous journey to Israel where they had
hoped to find peace and safety

Keren B'Kavod's Ongoing Help for African Refugees
Throughout the past year and a half, Keren B'Kavod has been working in
cooperation with the Hotline for Migrant Workers to help these African
refugees. Last May, during the Shavuot holiday, we launched an extensive
campaign to raise awareness and encourage the Israeli public to reach
out to the African refugees. The campaign was designed to motivate
Israelis to assist these survivors of the genocide in Sudan and other
atrocities in Africa. Particularly, in light of the Jewish experience
and history of the Holocaust, IRAC full-heartedly believes that we must
unite and do all in our power to help these African refugees who have
come to Israel seeking safe refuge.
Specifically, Keren B'Kavod has been helping refugees and foreign
workers with health insurance, providing volunteers with transportation
to prisons, distributing food, clothing, blankets and baby products.
This work has been supported from donations from Reform Congregations in
the United States and Israel. Israeli congregants have also donated tens
of thousands of shekels, food and clothes as well as volunteered. In
addition, IRAC is working with a coalition of human and civil rights
organizations to advocate in the Knesset on behalf of the Sudanese
refugees to prevent their deportation back to Sudan or Egypt where they
will most certainly be killed.
What we have learned is that the most difficult time for the refugees is
when they first arrive. Therefore we are now providing the refugees with
a "Care Package" to meet their most basic needs upon arrival. These care
packages include a blanket, toothbrush and toothpaste, soap and shampoo,
toilet paper, underwear, flip-flops, a jump-suit and a box of
chocolates. Keren B'Kavod strives to meet the needs of the Sudanese and
other African refugees and help them find a place of peace and dignity
(kavod) after all the horrors they have faced.

Protesters, refugees call for better treatment of asylum-seekers
By Tamara Traubmann, Haaretz Correspondent
Hundreds of people, including refugees, their Israeli supporters and
human rights activists, took part in a march in Tel Aviv on Friday to
protest the state's treatment of refugees and to demand they receive
education, health care, welfare and other social benefits. The march
began on Rothschild Boulevard and ended outside the Cinematheque with a
"protest carnival," partially aimed at illustrating the social and
cultural wealth the refugees bring to Israel.

Exploitation, or jail
By Nurit Wurgaft
It's evening, and four Eritrean refugees have finished their work day at
the greenhouses. They're back in their dwelling at Moshav Sharsheret, in
the northern Negev: two tiny rooms in a shack. They work at Tiv Shtil
Nursery. To wash up after the grueling day, they have to go to the
showers of the Thai workers, in the shack next door. Their shack has no
shower or toilet. Or refrigerator. They can cook, in the dark: Their
rooms have no electricity. The table bears the remains of a pita and a
soft drink from the moshav grocery. "On weekends we cook rice," they say.

Contributors to the newsletter: Sharona Yekutiel, Coordinator, Keren
B'Kavod Rachel Canar, Director of Development and Communications Rita
Konaev, Development Associate

update 15/11/2007

Dear Members,

Please find attached two articles from the Jerusalem Post for your
interest this week.

1. Everyone has to eat lunch...

The first of our articles is written by Rabbi Michael Marmur, dean of
the Jerusalem school of the Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of
Religion. In this piece Rabbi Marmur gives a refreshingly optimistic
view of the possibilities of intra-faith dialogue in the Jewish
community. He says we do not have to agree on our theological beliefs
to sit down to each other, talk a bit and, above all, listen a bit
more. Do you think Rabbi Marmur is too much of an optimist, or do you
think that if we do not take this opportunity as 'the best we can do'
then we are in trouble? Let us know what you think...

2. Is it enough to just give?

The second of our articles makes the claim that the wealthier diaspora
Reform communities are not doing enough to support the Israel Movement
for Progressive Judaism. The reason given in the article is that Reform
Jews are not going to Israel enough, especially the young people. Do
you think that this is confusing two seperate issues, i.e. contributing
financially to the IMPJ, and wanting our young people to have an
educational long-term Israel experience?
The progressive youth movements in the UK, LJY-Netzer and RSY-Netzer,
work together to send a group on Shnat Netzer, the Progressive Zionist
gap year programme. The numbers in these groups have grown considerably
over the last 2/3 years. However, do you think that as a community we
can do more to support this long-term programme?

There is a lot to get our teeth into this week that address significant
issues for us all. As ever we always like to hear your opinions. If
you would like to share something either regarding the questions we have
asked, or anything else related to Progressive Zionism then please write

Shabbat Shalom,

Charlie and all at Pro Zion

Reform Reflections: Lunch in Jewish Disneyland

November 11 2007;
Reform Reflections:
Lunch in Jewish Disneyland
Rabbi Michael Marmur |
Jerusalem is special for many things, and despite serious worries about
her future, she continues to beguile and enchant her inhabitants. Well,
this one at least. I plan to write something another time about what is
happening to the city of Jerusalem, but at present I have a more modest
goal. I want to talk about lunch.
In Jewish terms, Jerusalem is Disneyland. Within a few miles you can
find a unique selection of Jewish pundits, sages, saints and sinners.
They cover a dizzying array of religious and political viewpoints, and
among them you will find some of the most original and significant
voices to be heard anywhere in the Jewish world. One way of gauging how
special Jerusalem is in terms of Jewish culture is to survey the range
of lectures, seminars, and lessons on offer every day of the week. I
believe that when the cultural history of our current times is one day
written, the sheer wealth and depth of intellectual and artistic
stimulation on offer in Jerusalem will be regarded as one of the most
stunning aspects of the great experiment of Jewish sovereignty in our
time. And the lunches are great, too.
All over the city of Jerusalem on Shabbat, Jews are sitting down to
lunch in unlikely configurations. We tend to think that everyone boxes
in their own corner - ultra-Orthodox, secular, Conservative, Ashkenazi,
Sephardi, Reform, right wing, left wing, well-heeled, down at heel. Of
course, in large part it is true that Israelis (like most people the
world over) stay within their own tribes. This is particularly and
tragically true of the psychological fence segregating Jews from Arabs
in this city.
But in Jerusalem there are also encounters and contacts going on which
reach out beyond the stereotypes and the boundaries. There are people
sitting down to lunch who do not belong to each other's tribe. Sometimes
there are bonds of blood which tie these unlikely lunch partners – every
family has someone who broke the mold, a rebel secularist from a highly
Orthodox home, a ba'al teshuvah from a kibbutz, a Revisionist reared
among socialists, and so on.
Another reason is even more disturbing: friendship. People encounter
each other and decide they like each other's company. One thing leads to
another, and before you know it Jews are sitting down to eat lunch with
each other even though they are not meant to be fraternizing with
members of Another Team.
Over Shabbat, my family and I were fortunate enough to sit at the table
of an eminent Orthodox rabbi and his family. Also present were a highly
impressive couple, also at the forefront of Zionist Orthodoxy in Israel.
I learned a great deal over lunch (and the moussaka was delicious). I
learned that many of the great challenges faced by the Modern Orthodox
world are highly similar to those we in the Liberal camp are grappling
with. Between mouthfuls, somebody opined that there is an urgent need to
include a theology of humanity in our religious doctrines. We need to
remind ourselves of what our tradition teaches us about the dignity of
each person in the world, and our responsibility to act vigorously in
defense of that dignity. I learned that we are all thinking about our
children who are in the Army or on their way to it, and we all stay up
at night wondering what the future holds for them. I was reminded of
something we all once knew but seem to forget: that there is so much
more to bind us as a people than there is to separate us, and that we
are meant to love our people, even when we may not always like every
last one of its constituent parts
As an avid eater of lunch, I know that similar meals and encounters are
taking place all over the Jewish world. Sometimes, the rules and
regulations governing dietary practices makes these encounters
particularly challenging. Often, in my experience, goodwill and
flexibility can prevail without compromising anyone's integrity.
There was no saccharine served at lunch, and I am not offering any here.
We may disagree profoundly about crucial issues, and no one is expected
to give up on any of their firmly-held beliefs. All that is required is
that curiosity, hospitality and solidarity win out over extremism,
obscurantism and chauvinism.
It's almost impossible to come up with a workable recipe for pluralism
within the Jewish people. It's fiendishly hard to know where the
division runs between being open-minded and empty-headed. Like every
other thinking person, I am struck every week by attitudes and behaviors
I find difficult to condone or to excuse. There's a portion of the fan
base of my local soccer team, for example, which covered itself in
ignominy last week by expressing support for Rabin's assassin. It's hard
for me just to smile and excuse their behavior away.
We don't have to change our opinions about people (although developing
the art of sympathetic listening wouldn't do any of us any harm). But
here's something we can do. The next time you meet someone from outside
your natural catchment area, someone whose theology or accent or wage
bracket is different from yours, and as you talk to this person you see
you actually like them despite the difference, don't challenge them to a
duel. Do something more dangerous and more significant. Invite them to

Diaspora not giving enough to Reform

'Diaspora not giving enough to Reform'

The Diaspora's single largest financial supporter of the Reform Movement
in Israel said Tuesday that a lack of familiarity with the Jewish state
has prevented his peers abroad from donating as much as they should.
"I am disappointed with people in the movement for not giving more to
building up Progressive Judaism in Israel," said Gerald Daniel, who
practically single-handedly built both North Tel Aviv's Temple Beit
Daniel and Jaffa's Mishkenot Ruth Daniel center - named after Daniel's
wife, who died last June - for a total of $12 million.
"But I believe that a lot of people who could do a lot for the movement
don't, because they have never really been to Israel, at least not for
an extended period," he said.
Daniel, born in Germany, lived in Israel between 1935 and 1947 before
moving first to France and then to the US, where he made his fortune
from the production of fiber filters for industrial use. He sold his
business in 1986 for "between $10m. and $100m.," according to Daniel.
The 90-year-old philanthropist, who grew up in a modern Orthodox family
in Hamburg, said he had never felt connected to Orthodox rites.
"But to this day, I won't eat anything that is a sheketz [crawling
creatures, such as lobsters and crabs, which are not kosher]."
Rabbi Meir Azari, who heads the Beit Daniel community center and
congregation, pointed out that the Reform Movement in Israel has 26
congregations across the nation, but only six of them own a building.
The rest rent or make temporary arrangements for prayer due to a lack of
"If there were just one or two more people like Mr. Daniel, we would be
able to transform Reform Judaism into a real force in Israel," said
Azari. "As a community leader, one is severely limited without a
permanent building."
Daniel, who served as president of the World Union of Progressive
Judaism between 1980 and 1988, believes that the best way of reaching
members of the Reform Movement in the Diaspora is through their
children, who come to Israel via programs such as birthright-Taglit and
"Hopefully, the children will come from Israel and teach their parents,"
he said.

update 08/11/2007 plus new Shema newsletter news

Dear Members,

1. Peres continues to improve relations with Reform Movement

In the first of our articles this week, Matthew Wagner of the Jerusalem
Post gives an account of President Peres' recent meeting with five newly
ordained Rabbis at the Hebrew Union College. This, in light of his
meeting last month with Rabbi Tony Bayfield, the head of the Movement
for Reform Judaism, shows the new President's committment to improving
relations with the Reform Movement.

2. Law of Return

Our second article, an opinion piece from the Jerusalem Post, highlights
some major issues with the Law of Return in Israel. The issue is not
with the law per se, but the way in which the Government and the Jewish
Agency specifically, carry out the policy. This extremely contentious
issue not only brings up demographic issues, but the debate goes to the
root of the concept of the Jewish State. We would like to hear your
opinions on these issues.

3. Sh'ma

Last week you should have received your copy of Sh'ma, Pro Zion's
bi-annual magazine. If you did not receive your copy and you think you
should have done then please let us know and we will send you out a
copy. In the magazine you will find a whole array of articles ranging
from the experiences that members of the Progressive Movements in the UK
have had in Israel to a discussion on Avraham Burg's latest book that
has aroused much controversy.

There is an also an article outlining a vision for Progressive Zionism
in the UK as a response to the mainstream Pro-Israelism that dominates
in this country. We would very much like to hear your opinion on the
matter, and hope to publish some of the responses in our next edition of
Sh'ma. Please, if you would like to share your thoughts, write to us in
response to this email. We will ask your permission before we publish

That is all for this week. Remember, if your community is hosting an
Israel related event that you would like to be publicised then please
let us know and we will include the information in these email updates.

Shabbat Shalom,

Charlie Gluckman and all at Pro Zion

Hands off the Law of Return

Jerusalem Post
Oct 31, 2007 20:46 | Updated Nov 1, 2007 7:53
Hands off the Law of Return
Interior Minister Meir Sheetrit set off a mini-bombshell Tuesday when he
told the Jewish Agency's Board of Governors that it is time to cease
handing out automatic Israeli citizenship "to any Jew." To that effect,
Sheetrit proposed amending the Law of Return. The uproar he managed to
generate not only yielded controversial headlines and elicited
contentious reactions, but it also overshadowed whatever cogent
arguments Sheetrit presented as justification for his radical remedy. If
Sheetrit's aim was to promote serious discussion, then he foiled it.
This divergence from the norm, however, hardly makes the Law of Return a
candidate for amendment, as Sheetrit recommends. If anything, it should
be protected and cherished in an age of burgeoning post-Zionism and
inimical Arab aims to divest Israel of its inherent Jewishness.
That said, there is no doubt that immigrants with tenuous Jewish links,
if any links at all, have come to comprise the bulk of the aliya
reaching this country under the aegis of the law, which allows the entry
of grandchildren of a Jew, and their progeny, even if they no longer
consider themselves Jewish nor identify with the Jewish collective.
It is also true that claims of distant Jewish ancestry (including the
fabled "lost tribes") by some particularly exotic newcomers often test
credibility. But the Law of Return isn't at fault. What is wrongheaded
is its application.
It is right to admit grandchildren of a Jew who, on their own volition,
have decided to bond their future with that of the Jewish nation. Indeed
there is every reason to welcome such returnees with open arms and open
Lacking judgment, however, is the practice of many organizations,
especially those operating in the FSU (including the Jewish Agency and
Nativ), which pro-actively endeavor to inflate immigration rolls and
recruit olim. Their emissaries comb provincial ex-Soviet cities seeking
out those who may possibly be of Jewish descent yet are alienated from
anything Jewish. They are sometimes coaxed to Israel with promises of
higher living standards. Such practices attract not only estranged
semi-Jews but downright bogus claimants to Jewish extraction.
Many of those arriving from the Russian-speaking sphere for the past few
years have not been Jews but, rather, non-Jews eligible for aliya. Some
have energetically sought to reembrace, or indeed embrace, the faith.
But others encounter considerable absorption and acculturation
difficulties, while the host society is taken aback by patterns of
violence hitherto scarce in the Jewish milieu.
The same goes for some obvious non-Jewish groupings in Ethiopia and
elsewhere. Airlifting non-Jews with an eye to converting them here is
misguided. We are nearing the point where we may wonder whether padding
population figures is optimal for Israel; whether it doesn't weaken
Israel as a Jewish state rather than strengthen it.
Yet precisely at this ultra-sensitive juncture the greatest care must be
taken not to throw out the baby with the bath water. None of the above
mandates tampering with the Law of Return. In fact, it behooves the
Jewish state to keep painstakingly implementing this law, including its
"grandfather clause." The emphasis, however, must change.
Part-Jews who immigrate at their individual initiative merit the warmest
reception. They are among those for whom the Law of Return was enacted.
Its aim, however, was never to hunt for prospective immigrants and
entice them with material benefits. Thus vestigial quasi-Jews should not
be actively sought and wooed.
Sheetrit, therefore, would do best to seek to change government policy
and discourage aggressive searches for Jews where almost none exist. He
should not be pompously taking out a contract on the Law of Return.

Peres seeks improved relations between Beit Hanassi, Reform rabbis

Jerusalem Post
Peres seeks improved relations between Beit Hanassi, Reform rabbis

In contrast to his predecessor, Moshe Katzav, who refused last year to
address the head of the Reform Movement, Rabbi Eric Yoffie, as "rabbi,"
President Shimon Peres met Friday with a group of five newly ordained
Reform rabbis at the Hebrew Union College in Jerusalem.
"What I appreciate in Reform Judaism is its accommodation of the best of
higher Jewish values with the modern world," Peres said. The previous
week, he met with Rabbi Tony Bayfield, head of the British branch of
Reform Judaism. It was the first meeting between Peres and a member of
the Reform movement since Peres took office in July. Sources said the
meetings were part of Peres's bid to repair damage caused by Katzav to
relations between the presidential office and Reform Judaism. During the
meeting with Bayfield, Peres reportedly said, "Since the rabbis get to
decide who is a Jew, the Jews should decide about who is a rabbi."
Dr. Michael Marmur, dean of the Hebrew Union College, said the change in
presidents marked a new and positive era. "Up until now, Katzav had made
it impossible for us to meet with him," he said. "But today there is a
new breeze blowing." "I have no interest in forcing anyone to call me
rabbi against his or her will," Marmur added. "The rabbi's congregation
is the one that reaffirms the title every single day."