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Saturday 22 December 2007

Weekly update 22/12/07

Dear Members,

We have two pieces for you this e-mail. We will probably not send
another e-mail out until January. If you are attending the UK Limmud
Conference over the next week we will both be there, please do say hi if
you see us.

Our first article is a discussion on what the authors describe as "the
head on collision" between religious and secular values in Israel. It
certainly presents an interesting discussion though I'm not sure how
realistic the solutions are in the world we live in.

The second article is a short piece on a Knesset investigation looking
into why up to 300 conversions have been delayed, in some cases for years.

ZF Lobby Day at the House of Commons: Wednesday 23rd January. The
Zionist Federation along with Christian Friends of Israel are holding
their annual lobby day in January. It's a fascinating day where each
participant gets the chance to lobby their MP and meet other MPs. David
Horowitz from the Jerusalem Post is the guest speaker at the event
Chaired by Eric Moonman. For more information call the ZF on 020 8343
9756 or see
Shavua Tov,
Daniel and Charlie
Co-Chairs Pro Zion

Knesset c'tee to probe delays in approving conversions

Knesset c'tee to probe delays in approving conversions

The Knesset State Control Committee will discuss on Monday a
bureaucratic bottleneck in the Conversion Authority that is holding up
300 potential conversions.

State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss may be called upon to investigate
the delays, which have forced some potential converts to wait for years
to join the Jewish people. Most of the prospective converts are the
spouses of Israelis who met non-Jews abroad, got married in civil
ceremonies and returned to Israel, where the spouses showed interest in
converting to Judaism.

The delays are being caused by a committee for exceptional cases, made
up of legal representatives from the Prime Minister's Office and the
Interior Ministry and a representative from the Chief Rabbinate. This
committee is vested with the power to either approve or deny requests by
non-citizens to convert to Judaism.

In Israel, all Jews, whether converted or born to a Jewish parent, are
entitled to automatic citizenship. Therefore, the decision to allow a
non-Jew living in Israel without citizenship to convert to Judaism is
both a religious and a civil issue.

However, the exceptional cases committee, which is supposed to convene
once a week, has been meeting irregularly. Many weeks, at least one of
the three members has been sick or on maternity leave or has simply been
unable to make the meeting due to previous engagements, according to
sources in the Conversion Authority.

A change in the composition of the committee about a year and a half ago
has also created obstacles. Originally no legal advisers were involved;
rather, two representatives from the rabbinate determined the religious
seriousness of the potential convert, while a representative from the
Interior Ministry made sure the candidate had a clean criminal record,
had not come to Israel as a foreign worker whose work permit had
expired, and did not have any other naturalization problems.

But since two legal advisers replaced the Interior Ministry
representative and one of the rabbinate representatives, the approval
process has become bogged down with bureaucratic red tape. As a result,
prospective converts are forced to meet with the committee at least
twice - once before beginning the conversion process and once after
completing the requisite learning.

"The delays put incredible pressures on couples who are already living
together but who are putting off having children until the non-Jewish
spouse converts so that the children will be considered Jewish," said a
source in the Conversion Authority.
Rabbi Dr. Seth Farber, director of ITIM - an organization that helps
Israelis and non-citizens navigate the religious bureaucracy in Israel -
called the malfunctioning committee an absurdity.

"Jewish communities around the world are fighting soaring intermarriage
rates with conversion," said Farber, who petitioned the State Control
Committee to discuss the bureaucratic delays in conversions. Farber said
he had personally dealt with 27 different cases of prospective converts
who had been delayed repeatedly.

"Young Jewish Israelis who fall in love with non-Jews are being forced
to remain married outside their faith by an inefficient bureaucracy,"
added Farber. "For no logical reason, clerks and government workers have
taken upon themselves the function of rabbinical judges [by claiming] to
fathom the intentions of potential converts. This must stop."

Avoiding a head-on collision

Avoiding a head-on collision
By Yedidia Stern and Avi Sagi

Two worldviews grapple in the center of the Israeli arena: religious and
liberal. Each of them claims an exclusive hold on a person's scale of
values. Both of them speak in clear, sharp, puritanical and even
bullying language. Both of them present a full and consistent picture of
the world and both of them strive to shape reality in its entirety: the
world of the spirit and creativity, politics and justice, the private
domain and the collective domain. The one says "the whole earth is full
of [God's] glory" (Isaiah 6:3), and the other charges "the whole earth
is full of justice." Each of them is arrogant with regard to the other,
so that the religious paternalism that takes pride in "a full cart"
clashes with the liberal paternalism that takes pride in "an enlightened

The two worldviews are distinguished from one another, ostensibly, in
the source of their authority (divine as opposed to human), their
purpose (spiritual versus earthly), their nature (religion is interested
in "rebuking" the "other," whereas liberalism refrains from forcing its
opinions on the "other") and more. The distinctions are important, but
they cannot blur the fact that there is a similarity between the way
each of these worldviews is marketed to us by its prophets, its
activists and its judges: Each of them claims that it is "the true

Depicting either the religious system or the liberal one as truth
systems leads to a head-on collision between them. The tension between
the religious and the secular and between religion and state is among
the greatest challenges facing Israeli society. It affects politics -
about one-third of the members of the previous Knesset were elected on
the basis of their position on this matter; it affects culture - we are
descending into a culture war between religious and secular; it affects
law - disputes damage people's confidence in the courts and lead to the
paralysis of the procedures necessary for adoption of a constitution;
and it affects the national ability to function - when individuals
assume a stance of refusal in the name of the religious truth or the
liberal truth.

Meeting between beliefs

The key to change lies in a broad understanding that the meeting between
a religious world and a liberal world is not a meeting between truths,
but rather a meeting between beliefs. A "truth" is something that can be
proved in an empirical and objective way. In this sense, religion is not
a truth, because no evidence exists of God's revelation and the divine
origin of the Torah. The testimony of the Torah concerning the event at
Mount Sinai is internal, and lacks any external confirmation. These are
not words of heresy; indeed, these are words of faith, because they give
crucial weight to the position of the individual, who by his own
decision takes upon himself the yoke of the kingdom of heaven. How
disappointing faith would be if it relied on what appears to be a fact -
an archaeological find, the sequence of letters in the Torah, prophetic
revelation or the survival of the Jews for many generations. It is
precisely faith that is not dependent on facts, that can be absolute,
just as faith should be, as the proof is always liable to be refuted.
Religiously speaking, the human subject is the anchor of the presence of
God in the world.

This description of religious faith applies to every system of values,
including secular liberalism. The liberal must internalize that he is
not carrying around utterances of truth in his baggage, even if, in his
view, there is extensive support for that liberalism in Western culture,
in national constitutions and in international documents. The priests of
"the liberal religion" are tainted with arrogance when they assume that
their value preferences are "correct" in an objective sense. There is no
external, commonly held criterion that can justify this statement.

The relinquishing of "the discourse of truth" does not override the
importance and validity that individuals attribute to their values. Just
as the commitment that binds a couple, or parents and their children,
can be deep and unconditional, even though it does not reflect a truth
statement, so too can religious and secular people be committed
unconditionally to their worldviews - and derive their behavior from
them - even if they do not reflect an objective truth.

The conclusion from this analysis is clear: If the disputants are not
equipped with truth statements, they must promote their positions out of
humility and self-minimization. They are not entitled to take a
patronizing cultural stance with regard to the other, and they should
have the understanding that the sincerity and the depth that derive from
their decision to be religious or secular-liberal can also nourish an
opposite personal decision.

Gay pride issue

Thus, for example, the well-publicized parade of the gay community, in
the heart of Jerusalem, is repugnant to religious people who catalog
same-sex relationships as an abomination. This is a value judgment, one
that expresses a rooted religious position, but it does not represent a
"truth." Therefore, the religious person should refrain from forcing a
prohibition on such relationships and from blocking the public domain to
a gay pride parade.

At the same time, religious people should not be required to look the
other way and disregard the phenomenon. Indeed, precisely because it is
counter to their faith, religious treatment of the issue is necessary,
especially within the education system. The internal discussion can
develop in different directions - from intensifying the condemnation of
same-sex preferences in the name of faith, to finding solutions in
rabbinical law for softening the attitude toward the phenomenon. In any
case, brutal action must not be taken against it, because the opposition
is not based on an objective truth.

And in the opposite direction: Part of the ultra-Orthodox public is
opposed to the inclusion of "secular studies" in their schools'
curriculum. Many attack this postion in the name of varied "truth
claims": concern over the fate of ultra-Orthodox children who will lose
their ability to earn a living; fear for the future of a society, part
of whose citizens function in an inadequate manner; and the like. These
claims, however, express a particular scale of values - and that is all.
An attempt to impose core studies on the ultra-Orthodox would be nipped
in the bud if the Israeli majority were to internalize the thought that
the question of which subjects a child should be learning is not a
matter of "truth" or its opposite, but rather one of values, preferences
and networks of loyalty. Protecting the "other's" child from his parents
is patronization of a sort that the mind - certainly the liberal mind -
cannot tolerate

In both of these cases, it is possible to resolve the dispute by means
of nonintervention by one side in the other side's "space." However,
there are more difficult situations, in which the two outlooks compete
for primacy with regard to the same matter. For example: How will the
Sabbath in the public domain of the Jewish and democratic state be
observed? Will the street shut down, or not? Take note: A liberal claim
concerning the universal validity of a right such as the freedom of
occupation, to justify working on the Sabbath, is not "a truth," just as
a claim concerning the Sabbath as a national asset that preserves Israel
is also not "a truth." Both of these claims express only a value

On the agenda, there is a proposal to open entertainment, culture and
leisure venues, as well as to make public transportation available on
the Sabbath, along with shutting down commerce and industry. This
proposal does not fit the criteria of either the religious truth or of
the liberal truth, and therefore is likely to be rejected by both camps.
However, if the religious and the secular were to recognize that they
are confronting an important value system, one that sincerely reflects
the world of those who hold it, discourse will open and listening to the
other's opinions will be possible. The solutions that will end up being
adopted should not be drawn up in advance, because such is the nature of
true dialogue, which is open and dynamic, though it is certainly
possible that their general outline will resemble the proposal that is
on the agenda. The believers on both sides will live in their belief,
even though it will not be fully realized.

Eliminating "truth claims" from the arena enables a new look at the
range of issues on which the conflict between religion and state is
focused in Israel. The status-quo arrangements and proposals for
agreements on matters of religion and state are perceived nowadays as
solutions that express relative weakness of the compromiser, as a
retrospective position, a pragmatic tactic for a troubled time. This is
a mistake. If the encounter is between believers and not between truths,
then there is no scope for developing expectations of "repairing the
world in the kingdom of God" or "repairing the world in the kingdom of

The agreement that is perceived as a compromise expresses a principled
ideal. It does not contain the relinquishing of a position or a flaw in
loyalty to a worldview, but rather the acknowledgment of the absence of
a monopoly on truth and an internalization - sometimes difficult and
painful - of the significance that derives from this. Those who aspire
to social agreements are not feebleminded. They are heroes who have
conquered their opinions, without relinquishing them. Every person has
an individual identity that includes his life principles. It includes
concrete positions on fateful issues, such as issues of religion and state.

However, the personal identity must also include an additional element:
The "other's" positions are no less valid than my own beliefs. This is a
supreme principle, and it should serve as the compass for all of the
commitments of our lives. It contains respect for the position of the
other person from within the understanding that I do not possess, just
as he does not possess, a monopoly on truth. I have loyalty to one
position, but it does not obligate the negation of the other position.
In the debate about religion and state, there is room not only for my
own world, but also for the world of the "other," his distress and his
pains. The role of the discourse is to enable this balance between the

Thursday 13 December 2007

Pro Zion update - 13/12/2007

Dear Members,

We have two articles and one campaign to publicise this week.
The first article is about the relationship of the American Reform
movement to Israel. Rabbi Meir Azari of the Beit Daniel (reform)
Synagogue in Tel Aviv feels that the community has fallen out of love
with Israel and the article looks at various perpectives and reasons.
There are certainly many parallels to be drawn with our movements in the UK.

The second article is by Rabbi Michael Marmur entitled My Hanukka your
Hanukka. The article is a short and fascinating look at some different
attitudes and ideas towards Hanukka and how the story has come to
acquire different meanings to different communities at different times.

Finally we bring you some information about a project that the Liverpool
Community is running as part of their hosting of this year's national
Holocaust memorial day commemoration. They are collecting unwanted
spectacles to use in an exhibition to raise awareness of the holocaust
and to combat prejudice. After the exhibition all spectacles will be
sent to help overseas charities. Please see the attached document for
more information.

Best Wishes and Shabbat Shalom
Daniel and all at Pro Zion

Forging The Israel Connection - Israel and Progressive Judaism

Forging the Israel connection
By Anshel Pfeffer

Meir Azari, rabbi of the Beit Daniel synagogue in Tel Aviv, home to the
largest Reform following in Israel, has a dream: "I'd like to see large
groups of Reform and Conservative Jews on El Al flights from the U.S. -
not just the many ultra-Orthodox, blocking the aisle with minyanim."
Azari, the former chairman of the Reform movement in Israel, wants to
challenge the American branch to get all its members to visit Israel at
least once in the next decade.

"I think every Reform community in the U.S. should send a mission to
Israel every two or three years. Right now, the number of people Reform
Jewry is sending to Israel via projects like Taglit-birthright israel
and MASA is much lower than what they are capable of. Just imagine what
a contribution a major influx of Reform visitors could make to the
Israeli economy," says Azari. But it isn't just the future of the local
tourism industry that's worrying one of the most successful Reform
rabbis in the country.

He feels that over the last couple of decades, members of the American
Reform community have fallen out of love with the Jewish state. "I am
worried for the future of the Reform movement and the State of Israel,"
he says in an interview before leaving for the Biennial, the pinnacle
event of the Reform movement in America. The event, to be held in San
Diego on Wednesday, is expected to draw 5000 participants, both
professionals and laymen. "Looking at the program, I think that the
portion dedicated to Israel is too small, embarrassingly so in my
opinion. The central theme they should be talking about there is how
they can help build a better Israeli society, how to strengthen the ties
between our two communities."

Azari doesn't believe this is simply something the American movement
owes its
Israeli brothers. "It's a huge mistake on the part of large communities
to ignore the challenges each is facing. I am fully aware of the
American challenges, the fight against assimilation, for Jewish
education and continuity. There is also poverty there - I certainly
don't envy my American colleagues. And yet, we must not ignore the
difficulties facing Israeli society, which should be the focus of the
agenda. The Reform movement has to announce a real plan for Israeli
society - not only for our benefit, but for theirs also. I don't want to
sound like an old-fashioned Zionist, but without a real involvement in
Israel, American Jewry will also suffer. They will be hit with the
ricochets of whatever develops here.

"The lack of peace in the Middle East, a racist and fascist Israeli
society, without sufficient rights for women, will affect also them,
they can't bury their heads in the sand. The tension between Muslims and
Christians will isolate them too. The Reform community in the U.S. is
the largest and richest Jewish community on earth and throughout
history. There has never been such a sophisticated and
intellectually-advanced community, and it has to also shoulder some of
the responsibility for what is happening here in Israel. Right now, I
can't see that happening."
Azari doesn't believe Americans should be involved in Israeli politics
on a daily basis, but he is convinced that there is a lot more they
could be doing. "It's not a question of where to put the separation
fence or which settlement to dismantle, but why can't they be involved
in the failing school system? Why can't the Reform movement set up an
alternative education system or shore up the collapsing welfare net? We
are doing things in this field but there is a huge difference between
giving several hundred thousand dollars and working with millions."

Azari even agrees with right-wing voices that argue for the Jewish
world's say on fundamental issues facing Israel in new negotiations with
the Palestinian Authority. "There are questions that transcend the State
of Israel, such as Jerusalem and the Jewish nature of our state. Israel
defined itself in the past, not as a normal state but as the homeland of
the entire Jewish people. It was the destiny of the Jewish people that
built the state."

The reasons for the lack of meaningful connection between the U.S. and
Israeli Reform communities are clear to Azari. "First of all, it's the
day-to-day worries of rabbis and the communities that are pushing aside
the real challenges. It's also a lack of leadership. Reform Jewry has to
urgently find among itself figures like Abba Hillel Silver, who
alongside work for his own community, did everything possible to build
the State of Israel in his generation."

The official cold shoulder

But also the Israelis shoulder a large portion of the blame in his eyes.
"There is a great amount of discomfort with Israel, that comes from two
sources - first, the state's official attitude toward the Reform
movement. How I can ask HUC president Stanley Gold to contribute to
Israel after he was humiliated by Jerusalem Mayor Uri Lupolianski? Not
to mention the way former president Moshe Katsav spoke to our leaders,
as if they weren't rabbis - he gave more respect to Christian clergymen.
Second, the image Israel broadcasts of a state in crisis, with a society
based on power and violence, not of enlightened Judaism. So Jews in
America, like many Israelis, just close themselves off to the outside

Azari is aware that his criticism might be seen simply as a fundraising
ploy and he is at pains to stress "it's not my contributions that are
important." But he also thinks that more emphasis has to be put also on
that field. "I don't think the Reform movement is giving enough guidance
to its donors. Habad rabbis tell me they have many Reform donors, as do
a number of extreme right-wing yeshivas. The Reform movement has to
launch a significant campaign to strengthen its contributions to Israel.
Jews who give to the Technion [- Israel Institute of Technology] or
Hadassah University Hospital have greatly improved the level of medical
treatment and scientific research in Israel. I just want our donors to
be aware that they can achieve all this - improvement in the fields of
education, social welfare and higher learning - through the Reform
movement in Israel."

Rabbi Andrew Davids of ARZA, the Association of Reform Zionists in
America, whose job it is to maintain the U.S. branch's connection with
Israel, finds it hard to understand Azari's criticism. He is convinced
that "at the Biennial, Israel will be everywhere. One of the five major
forums will be focusing on Israel, as will one day of the plenary
session. We'll be showing a film on Reform aliyah to Israel, followed by
an address by Israeli Ambassador Sallai Meridor. There are 20 workshops
focused on Israel, and Rabbi Eric Yoffe's Shabbat sermon will also focus
[on Israel]. Perhaps Rabbi Azari is not aware enough of the major
changes in the movement over the last decade regarding our attitude
toward Israel. I appreciate Meir's perspective, but the numbers show
something different. Sixty-one percent of the regular members of Reform
congregations have traveled to Israel and all the top leadership is
Zionist and very Israel-oriented."

Even so, Davids also agrees there is still a lot to be done to bolster
the identification of the movement's rank-and-file with Israel. "We have
to get out there and make people understand that Israel is not only
politics and the conflict, it's also social and cultural issues and it
is foremost a product of the entire Jewish people. There is a tremendous
misunderstanding between the great centers of the Jewish people, a great
lack of knowledge and there are so few people who speak in more than
just platitudes and statements."

Reform Reflections Rabbi Marmur - My Hanukka, Your Hanukka

Reform Reflections: My Hanukka, Your Hanukka

Posted by Rabbi Michael Marmur
Mai Hanukka? What is Hanukka? These words are to be found in the classic
discussion of the festival in Tractate Shabbat of the Babylonian Talmud.
The question is not without reason: in Talmudic times it was a
relatively new celebration, and there was no telling it was going to
catch on any more successfully than some which didn't stand the test of
time ? just think, if things had worked out differently we might have
been shopping for gifts for Nicanor Day.
What is Hanukka? How are we to understand its significance? In an
excellent article published this week in a major Israeli daily, my
colleague Rabbi Gilad Kariv, a brilliant young Israeli Reform rabbi,
offers a compelling and relevant reading. Gilad, like others who espouse
a liberal philosophy of Judaism, is not threatened by the notion that
there is historical change within Judaism, or that our culture is
constantly soaking in influences from outside. On the contrary: far from
being threatened by this fact, he is emboldened and inspired by it.
Rabbi Kariv points out that the development of the festival of Hanukka
in December may well be connected to the existence in many cultures of a
festival of lights at the very darkest time of the year. He shows that
our ancestors may well have been engaged in a polemic with surrounding
cultures, opposing their pagan theology while adopting many of the forms
and themes of the festival.
There is an irony here. After all, this is Hanukka, when - so we were
always told in Religion School - the victory of uncompromising Jewish
Pride against the backsliding of the Hellenizers is celebrated. How is
it, then, that there are parallels to be found between our culture and
the religions around us? Indeed, the more one delves into the history
and ideology of the festival of Hanukka, the more ironies emerge. Here's
another one: the Hasmoneans, those uncompromising enemies of Hellenism,
showed signs of accommodation to Hellenistic culture, such as giving
good Greek names to their sons. And yet another: these defenders of
tradition were in a sense rebels, supplanting the earlier line of the
High Priest, and adopting a leadership role almost without precedent in
Jewish history.
The Festival of Hanukka has been re-interpreted throughout history, and
different aspects have been played up on the one hand, and suppressed on
the other. One explanation of the appearance of the miracle of the oil
in the Talmudic account is that the Pharisees and their heirs were keen
to play up the Divine miracle while playing down the human achievement:
they may not have been so keen to present the Maccabees as such great
heroes. In the years which have followed, this festival has been
re-interpreted and different aspects of the tale have been emphasized,
depending on context and preference.
One remarkable reading from Rabbi Moshe Teitelbaum, founder of the
Satmar Hasidic dynasty, explains that for all their many virtues, the
Hasmoneans are also to be reprimanded for taking destiny in their own
hands and fighting, rather than waiting for Divine assistance. Some
years later the Zionist movement was to praise them precisely for this
quality. This debate about models of power and powerlessness also
impacted Christianity - the tale of a mother and her martyred sons,
recounted in the second and fourth books of the Maccabees, came to
symbolize the essence of the tale in early Christianity - some have even
suggested that the term "macabre" has its roots in the bloody tales of
martyrdom. Spiritual resistance unto death was given pride of place over
physical resistance in the cause of life.
In Reform circles, the significance of Hanukka has often veered away
from the ethnic and towards the ethical - the light has been taken to
represent hope and redemption for all who are oppressed and downtrodden.
I must confess that while this universalist approach is in itself
commendable, it is also a little pale and often platitudinous. In our
day, it seems perverse to interpret the Hanukka tale in disembodied
generalities. Our people have indeed struggled and prevailed in our
times, and there seems little reason to bury the specificity in a sea of
generic Season's Greetings.
My Hanukka is about the remarkable story of our people, and to me the
story only seems more remarkable the more historical insight comes to
replace stirring but facile fairy stories.
My Hanukka sees in the lights of the festival what Josephus Flavius saw
- the light of hope in the face of adversity. (He didn't mention the
miracle of the oil, perhaps because that tradition had not yet come into
My Hanukka is a time to consider the infinitesimally thin line which
separates pride and resistance from vanity and zealotry; and for that
matter the line (equally thin) which separates openness to the outside
world from surrender to it, and loss of identity. It is, in other words,
an opportunity to consider some of our greatest challenges and dilemmas.
My Hanukka is a time to marvel at the intricate dynamics of our history,
and the suppleness of our interpretations.
My Hanukka is a time to be with family and friends, to over-eat, to
rejoice, to enjoy.
My Hanukka affirms my deepest commitments and challenges my tired clichés.
That's my response to the Talmud's question Mai Hanukka. What's your

Respectacles Liverpool Holocaust Memorial Day Project

Liverpool is hosting National Holocaust Memorial Day next month and
especially the imaginative RESPECTacles project, explained below and in
the attached documents. **Please do read them.**
Although this is a project devised and organized by the Town Hall on
behalf of the City of Liverpool, I believe it is vital that the
Jewish community is seen to participate fully and that people outside
Liverpool can also participate, if they can overcome the problem of
transporting their spectacles.
Please do encourage your friends, family and workmates to donate
unwanted spectacles and use their initiative to get them to
our collection point in Harold House, Dunbabin Road, Liverpool L15 6XL.
If you know any VIP who might donate too, we need every bit of good PR.....
Any queries, do mail me or phone 0151 428 2214....
Many thanks




With Liverpool being European Capital of Culture during 2008, an
impressive programme of events has been planned. This includes many
instances like the recent Royal Variety Performance where annual events
are being switched to Liverpool.
It also includes National Holocaust Memorial Day (NHMD) on 27th January,
when the Chief Rabbi and the Archbishop of Canterbury will head the
main commemoration at the Philharmonic Hall, culminating a month-long
programme highlighting the Holocaust, genocide and repression.
The RESPECTacles project, an imaginative and innovative part of the
programme, has resulted from collaboration between the Liverpool Town
Hall and the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust. It *invites us all to donate
unwanted spectacles* as a mark of our respect for others….see details
summarised in the **attached documents: -** **a poster/flyer prepared by
the Town Hall; and some notes prepared for the Jewish community before
notification was received that the Town Hall was preparing a poster.******

**Jewish involvement**

Of course, NHMD is Town Hall organised and RESPECTACLES is Town Hall
inspired, but the Town Hall has taken great pains to seek Jewish advice
and help. Former Merseyside Jewish Representative Council President,
Naomi Kingston, has been their mentor and guide. It is confidently
expected that the entire Jewish community, well beyond the confines of
Liverpool will do their utmost to try to find ways of transporting
unwanted spectacles to Liverpool. Scousers countywide take especial note!
Where possible, spectacles need to be in reasonable condition. Sun
glasses are fine, but bifocal and varifocal lenses can probably not be
reconditioned and reused by Vision Aid Overseas. **Spectacle cases are
not required.******
**On an optional basis, donors are invited to label their spectacles**
with the names of the donor and the person they wish to be
remembered......a representation of the //kindertransport //tagging of
around 10,000 children, mostly Jewish, who were sent without their
parents out of Austria, Germany, Poland and Czechoslovakia to
Britain with numbered cards tied round their necks.
A complete written record will be kept of the numbers of spectacles
collected at Harold House and in total, and subsequently displayed.
*_After NHMD, all spectacles will be donated via Vision Aid Overseas to
people with poor eyesight in the developing world._*
Ultimately, NHMD not only highlights the tragedy of the Holocaust and
the communities that suffered, but also seeks to educate people
individually and collectively about the dangers of anti-Semitism, racism
and other forms of discrimination. It is also a reminder that the crimes
committed during the Holocaust and more recent genocides must never be
forgotten or repeated.
It should also be noted that *Muslims have confirmed the withdrawal
of their boycott of NHMD*.
It is Liverpool's hope that everyone who can will make an individual
symbolic act of commemorating the Holocaust by donating spectacles for
the RESPECTacles project. Please do participate.

A familiar Holocaust image is piles of spectacles and other personal
possessions confiscated by the Nazis to dehumanise victims in the death
The RESPECTacles project will use spectacles to combat prejudice
You are urged to give your unwanted spectacles for the RESPECTacles
display open to the public
during the week 21st to 25th January in Liverpool Town Hall
To raise awareness of the Nazi atrocities
To inspire young people to RESPECT each other and RESPECT difference
To reject the evils of indifference and dehumanisation
To help people with poor eyesight in the developing world, as all
collected spectacles will be donated through Vision Aid Overseas
(Tel 722 3303)

Tuesday 11 December 2007

Pro Zion Update 6th December

Dear Members,

We hope you are enjoying Chanukah. There are a few interesting things
for you this week.

1. Unorthodox Yeshiva

The first piece is from 'Israel21c' written by Benji Lovitt. The
article reports on a 'secular yeshiva' in Tel Aviv, an institution that
breaks the mold of what a traditional yeshiva is, in order to bring more
people close to their Jewish past and heritage.

2. What a nation state is

This article, taken from Ha'aretz was written by Professor David Navon,
who teaches Psychology at the University of Haifa. The article was
written in response to the accusations made against Israel foreign
minister's Tzipi Livni statement that the establishment of a Palestinian
State would fulfill the national aspirations of the Israeli Arabs.
Professor Navon argues that this fact is in fact a necessary
pre-condition to finding peace through a two-state solution.

3. 'Many Voices' in Leeds

Please find attached an article from Anna Dyson, Youth and Community
Development Worker at Sinai Synagogue, Leeds. A fortnight ago Sinai,
along with a mixed-faith planning committee, helped to organise an
extraordinary event, 'Many Voices'. In her opening speech Anna said
that through an event such as this " hopefully we can begin to share our
stories and listen with the hope of widening our understanding of
'truth' and the opportunities they present for us to come together for
justice and peace." The article shows what an incredible event this was
and I think inspirational to the Progressive Zionist community.

4. A date for you diaries...

Harrow & Wembley Progressive Synagogue, 326 Preston Road Wembley, are
Abbie Ben Ari, be speaking on 'Israel - New Dimensions' on Sunday 16
December at 3.15
This will be an interesting talk from an esteemed speaker.

That's all for this week, comments, suggestions and news are as welcome
as ever.

Finally, we hope your Chanukah continues to be a happy one, and Shabbat

Charlie and all at Pro-Zion

For those who have forgotten what a nation-state is

For those who have forgotten what a nation-state is
By David Navon
Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni found herself under heavy attack from the
Arab Knesset members, backed by her colleague from the coalition, Ophir
Pines-Paz, for supposedly expressing the views of the extreme right. And
what was all this about? About having said that when a Palestinian state
is established, it will also fulfill the national aspirations of the
Israeli Arabs.

I could not believe my ears when I heard that. After all, it is for this
very purpose that the solution of "two states for two peoples" was
meant. Were the two peoples desirous of living in a bi-national state,
there would be no reason to partition the land. But nations have been
granted the right of self-determination. For that reason, most
nation-states were not formed on multi-national territory, but rather as
the result of partitioning that kind of territory on the basis of the
lines that separate the living areas of members of different peoples and
setting up nation-states in the areas where one of the peoples has a

This, of course, does not negate the civil rights of minorities living
in a nation-state. But it would be ridiculous if, in the name of
equality, that very target for which the people had aspired to set up a
state of their own, were lost. An ethnic Hungarian born in Bratislava
will have citizenship identical to that of an ethnic Slovak born in
Bratislava, but it is clear that the country where both live is a
Slovakian state. As a state, it aspires, for example, to nurture the
heritage of the Slovakian people, even if it enables the Hungarian
minority to maintain its heritage.

An ethnic Turk born in Copenhagen will have the same citizenship as an
ethnic Dane born in Copenhagen, but it is clear the country where they
live is the state of the Danes. The Danish state will give preference to
ethnic Danish repatriates over migrants from Turkey or any other
ethnicity. And for that very reason, ethnic Macedonians insist that
Macedonia should not be a binational state, as the large Albanian
minority is demanding: The Albanian people already have a state of their
own, the Macedonians have only Macedonia
It was on this same basis that the League of Nations assigned the Land
of Israel to the Jewish people, and in its partition resolution, the
United Nations assigned part of it to the Jewish state even though a
great number of Arabs lived there. The establishment of a Palestinian
state is supposed to constitute the completion of the partition process.
In view of the fact that there is a partition, this means that there
will be two nation-states in this land. The State of Israel is the
nation-state where the Jewish people fulfill their national aspirations,
even though there are millions of Jews living outside of it, and even
though one fifth of its citizens are not Jewish.

Its existence, of course, does not negate the right of the members of
the minority who reside there, who are not members of the Jewish people,
to be equal citizens of the state. But the state is not the state of
their people. The state of the people of the Arab minority will be
beyond the border. If the state of Palestine is defined as the state
that answers the national aspirations of all Palestinians, including
those who reside in, say, Belize, then it is also supposed to satisfy
the national aspirations of the residents of Umm al-Fahm.

This is apparently what the foreign minister meant to say. She was not
talking about a transfer of populations nor about exchanging
territories, but rather of the residents of Umm al-Fahm coming to terms
with the realization that they are residents of a state that is not the
state of their people. Since, after a peace treaty, the state of their
people will be on the other side of the border, they can be consoled by
this. Scant consolation, but that is the fate of millions of people all
over the world whom history has fated to be residents of a state that is
the not the state of their people.

We are not referring especially to migrants, but rather to locals who
found their place on the wrong side of the border. This is what happened
to the German-speaking residents of Alto Adige (South Tyrol?), a region
which has been part of Italy since World War I. They aspired to be
reannexed by Austria and some of them even engaged in terror, which died
down only about 20 years ago. But in the end, they came to terms with
the fate of having to live in the Italian state with the realization
that their people at least are able to fulfill their national
aspirations in the neighboring state.

This analogy, however, is not complete. When the residents of Umm
al-Fahm are offered what the South Tyrol residents can merely dream
about - namely to be annexed to their people's state - they and the
entire leadership of their sector raise their voices in protest.
Regardless of the actual proposal, it is interesting to know what the
source of this opposition is. If it were a matter of national insurance,
it could be solved with ease. Other socio-economic explanations also do
not tell the entire story. Perhaps it is that they regard themselves as
members of a different people from those in Ramallah and Gaza? A more
reasonable explanation than the others is buried in another dream: that
one day, Israel will cease to be the state of the Jews.

If that is indeed their dream, no real peace can be established here
until everyone recognizes that this peace puts a total end to the
conflict between all Arabs and the state of the Jews. If there is no
such recognition, it is possible that we shall wake up in another 10 or
20 years to a new violent conflict, this time of the type in Northern
Ireland, where a small local underground backed by a political movement
in a neighboring country tries to forcefully complete the second stage
of the homeland's "liberation," whose first stage was granted by a
previous agreement.

The demand that the Palestinians recognize Israel as the Jewish state is
therefore not superfluous. It is not a matter of honor. We do not need
their approval, of course. But recognition is not approval, but rather a
certain commitment. That is why, for us, it is an essential condition.

Prof. Navon teaches psychology at the University of Haifa

Studying with Tel Aviv's 'unorthodox' yeshiva

Studying with Tel Aviv's 'unorthodox' yeshiva
By Benji Lovitt December 02, 2007

Webster's Dictionary defines 'yeshiva' as "an Orthodox Jewish rabbinical
seminary". A walk into any classical yeshiva reveals an intensive study
environment of Hassidic males, clothed in the traditional uniform of
slacks, white shirts, and a yarmulke head covering.

However, in Tel Aviv, known much more for its hedonistic culture than
religious observance, a group of young, secular Jews are doing their
part to rewrite the dictionary altogether.

In its second year of operation, Tel Aviv's BINA Secular Yeshiva is the
most recent project of the BINA Center for Jewish Identity and Hebrew
Culture. Eran Baruch, the yeshiva's founder and executive director sees
it as a vital step in a process to connect secular Israelis to Judaism.
Baruch, having grown up with a strong connection to Jewish tradition and
culture, yearned to bring the values of social action found in Judaism
to the daily lives of Israelis, the majority of whom lead secular lives.

"After the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin, I felt that
something was fundamentally wrong between the religious and secular
communities in this country, "said Baruch. "The way that secular
Israelis see their connection to Judaism needs to change, to
strengthen." It was then that he decided to create the BINA Center, a
gathering place for Jewish study and seminars in a pluralist environment.

A few minutes inside a BINA classroom shatters many conventional
thoughts about what yeshiva learning means. Men and women congregate
together in modern, fashionable dress, most of the men without
yarmulkes. But to see only that would miss the point.

"The purpose is to make Judaism part of our daily lives from a moral and
cultural perspective, not halachic (according to Jewish law),"
headmaster Tal Shaked told ISRAEL21c. "Judaism belongs to everyone, not
just the religious community."

A former prosecutor for the District Attorney's office, Shaked notes
that BINA's approach to learning does not constitute a religious
movement such as orthodox or reform Judaism, rather, it gives students
the space to learn and choose their own personal level of religious
observance. Ten groups are currently studying at BINA, including a
pre-army group, two groups of the Nachal army unit, and one group of the
Zionist youth movement, Shomer Hatzair. While the amount of study
differs in each program, all include a social activism component.
This value originated from both Baruch and the entire staff of BINA,
first manifesting itself in the organization's BINA B'shchuna (in the
neighborhood) program and again in its 10-month Tikun Olam (Repairing
the World) program for college graduates from abroad. "Being Jewish
means to take care of and be responsible for the community and to have
solidarity with the people around you," Shaked said.

The need for social services in the dilapidated area of south Tel Aviv
explains the location of the yeshiva, a stone's throw from the city's
central bus station. One group the students assist is the growing
population of Asian immigrants, who have been brought to the country as
a workforce. BINA students spend time tutoring foreign teens in the
afternoon while their parents are working to support their families.

According to BINA's director of development Simone Farbstein, to fully
understand a secular yeshiva first requires understanding what secular
Judaism means in Israel.

"Secular in Israel is not like secular in America. In the US, if you
choose not to be Jewish, you can lose your identity. Here, you don't
have to deal with your identity because it's obvious you're Jewish...
even if you don't know anything," said Farbstein. "It's not obvious that
people will care about their Judaism anymore; it's important for
Israelis to be knowledgeable."

This vision to bring Judaism to the masses permeates the entire faculty.
Lior Tal, one of the teachers at BINA, grew up in a religious family but
fell in love with Judaism as a culture. Tal explained that, as opposed
to what Diaspora Jews might think, Israeli children in public schools
are lacking a fundamental knowledge of Jewish texts.

His goal for the yeshiva is to start a revolution so all Jewish texts
will be relevant, ending ignorance among Jews of their own religion.
Similar to Orthodox yeshivas, much of the study is done in a chevruta, a
pair of students who read a passage before discussing it aloud between
themselves. This mechanism, especially as employed by BINA, facilitates
personalizing the texts and finding meaning in their own lives, rather
than sending a message that "the Jewish authorities say this."

What makes the curriculum special at BINA is that the lessons do not
stop with the Jewish texts. Students may learn about cultural Zionist
Ahad Ha'am one day and European philosopher Immanuel Kant, the next. The
idea behind this diverse experience is to give the students a
well-rounded education and the ability to make social change among all
types of people with varying identities and levels of observance.
On Yom Kippur, students came together to study and designed their own
holiday prayer book and service. This spiritual activity lay in stark
contrast to the traditional secular Israeli commemoration of the Day of
Atonement, when many people spend the day watching rented movies or
cycling on the streets.

"Studies in other places feel distant; here we are in it. We study from
the Talmud and see how it's still relevant to our lives," said Michal
Shamay, a BINA student who has deferred her army service one year to
study. Like Baruch, Shamay was raised secular. While she and her family
do celebrate the Jewish holidays, they do so as cultural rather than
religious experiences. After this year of study, she will be fulfilling
her army service in the IDF's education department, teaching new
immigrants Hebrew among other responsibilities.
What lies ahead for Israel's first secular yeshiva? Shaked dreams of the
day when BINA is known not as "the secular yeshiva," but the "Tel Aviv
yeshiva," to differentiate it from the large number of secular yeshivas
she envisions across the state of Israel. As for enrollment, she hopes
to double the number of students before moving into a larger facility.

Finally, the BINA staff looks forward to the yeshiva being recognized
with the shiluv status granted to religious yeshivas, allowing students
to study for two one-year periods which breaks up, but does not take
away from, their normal army service commitment. Former defense minister
Amir Peretz approved their request, but the yeshiva is still navigating
its way through the bureaucratic process.

Farbstein's ultimate message is a simple but poignant one. "Don't NOT be
a Jew," she stated. "It's our past and our future"

Many Voices in Leeds

Many Voices

On a cold, rainy night in November, something extraordinary happened on
the Leeds University campus: close to 100 people met together under the
heading 'Many Voices'. It was an evening of conversation and listening.
What was special was that the participants were made up of members of
both the Muslim and Jewish communities in Leeds and Bradford.

The planning team was a model of diversity; there were two students from
the society Salaam-Shalom (Akram, a Muslim Palestinian and Laura, a
British Jewish student), myself – a Jewish community worker, Kamran who
works in the Muslim community in Beeston, and two Christians, Ed and Kay
who are involved in community and peace work on campus and in Leeds
through the inspiring Together for Peace Festival (of which this event
was a part). We met regularly and through the process of planning the
event, have become good friends – an amazing achievement over and above
anything else.

As one of the organisers of the event, I can testify that its planning
was not easy and we came across many obstacles; not least the fact that
the original evening was going to see one Israeli and one Palestinian
representative from the organisation 'One Voice' take the stage and talk
about their life experiences and hopes for the future. When One Voice
cancelled their UK tour, we were forced to examine carefully our aims
for the evening, and if there was a way we could meet those aims in
their absence.

This was where the idea of 'Many Voices' emerged; that we each have our
own stories and connection to the situation in Israel and Palestinian
areas, and that the evening could model how we can all listen to each
other, and, in the words of Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, "learn the art of
conversation from which truth emerges from the process of letting our
world be enlarged by the presence of others who think, act and interpret
reality in ways radically different from our own."

We decided to begin the evening by four of us speaking from our own
experiences, with the aim of modelling for everyone who came that this
is a safe space to be open and honest about how we feel about what's
happening. We also invited Nir, an Israeli student to speak on this
panel, in order to get a balance of perspectives; Akram and Nir could
talk directly about growing up in Jerusalem (although different parts of
the city), and Kamran and I spoke from our viewpoints within our faith
communities in Britain.

The next part of the evening was facilitated discussion in small mixed
groups, encouraging everyone to think about the situation and share
their own experiences and feelings, as well as the conflicts that exist
in their own minds regarding what's going on. This proved to be an
invaluable experience because it enabled different people to listen to
each other without interruption and debate, as well as proved that no
one truth exists, even within someone's own thinking and beliefs.

What I found most valuable was witnessing the conversations once the
event had officially closed. People did not want to leave and business
cards were being exchanged, ideas for projects were being sown, and
friendships were being formed across the communities. It was a really
wonderful experience to watch and know that I had been part of making it

Anna Dyson
Youth and Community Development Worker
Sinai Synagogue, Leeds

Thursday 6 December 2007

Chanucah Special Update 2007

Chanucah Sameach to all our members,

In this special Chanucah edition we've two important messages for you.
The first is from Rabbi Tony Bayfield. On his recent trip to Israel he
met Noam Schalit whose son Gilad was kidnapped over a year ago and still
being held in Gaza. He describes what he has done as well as what we can
all do to raise awareness of the situation and get action taken. Please
take some time as you light your candles at home or at synagogue to
think and talk about the three missing soldiers taken over 500 days ago
as well as the four taken over 20 years ago.

Our second message is from our friends at IRAC who have successfuly
lobbied for a new "Good Samaritan Law" in the Knesset which should
improve the nutrition of Israelis living in poverty across all sectors
of the community.

Chag Sameach
Daniel and all at Pro Zion

Three Candles for Three Soldiers - Rabbi Dr. Bayfield

Three Candles for Three Soldiers
Written by Rabbi Dr. Tony Bayfield

As you may know, I recently returned from Israel where I spent 6 days
along with our treasurer, Stephen Moss, and our chair, Mike Grabiner.

Whilst we were there, we spent some time with Noam Schalit whose son,
Corporal Gilad Schalit, was kidnapped on 25 June 2006 and is still being
held captive in Gaza. The Schalits are deeply distressed that no
progress is being made on the release of their son. Noam said that he
felt abandoned by the Israeli government. He emphasised that he wants
action - just being remembered is not enough.
But what can we do?
Since my return, I have followed up with both the Israel Embassy in
London and the British Ambassador in Tel Aviv - telling them what we had
heard from Noam Schalit and asking what they could do to help. The
Israel Embassy here were clear that Gilad is still alive, though
suffering badly from untreated asthma. Tom Philips, the British
Ambassador in Tel Aviv phoned the Schalits personally. I also contacted
Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, who was about to travel to
Israel for a meeting with the orthodox Chief Rabbis. The Archbishop
immediately wrote to the Schalits, reiterating his concern for their
son, for the parents and for the whole family. I will also be meeting
with the new Israeli Ambassador to the UK, Ron Prosser, this week and
will raise the issue with him.

Remembering this Chanukah

I would like to suggest that we can show our support this Chanukah by
remembering Gilad and the other captured Israeli soldiers - Ehud
Goldwasser and Eldad Regev.

Please consider dedicating the three candles you light on the third
night of Chanukah to the three captive soldiers.

I would also urge you to write to or email Jeremy Bowen, the Middle East
Editor for the BBC asking that the BBC take up the campaign for the 3
captured soldiers with the same level of vigour and concern they showed
when Alan Johnston was kidnapped in Gaza earlier this year. Jeremy
Bowen's email address is
I will be letting Noam Schalit know about our campaign. Remembering
alone is not enough, but we need your help to make the Schalit family
feel and know that they have not been abandoned either by the government
of Israel or by the Jewish people.
Please pass this information on to other members of your community.
May the lights of Chanukah burn brightly and defiantly

Happy Hanukah from IRAC

Happy Hanukah. I have a present for you. This week I am giving you good
news. I realize that IRAC and I are regularly the bearers of bad news,
stirring up the pot, and highlighting the problems in Israeli society.
You should know though that we are also very actively involved in
creating and proposing positive solutions. This month IRAC successfully
advocated for a new policy that will help reduce nutritional insecurity
in Israel. We call it nutritional insecurity because people in Israel
are not starving. However, poverty does prevent many Israelis from
receiving sufficient healthy and nutritious food. IRAC is proud to help
lead the way to end this phenomenon.

IRAC's Lobbying Helps Pass Israel's Good Samaritan Law in the Knesset
Nutritional Insecurity in Israel
Over one million Israelis suffer from "nutritional insecurity".
According to the National Insurance Institute every third child in
Israel lives under the poverty line. These cold statistics paint a
rather bleak human picture. Poverty in Israel transcends religious,
ethnic and denominational lines and is a multicoloured. Haredi and
secular Jews, Russian and Ethiopian olim and Arab Israelis all encounter
the same difficulty when it comes to meeting the mortgage and health
insurance payments, buying books and school supplies for their children
and putting dinner on the table every night.
Fortunately, Israel has a variety of non-governmental organizations,
like IRAC's humanitarian aid project, Keren B'Kavod, that provide basic
nutritional necessities, health and hygiene needs and cultural
enrichment activities for the poor. Without a doubt, emergency help on
an individual basis to disadvantaged families is invaluable. Yet, IRAC
believes that it is only one of the ways to help alleviate and
eventually eradicate poverty in Israel. Our advocacy department recently
led a trip of Knesset members to the US to see successful models of food
projects. In a related effort, our lobbyist succeeded in helping pass
new legislation that promotes private food donations
Finding Long-term Solutions
IRAC's Advocacy Efforts
There is a compelling need for change on a larger scale, in legislation
and public discourse, in order to promote social responsibility and
charitable giving among Israelis. This is why Knesset Advocacy and
lobbying is an ongoing vital part of IRAC's work. In the past year
IRAC's full-time lobbyist and representatives from the legal department
engaged in public advocacy on behalf of numerous social, religious and
economic issues. Our lobbyist, Lauren Poris, has worked in the Knesset
for the past 20 years; she knows the Knesset halls as well as the back
of her hand. For almost two years, IRAC has been lobbying on behalf of a
great coalition of organizations called the Forum to Address Food
Insecurity and Poverty in Israel in support of the Shelei Mitzvah law.
The Israeli Good Samaritan Law
The Shlehei Mitzvah Law is the Israeli equivalent of the Good Samaritan
Law, which allows restaurants, hotels and function halls to donate food
to organizations that distribute food to the needy without the fear of
being subjected to lawsuits with regard to the quality and the freshness
of the products. As of now, about 25% of all food prepared by these
institutions is being thrown away. This fact is both alarming and
shameful when considering the hundreds of thousands of Israelis who
suffer from nutritional insecurity. On November 14th, the Knesset passed
the Shlehei Mitzvah law for which IRAC has lobbied long and hard. With
this, Israel joins the ranks of other Western nations like the United
States, Canada and United Kingdom who have opened the door for donors to
contribute food to organizations working to end hunger and poverty in
their countries.
Engaging the Israeli Government
Knesset Delegation to Washington DC
IRAC's lobbying in favour of Shlehei Mitzvah law is only one example of
our efforts to encourage the Israeli government to increase and
strengthen its commitment to nutritional security policies. Early this
September, IRAC together with its partners The Forum to Address Food
Insecurity, the Religious Action Centre of Washington DC and Mazon: A
Jewish Response to Hunger, led a delegation of eight Knesset members
from five different political parties on a three-day mission to
Washington D.C to address the issue of nutritional insecurity in Israel.
The delegation crossed political party lines and included religious and
secular Knesset Members from the right and the left
of the political spectrum.
The legislators began their mission with a comprehensive briefing and
tour of the Capitol Area Food Bank of Greater Washington, D.C. This was
followed by meetings with congress-people, advocates, policy makers, and
agency directors. The legislators also met with the undersecretary and
senior staff of the United States Department of Agriculture, visited a
school lunch program site, and met with the leadership of City Harvest
in New York City. The meetings focused on role of the federal government
and its commitment to a range of federally sponsored nutritional
assistance programs such as school breakfast and lunch programs, food
stamps, agricultural surplus distributions, etc.
An Israeli Food Bank
The Knesset members decided to form a Knesset lobby to promote food
security; and expressed their support for the establishment of Leket:
The Israel Food Bank. They proposed that the Minister of Agriculture
examine the possibility of transferring agricultural food surpluses to
the Food Bank in order to ensure nutritional health and food security
nationally. Additional legislative ideas were proposed, and will be
advanced in the coming months with the goal of ensuring that the
government of Israel takes responsibility for shaping nutritional policy
for all citizens.
IRAC's Knesset advocacy is an essential part of our efforts to promote a
more just and conscientious social policy in Israel. Furthermore, IRAC
lobbying capabilities are also been utilized by a variety of Israeli
social-justice and civil-rights organizations who do not have a lobbyist
of their own. With the help of Lauren Poris, IRAC has been able to gain
the trust and support of Knesset Members who are not necessarily
affiliated with the Reform Movement. By widening the coalition of IRAC's
supporters, we guarantee progress of our work on a national scale.

weekly update 29/11/07

Dear Members,

We have two great pieces this week. The first is a blog from Rabbi
Michael Marmur which he describes as from "the genre commonly known as
the Reform think-piece". It's an interesting reaction the frequent
anti-Reform messages he receives as comments on his blogs.
The second piece is based on a survey released by the Israel Democracy
Institute's Guttman Center. The article looks at different religious
observances of different parts of Israel's population and is a
fascinating snapshot into Israeli society today.

As always we're delighted to hear your feedback.

Shabbat Shalom

Daniel and all at Pro Zion.

Rabbi Marmur - But what do you believe?

But what do you believe?

Posted by Rabbi Michael Marmur
This blog belongs to the genre commonly known as the Reform think-piece.
There are two common species of this creature, which may simply be
termed the indignant (in Latin: blogus self- righteous) and the benign
(blogus harmless). The first variety usually involves wailing and
gnashing of teeth about one injustice or other perpetrated on the
proponents of liberal Judaism. The other kind tends to involve treacly
calls for unity and solidarity. Among cognoscenti of the field, I am
known to belong to the second of the two camps. My articles are often
warm but rarely hot. I tend to come out in favor of friendship and
generosity, and the extent of my politics would usually be to express
reservations about the programs of Yigal Amir, Ahmedinejad and Genghis
It's not very racy stuff, and you have to try very hard not to agree
with it. Reading through the responses to my previous blogs, though, I
have discovered that it hardly matters what I write. Since it appears
under the heading 'Reform Reflections', the article is to be decried,
and its author accused of sundry misdemeanors. One week I'm thinking of
simply asserting a page from the telephone directory, just to see if the
anti-Reform lobby also attacks the piece as self-hating Hellenistic
treachery. I suppose they could complain of name-calling.
There is a reason for this knee-jerk condemnation of any expression of
Reform Judaism. It stems from the fear that any legitimacy given to
non-Orthodox religious voices within the Jewish conversation will
somehow weaken the basis of Judaism. The argument goes that if you read
this and agree with it, mixed dancing and intermarriage cannot be far
One of the recent responses to my corrupting prose was particularly
charming: "70% of Reform Jews are goyim; the other 30% are idiots." Now
there are many good things to be said about this insight. Firstly, it
displays an impressive command of mathematics, which is certainly to be
applauded. Second, it implies that these non-Jewish Reform Jews are not
idiots (apparently it's just the Jews who are developmentally delayed),
so it counts as an example of inter-religious tolerance and understanding.
In a sense it's too easy to spend time marveling at the intellectual
prowess of those who trade in hate and prejudice. The question can
fairly be asked: but what do you Reform Jews really believe? Forget
about your detractors, and tell us where you really stand.
Obviously, this is a very uncomfortable task for at least 30% of us, for
whom joined-up writing is enough of a challenge. But especially in honor
of this blog, I racked my brains and I have managed to come up with
three things I really believe. After I've typed this in, I may need to
go and lie down.
I believe that Judaism is the ever-changing response of the Jewish
people to God's word. As a human endeavor, Judaism exists within history
and culture. As a yearning for the divine, it aspires to a truth which
lies beyond the exigencies of any particular context. When my Orthodox
friends tells me that the Oral Torah is the sole and indisputable
expression of the will of God, I admire their faith – and reject it. The
Judaism I study and teach is one of change and growth; just like the
people who practice it, it's in a constant state of becoming.
I believe that in every generation Jews have been called upon to express
their highest commitments and yearnings in the language formed through
millennia of Jewish expression. That's why I reject the notion that
defending the basic humanity of every person is to be seen as a
"non-Jewish" act. I understand it to be a quintessentially Jewish act,
and every time I hear a self-appointed representative of Judaism imply
that the rights and needs of non-Jews can be trampled upon, I am ashamed.
I believe that in our generation the time has come to re-calibrate the
roles allocated to men and women within Jewish tradition. In my Bible
(apparently the Idiot Reform Edition) there are two versions of the
creation account, and in one of them man and women are created
simultaneously. It is that basic insight which informs my belief that we
Jewish men have a lot of learning and changing to do. (It's also the
reason that every time I go onto the JPost Blog Site and see a long
uninterrupted list of male contributors, I don't know whether to laugh
or cry.)
Come to think of it, there are one or two more things I really believe
in. These beliefs and commitments relate to such themes as Religion and
State, Human Sexuality, Social Justice, Jewish Education, War and Peace,
Crime and Punishment, Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, and
more. I don't pretend to own the copyright on certainty, but I'm
struggling hard to find a way of living a rich Jewish life here and now.
Reform Judaism aims to be a genuine search, one voice in a long and
wonderful conversation. If that appalls you or inspires ridicule, you
may want to take a moment to consider an uncomfortable possibility:
maybe only 99% of the problem is mine. Maybe 1% has your name on it.

A fifth of the populace says it does not observe religious traditions

A fifth of the populace says it does not observe religious traditions
Religious and traditional Israeli Jewish populations are on the rise
while the secular population is shrinking drastically, according to a
survey released Thursday by the Israel Democracy Institute's Guttman Center.
Israelis who say they do not observe religious traditions have become
fewer, especially over the past decade, making up just a fifth of the
population in 2007, according to the survey conducted by Eliyahu Sapir,
a doctoral student in Political Science at Hebrew University. In
contrast, in 1974, one year after the Yom Kippur War, 41% of Israelis
said they were secular.
Meanwhile, over the past three decades more and more Israelis have
defined themselves as religious or traditional. From about a fifth of
the population in 1974, the proportion of those who say they are strict
observers of religious traditions has now grown to a third.
The number of moderately traditional Israelis has also grown, albeit not
as quickly as the religiously observant, from a low of just 38% of the
population to about half.
The survey was carried out by telephone among 1,016 Israeli Jews. The
research was supervised by Professor Asher Arian.
Sapir said that he and Arian, who did not make an empirical inquiry into
the reasons behind their findings, were surprised by the gradual spread
of religiosity over the decades.
"Based on social science studies in similar fields, we expected sudden
peaks of religiosity at times of military confrontations or other crises
and valleys during more stable times," said Sapir. "But, surprisingly,
there has been a gradual spread of religiosity and traditionalism over
the years regardless of changes that the Israeli society underwent."
Sapir added that the gradual rise in the number of religious Israelis
over the past three decades is definitely due in part to higher natural
growth among the religious and the traditional.
Another big surprise for Sapir and Arian was the strong correlation
between age and religiosity.
The survey found that more young Israelis were religious than old ones.
A full 39% of Israelis under 40 said they were religious, compared to
32% aged between 40 and 49 and 30% aged 60 or over.
"We assumed that as people got older they became more conformist and as
a result there was a higher chance they would be religious." Sapir said,
admitting that in Israel religious observance might be considered a
rebellion against mainstream secular norms, which would explain the
findings. But he added that he had no empirical evidence to back this up.
Most Sephardi Jews (56%) said they were religious while only a small
minority of Ashkenazi Jews (17%) defined themselves as such.
Sapir said that he had expected the correlation between Sephardi Jews
and religiosity to be weaker, especially as Sephardim integrated more
fully into Israeli society.
The vast majority of religious Israeli Jews said they were politically
right-wing, with 71% defining themselves as such compared to just 7% who
said they were left-wing. Among secular Israelis too, more defined
themselves as right-wing (43%) than left-wing (27%). Some 21% of
religious Israelis, 29% of traditional Israelis and 30% of secular
Israelis defined themselves as centrists.