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Wednesday 30 January 2008

Welcome to Israel 2008 - moving Sderot Presentation

We recently received this message from our ex Pro Zion treasurer Mira, now living in Israel. The presentation at the end speaks volumes.

I feel for the suffering of any human being, but while the world media are reporting widely about the suffering of the Palestinians from Gaza, very little is being reported about the suffering of Sderot and surrounding areas.

I saw two friends on separate occasions recently: Shura Zagorskaya, a former administrator of Alyth twin community in Kerch who made aliyah 2 years ago; and Dalya Levy, the director of Arzenu within the WUPJ. Two women have something incommon - their daughters are studying at Sderot University and both girls had the same experience of exam taking. Their exam was interrupted 3 times by the Kassam rockets and they had to go to the shelter.

The attached photos speak for themselves. No additional comment is needed...

Best regards from Jerusalem,

Sderot Presentation (with translation)
(nb please feel free to save and pass on the presentation but if you link to the version here please use this link to the whole blog post)
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Sunday 27 January 2008

weekly update 27th January 2008

Dear Members,
Before the introduction to our attached articles I'd like to invite you
to our 2008 Pro Zion Lecture in memory of Mervyn Elliot. The event is
being held next Sunday 3rd February at 5:30pm in Leeds. Our guest
speaker is Rachel Liel, the Director of Shatil. She was named by Globes
magazine as one of the 50 most influential leaders in Israel and will be
speaking on the challenges facing Israeli society. The event is being
organised along with Sinai Synagogue in Leeds and the New Israel Fund.
Please see the attached poster for more details.

We have further events planned this year one of which is our AGM on 30th
March. Please put the date in your diary and we will provide further
details as soon as they are confirmed.

On to our articles for the week.
First is an interview with Rabbi Stanley Davids, originally from
America, now from Israel. Rabbi Davids talks about Arza (the american
equivalent of Pro Zion), Zionism and progressive judaism in a short and
interesting piece.

Second is an upbeat article by Rabbi Michael Marmur on Sportsmanship and
Cooperation. Totally coincidentally I've just been watching the
highlights of the Israeli men's doubles pair winning the Australian open
becoming, I believe, the first Israelis to win a grandslam.

Our final article is the story about the offer by the nefesh b'nefesh
immigration organisation to offer US and UK doctors $60,000 to make
Aliyah because of a expected shortage of medics in Israel. If there are
any doctors in the house let us know your feelings. I've two friends who
are doctors in Israel both of whom work long hours for low wages while
they work their way up the ladder and I'm sure they have very mixed
feelings about this initiative.

As always we're delighted to hear your feedback on any articles.
Shavua Tov
Daniel and all at Pro Zion

2008 Mervyn Elliot Memorial Lecture

2008 Mervyn Elliot Memorial Lecture
5.30-7pm, Sunday February 3rd

"Israel at 60 – An Accomplished Adolescent or a Responsible Adult? The
Challenges Facing Israeli Society"

Lecture to be given by Rachel Liel, Director of SHATIL, New Israel
Fund's Empowerment and Training Centre, promoting tolerance, democracy,
and social justice, recognizing the need for building a strong civil
society in Israel

Considered to be one of Israel's 50 most influential leaders by (Globes
- Israel's leading business daily 2005), and one of 40 Israeli women who
most contribute to change (Ha'aretz 2006).

Former Associate Director of Rehabilitation Services at the Ministry of
Labour and Social Affairs

Rabbi Davids interview: 'The Zionist Dream Is Unfulfilled'

Rabbi Davids: 'The Zionist Dream Is Unfulfilled'

Rabbi Stanley Davids led Reform Temple Emanu-El in the Dunwoody area of
Sandy Springs for 12 years until he made aliyah in 2004. Before he moved
to Atlanta, he led the Central Conference of American Rabbis' youth and
Israel committees, and while here he held leadership roles in
organizations ranging from State of Israel Bonds and United Jewish
Communities to Alpha Epsilon Pi. Now he and his wife live in Jerusalem
but make frequent trips back to the United States, in part to visit
their seven grandchildren and in part to do the work of the Association
of Reform Zionist of America (ARZA), of which he is the president.

Q. Tell us what ARZA is.

A. ARZA was founded in 1987 to represent the Reform movement and all of
its relationships with the international Zionist organizations like the
World Zionist Organization and the Jewish Agency for Israel and also to
bear the responsibility for raising the role of the significance of
Israel and its Zionism in the minds and lives of the American Reform
Jews, and both tasks - both representing outward and educating inward -
are huge undertakings.

Q. How did you become involved in ARZA, and why did you make aliyah?

A. As a Zionist, I believe the Zionist dream is unfulfilled. For me,
it's not sufficient that there is a Jewish state, a state of Israel,
until Israel becomes a truly pluralistic, democratic Jewish state in the
Middle East. Then we Zionists have an awful lot to work on. My wife and
I, Resa and I, dreamt of moving to Israel since our first experience
there in the early '70s. Probably before we made aliyah in February of
'04 we've been to Israel maybe more than 70 times.

There were always reasons not to make aliyah. We had aging parents, and
eventually as they died of illness and so forth, we didn't want to be
separated from them. Our children were growing. Eventually we are
blessed with seven grandchildren. How do we leave them behind and follow
our own dream?

Difficult, difficult, difficult questions, and we finally - actually
Resa decided and told me that we were making aliyah, and that's pretty
much how it happened. When we were confronting the reality of
retirement, and it was just time to invest our lives in working on our
dream, we didn't want to be those who looked at Israel from a distance.
If there's any chance to improve Israeli society, if there's any chance
to make Israeli society more of a model as to what a contemporary
democratic state in the Middle East could look like, we didn't want to
do it by writing essays and giving speeches. We wanted to be there and
to suffer the frustration - which there is an awful lot of - but also
the joy of participating in the process, so we did that.

ARZA is committed to building an Israel which in many ways is not quite
like the Israel of today. Of course ARZA's Israel is devoted and
committed to finding a new way to make Reform Judaism a legitimate part
of Israeli society. You know, Jews are the only ones who suffer
religious discrimination in Israel. Christians don't. Muslims don't.
Jews do.

Reform Jews are the subject of a great number of disabilities officially
embraced by the Israeli government and certainly embraced by what I
would consider to be the archaic and useless official rabbinic
establishment in Israel. ARZA is committed to helping Israelis choose to
build for themselves contemporary Jewish lives in which free choice as
to Jewish religious expression is available to all, and yet this is the
part that's hard for a great many American Jews. We still want Israel
clearly to be a Jewish and democratic state, and that is a very, very,
very difficult thing to try to craft, and it's taking a lot of work.

Right now, I am sure you are aware, there is a special committee in the
Knesset working to draft a constitution for Israel. Part of the
difficulty there is how do you make that constitution democratic and
Jewish? How do we protect the role of minorities - Muslim minorities,
Christian minorities, nonobservant minorities - in a Jewish democratic

So we struggle with that, we wrestle with that, and then back at the
other side we recognize that American Jews - this is sad - are becoming
less and less personally involved in the destiny of Israel. If Israel is
under existential threat, American Jews are there. We saw this during
the Lebanese war. But when Israel is struggling to find its own unique
identity and to serve as its own moral strength, American Jews are
increasingly turning inward to American Jewish concerns, and with ARZA
we're attempting to reverse that. We're attempting to reverse that with
teens and with college students. We're attempting to reverse that within
families in which one of the partners was not born as a Jew.

Q. Can you explain what it means to be a Zionist?

A. Zion is the mountain, hill actually, in Jerusalem on which is the
Temple Mount. It's the central part of Jerusalem; it is a reference to
Jerusalem. So Zion is Jerusalem, Jerusalem is the Jewish homeland, and
Zionism therefore is to connect to the Jewish homeland. Zionism today is
an effort to embrace contemporary Israel and move it toward a positive
destiny. Many Jews believe that Zionism is no longer needed: We have a
Jewish state, 60 years old, mazel tov, move on.

But the dreamers, such as Herzl, had much more in mind than just getting
the state established. It's a desire to build a political structure -
may I also add, a safe and secure country - in which Torah can come out
of Zion. I don't mean the limited ancient tradition; I mean creative,
new, innovative, exciting and Jewishly connected, forward-looking
initiatives in Jewish spirituality. To be a Zionist today is to look
toward Israel and want to strengthen it and to look toward North
American Jewry and to want to create a bridge to the creative ferment
and the vitality of the Jewish state, so it's a two-way operation in
terms of contemporary Zionism.

Q. How is it that Jews are discriminated against in Israel?

A. The Progressive movement, as it's called in Israel, is a success
story, and we weren't able to say that maybe 10 years ago, but we can
say it now. We have 25 fully functioning congregations served by rabbis,
and we have 35 Israelis in the Hebrew Union College's Israeli rabbinic
student program - in other words, 35 native Israelis who are studying
for the Israeli Progressive rabbinate in our program in Israel.

Among the 3,000 rabbis paid by the Israeli government, not one of them
is a Reform rabbi, and certainly not one of our women Reform rabbis.
There are constant issues of funding, but even more than that, why can't
Reform rabbis perform weddings for Reform Jews who want Reform rabbis?
What gives the state a right through its - again - archaic and
inappropriate official rabbinate to say, "No, you may not use this
rabbi; you can only use that rabbi"? What gives the rabbinate the right
to say, "If you don't convert our way, we won't recognize your
conversion"? And better, and this is something relatively new, what
gives the so-called leading Orthodox rabbis attached to the political
structure a right to say, "If you convert to Judaism, even under our
standards, but then are seen as not living a fully halachic life, we
reserve the right to retroactively reverse your conversion"? That is

So, we are a success story. We are growing strong. We're not nearly as
powerful as the Reform movement in the United States; we don't have that
kind of presence. But we aren't a poor, benighted, struggling little
force. We are doing much better and, year by year, better than that.

Reform Reflections: Sportsmanship and cooperation - Rabbi Marmur

Reform Reflections: Sportsmanship and cooperation

Posted by Rabbi Michael Marmur
I love sports, but they are not so crazy about me. Highlights of my
sporting career would have to include the indescribable sensation of the
stud of a rugby boot being swiveled deliberately and attentively in my
ear as I lay at the bottom of a scrummage (readers puzzled by these
words were probably not born in a place ruled by the British after the
1770s), and the resonant crunch of my left ankle as it buckled under my
considerable heft during an unwise foray into the world of middle-age
soccer. But my love for sports remains undimmed by my obvious shortcomings.
This last week may seem like an inappropriate time in Israel's life to
dwell on athletic prowess. Our brothers and sisters in Sderot and its
surroundings have been paralyzed by a ceaseless rain of missiles; Gaza
has been in flames; the relatives of hostages and fallen soldiers from
the Second Lebanon War have been subjected to the most tortuous and
perverse treatment at the hands of the great humanitarians at the head
of Hizbullah. The integrity of the legal system is under threat; the
roads continue to take their toll; the higher education system hangs by
the flimsiest of threads. With all this going on, why talk about sports?
I was part of two sporting events last Friday, both of which deserve
note even against the grim backdrop I have sketched here. In the first,
I was active (although only in a very liberal interpretation of the
word), and in the second only a spectator. Both events give me hope (and
one has also given me a small dose of sciatica).
The High School at which our youngest child studies holds an annual
event in memory of a former pupil, Moshe Moses, who fell decades ago in
battle. Families of students are encouraged to enter teams in a
volleyball competition, since this was one of his favorite pastimes.
Every year families come up with pairs and trios of volleyball players,
or in some cases folks who don't know one end of a volleyball from the
other. (As for me, I was outraged that they put the net much too high
for my liking.) The point is to bring together two things we do better
than sporting excellence: family and memory.
Now both family and memory are under threat in contemporary Israel, as
they are in many other places around the globe. But the sight of parents
and children, brothers and sisters, dozens of unlikely and uneven
combinations, coming together to spend a morning of perspiration and
commemoration - it warmed my soul (and pulled my hamstring). It was a
simple and poignant expression that being together is something we can
do well, even when there is so much apathy and enmity threatening to
pull us apart.
Team Marmur was so swept away by the general bonhomie that we decided to
give every team we played against an exhilarating feeling still foreign
to me - the joy of victory in a game of volleyball. But the sheer
delight of coming together to relocate our bearings while working hard
not to dislocate our shoulders made it all worthwhile. I can now confirm
that cholent is not listed as a performance-enhancing drug in the
upcoming Beijing Olympics.
From the Moses Family Volleyball Tournament I made my way to the Teddy
Stadium, a sporting venue I tend to avoid like the plague. The reason
for staying away is large and black and yellow: it's called Betar
Jerusalem, a team currently topping the Premier League both for soccer
and for intolerance. In the mists of time there was a political
dimension to the sports teams in Jerusalem and around Israel, but these
days the ethos of the Betar team has almost nothing to do with the
liberal revisionism of the followers of Jabotinsly. Instead, it has
become home to some of the worst expressions of bigotry and racial
intolerance. After attending a game a couple of years ago I vowed not to
do it again, because just by being there it seemed to me that I was
complicit in the stupid ranting of the anti-Arab mob. I happen to know a
number of Betar supporters who aren't like this at all, but something
ugly happens when the hard core crazy supporters of that team get
together, and I can't escape the sense of distaste by association.
The soccer game I was attending did not involve Betar, and it was four
divisions down the soccer hierarchy. The team playing is known these
days as Hapoel Katamon, and it was started recently by a group of
supporters for whom Betar was unthinkable and the regular Hapoel
Jerusalem team undesirable. So they got together, put some money on the
table, made an alliance with teams from Mevasseret and Abu Ghosh, and
they set the ball rolling.
In theory Hapoel is a socialist team: so were the Hapoel teams around
Israel in the 1930s, and there are still quaint references to the
Internationale in one or two of the team's chants. But it's not economic
theory which characterizes the spirit of Hapoel Katamon games. Rather,
it is a happy, tolerant and family-friendly atmosphere which gives one
hope for a rational, calm and humorous Jerusalem population.
One or two of the chants are rude, but none of them is brutal. One even
contains the remarkable suggestion that there are actually two peoples
who live here in Israel, and that we have to find a way of getting on
with each other. Apart from that, it was a Friday afternoon spent with
Israelis of all stripes, brought together by a sense of fun and
competition, and determined to foster a spirit of friendship and
acceptance. I am cynical enough to suspect that these warm fuzzy
feelings may evaporate if the team actually succeeds to earn promotion
to higher divisions. But in the meantime, it's terrific.
I lowered myself into my chair at Kol Haneshama synagogue a little
gingerly on Friday night; my muscles were rebelling against unusual
exertion, and my stomach against a bar of chocolate guzzled during the
tension of the soccer game (which by the way we won). All my muscles
were worn out, after a day of memory and hilarity, soccer and
solidarity. Only one muscle was significantly stronger as I thanked my
Maker for another Shabbat in Jerusalem; my heart.

Israel offers Anglo docs cash for aliya

Israel offers Anglo docs cash for aliya
By Yair Ettinger
Jewish doctors from the U.K., U.S. and Canada who immigrate to Israel
will receive an absorption package worth $60,000, the government and the
Nefesh B'Nefesh immigration organization announced yesterday.

The initiative is part of a joint venture by the absorption and health
ministries and Nefesh B'Nefesh intended to reverse the trend of Israeli
doctors being lured abroad by bigger salaries.

"Nefesh B'Nefesh has identified a national strategic need of immediate
urgency and is honored to channel itself to bolster the number of
physicians in Israel," said Rabbi Joshua Fass, co-founder and executive
director of Nefesh B'Nefesh.

According to recent statistics, Israel's current rate of 3.4 doctors per
1,000 people is estimated to drop to 2.5 doctors by 2025.

Plans to open a fifth medical school in Israel are underway and the
initiative's organizers say the package, which will be given in addition
to the regular absorption package offered to immigrating Jews, will help
address the expected dearth.

Physicians under 40 who have completed their medical studies in either
North America or Britain will receive $25,000 upon arrival in Israel.
Over the next few years, they will be paid between $1,000 and $1,500 a

Applicants are promised shortened procedures to receive their medical
and driver's licenses. In return, they must commit to work in Israel for
at least nine months a year. Over the coming months, Nefesh B'Nefesh
plans to launch a campaign among Jewish doctors in the Diaspora to
promote the program.

Health Minister Yacov Ben-Yizri said that it is "important to encourage
every Jewish doctor in the Diaspora to immigrate and offer his skills.
It is of the utmost importance to have doctors immigrate, and I promise
that the Health Ministry will do everything it can to help this blessed

Absorption Minister Jacob Edery added: "The shortage in the number of
doctors over the next decade requires us to make a joint effort, and
that is why the Absorption Ministry has joined the program. It will give
funds and additional aid to ensure that the [doctors] are absorbed as
well as possible into the Israeli health system."

Saturday 26 January 2008

weekly update 17/01/2008

Dear Members,

We are pleased to announce that this years Mervyn Elliot Memorial
Lecture has been confirmed and is taking place on Sunday February 3rd in
Leeds from 5.30pm. We have an exciting speaker over from Israel to
present the lecture: Rachel Liel, Director of SHATIL, New Israel Fund's
empowerment and training centre for social change organisations. As
well as being a great speaker other impressive facts about Rachel include:

* she has held various posts in the Ministry of Labour and Social
Affairs, including Associate Director of Rehabilitation Services.
* named one of Israel's 50 most influential leaders in 2005 by
Globes - Israel's leading business daily.
* in 2006, named by Ha'aretz as one of 40 Israeli women who most
contribute to change.

chosen again in September 2007 by Ha'aretz highlighting Israel's
100 most influential people.

This will be a fascinating talk, if you are in Leeds or can make it to
Leeds that weekend then we hope to see you there. More details will
follow in next weeks email.

We have a collection of articles for you this week. First we have an
article that reports on the attempt by the Government to clamp down on
Rabbis who refuse to recognise state-sponsered conversion. Next we have
a piece that refers to a high court ruling against the ultra-orthodox
bus-lines. Justice Ribenstein says, 'i t is inconceivable for a driver
not to allow a woman on a bus because she is wearing pants.' The next
article is about a Jewish-born adoptee, adopted by a devout Catholic
family, who has been trying to make aliyah for the year and a half.
Finally we have a piece written by Rabbi Michael Marmur who reflects on
what it means to him to be a Jerusalemite.

We hope you enjoy the articles. If you would like to tell us about any
events your community are having or have had, then please let us know.
All that's left to say is just a quick reminder about the ZF's
parliament lobby on January 23rd.

Shabbat Shalom

Charlie, Daniel and all at Pro Zion

High Court slams 'kosher' bus lines for ultra-Orthodox

High Court slams 'kosher' bus lines for ultra-Orthodox
Following petition challenging controversial bus lines, court demands
Transportation Ministry review claims. 'It is inconceivable for a driver
not to allow a woman on a bus because she is wearing pants,' says
Justice Ribenstein
Aviram Zino
Justices of the High Court of Justice spoke out strongly against the
'kosher' bus lines serving the haredi community during deliberations on
a petition against them Monday.
The High Court panel, composed of Justice Elyakim Rubenstein, Justice
Salem Jubran, and Justice Yoram Dantziger, began its deliberation by
noting that "even if haredi lines are allowed to operate, the clothing
and gender-separation restrictions in play on them cannot be imposed on
people who object to them."
The justices also noted that a solution to continual harassment problems
on these 'kosher lines' must also be found, be it by training drivers to
defend passengers, or by clearly designating the buses in question as
The petition against these offending bus lines was brought forward by
the Center for Jewish Pluralism as well as by several women who were
harassed—even injured— on these buses. The High Court Justices were
especially critical of governmental institutions that have arranged for
these special lines for the haredi community.
Justice Rubenstein noted that "it is inconceivable for a driver not to
allow a woman on a bus because she is wearing pants and is not dressed
modestly enough." He suggested that the Transportation Ministry
investigate the matter, a compromise to which the petitioners agreed.
The petitioners furthermore requested that the court examine whether
these 'kosher' bus lines are an actual necessity for the haredi
community. If these lines are ultimately launched, they asked the court
to ensure that those objecting to gender-separation requirements are
also accommodated

Jewish-born adoptee granted temporary residency

Jewish-born adoptee granted temporary residency

The Interior Ministry announced Monday that it was willing to grant
temporary resident status to a US citizen of Jewish descent who was
adopted by a non-Jewish family as a baby and has been attempting to make
aliya for the past year-and-a-half, The Jerusalem Post has learned.
Ya'akov Granot, the newly-appointed director of the Population Registry,
said he would allow Timothy Nicholas Steger, 37, to take on temporary
residency status as a first step towards legal standing in the country.
Granot's decision came following an article in the Post published Friday
that highlighted the shortcomings of the Law of Return for not
addressing the rare category of Jewish-born children who are adopted by
those of other faiths.
"Granot realized that we have to deal with this issue," commented Sabene
Hadad, spokeswoman for the Interior Ministry. "This is only a first
step, but it will allow him all the benefits and rights that most
citizens have such as health insurance and work permits."
Steger, who is from California, was delighted by the decision, even
though it did not give him full citizenship.
"This sounds really exciting and I am very grateful," he told the Post.
"This will definitely help me in my quest to make aliya. I am quite
anxious to stay here and start building a permanent life for myself."
Steger, whose birth father was Jewish, was adopted as a baby by a
devoutly Catholic family with anti-Semitic leanings. However, after
growing up in LA, he joined the anti-neo-Nazi movement and worked
closely with the Anti-Defamation League.
Last August, the Interior Ministry turned Steger down for aliya claiming
that his connection with his biological parents had been severed the
moment that he was adopted.

Steger then appealed the decision on the basis that the Law of Return
grants anyone with at least one Jewish parent or grandparent the right
to immigrate.

Reform Reflections: To be a Jerusalemite - Rabbi Marmur

Reform Reflections: To be a Jerusalemite

Posted by Rabbi Michael Marmur

My municipal tax bill arrived this week, and on its envelope an
unforgettable slogan: it pays to be a Jerusalemite.
My first response was to laugh out loud: the contents of the envelope
made it abundantly clear that one has to pay a significant amount of
cash in order to be a Jerusalemite - or at least one of that
increasingly besieged species: Jerusalemites who pay any taxes at all.
The City of Jerusalem can be a demanding hostess. Only one thing could
be more concerning than taking a brief look at its economic prospects -
namely, taking a long look at those prospects. Destruction and
construction are to be found strewn across the city in equal measure.
The ultra-rich are displacing the working poor and also just regular
folks from certain neighborhoods. To put the icing on the cake, this
week I find myself banished from my own office due to the presence in
this city of George W. Bush and the 8000 police personnel on duty here.
Often the magic of the city, so apparent to a passing visitor, can be
hard for a local to perceive. It's messy and angry and less tolerant
than it used to be. A steady stream of non-Haredi residents is heading
(literally) for the hills, scouring the Jerusalem Corridor for a broom
cupboard or a cubbyhole.
The slogan that "it pays to be a Jerusalemite" did indeed make me laugh,
which was fortunate, since it helped soften my shock and awe when I
discovered how much I was being charged for the privilege of living
here. After the amusement and the amazement, however, came the
realization that it really does pay to be a Jerusalemite.
For me it is not any particular aspect of what my Municipality does with
my tax shekels which leads me to the conclusion that living here has
such a hefty pay-off. The mayor is not likely to hire me as his PR
spokesperson. It is not as if the garbage collection or the street
lighting is so much better organized or enlightening than anywhere else
one might choose to live. For me, it pays to be a Jerusalemite for three
reasons: history, variety and involvement.
For almost any time during the last forty generations the claim to be a
citizen of Jerusalem would have been at best implausible, at worst
impossible. To live in Jerusalem was a distant dream, and the privilege
of realizing the yearning of generations is palpable. Jerusalem's stones
are seeped in time. History leaks from its roves. Tombs and temples,
reservoirs and residences, and the prayers of generations - they are all
here. It is a wonder to be part of it.
Jerusalem is In Your Face. Walk around the Machane Yehuda market and you
will have every kind of produce and opinion held up right in front of
your nose. Now it is true that one of the most important encounters of
our time, that between Jew and Arab, has been severely curtailed in this
city (and just about everywhere else in Israel). Still, there are some
contacts and conversations which persist. The gulf separating rich and
poor in this city has not been so egregious since the days when the
Temple stood here, and that also presents a moral blight on Jerusalem.
But despite all these real concerns, she is still a place where you can
walk down the street and encounter friends, foes, strangers, teachers,
provocateurs and prophets. It's not like living in a generic leafy
suburb. There is much I dream about seeing in this city: high on the
list at the moment are real East-West communication, a decent light
railway system, bicycle lanes and a sea view. We are as likely to get
the last of these as we are to see the first three any time soon.
As a Reform Jew, I hear the call of Jerusalem to be part of its
impossible mosaic. I read the papers and see the signs, and I know that
one day in the coming years the demography of the city may have little
place for Jews of my disposition. In the meantime, the city remains what
I called in an earlier piece a Jewish Disneyland. The sheer volume and
quality of the learning and teaching going on here is stupendous. I
don't want us Liberals here to go gently into that dark night of
intolerance and narrowness. We must not give up on this place. We are
not missionaries here in Jerusalem, but perhaps in some way we are heirs
to the pioneers. If Jerusalem is to remain the capital of the Jewish
world, those who espouse views reflective of that wider Jewish world
will have an important role to play in preserving the city's variety,
and also perhaps her sanity. I don't want Disneyland to turn into
Theater of the Absurd.
As I pay the exorbitant City Tax I will have cause to reflect that
whatever they are charging, the price of admission to the greatest show
in the Jewish world is cheap. I can't be sure that my children will want
to live in Jerusalem, or that tomorrow's Jerusalem will want them to be
part of it. I think it's up to us to see that in the future, despite
many sad, infuriating and often desperate aspects of life here, it will
still pay to be a Jerusalemite. And I still think they should change the
slogan to read: You'd Be Paying Less If Other Jerusalemites Were Paying
At All.

PM aide: We'll fire rabbis who refuse to,recognize legitimate converts

PM aide: We'll fire rabbis who refuse to
recognize legitimate converts
By Anshel Pfeffer
Municipal rabbis who refuse to recognize state-sanctioned conversions to
Judaism will be fired, Cabinet Secretary Oved Yehezkel has told Haaretz.

Yehezkel, whom Prime Minister Ehud Olmert appointed three weeks ago to
oversee the issue of conversions and streamline the current process, is
hoping to put an end to the phenomenon of local rabbinates that refuse
to recognize as Jews converts who have come through the special
conversion seminar set up for the purpose, despite the policy of the
state, though the Chief Rabbinate, to accept those conversions as kosher.

Some of the registrars in the local rabbinical councils refuse to accept
the authority of the special rabbinical courts for conversion, because
they believe they operate according to lax standards, and by performing
"wholesale" conversions are acting in violation of halakha, Jewish law.
Such cases have occurred in municipal rabbinates in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv,
Rehovot, Petah Tikva, Ashdod and Herzliya.

The registrars in those cities were acting with the backing of their
chief rabbis, who are increasingly identified with ultra-Orthodox
streams of Judaism. As a consequence, some conversion seminars have
begun advise their students not to apply for marriage certificates in
those cities, anticipating that they will not be recognized as Jews and
therefore be unable to marry.

The cabinet secretary said that he had learned of this issue through
meetings with Reform and Conservative leaders. "It is unthinkable that
rabbis who receive their salaries and draw authority from the state
should refuse to recognize that same state's formal conversion
certificate. They will not be allowed to carry on in this manner,"
Yehezkel said.

A senior official from the Prime Minister's Office described Yehezkel as
"determined to put an end to this phenomenon." The official added that
Yehezkel was "looking for a way to depose intransigent registrars and

Rabbi Gilad Kariv of the Progressive (Reform) movement said he believed
that Yehezkel was acting with the best of intentions. "The problem is
that he is hoping for the assistance of Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo
Amar. But Amar has had five years to take care of matters, and so to
date, matters have only gotten worse," Kariv said.

Thursday 24 January 2008

Update 12/01/08

Dear members,

We have three articles and three events attached to this e-mail. If you
have any future events to publicise please do pass them on.

1. The December report from IRAC's Kerem B'Kavod Project. It explains
the work done to help needy families of all backgrounds in Israel.
2. A report on the newly created Religious Services Ministry in Israel.
3. An article by Avram Burg giving his views on the Limmud conference.
We also have three events which we have attached details for.

The weekend of 18th - 20th January the North Western Reform Synagogue
has a visit from Rabbi Ofek Meir from the Leo Baeck Centre in Haifa to
celebrate the twinning of the two communities.

On the 20th February the Liberal Jewish Synagogue are hosting Professor
Shai Feldman, Director of The Crown Centre for Middle East Studies and
Brandeis University. The event will be chaired by Rabbi Danny Rich.
Please see the attached poster for more details on this event.

On 2nd March Middlesex New Synagogue are holding a question time
entitled "Can Israel Survive as a Jewish State?" Panelists include
Richard Littlejohn, Rabbi Prof. Naftali Rothenberg, Lorna Fitzsimons,
Mohammad Darawshe, and Jeremy Bowen. Chaired by Steve Levinson.
Full details on the attachment.

Wishing you a shavua tov and a good week.
Daniel and all at Pro Zion

Keren B'Kavod Newsletter

December 2007-A Heartwarming Month for Keren B'Kavod
December has been a very busy month for Keren B'Kavod, the humanitarian
aid and social action program of the Israel Religious Action Center.
Keren B'Kavod is the Reform Movement's response to the growing
difficulty of many Israelis to provide themselves with basic
necessities. "A person does not live on bread alone," Deut. 8.3. Because
of this, we feel that it is necessary to address the problem of poverty
through beyond hunger. This December, Keren B'Kavod launched two
extensive campaigns to help needy families prepare for the winter and
celebrate Jewish, Christian and Muslim Holidays. In addition the Culture
Cards Program brought more than 100 children from underprivileged
families on a special trip to Jerusalem. For many of these children it
was the first time in their life they had been to Jerusalem and the
first time they had ever seen a live theater performance.

The Warm Winter Campaign
Keren B'Kavod staff along with volunteers from Reform Congregations
donated and helped package and distribute blankets and small heating
devices to poor families and lonely elderly citizens in Jerusalem, Haifa
and Shfaram. These impoverished families and individuals live in
extremely difficult conditions, in crowded small apartments, often
without any means to keep warm during the winter. The presence and help
of Keren B'Kavod volunteers was highly appreciated and the demand for
blankets, rather than electronically operated hearing devices tripled
this year. In the winter, these indigent people find themselves in a
position where they can't afford electric heating for the house and must
keep warm by other means.
This year, the Warm Winter Campaign was extended to kindergartens of
children of African refugees and foreign workers in Tel-Aviv. After
Sharona Yekutiel, the Director of Keren B'Kavod visited several
kindergartens in Tel-Aviv, she realized that Keren B'Kavod had to get
involved. Sharona was heartbroken to see the crowded, dirty, and
inadequate conditions of the kindergartens for these children due
insufficient resources. Sharona explains that the children crowd
together on the few mattresses available, leaving those who don't fit to
sleep on the floor. In a couple of the kindergartens, there is no
lighting - not one single light bulb in the entire place. On cold winter
days, with no sun in the sky, the children spend their time in almost
complete darkness. Keren B'Kavod volunteers, together the youth
activists of the Reform Movement, visited the kindergartens and
distributed food packages, radiators, blankets and lighting devices. The
volunteers also spent some time with the children, playing games, and
paying personal attention to these unfortunate children who barely see
their hard working parents. The children were thrilled to receive the
attention and the supplies Keren B'Kavod volunteers brought with them on
their visit.

Keren B'Kavod Helps the Poor During the Holiday Season
Holiday times are especially difficult for poor people. Throughout the
year, B'Kavod works with Reform congregations in Israel distributing
food packages to needy families of all faiths during Muslim, Christian,
Armenian, and Jewish holiday, as well as packages every month to one
hundred families in poor communities. This December, with the help of a
visiting group from Temple Emanuel in Dallas, TX, in a very short time
and with admirable efficiency, we managed to pack 170 food packages full
of basic nutritional necessities. These 170 food packages were
distributed to families of all faiths, in accordance with the
pluralistic tradition of the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism and
Keren B'Kavod. Christian families, celebrating Christmas and Muslim
families celebrating Eid al-Agha, and Jewish families from Sederot who
struggle with the difficult security situation, all received these
packages. Keren B'Kavod's efforts are greatly appreciated by the
recipients, many of whom are surprised to learn that outsiders care
about their struggle and difficult lives. A single mother from Sderot
was touched to learn that "Jews from other places care about us." A
Domari family from East Jerusalem was pleasantly surprised that "Jews
made this contribution". Perhaps even more important, several of the
recipients asked to take part in the next food packaging campaign, and
help prepare more food packages for the needy.

Culture Cards Program
Because Keren B'Kavod strongly believes that poverty is not only
experienced as a lack of food, the project also engages needy
populations in cultural and social enrichment activities. The Culture
Cards Program provides opportunities for children and their families who
already receive food packages from Keren B'Kavod to attend cultural
activities, from museum and library visits to theater and musical
performances. This December, the Culture Cards Program brought together
100 children and their parents, to visit Jerusalem and enjoy a show
called "The Princess and the Porcupine" which teaches children about
friendships with people from different backgrounds. The children loved
this play, whose costumes and characters inspired awe and wonder and
their parents were thankful for the opportunity to spend some quality
time with their children, away from the stressful and demanding routine
of everyday life.

Event 2: Briefing by Professor Shai Feldman

Israel and the Middle East
Briefing by Professor Shai Feldman
Director of The Crown Centre for Middle East Studies, Brandeis University.
Chair: Rabbi Danny Rich

Wed 20th February 2008 at 8pm
All Welcome

Prof. Feldman visits the UK regularly under the auspices of the
Anglo-Israel Association in order to give briefings at a high level to
the media, members of Parliament and others. He was formerly Head of
the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University and
served on the UN Secretary General's Advisory Board on Disarmament
Matters. He presently serves on the Board of Directors of Harvard
University's Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs

Please contact Noa Marom at Liberal Judaism to reserve your place on:
020 7631 9834


'Can Israel Survive as a Jewish State?'
Sunday 2nd March, 2008
7.45pm (doors open 7.30pm)

Confirmed panellists:
Richard Littlejohn, journalist, broadcaster & author*
Rabbi Prof. Naftali Rothenberg, Chair Jewish Culture & Identity & Centre
for Tolerance Education at Van Leer Jerusalem Institute*
Lorna Fitzsimons, CEO Britain Israel Communications & Research Centre*
Mohammad Darawshe, Director External Relations, The Abraham Fund for
Europe & Israel*
Jeremy Bowen, Middle East Editor of BBC News*
In the Chair:
Steve Levinson, MNS member & leading business journalist & editorial
director *subject to change
Tickets £10 in advance: Limited availability
£15 on the door if space permits
Limited Concessions
Book early to avoid disappointment: Contact MNS Office: Tel. 020 8864
0133 email:

All applications must include names of all attendees
Sponsored by The Sidney Fenton Educational Foundation
Richard Littlejohn is an award-winning British journalist, broadcaster,
and author of three best-selling books. He writes regularly for the
Daily Mail, The Sun and is considered one the of most influential
journalists of the past 40 years. He has been named Fleet Street's
Columnist of the Year, has also written for London's Evening Standard,
Punch and The Spectator.
Rabbi Prof. Naftali Rothenberg is a Senior Research Fellow at the Van
Leer Jerusalem Institute where he is Jewish Culture and Identity Chair,
an Executive Committee member. Rabbi Rothenberg is an associate
professor for Judaic Studies in Touro College, Jerusalem and serves as a
member of the Academic Committee of the Jerusalem Institute for Israel
Research and was 2005 Martin Marty Centre visiting Scholar at the
Divinity School, University of Chicago. He holds degrees in philosophy
and Rabbinical Ordination including Israel Chief Rabbinate Ordination.
Among other posts, he has served as the Chief Rabbi of Peru and has
written and edited numerous books.
Lorna Fitzsimons is Chief Executive of the Britain Israel Communications
and Research Centre. She was formerly a Labour MP for Rochdale from 1997
to 2005, was President of the National Union of Students and a member of
Labour friends of Israel.
Mohammad Darawshe is Director of External Relations of The Abraham Fund
for Europe and Israel. The Abraham Fund is a not-for-profit, fundraising
and educational organisation dedicated to enhancing coexistence between
Israel's Jewish and Arab citizens. It has granted more than $6 million
to 450 projects across Israel.
Mohammad was the Deputy Director of Givat Haviva Center, an educational
campus providing training in peace building and conflict resolution. He
has presented lectures and papers at many international and academic
institutions such as the U.S. congress, the European parliament, NATO
Defense College and the World Economic Forum, and won numerous awards,
including the Peacemaker award, bestowed by the Catholic Theological
Union of Chicago and the Peace and Security Award of the World
Association of NGOs.
Jeremy Bowen is Middle East Editor of BBC News. A seasoned war
correspondent, he has reported from more than 70 countries. He won Best
News Correspondent in 1995 at the New York Best News Correspondent at
the New York Television Festival and repeated this success the following
year, when he won Best Breaking News report for his coverage of the
Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin's assassination.
Steve Levinson is one of Britain's leading business journalists. During
his 25 year career he has been Economics Editor for Channel Four News,
the BBC, The Independent and the Press Association. He is a former
Industrial Society Journalist of the Year and has also been voted
Business Broadcaster of the Year. He is founder and Editorial Managing
Director of hblmedia, a leading media consultancy and television
production company.

MKs vow to monitor new Religious Services Ministry

MKs vow to monitor new Religious Services Ministry

The new Religious Services Ministry has not yet begun operation, but MKs
from both the opposition and coalition swore Monday to keep a close eye
on its powers.
Members of the Knesset Internal Affairs and Environment Committee said
they would act as an oversight body to the ministry, to ensure that it
avoided some of the pitfalls faced by the religious councils in the past.
"This is a very sensitive and delicate issue. This [new] ministry could
be used to alleviate some of the current problems in the religious
councils, or it could be used for other, ill effects" said Committee
Chairman Ophir Paz-Pines (Labor).
Meretz Chairman Yossi Beilin said that resurrecting it constituted a
"grave injustice."
"There is an entire book on why we dismantled the ministry... I should
know, I helped write it," said Beilin. "Now we are creating this monster
again. The claims that it will be different, and that it will be given
different powers and authority than in previous years, is naive. This
monster will evolve and change."
Rabbis and officials from the Progressive (Reform) Movement who took
part in the committee discussion seconded Beilin's words, adding that it
was their belief that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert intended to transfer a
number of additional powers to the new ministry in the coming months.
"We could easily see a situation where each time the prime minister
needs to strengthen Shas's support for the coalition, he hands another
power over to the ministry," said one Reform rabbi.
Shas MK Yitzhak Cohen will head the new ministry, which has been granted
power over religious councils and the development of religious facilities.
Other duties that the ministry held in 2003 will remain in the hands of
other institutions: the Prime Minister's Office will retain
responsibility for the Chief Rabbinate and the Conversions Court; the
Justice Ministry will preside over the rabbinical courts and non-Jewish
religious courts; and the Education Ministry will continue to be
responsible for institutions of religious learning.
Representatives of the Prime Minister's Office told the MKs that the
ministry's powers were not likely to be expanded in the near future.
"The establishment of this ministry has been a long process. We have
been working on it for more than a year and a half," Cohen said. "All
the accusations that have been leveled - that the ministry was created
as a bribe - are totally unfounded."
Cohen added that he would use his authority as minister to eliminate the
red tape involved in many of the religious processes, regardless of the
religious background of those involved.

Where were you for Christmas, Avraham Burg

Where were you for Christmas
By Avraham Burg

There are questions that we don't ask here in Israel. For example,
"Where were you for Christmas?" And there are replies that we don't give
here even if we're talking about an ordinary holiday, for example, "We
went off to study Judaism." But in England, they ask that question and
give that reply, too. They study Judaism on Christmas.

Thousands of Jews from England and many other places converge on Warwick
University, during the Christmas vacation, for a festival of Jewish
study, both intellectual and experiential. It's called "Limmud" (Hebrew
for "study").

Limmud began in the mid-1980s, when several young British Jews, tired of
the atrophying of Jewish spirit and spirituality in the United Kingdom,
decided to organize a weekend of study. With time, this private
initiative, first aimed at educators and Jewish activists, expanded.

Last month, some 2,500 people participated in Limmud, and it has
developed into an amazing international movement of study and
friendship, and mainly of Jewish identity and identification. Such
gatherings take place now in Russia, Turkey, North America, Latvia,
South Africa and elsewhere - all according to similar principles. The
organization is based entirely on volunteers and is open to everyone; it
is simple materially, but very rich spiritually.

The subject of sessions at British Limmud ranged from Jewish documentary
films to the involvement of Jews in Darfur, to the future of Zionism, to
contemporary literature and original commentary on the Talmud, the
Aggadah and the Jewish ethos. Nor did presenters overlook the simple
text or current events.

Such active pluralism is taking place beneath the institutional surface,
on the Jewish street, and creating fascinating encounters between Reform
Jews and atheists, members of Bnei Akiva and members of Habonim-Dror. A
tolerance for unusual study pairs like Prof. Daniel Boyarin of Berkeley
and 7-year-old Tamar Levy of Florence has forced the cumbersome
religious establishments, headed by the Orthodox chief rabbinate, to
turn a blind eye to Limmud - in this case, to support and encouragement.
Because Jewish activists in the field are demanding something the
leadership is incapable of giving: meaning without politics, study
without aggressive commitment to one of the denominations, or
unnecessary hostility.

The attractiveness of Limmud derives partly from our state of crisis,
and partly from hope. All the major ideological systems have become
bankrupt. The significant political movements of the Jewish people in
the 20th century no longer exist. The settlements are of little interest
and the ultra-Orthodox live in their own world. But people continue to
seek meaning; they aspire to connect to substance. And because the
Jewish substance is very available, it is a source of hope. Judaism
seems like the most suitable culture for this global, post-modern era.
It is an ancient culture that is still fresh, relevant. An ideological
and behavioral infrastructure that can survive and be expressed
anywhere. A world-embracing common denominator. A shared ethical
language. This secret, the Jewish DNA, was deciphered by Alistair Falk,
Clive Lawton and others three decades ago, and has been working ever since.

Limmud has no owners: It belongs to its participants and its volunteers. It
changes with the times, it has nothing fixed and no institutions, it has
no struggles for prestige and power, unless they are hidden. Hence it
can offer the Jewish seeker a place of meaning and encounter.

It is hard to tell who is who among the participants. Is that girl with
the skullcap Israeli, and is that guy wearing sandals English? Is Marcel
with the beret, from Switzerland, speaking with Simon, from Austria, in
Hebrew? Everyone meets on an intellectual and emotional platform whose
main feature is an encounter between the identities of modern Judaism.
Partly ancient traditions and partly New Age interpretation.

It turns out that the Babylonian Talmud was always more important than
its younger and skinnier Jerusalem brother. That's how it was then, and
it's even more the case today. The power is here in the ancient homeland
of Israel, but the spirit and the intellect are also spread around the
Jewish Diasporic universe. The body is here, the soul is there, and it's
too early to eulogize the Diaspora. And only if the two cooperate can
Jewish eternity continue.

I want to be a volunteer at Limmud for many years to come. But mainly I
want to expose as many Israelis as possible to this fascinating process.
With the prayer that anyone who experiences that spirit will return here
and be a partner to attempts to revive the Israeli spirit, which is
waiting for renewal. To empower the still-embryonic Jewish-learning
organizations like Bina and Kolech, Oranim and Hakhel. Because the
revival of Jerusalem will always begin in distant Babylon. So, more of
us should have a happy Jewish study holiday. On Christmas, of course.

Avraham Burg's book "Breaking Free from the Holocaust: A New Fate for
the Jews and the West" will be published in the fall by Palgrave Macmillan.

Saturday 19 January 2008

Pro Zion Blog - apologies for delayed updates

Apologies for not posting an update in a few weeks. I have two more
updates on the way over the next few days but we first need to complete
some technical work moving our website to a new provider. I hope the 6
articles posted below will keep you busy in the mean-time.

Update - Limmud report and article summary 05/01/08

Dear Members,
It's been a couple of weeks since we wrote last - we hope you have had a
good secular New Year.
Both myself and my co-chair Charlie attended the Limmud conference last
week. It was a busy week and as always we didn't see half the people or
sessions that we wanted to. Among many quality lectures I attended a few
stood out. Liverpool MP Louise Ellman gave a very interesting account of
opinions towards Israel in the House of Commons. Jean-Marc Liling of the
UNHCR gave a fascinating presentation on the amazing work going on in
Israel to look after asylum seekers mainly from Africa. And of course
there was the controversial Avram Burg versus Hillel Halkin debate on
the future of Zionism. Avram Burg, a fantastic orator, seemed a
different person than the one who has written so controversially (to put
it mildly) about the future of Israel. I only hope the visionary Burg we
saw at Limmud is the real deal but I think it's more likely that his
message was somewhat toned down for the audience. Nevertheless the end
result was a fascinating debate with a positive vision.

So on to our plethora of articles for this week.
1. A Welcome Change -
Gilad Kariv - the head of the Israel Religious Action Centre gives his
opinions on same sex couple adoption and how it reconciles with Jewish
2. No majority for plan to revive Religious Affairs Ministry -
an article on an unlikely coalition of Israeli politicians trying to
stop Shas' attempts to reform the religious affairs ministry.
3. Gentile Lubavitcher refused conversion -
It's not just progressive Jews who are having trouble with conversions.
The issues are different but the end result the same.
4. Gal-On hopes to have a Reform rabbi on its list -
Meretz leadership contender Zehava Gal-On has stated she will field a
Reform Rabbi on the Meretz slate for the next election if she is elected
Meretz leader.
5. 'Religious' pilot brings Reform Movement to IAF -
A great article about the only observant pilot school graduate - a 22
year old Reform Jew .
6. Limmud Report -
Pro Zion Chair Charlie Gluckman gives his highlights of Limmud
conference including his views on the Burg vs Halkin debate.

As always we love to hear your feedback. If you have any future events
to publicise please pass them on.
Daniel and all at Pro-Zion

A welcome change - same-sex adoption - Gilad Kariv

A welcome change
Allowing same-sex couples to adopt will strengthen Jewish families
Gilad Kariv

In accordance with a sort of expected pattern, Shas ministers played
their regular role in the discussion over the welfare minister's
intention to allow same-sex couples to adopt a child in Israel. Again we
heard slogans regarding the sanctity of the Jewish family and the
terrible danger to the State of Israel's Jewish identity, should the
minister's intention materialize.

For a moment it seemed as if Shas ministers really do not know that at
this time already we have thousands of children in Israel living in
same-sex families. In this case, just like the case with many other
affairs related to the character of Israeli families, the law trails far
behind a reality that does not cease to renew and develop.

In fact, those who seek to make room for Jewish tradition in our life
should favorably view any move aimed at boosting Israeli family life
premised on mutual respect, partnership, and responsibility, at a time
when Western and liberal societies are coping with an increased number
of divorces, a decline in birthrates, and the weakening of the family
unit. We should encourage any wish for a solid partnership and
responsible parenting, regardless of whether it is heterosexual or
homosexual. We are lucky to see growing circles within Israeli society
naturally and simply accepting these family units.

Removing the obstacles faced by same-sex couples who wish to adopt an
Israeli child constitutes a clear and unequivocal expression of the
State's recognition that the child's good would not be undermined
because he or she have same-sex parents, and that this good hinges on,
first and foremost, the quality of family life and the relationships
within it. This recognition by the State is another layer en route to
pushing back bias, which is the only thing that could affect the good of
a child of same-sex parents.

Things have changed

And what about the Jewish tradition? Well, there is no doubt that
Judaism rejects homosexuality. Yet there is no doubt that the Torah and
Jewish tradition did not at all recognize there could be a possibility
of full family life of same-sex couples.

The decision on whether to apply the ancient Torah ban to modern
realities is not something that should be taken for granted. It is
doubtful whether there is another area where Jewish tradition saw so
many changes and developments as is the case with family life. Past
patterns that were legitimate in biblical times (i.e. polygamy,
concubines etc.) were rejected by later generations. On the other hand,
conduct that was considered impossible in the Torah and as complete
betrayal of familial and sexual customs is today a common norm that Shas
ministers and other national conservatives do not even dream of
objecting to.
As we know, the Torah ban on desecrating the Shabbat is as severe as the
ban on homosexuality. Can someone imagine Shas ministers demanding that
secular heterosexual couples who desecrate the Shabbat be deprived of
the right to adopt a baby in the State of Israel? Well, why is the case
of same-sex couples any different? Is it because of their small numbers
compared to the secular community, or maybe because sexual behavior at
this time constitutes the greatest threat to religion conservatism,
which protects itself with thick layers of homophobia?

One way or another, Shas ministers and their supporters need not worry.
They will not be asked to celebrate the bar or bat mitzvahs of these
happy children in their synagogues. It is good to see that in Israel,
just like in other Jewish communities worldwide, the number of religious
communities that would be glad to embrace these children and their
parents keeps on growing.

Attorney Gilad Kariv is a reform rabbi and heads the Israel Religious
Action Center

Gentile Lubavitcher refused conversion

Gentile Lubavitcher refused conversion
If you believe that a dead man is the messiah, does that disqualify you
from converting to Judaism?
Chief Sephardi Rabbi Shlomo Amar will be asked to decide this weighty
theological question and in the process pass judgment on thousands of
members of the messianic stream within Chabad Hassidism who believe that
Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, who passed away in 1994, is the messiah.
About two weeks ago a young FSU immigrant to Israel, who was eligible
for Israeli citizenship under the Law of Return but was not considered
Jewish according to halacha, appeared before a rabbinic court in
Jerusalem to convert to Judaism.
He had become interested in Orthodox Judaism through Chabad and was
learning in a Jerusalem yeshiva. He wore a hat, a suit and tzitzit and
meticulously adhered to the commandments.
Prof. Binyamin Ish-Shalom, head of the Joint Institute for Jewish
Studies, where the young man prepared for his conversion, said that the
rabbinic court, impressed with the high level of adherence exhibited by
the young man, was on the verge of converting him.
"Suddenly, one of the rabbinic judges asked him if he believed that the
rebbe [Schneerson] was the messiah," recounted Ish-Shalom.
"He answered, 'Yes, that's what I've been taught,' or something like
that. And that was it; at least one of the judges refused to convert him."
Ish-Shalom rejected the notion that believing the deceased Schneerson
was the messiah constituted a form of forbidden worship.
However, a source in the State Conversion Authority said that at least
two leading religious Zionist rabbis ruled that messianic Chabad was
beyond the pale of normative Jewish belief.
"They [messianic Chabad Hassidim] attribute to him supernatural powers
years after he passed away. That is not Judaism. It's something else."

Labor: No majority for plan to revive Religious Affairs Ministry

Labor: No majority for plan to revive Religious Affairs Ministry
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert will fail to get the cabinet to approve his
plan to recreate the Religious Affairs Ministry, Labor Party officials
said Thursday.
Israel Beiteinu and Labor ministers decided Thursday to oppose the move
in Sunday's cabinet meeting and in Monday's vote at the Knesset.
Kadima and Pensioners Party ministers remained undecided, but at least
one minister from each party was seriously considering voting against
the move.
Labor MK Ophir Paz-Pines, who quit the cabinet when Israel Beiteinu head
Avigdor Lieberman joined it, found himself working together with him
against the formation of the ministry, which he called "a political crime."
"The prime minister will do anything to survive Winograd, including
surrendering to Shas by recreating a ministry that is synonymous with
corruption," Paz-Pines said.
Paz-Pines urged Labor MKs to protest the move by not supporting the
government in Monday's no-confidence votes. He called an emergency
meeting of the Knesset Interior Committee that he chairs.
Asked what he thought about working together with Lieberman, Paz-Pines
said, "Even a broken watch is right twice a day."
Shas spokesman Roy Lachmanovitz said that his party had
reached an agreement with Olmert that ensured Kadima's support for the
move. "I'm sure we will have a majority in the cabinet," he said. "Labor
and Israel Beiteinu are making a big deal to gain media attention, but
there is no real reason for their opposition."
Minister-without-Portfolio Yitzhak Cohen (Shas), slated to become
religious affairs minister as a result of the prime minister's decision,
downplayed the importance of the move. "This is a necessary step that
puts an end to a situation where I was responsible but I had no powers,"
Cohen said. "There is no added budget, no added manpower, nothing
substantially different. Those who oppose it show they hate Judaism and
Jewish services. But the vast majority of Israelis do want religious
Rabbi Gilad Kariv, legal adviser to the Israel Religious Action
Committee (Reform), warned that transferring authority to Cohen would
set the stage for corruption.
Said Kariv: "As soon as Cohen receives full powers, he will no longer be
supervised. Norms of public management will be thrown by the wayside.
The temptation to use the portfolio to arrange jobs for his cronies will
be irresistible."
Kariv added that Shas's complete control over the religious affairs
portfolio would also be bad for Reform Judaism in Israel. "There can be
no dialogue between us and Shas," Kariv said. "Until now we had a common
language with the professionals in the PM's office. We reached
agreements regarding the allotment of state-sponsored synagogues for
non-Orthodox congregations. But now the situation is hopeless."
Rabbi Barry Schlesinger, president of the Masorti (Conservative)
Movement's Rabbinic Assembly in Israel, said the religious affairs
ministry had an obligation to provide services to all streams of
Judaism. "But from past experience we know that the public's tax money
was spent to provide for only one segment of the population."
He added: "If the ministry is reinstated, we have to make sure that it
will provide funding for all religions and all streams of Judaism. If
Orthodox institutions receive funding, so should non-Orthodox ones."

Friday 18 January 2008

Limmud Report

Limmud Report
I was a little nervous as to how Limmud would be this year with the
location moving from Nottingham to Warwick University, however, after
one day it felt as if Limmud had always been at Warwick. So it was
another year, another successful Limmud conference; hats off to the
chairs of this years conference and to all those involved in the
planning team. The new site, I thought, was an improvement on the old
one, with all the buildings that were used closer together. The
facilities were great also, including a large bar that everyone could
relax in during the evenings, enjoy a drink or two (or more), and
celebrate this learning fest into the early hours of the morning, if you

With a strong presence from the Progressive communities it was great to
see a lot of people there from Pro Zion. From the committee, both
Daniel Needlestone and myself were there, and David Duke-Cohan was there
also. Daniel, a fervent session facilitator, ran a number of sessions
regarding his project, the Jewish Teachers Forum, and other such related
things. He also repeated his popular session from last year, A
Beginner's Guide to Israeli Politics, which was attended by even larger
numbers this year.

There were a number of highlights for me. Daniel Boyarin, Professor of
Talmudic Culture at University of California, Berkley, whose session
series Reading the Talmud as a Novel was truly thought provoking and
inspiring. In addition, David and I both attended the 'intensive'
session (a course of 4 sessions at the same time every morning) Zionism
and its Discontents delivered by Professor Gideon Shimoni from the
department of Modern Jewish History at the Hebrew University. Professor
Shimoni gave a clear, detailed and sophisticated analysis of some
important themes, issues and developments in the Zionist movement.
Beginning, aptly, with the genesis of Zionism, Professor Shimoni
contradicted the claims that Zionism is either an anachronism, or a
colonial invention, and showed how it developed as any other nationalist
movement developed within other ethnic groups in the same period. Other
themes that Professor Shimoni touched on were secularism and the
parallel development of Palestinian Nationalism.

Finally, a major highlight for me was the debate, chaired by Dr. David
Breakstone, head of the Department for World Zionist Affairs, between
Avrum Burg, former speaker of the Knesset and Chairman of the WZO and
JAFI, and Hillel Halkin, author, literary essayist and political
analyst. These two powerhouses have been at odds with each other since
the publication of Burg's controversial book Defeating Hitler. The
debate was both informative and entertaining, with the rhetorical skills
of Burg clashing with the intellectual astuteness of Halkin. Halkin's
basic objection is that Burg's notion of the future of the Jewish State
involves a moral imperative that the Jewish People will consequently be
held accountable too. Halkin believes that the Jewish State should be a
state like any other, and should not need to justify its existence in
the way that Burg suggests. This, Halkin argued, is playing into the
hands of our enemies. Burg however, although his views are sometimes
somewhat 'out there', provides a poignant critique of Israeli society,
and a clear vision for the Jewish State. Whilst I cannot say that I
fully agree with everything Burg says, I think that his views are
neither 'odious', nor are they 'hateful', as the Zionist Federation
suggested but then later retracted before Limmud. I think Burg's
emphasis on critique, vision and method provides the Zionist Movement
with a significant challenge, evident in the often adolescent reactions
towards him, that we would do well to take on board and address ourselves.

Charlie Gluckman
Co-chair of Pro Zion

Gal-On hopes to have a Reform rabbi on its list

Gal-On hopes to have a Reform rabbi on its list
Meretz will field a Reform rabbi on its next Knesset slate if MK Zehava
Gal-On is elected to head the party in its March 18 leadership race,
Gal-On said Wednesday in an interview with The Jerusalem Post.
She said Israel has been discriminating against Reform and Conservative
Jews for too long, and electing a Reform rabbi to the Knesset could be a
way to repair the situation.
Under her leadership, Gal-On said, Meretz would fight against religious
coercion, but not in an anti-religious way like the defunct Shinui Party.
"If Israel wants to be a civilized country," she said, "the time has
come to recognize all the streams in Judaism."
"I am tired of seeing the same tired faces in the Knesset for 20 years,"
she added.
Gal-On, who described herself as a complete atheist, said she intends to
emphasize civil issues in her campaign, to distinguish herself from the
other two Meretz leadership candidates, socioeconomically-minded MK Ran
Cohen and MK Haim Oron, who has said he would continue outgoing chairman
Yossi Beilin's emphasis on diplomatic issues.
"We have to separate ourselves from Labor and Kadima, because if we look
and sound like them, we will have no reason to exist," Gal-On said.
She said she would be interested in becoming interior minister if Meretz
joined the next government, and would use the post to make immigration
laws the same as in other countries. Gal-On said she would grant
residency rights to Darfur refugees and allow family reunification
between Israeli Arabs and Palestinians.
Under her leadership, she said, Meretz would return to its former status
as the "enfant terrible" of Israeli politics.
Gal-On, who opposed the Second Lebanon War from day one, said that to
win new, young voters, Meretz must not be afraid of taking stances that
are not in the consensus.
"Meretz stopped being chic and trendy," she said. "Voters are looking
for a party that is courageous. If they want a party in the consensus,
they could vote for Labor."
United Torah Judaism MK Avraham Ravitz said having a Reform rabbi in the
Knesset would be "almost as problematic as having someone who doesn't
believe in God, like Gal-On, as an MK... Oron can take a Conservative
rabbi and Cohen can find a Hindu priest, and they all can go meditate
together," he joked.
Shas MK Nissim Ze'ev said he wouldn't count a Reform rabbi MK if he came
to Shas's minyan, but said he doesn't count Gal-On either. "They can put
the pope on their list and they wouldn't do any more damage than they
are doing already," Ze'ev said of Meretz.
National Union MK Zvi Hendel said it was extremely unlikely that Gal-On
would win the Meretz race, and even more unlikely that the party under
her leadership would pass the electoral threshold, so "the only thing
her declarations in the newspapers are good for is for wrapping fish."

'Religious' pilot brings Reform Movement to IAF

'Religious' pilot brings Reform Movement to IAF

Only one member of the Israel Air Force's Wing Order 155 graduating
class is "religious" - and 22-year-old Lt. Amitai does not fit the image
of the typical Orthodox Israeli.
"Following his own strand of Judaism, which seeks a "spiritual
experience," he tried not to just "let the holidays fly by," but instead
make them special and give them meaning. Celebrating and understanding
traditions, he said, were more important than prayer.
Amitai is the son of an American mother and a Polish-born father who
"met in Israel, married in New York and made aliya practically the next
day." His father served in the IDF in an antiaircraft unit.
Amitai grew up in a Reform home in Jerusalem. Before enlisting, he
studied for a year in the Reform Movement's Machinah Leadership Program
in Jaffa. The program incorporates volunteering with religious and
nonreligious study, together with some military preparatory work. It
includes the study of Jewish texts to learn how one might deal with
moral dilemmas that may arise.
"The idea is to learn a lot and mature a lot," Amitai said. Though the
IDF does not directly offer the courses, he said, it grants permission
for those who are accepted into such courses, because statistically,
"many officers and combat units come out of them."
I'm a conservative, religious Reform Jew," he said. "I'm observant in my
own way, trying to understand Halacha, make it more modern and relevant
for me."
Surrounded by nonreligious soldiers, most of whom were not familiar with
the Reform Movement, Amitai found that "they liked it when a little
Judaism came in."
Amitai has not found it difficult to blend his form of religiosity with
his military service.
"It's a Jewish army, and I joined the army because of my Jewish values,"
he said. "My religion enriches, not restricts, my life."
Amitai, who is not a Shabbat observer by Orthodox standards, is not
fazed by the prospect of flying or participating in missions on Shabbat.
A militaristic sense of discipline even plays a role in his Judaism.
"I decided seven years ago, as a philosophical decision, to do something
hard that I don't understand," he said about keeping kosher. "It's
always a dilemma of how much freedom I allow myself."
Amitai said his sense of discipline and Jewish appreciation of
scholarship carried him through the grueling three-year course involving
ground- and air-combat training to become a navigator in an elite IAF
unit, while simultaneously obtaining a degree in political science from
Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.
"My moral values, who I am, these are things that are not necessarily
connected to being Jewish," he said. "But like it or not, I am Jewish,
and I use the richness of Judaism to deepen and enrich those morals."
"Most people don't know Reform, and it's been interesting to meet people
who are very religious or not in the army and challenge their values and
mine," Amitai said. "Hopefully, they know it better after they know me."