Latest news:

Updated Weekly
Please check back here for new articles!


Saturday 23 February 2008

AGM 2008 plus panel debate on Israel in our communities

Annual General Meeting 2008
Followed by Panel Discussion on
“How do we bring Israel to our communities”

Key note address:
Shelley Kedar - Director of Professional Development for Jewish Educators, Leo Baeck Education Centre, Haifa
On the panel:
Noa Marom - Shlicha (Israel emissary), Liberal Judaism
Meirav Kallush - Shlicha, The Movement for Reform Judaism
Daniel Needlestone - Co Chair, Pro-Zion
Panel Chaired by:
Rabbi Neil Janes of Finchley Progressive Synagogue

Sunday 30th March
AGM Starts at 5pm
Panel Discussion Starts at 5.30pm
(finish by 7pm)

Kindly hosted by Finchley Progressive Synagogue
54 Hutton Grove, N12 8DR

Labels: ,

Friday 22 February 2008

weekly update 20/02/08

Dear Members,

Please find attached the publicity for our 2008 AGM. Speaking at the
AGM will be Shelley Kedar, Director of Professional Development for
Jewish Educators, at the Leo Baeck Education Centre, Haifa. Shelley
will be presenting on "how do we bring Israel to our communities". Her
presentation will be followed by responses from Meirav Kallush and Noa
Marom, the Shlichim from the Movement for Reform Judaism and Liberal
Judaism respectively, and Daniel Needlestone, co-Chair of Pro Zion.
There will also be plenty of time for questions and discussion. We hope
to see you there..

We also have a range of articles for you this week. There is great news
from the IRAC who have finally won the legal case demanding that the
State funds buildings from Reform Kehilot as they do for Orthodox
kehilot. Yozma, a community in Modi'in is the first young Progressive
community to have a state funded building. This is exciting for the
growth of Progressive Judaism in Israel. Next we have a report from the
Progressive community in Lublin, Poland. Rabbi Tanya Segal, a
Russian-born Israeli, is Poland's first female Rabbi. Finally we have
an inspiring piece written by a Reform Jew from America who made aliyah
two years ago and now lives in Har Halutz, a pioneering Reform community
located in the central Galilee, in the North of Israel.

Please let us know your Israel news,

Charlie Gluckman and all at Pro Zion

Yozma - the first Progressive community in Israel to receive buildings from the state

Dear Friend of the Israel Religious Action Center,
This week we have something to crow about - having finally won our case
demanding synagogue buildings from the State for several of our Reform
kehilot. Some of you may find the following story hard to understand.
After all, why should the government pay for synagogues? Please remember
that in Israel where there is no separation between religion and State,
the government cultivates and supports Jewish life and Jewish
institutions. From the beginning of the State, and in fact up until last
month, the government of Israel had granted land and buildings to
hundreds of Orthodox synagogues, but never to a Reform or Conservative
congregation. Kehilat YOZMA, a vibrant and rapidly growing community in
the modern suburban city of Modi'in, is the first in a group of young
Reform congregations who will now, thanks to IRAC, receive synagogue
buildings from the State. We invite you to come and celebrate a Shabbat
with us at YOZMA on your next Israel trip.

New Success in State Recognition of Reform Judaism
The year 2008 marks the beginning of a change in the attitudes of the
National Authority of Religious Services, the Ministry of Construction
and Housing, and several municipalities with respect to the rights of
non-Orthodox Jews. The Legal Department of the Israel Religious Action
Center has been engaged in a years-long legal battle to secure public
funding for non-Orthodox synagogue buildings for Reform and Conservative
congregations throughout Israel. In 2008, at least four non-Orthodox
congregations will proudly erect their synagogues with the help of
governmental funds. This is the first time since the establishment of
the State of Israel, that the State is funding the construction of
non-Orthodox synagogues. This a groundbreaking accomplishment which sets
a precedent for future cases of similar background. Public funding is an
irrefutable sign of recognition by the State, which indicates a desire,
however restrained, to move forward towards reconciliation between the
various streams of Judaism in Israel.

From the Ministry of Construction & Housing to Religious Services
In 2005, the Ministry of Construction and Housing made the
precedent-setting decision to transfer funds from its annual budget to
construct transportable buildings to be used as synagogues by several
non- Orthodox congregations. Unfortunately, at almost this same time,
the responsibility for these allocations was transferred to the National
Authority of Religious Services, which promptly articulated a complex
set of criteria for those seeking to qualify for public funding for a
religious structure. IRAC went to the Supreme Court demanding that the
criteria set by the National Authority of Religious Services make room
for affirmative action for non-Orthodox congregations to amend past
discrimination. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court was reluctant to make
an all- encompassing decision on this matter and recommended that IRAC
takes legal steps against each municipality separately. From that point
on, IRAC has been engaged in legal dialogue with numerous municipalities
to reach a compromise regarding the amount of public funding that will
be directed to non- Orthodox congregations seeking to build synagogues.

The State Gives Kehilat YOZMA a Home
This January, our efforts finally bore fruit. After a long wait, a
transportable synagogue building was erected at Kehilat YOZMA, the
Reform congregation in Modi'in. In the upcoming weeks, the municipality
will connect the building to electricity, water and sewage, make some
additional renovations and the official opening is expected very soon!
In the upcoming months, we are also looking forward to the establishment
of transportable synagogue buildings in Reform congregations in Maalot
Tivon, Tzur Hadassah and Sulam Yaakov. In addition to this, IRAC, on
behalf of the Natan-Ya congregation, is in the midst of a legal
negotiations with the Municipality of Natanya to secure funding for a
new synagogue. The municipality has been willing to compromise and is
now intending to allocate and renovate a building for the congregation's
use, which will hopefully be up-and-running by the end of this year.
The importance of this event can not be underestimated - the
transportable synagogue in Kehilat YOZMA is the very first non-Orthodox
synagogue being subsidized by the state in all of Israel's history. This
is the result of IRAC's long, tedious and often discouraging legal
battle to receive public funding for non-orthodox synagogues. The
Orthodox monopoly on religious issues extends to a wide array of
governmental offices such as the Ministry of Interior, the National
Insurance Institute of Israel, and the Ministry of Construction and
Housing. IRAC has encountered numerous examples of discrimination
against non-Orthodox Jewish Israelis by the Ministry of Construction of
Housing. In a new case of discrimination and corruption, IRAC has
revealed that the Ministry of Construction and Housing offers special
deals for cheaper housing only to those in the Orthodox sector and does
not offer these same deals to the wider public. IRAC has already
submitted a petition on this case which we expect to win. Tomorrow, IRAC
will continue to fight for a just Israeli society where religious
pluralism is a guiding principle but today we will celebrate along with
the members of Congregation YOZMA.

Har Halutz - we feel like pioneers for Reform Judaism

"Anu banu artza livnot u'lehibanot ba"
"We have come to this land to build and
to be rebuilt"
Folk song of the Second Aliyah, by Menashe Rabinah,
Israeli writer and composer (1899-1968)
We feel like pioneers
for Reform Judaism
By Debra Sagan
It is hard to believe that it has been two years since this picture was
taken...and what an incredible journey it has been so far! My decision
to make Aliyah did not come easily, as leaving my friends and family
in the States was extremely difficult. However, I was "bitten" by the
Israel bug ever since I was on the NFTY teen tour in 1987. After years of
coming back to Israel for trips, seminars, volunteering and studying,
I decided that the bitterness I felt when getting on the plane to leave
Ben Gurion needed to stop. Luckily for me, I met Oren, (who had
made Aliyah with his family when he was 12 years old and was in the
U.S studying). Our mutual desire to live in Israel was a strong basis for
our marriage. We both wanted our lives to be guided by the Jewish
calendar, to speak Hebrew, and to be able to celebrate holidays and
Shabbat together. (Since both of us are Jewish educators, we had
found that to be a challenge in the U.S.!). Our decision to move to
Israel was also very much influenced by the belief that we would be
providing our son with a wonderful childhood - where he is naturally
immersed in Judaism and feels a strong connection to the land.
Oren and I made a conscious decision not to live in a large city in
Israel. We wanted to find a place to live that has easy access to the
outdoors and would enable us to simplify our lifestyle. This decision
also challenged us to figure out exactly what it means for us to be
Reform Jews in Israel. We surely don't fit in with the secular majority
in the country, but we cannot define ourselves as "Dati/Orthodox".
Therefore, we sought out the pockets of Reform Jewish communities
throughout the country and discovered Har Halutz (The Mountain of
Pioneers). Har Halutz is a yishuv (settlement) located in the northern
part of Israel. It was established 20 years ago by a garin (seed group)
from North America and is affiliated with the Reform movement. Both
because of its beautiful natural surroundings, as well as its connection
to Reform Judaism, we decided to call Har Halutz our home

Poland's first female rabbi hopes to 'bring Jewish life'

Poland's first female rabbi hopes to 'bring Jewish life'

'We really believe that women should be fully present and fully equal on
every conceivable level of Jewish leadership and scholarship,' head of
Poland's Reform Jewish community says of Tanya Segal's ordainment
Associated Press

LUBLIN, Poland — Rabbi Tanya Segal wraps a fringed prayer shawl around
her shoulders, perches a guitar on crossed legs and leads a group of
Poles in songs celebrating the Jewish sabbath.
In this city once known as Poland's Jerusalem, where the rabbis of
prewar Poland were men wearing black coats and hats, long beards and
sidelocks, Segal cuts a distinctive figure.
A Russian-born Israeli with long fiery red hair, she is the first
full-time female rabbi in Poland. Her arrival in December in a land
where Jewish life was all but wiped out in the Holocaust is a testament
to the unabated revival of that life now — and a new diversity taking
root amid the growth of the community.
Segal, a youthful and energetic 50-year-old, lives in Warsaw but travels
frequently around Poland, guitar in tow, on a mission to bring Jewish
traditions to corners of the country of 38 million where large
Yiddish-speaking communities thrived for centuries until World War II.
"It's really a challenge," Segal said after leading a Shabbat service on
a recent Friday night in a spacious room nestled above Grodzka Gate, an
arched passageway that separated Lublin's Christian and Jewish quarters.
"But I hope to satisfy their interest, to bring them this opportunity
... to experience Jewish life."
The Nazis killed six million Jews — half of them Polish — and bequeathed
a legacy of fear, one reinforced by postwar violence and communist-led
persecution. Lublin's prewar population of 100,000 was about 40% Jewish;
today the Jewish community numbers 22, though many more than that are
believed to have Jewish ancestry.
Since the end of the Cold War in 1989, Poles with Jewish roots have been
gradually shaking off the old fears of anti-Semitism and finding the
courage to attend Jewish events, visit Israel and sometimes return to
the faith of their ancestors.
As they do, some are turning to a modern and liberal strand of Judaism
and embracing new customs — such as the equal participation of women in
liturgical life — that developed in North America and are being
transplanted to a region historically dominated by the Orthodox movement.
"We really believe that women should be fully present and fully equal on
every conceivable level of Jewish leadership and scholarship, and we
want to send this message loud and clear to the world," said Rabbi Burt
Schuman, the head of Poland's Progressive, or Reform, Jewish community.
Segal joined him in December as the second rabbi at their congregation
in Warsaw, Beit Warszawa, after her ordination in November at the Hebrew
Union College in Jerusalem.
"She is a role model for a whole new generation of Polish Jewish women,"
Schuman added.
'Art prepares and trains the human soul'
Despite being a historic first, Segal does not dwell on her sex and does
not call herself a feminist. She almost seems surprised that people
might marvel at the novelty of a female rabbi.
"For me, being a woman rabbi is just natural," she says. "But when
people see a woman rabbi, they learn about a key principle of our
movement, which is equality. So it means I've done my job."
Her key focus is on giving the Jewish life that remained after the
Holocaust a chance to flourish again, a mission she embarked on even
before her ordination during several months in Poland as a student rabbi.
"Jews are still here, they are looking for their identity, for their
roots. If they are here, then I want to be here."
Taking on the role has meant sacrifice — uprooting herself from the home
that she made in Israel after leaving Moscow in 1990 as a single mother
with a 2-year-old son. Today that boy, Benyamin, is 19 and a soldier in
the Israeli army.
Segal, an actress and singer in Moscow's Jewish Chamber Musical Theater
before immigrating to Israel, was a natural with the crowd at the Brama
Grodzka cultural center — a place led by non-Jews to promote the
remembrance and revival of Jewish life.
At the start of each song she taught the Hebrew lyrics so the audience
of about 35 Poles, not all with Jewish roots, could join in. With a
small laugh of pleasure she corrected those who were clapping out of time.
Among the crowd was 18-year-old Ola Nuckowska, who attended with her
maternal grandmother, a Jew who survived the war thanks to a Christian
family that took her in as a baby. The grandmother, Wanda Chmielewska,
65, never even knew the name given to her at birth by her Jewish
parents, who died in the Holocaust.
"I go to synagogue on Fridays and to church on Sundays," said the
teenage Nuckowska, describing a predicament shared by many Poles with
Jewish roots — feeling both Catholic and Jewish.
She recently went to Israel to "see my fatherland and meet other Jewish
people" — but told classmates that she was on a pilgrimage to the Holy
Land's Christian sites to keep her Jewish identity hidden.
For her, an evening with Segal is a way to connect to that Jewish
heritage, particularly since the rabbi's feminine presence makes her
seem so "easy to connect with."
"At first I thought a woman rabbi was a little strange," Nuckowska said.
"But it's good."
Segal is not discouraged by those who come seeking cultural contact
rather than a true religious experience, the case of many here.
Her own religious convictions also came only after her immigration to
Israel, though that grew from a strong Jewish identity nourished by the
theater and the experience of facing anti-Semitic taunts on playgrounds
as a child. Art, she is convinced, "prepares and trains the human soul
so that it can receive holiness."
"I don't think they can have a religious experience so soon," she said.
"It takes years to really learn to pray. It's a process. They come to
celebrate Shabbat, and whatever place they are in today is really OK."

Sunday 17 February 2008

Update 14/02/02 and AGM notice

Dear Members,

Not only do we have for you three thought provoking and controversial
articles; we also have two future events that we hope will be
informative and practical.

The first event is our AGM on Sunday 30th March, 5pm at Finchley
Progressive Synagogue. After the AGM (at 5.30pm) we will be hosting a
panel discussion on how to bring Israel to our communities.

The second event is on Wednesday 12th March at 8pm at Alyth Gardens
Synagogue. A distinguished panel will be discussing "Israel and
Zionism... the next 60 years." Please see the attached poster for
more details of this event.

On to our articles.
1. Har-El Jubilee - we are proud to share this article on the news and
history of Kehillat Har-El in Jerusalem. They are celebrating their
jubilee anniversary this year and are Israel's oldest progressive
congregation. See the article for more information.
2. Interfaith Couples Trip to Israel - dealing with interfaith couples
and marriages is a controversial issue in the diaspora and one that
Progressive communities are taking steps to deal with constructively.
This fascinating article details a new American scheme to take these
couples to Israel in order to bring Jewish values to these relationships.
3. Tackling the Elephant - We always say in Pro-Zion that we value,
democracy and openness of views and opinions. This article, by a former
director of public affairs of Agudath Israel USA, is certainly not one
that we agree with but is important to hear out and understand. The
author describes the importance of the status quo of religion and state
in Israel and why it must not change. What do you think? Be sure to let
us know via e-mail or on our blog.

Finally - A CALL FOR VOLUNTEERS - can you help us with a mailout? We are
trying to get our 2008 membership renewals and next newsletter out as
soon as possible but we are all volunteers and are really short on hands
right now. If you are willing to help out labelling and stuffing
envelopes (we can drop off a box at your home and pick them up again for
posting!) please let us know.

We hope to see some of you on Sunday at the Leo Baeck college education
conference on Israel 60 where we have a stand.
Shabbat Shalom
Daniel, Charlie and all at Pro Zion



Kehilat Har-El of Jerusalem, Israel's pioneer Progressive congregation,
has begun a year-long celebration of its golden jubilee (see WUPJnews
#295). Founded in 1958 as the 'Association for the Renewal of Religious
Life in Israel, it is the forerunner of the Israel Movement for
Progressive Judaism.
The World Union was involved with Har-El from the outset. "From the very
beginning," says founder and past president, Werner Loval, "Congregation
Har-El had the encouragement and blessings of the World Union. It was
its president at the time, Rabbi Maurice Eisendrath, who in 1958 sent us
our first rabbi, Rav Herbert Weiner." Loval adds that the World Union's
bulletin, the forerunner of WUPJnews, reported on the new congregation
in its March, 1958 issue.
"We received our first two sifrei Torah in the summer of 1958," Loval
says, "from Rabbi Richard Hirsch, who headed a World Union-sponsored
NFTY group from the U.S." [Hirsch later became the World Union's
executive director and moved its headquarters to Israel in 1973 – ed.]
"At the convention of the World Union in London in July, 1959, Professor
Schalom Ben-Chorin was invited to address the delegates on the subject
of 'Liberal Judaism in Israel.' Rabbi Jacob Shankman, then the director
of the World Union, told the delegates, 'The Jerusalem group [Har-El]
has brought religious ferment in Israel to the surface and its efforts
have been widely publicized and discussed.'
"In August, 1960, Rabbi Jerome Unger was sent to Jerusalem as the
representative of the World Union and became our rabbi. The World Union
appropriated $15,000 to provide for his salary and subsidize his work.
'The beginnings were modest but the decision was an historic one,' Rabbi
Shankman wrote in his report to the conference of the World Union in
1961. You will agree," concludes Loval, "that our 50th anniversary is a
major milestone in the growth and development of the World Union for
Progressive Judaism."
Har-El kicked off its jubilee festivities on Thursday, January 10, just
prior to the Shabbat on which the weekly portion of Bo was read from the
Torah. "We celebrate Har-El's birthday every year on the Shabbat of
parashat Bo," explains its cantor, Evan Cohen, "because the
congregation's first service was held that Friday evening" in 1958.
The opening event was an exhibit of art works by congregation members,
in recognition of the strong influence of the Bezalel Academy of Arts
and Design, the congregation's neighbor for many years in the Rehavia
section of Jerusalem.
Rabbi Ada Zavidov and Cantor Cohen led a festive Friday night Kabbalat
Shabbat service, accompanied by Dennis Sobolev on guitar and by the
Nechama choir, conducted by Jana Pritzker. They enjoyed a gala Shabbat
dinner at the nearby Sheraton Plaza Hotel, which was sponsored by New
York City's Congregation Emanu-El
On Shabbat morning, a joint service was held at Har-El together with the
Hebrew Union College, represented by Cantor Professor Eliyahu Schleifer,
pianist Anastasia Sobolev (wife of Dennis, mentioned above), and
flautist Jeanne Schaffer. Rabbi Tovia Ben-Chorin, who served for many
years as Har-El's rabbi, gave the d'var torah. After the service, there
was a festive kiddush sponsored by Congregation for Reform Judaism in
Orlando, Florida.

Shabbat ended with evening services led by Rabbi Zavidov and Cantor
Cohen, accompanied by harpist Regina Spitkovsky, and a special Havdalah
service co-led by the children from the congregation's preschool. The
evening program continued with a panel discussion - dedicated to the
memory of Professor Schalom Ben-Chorin, one of Har-El's founders and its
first spiritual leader - on the topic: "Is Liberal Judaism a Viable
Alternative in Israel?"
Later this year the celebrations will continue with a cantorial concert,
while the jubilee will also be marked at the IMPJ biennial, May 23-24, 2008

Interfaith Couples Eye Israel for Jewish Identity

Interfaith Couples Eye Israel for Jewish Identity
More than half of American Jews marry non-Jews these days. In Atlanta,
the demographic study of the community two years ago found that the
number is 67 percent - two interfaith marriages to one Jewish union.
That same study reported that the children of interfaith couples rarely
grow up with a Jewish education, much less a Jewish identity, unless
both parents commit to creating a Jewish home.

A new program from Israel Encounter hopes to change the trend. The
organization is taking interfaith couples to Israel, with the non-Jewish
partner traveling free.

Recognizing the reality that interfaith marriages are going to happen,
the program introduces the Israel experience to non-Jews married to or
contemplating marriage to Jews, showing them what it means to be Jewish
in Israeli and American societies, helping them recognize the role
Judaism can play in their family, and teaching them the joy and beauty
of Jewish customs, holidays and beliefs.

The goal of the program is not conversion. That's always an option but
not part of the agenda of Israel Encounter. The aim is for the
non-Jewish spouse to make a commitment to raising Jewish children in a
home imbued with Jewish values and practices. The trip is open to
couples living in the Atlanta area with children up to age 10 or with no

Mitch Cohen, who founded the program with Steven Chervin, said: "This
program is especially important when the woman of the interfaith couple
is not Jewish. Women are the spiritual backbone of the family. They
usually determine the spirituality of the couple, and it's important
they understand the importance of the Jewish experience. ... We also
hope that the participants will bond and form connections during the 10
days of travel and intense experience together in a magic place."

Thanks to a grant from a local foundation that wanted anonymity, the
cost per couple is $3,500 for round-trip air fare, hotels, tours with
professional guides, two meals a day and transportation in Israel.
Participants will explore "who is a Jew," coming to understand the
concept of Jewish identity in Israel and what it's like for people not
born in Israel but living there now, comparing the physical move to
Israel with the spiritual move to Judaism, whether or not conversion is
a part of the journey. Group members will spend Shabbat in Jerusalem,
where they will attend services and visit the Kotel.

There will be pre-trip meetings and post-trip follow-up.

Atlanta Rabbi Albert Slomovitz will join the tour. Formerly a pulpit
rabbi at Congregation Gesher L'Torah and a Navy chaplain, Rabbi
Slomovitz has extensive experience with interfaith relationships. His
time at Loyola University of Chicago, a Jesuit school, prepared him to
discuss issues of Christianity. He'll make himself available for any
questions in a relaxed, nonthreatening atmosphere.
Israel Encounter is dedicated to outreach, using the trip as a tool
because "the Israel experience is so powerfully transformative for
people who were born Jews," said Chervin, the director of the Goodman
Institute at Ahavath Achim Synagogue, who also teaches at the Melton
Adult Mini-School and Emory University. "We're extending it to the
interfaith community in the hopes that it will help engage couples to
raise Jewish children. Conversion is not our expectation or purpose. We
do hope this program will be a model for a national program of outreach

Cohen began working in Jewish outreach more than 10 years ago when he
facilitated a program for interfaith couples raising Jewish children. He
teaches "Introduction to Judaism" at the Marcus JCC and is certified as
an outreach fellow by the Union for Reform Judaism. He last year led a
trip to Israel designed for converts to Judaism and wrote about it for
the Jewish Times

Tackling the Elephant - Avi Shafran

Disclaimer! This articles doesn't represent the views of Pro-Zion - in
fact the opposite. But it's still an interesting read.
Tackling the elephant

Mere days before I was privileged to participate in a Washington, D.C.
symposium on religious freedom in Israel, the Malaysian government
threatened to withhold a Catholic newspaper's publishing permit, to
punish it for having dared to use the Muslim appellation for the Creator
in its Malay-language pages.
A week later, an Afghan judge sentenced a journalism student in that
country to death for distributing an article critical of Islam's founder.
All in all, making the case for Israel's respect for religious rights
isn't really much of a challenge.
An impressive number of students and interested others braved snowy
weather to attend the January 17 event, sponsored by the Berkley Center
for Religion, Peace and World Affairs at Georgetown University. Of the
three presenters, I was last and, since the others -Knesset member Rabbi
Michael Melchior and author Dr. David Elcott - did admirable jobs of
covering much that lay in my prepared remarks, when my turn came I
truncated my speech and focused on the increasingly restless elephant in
the room.
Well covered before I spoke were the facts that Israel is both a
democracy and a state with a special relationship to a religion (like
many around the globe); that it is pledged, through its declaration of
independence to protect the religious rights of its citizens; and that
it generally in fact does so in an exemplary manner.
There have been occasional allegations of inequities in funding for
upkeep of Muslim holy places and of disproportionate appropriation of
Muslim-owned land. Such issues must be addressed, of course, and have
been, in Israeli courts. To that I added that complaints by some Israeli
and West Bank Muslims that the Israeli security barrier does not allow
them to worship in the mosque of their first choice cannot be reasonably
construed as akin to a gratuitous denial of religious rights. Such
inconveniences are, while regrettable, unintentional results of
legitimate security concerns.
THEN I turned to the elephant - "Jewish religious pluralism." Leaders of
heterodox Jewish movements regularly rail about the lack of official
recognition of their movement's ceremonies in Israel, portraying it as a
curtailment of religious rights.
In addressing the pluralism pachyderm, my Exhibit A was the Jewish
state's other foundational document. Less than a year before Israel
declared its existence, on June 19, 1947, what came to be known as the
"status quo agreement" was signed by the future first prime minister of
the state, David Ben-Gurion and other officials of the Jewish Agency.
In the words of professor Harry Reicher, University of Pennsylvania
adjunct professor of international law: "For significant elements of the
religious population... the status quo agreement was the inducement to
their participation in that creation [of Israel], was quite
fundamental to the character with which the state was stamped at its
birth." Addressed to the Agudath Israel World Organization, that
document too, like the state's declaration that would follow, pledged
the state-to-be to guaranteeing religious freedom for all its
inhabitants. But it went on to promise state observance of Shabbat as
the official day of rest, provision of only kosher food in government
kitchens and a system of traditional Jewish religious education. And,
finally, it assured that "everything possible will be done [to] avoid,
Heaven forfend, the splitting of the House of Israel into two" - that
would result from multiple standards regarding Jewish "personal status"
issues like marriage, divorce and conversion.
THOSE ELEMENTS were the nascent state's founders' concessions to the
word "Jewish" in the phrase "Jewish State." For that phrase to have
meaning, the signatories realized, credible definitions of words like
"Jew" and "Judaism" were essential. From a haredi Jew's perspective, the
only such workable definitions are those based on the "highest common
denominator" of halacha, or Jewish religious law. A Reform Jew would
presumably offer different definitions. But whatever the yardstick, if
"Jewish State" is to be more than a hollow slogan, something must do the
And, as a result of the status quo agreement, something - in fact
halacha - indeed did do the measuring, and has been doing so for the
past 60 years (not to mention the several millennia prior). That
historical standard for establishing who a Jew is, and what a
conversion, Jewish marriage and Jewish divorce are, has preserved a
single Jewish people in the Jewish state.
THOSE WHO demand multiple standards on the grounds of religious freedom
misstate the case. What they are advocating is not freedom of religion -
which is alive and well in Israel - but rather a redefinition of
Judaism, and the radical amendment of one of Israel's foundational
charters that would result, as Ben Gurion foresaw, in the "splitting of
the House of Israel into two" (or three, or four...).
Thus far, due to both the historical and legal importance of the status
quo agreement and the traditional bent of a large majority of Israelis,
Israel's single-standard approach to Jewish religious matters (what the
media, with characteristic "objectivity," prefer to call the "Orthodox
monopoly") remains in place.
There are, though, threats to the delicate balance between religious
freedom and Israel's core Jewish identity, in particular the state's
highest court, which, under its former chief justice Aharon Barak,
proclaimed a goal of promoting what it deems to be the "fundamental
values of democracy" and has shown itself ready to, in effect, legislate
by fiat (prompting influential American judge Richard Posner to call Mr.
Barak an "enlightened despot").
What the Israeli Supreme Court may in future years choose to deem
"enlightened" is anyone's guess. But an educated one should worry Jews -
of whatever affiliation - who consider Israel's Jewish character
essential to its identity, unity and future.
The havoc that can be wrought by unbridled elephants is legend.
The writer is director of public affairs for Agudath Israel of America.

Israel Panel Evening and Question Time

Israel Panel Evening & Question Time
Israel and Zionism…
the next 60 years
Wednesday 12th March 2008
8.00pm - 9.45pm
at North Western Reform Synagogue,
Alyth Gardens, Finchley Road, London NW11 7EN
Chair: Walter Goldsmith: Chairman Jewish Music Institute, Co founder
of Diaspora Trust, Former chair of British Overseas Trade Group
for Israel
Panel: Andrew Balcombe: Chairman, Zionist Federation
Ian Black: Middle East Editor of The Guardian
Daniel Finkelstein OBE: Associate editor and comment editor of
The Times
Lorna Fitzsimons: CEO of BICOM, president National Union of
Students 1992/94, MP Rochdale 1997 to 2005
Charlie Gluckman: Co-chair of Pro-Zion, National Director
RSY-Netzer 2005/06
Entrance: £5 members, £6 non members, students free
For more information please contact:
Leslie Michaels on 0771 057 6063 or email
Ticket application form. Please apply by Wednesday 5th March 2008.
I/we would like ……. tickets for the Israel Panel Evening on Wednesday
12th March.
Name ……………………………………………… Address …………………………………………
………………………………………………………. Tel No…………………………………………
Please make cheques payable to 'NWRS' and enclose a stamped addressed
NWRS (Tickets), Alyth Gardens, Finchley Road, London NW11 7EN.

Sunday 10 February 2008

Pro Zion update - 7th February including Leeds Report

Dear Members,
Even with the threat of snow looming over us, there were over 60 people
at the 2008 Mervin Elliott Memorial Lecture took place in Leeds, last
Sunday 3rd February. Rachel Liel, the Director SHATIL, the New Israel
Fund's empowerment and training centre for social change organisations
provided a thought-provoking address. There was also plenty of time for
questions fielded by both Rachel, and Ellen Goldberg, Executive Director
of New Israel Fund UK, former Associate Director of New Israel Fund in
Israel. I want to give a big thank you to Rachel, Ellen and the New
Israel Fund for providing such inspiring content. I also want to give
thanks to Anna Dyson and Sinai Synagogue for hosting the event and
successfully doing a lot of the organisation. For a full report please
see attached.

We have two other articles of interest for you this week. The first
highlights two programmes that the IMPJ run for young people. 'Project
Mechina' runs as a Shnat Shirut (year of service) for young Progressive
Jews, between High School and the Army. From personal experience of
meeting a couple of Mechina groups, I can attest to the fact that it is
an inspiring programme run for and by inspiring people. The Young Adult
Forum is a framework for young adults in the 20-30 range that provides
opportunities for those who wish to explore and develop a pluralistic
way of life. Again, this is a great programme run by the IMPJ achieving
a lot of success.

Just when we thought that Rabbi Marmur's reflections on Israel Society
could not get any more profound and thoughtful, the piece attached this
week proves that we were wrong. Arguing that Israeli Society suffers
from ADHD (Attention Deficiency and Hyperactivity Disorder), he gives an
analysis of the different ways in which the religious has combined with
the political. He offers us a less well known interpretation of this as
a way to calm the suffering.

Finally, I would like to draw your attention to a campaign to increase
awareness about genocide. The World Museum Liverpool produced an
impressive display "Respectacles" to mark Holocaust Memorial Day that
powerfully and emotionally succeeded in transmitting its vital message,
"Imagine...Remember...Reflect...React". The campaign believes the
display should continue and the petition supports Liverpool Town Hall's
and the City Council's efforts to identify a suitable display site and
urges all relevant authorities to assist them.
Please find the petition at

Please be in touch with news as usual. Shabbat Shalom,

Charlie Gluckman and all at Pro Zion

A Space in the Middle - (from LSE to Leeds)

A Space in the Middle - Charlie Gluckman
Sometimes I find it difficult being a Zionist. As some may have read in
the Jewish Chronicle last week, an extreme and provocative anti-Israel
motion - Making Apartheid History - was put forward at the Student Union
of the London School of Economics. As a postgraduate student at the
LSE, as a Jewish and Zionist member of the Student Union, I found the
motion ugly and hateful. I felt it as a direct and personal attack on
me; on my Jewish, Reform Zionist identity. I was labelled a racist, an
ethnic cleanser. Zionism was reduced to discourse of colonialism.
There are other times when I find it hard to be a Zionist. After the
motion was defeated (by just 7 votes) the Jewish Society immediately
claimed it as a victory against our oppressors. This, I thought was
indicative of the attitude that we must defend Israeli government policy
at all costs. Any Jew who does not is a self-hating Jew. I often find
this attitude nauseating. Here, Zionism was reduced to discourse of
On reflecting on this I think there is a relationship between these
two. I think that they feed off each other. I think that they both
fail in any attempt at self-reflection and in attempting to reach out,
to understand and have dialogue with the other. That is why I think
there is such a clear space in between this total rejection of Israel on
the one hand, and on the other the unequivocal support. I believe that
it is within this space that Zionism must exist; Progressive Zionism
can, and in many cases does, provide this space. I was lucky enough to
be a part of such a space on Sunday 3rd February at the Pro Zion 2008
Mervin Elliott Memorial Lecture, hosted by Sinai Synagogue, Leeds.
Rachel Liel, the Director of SHATIL, the New Israel Fund's Empowerment
and Training Centre for Social Change Organisations gave an inspiring
and thought-provoking lecture on whether Israel at 60 is either an
Adolescent - associating this idea with being a visionary and wanting to
change the world – or an adult - bringing a notion of experience and
focus. Rachel pointed early on to the fact that whilst Israel at 60 is
an amazing picture, can you say that all religious and ethnic groups are
integrated into society? The idea that all citizens will be equal, that
all citizens will be taken care of, is a very Jewish one. In order to
do Tikkun (repair) we have to consider the experiences and emotions of
those that are powerless in society, that feel they do not belong, those
to whom nobody listens. We have to, Rachel said, provide a platform for
marginalised groups, and for this policies have to change. We must
cultivate the leaders from amongst us, not just scream about things, but
rather come up with ideas of what to do about it. Both vision and focus
are necessary.
There were over 60 people that came to this event, and after the
lecture, there was plenty of time for questions to be put to both
Rachel, and to Ellen Goldberg, the Executive Director of New Israel Fund
UK. There were questions on Bedouin Women, new immigrants, issues of
Religious Pluralism in Israel, Israel's Arab Citizens, and issues that
affect Palestinians that live in the West Bank. The atmosphere during
the event was great, and the questions ensured that there was thoughtful
The event showed that there are plenty of individuals and organisations
around our movement and beyond, that are seeking out this middle space.
That thought provides comfort as a Progressive Zionist. Through more
meetings such as this, and by uniting these efforts more effectively,
Progressive Zionists can be begin to be a more dominant voice.

Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism Youth Projects

Project Mechina
The IMPJ Mechina Project is a post-high school, pre-military year
dedicated to study and preparations toward compulsory service in the IDF.
In September 2003, the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism (IMPJ)
launched its "Project Mechina". In Israel today there are over 30
different Mechina projects, each offering a different perspective and
emphasis regarding issues and values studied. The IMPJ Mechina offers
young Israelis the opportunity to intensively study their Jewish
heritage and Israeli identity. The participants put Jewish values into
practice by working in community service projects. We believe that
leadership training, the social contribution and the intense experience
of living in a close community with program members will endow these
young people with the skills and commitment to become future leaders in
the Progressive Jewish community in Israel. This year, Project Mechina
received official recognition from the Ministry of Defense, allowing
participants to defer their military service for a year, and opening up
the program to a much greater number of students.
All participants will subsequently serve in the Israel Defense Forces
following the Mechina year. The interpersonal and leadership skills
developed during the year will enhance the participants' ability to
perform their military service in a manner that is purposeful, patriotic
an The program's location in the Lev-Yaffo neighborhood in Jaffa plays a
significant part in shaping the character and quality of the Mechina
experience. The Mechina is based in a diverse neighborhood, whose
residents include Jews from an extremely wide range of religious and
ethnic backgrounds, as well as Muslim and Christian Arabs and migrant
laborers from around the world. Placing the Mechina in Jaffa serves one
of the fundamental pillars of the IMPJ: working in a poor urban area and
aiding people in need through a locally based IMPJ community.

Young Adults
The Young Adult Leadership Forum (YALF) is a framework for young adults
in the 20-30 age range (particularly students in higher education)
interested in exploring and developing a pluralistic Jewish way of life.
Operating as part of the IMPJ's Communities Department, YALF offers
activities in diverse fields – study, experience, festival and memorial
events, social and public involvement and dialogue activities.
Participants are encouraged to examine issues relating to their Jewish
and Israeli identity through exposure to diverse opinions, approaches
and experiences.
YALF offers young Israelis a fresh perspective both on the options open
to them in developing their own identity and way of life, and on public
issues such as the relations between religion and state. Dialogue and
study activities promote an understanding of the complexity of Israeli
reality, helping to overcome stereotypical attitudes. YALF fosters a
sense of commitment to the Jewish People as a whole, and to the State of
Israel, in a manner and from a perspective that can appeal to young
liberal Israelis.
YALF runs activities in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Rishon Lezion and Haifa,
based around university campuses and IMPJ congregations in these cities.
YALF offers diverse programs and activities at the different centers,
• Regular programs: Study sessions; creative and musical Kabbalat
Shabbat programs, etc.; public activities (e.g. demonstrations in favor
of pluralism). These programs take place throughout the year.
• Festival programs: YALF develops innovative ceremonies and programs
– Seder Tu Bishvat, workshops, tours, etc. relating to the Jewish
festivals and memorial days. The approach is to reveal aspects of the
Hebrew calendar that relate to the participants' lives.
• Batei Midrash: ongoing study series around a particular theme. The
participants study with a regular counselor; guest lecturers are also
• Short-term study programs: Mini-series of 3 or 4 study sessions on
a common theme, generally relating to an aspect of modern Israeli society.
• Dialogue programs: Encounters with various groups in Israeli
society: other streams of Judaism; Israeli Arabs; "Green" organizations;
the lesbian and gay community and others.

Israel Suffers from ADHD - Rabbi Michael Marmur

Reform Reflections: Israel suffers from ADHD
Israel suffers from Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).
We are so overloaded with events bearing heavy cargoes of moral
complexity; so stunned by sensory overload; that we often can give
nothing more than perfunctory attention to issues demanding profound
In the days since my last blog was penned (or keyboarded), so much has
happened: I am writing this with the radio on in the background -
Dimona, Gaza, Sderot, Winograd, Olmert, Barak, Egypt, and more
What is an appropriate religious response to this ADHD reality? A common
strategy is to claim that what we see on the surface is only a mask for
some concealed Truth. There is a code, a secret means of unlocking a
door leading to harmony and coherence. Often, this is presented as the
essence of Jewish belief. It may appear as though everything is an
unholy mess, but a True Believer knows that all is part of a holy master
plan. To doubt the plan is to doubt the Master.
If to believe is to claim that everything is fine beneath the surface,
then for some to love God means to strive for ecstatic union with the
Divine. Often a single-minded religious passion goes hand in hand with a
complicated and painful situation out in what passes for the "real
world." Rather than sinking in the mud of depression and ambiguity, we
can click our theological heels and suddenly everything is alright with
the world.
There is a third step in this dance. Having defined belief as the
decoding of hidden harmonies, and love of God as the pursuit of ecstatic
oneness, it only remains to re-introduce the metaphysics into the
political sphere. I don't know if I will ever be able to get used to the
sight of the portrait of the Lubavitcher Rebbe plastered all over the
country mouthing strident political statements. Those of us laboring
under the impression that his purported demise may have weakened his
credentials as a commentator on the latest news have simply got it
wrong. The mystical meets up with the polemical, and the results are a
dangerous cocktail of the bigoted and the bizarre.
There is another way. A rabbi here in Israel has come out against the
notion that human beings can love-cling to God in some physical sense.
He has made the radical suggestion that the way to express devekut,
cleaving to God, is to do good things in the world: to support education
and social justice, to stand for what is right. He argues that since God
is unknowable and untouchable, the best we can hope for is to do some
good for God's creatures.
This approach stands in direct opposition to the view that Jewish belief
is like a sophisticated de-scrambler, helping us find the truth behind
the diversions of "real life." According to this Rabbi's view, it is
only by facing the tough realities around us and determining to make a
difference that we can come to serve God. To love God, this Rabbi tells
us, is to act in such a way that the name of Heaven is made lovable by
your actions.
The Israeli rabbi I am quoting is Rabbi Ishmael, son of Elisha. He lived
here some 1850 years ago (in a time when Ishmael was still a name for a
nice Jewish boy), and his thoughts are recorded throughout Rabbinic
Scholars are divided on the question of Rabbi Ishmael's political
commitment. Some sources suggest he was a strident nationalist, but in
any case there can be little doubt of the contrast between him and his
great contemporary and rival, Rabbi Akiva. It was Rabbi Akiva who
promoted a vision of Judaism which understood love of God in its most
literal sense, and which ultimately translated into a political program
which ended in martyrdom and national disaster.
Now Rabbi Akiva is in no need of support from me. That his reputation
goes beyond his political record will be exemplified this week in
London, England, where the Reform Movement will mark the construction of
the Akiva School. His interlocutor Rabbi Ishmael has had a less
successful afterlife, and his name and reputation are less well known:
the prospect of a Jewish youth movement called B'nei Ishmael is still
It may be that in our day, and in the craziness of ADHD Israel, the
pragmatic and socially-involved voice of engagement and faith epitomized
by Rabbi Ishmael needs to be heard. There's no need to worry on Rabbi
Akiva's behalf – his would-be heirs are to be found in the Knesset, in
houses of study, on illegal settlements, in every corner. But those who
suggest that the sons of Akiva are the only legitimate heirs of the
Jewish religious tradition are silencing Rabbi Ishmael, and doing a
great disservice to us in our current predicament.
There is a strong Jewish tradition of facing up to tough conditions
without flinching or flaking. In this version of our tradition, to
believe is to hold on to a vision of a better tomorrow with fidelity and
yet also with realism. You don't have to deny our grim situation in
order to prove the depth of your faith: acknowledging it may be the best
proof of faith. In this version, to love God is to demonstrate love and
care for God's creatures. In this version, Jewish politics will be less
about wild-eyed fundamentalism, and more about open-eyed religious humanism.
When a child suffers from ADHD, they are given medication to help them
focus and stay calm. Too much medication, and they are silenced. Too
little, and they cannot get a grip. Marx was wrong: religion is not the
opium of the masses. Maybe, however, it can be the Ritalin of the Jews.

Sunday 3 February 2008

update - 3rd February 2008

Dear Members,

We are on the final countdown now for the 2008 Mervyn Elliott Memorial

At David Lloyds Leeds, Tongue Lane, Leeds LS6 4QW

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

Speaking is Rachel Liel, Director of SHATIL, New Israel Fund's
Empowerment and Training Centre. This is taking place at the David
Lloyds Centre in Leeds Sunday February 3rd, from 17.30 - 19.00. We hope
to see many of you there at what we anticipate will be a thought
provoking talk. Please find the flyer attached.

Please also find attached an informative report written by Michael Reik
regarding the Zionist Federation's Lobby day at the House of Commons.
If you were at the lobby then please write and share your experiences
with us.

We have one article for you interest this week written by the Israel
Religious Action Centre regarding the issue of gender segregation on the
Manhedrin bus routes. Evoking images of Alabama in the 1950s, Rosa
Parks, and racial segregation, IRAC argue that this segregation has less
to do with the free expression of religion and more to do with masculine
identities. IRAC also implicate the role of the Ministry of Transport
and Egged bus company as not doing enough about the issue. If you have
any thoughts, comments or experiences regarding this issue or related
issues then please write to us.

Finally, we received a letter and slideshow from Mira Sasic, a former
treasurer of Pro Zion, that shows pictures and thoughts regarding the
devastating experience that residents of Sderot are currently going
through. Due to the size of the file, we did not attach it, however you
can find it on the Pro Zion website. We urge you to follow the link to
see the pictures and read the letter, and if you can pass it on to other

We hope to see some of you on Sunday evening.

Shabbat Shalom,

Charlie, Daniel and all at Pro Zion

A Day at the House of Commons with our MPs set up by ZF

A Day at the House of Commons with our M.Ps set up by ZF.
Written by Michael Reik

From 2pm Around 90+ people congregated in Room 10 at the House of
Commons on Wednesday January 23rd for an Israel Lobby to listen to
various speakers including MPs and then to go out to Central lobby to
speak up for Israel to their own constituency MP.
As we entered Parliament we were fittingly confronted by many thousands
of policeman in civvies marching for their own cause to receive their
justly arbitrated annual increase.
Eric Moonman, President of the ZF set the scene for us and chaired the
first part of the proceedings.
The First Speaker was Lee Scott, Conservative MP for Ilford North who
had just received the dubious award Of Backbencher of the Year from the
Local Asian News Network.
He totally repudiated the recent report of there being an Israel Lobby
in Parliament.
How could there be when there have been no votes taken in Parliament on
any matters affecting Israel.
The next Speaker was Louise Ellman, Labour MP for Liverpool Riverside.
Louise was commended by many for continuously sticking up for Israeli
causes while in almost a totally non Jewish Constituency.
There is a very strong Palestinian Lobby to Parliament and their MPs.
Four times as many than any Jewish Lobby and therefore at least four
times as many anti Israel points as fore.
On the question of Conspiracy Theory as partly dealt with by Lee Scott,
there was no evidence proven but she, among many Jewish MPs, are now
receiving phone calls to try to trip the MP up into speaking against
Israel. This is part of an increasing campaign of propaganda and hatred.
The next speaker was David Burrows,( chair of the Conservative Christian
Fellowship) and Conservative MP for Enfield and Southgate. He indicated
there was to be a debate in the House this coming week on 'Aid to the
Palestinians' He intended to raise the question of why aid was being
provided while there was no change in the textbooks for Palestinian
children, and talks were proceeding . UK Tax Payers money used for a
hate scenario within the Palestinian Territories.
Robert Halford, Political Director of Conservative Friends of Israel,
confirmed there were 2000 members, mainly non Jewish. They take MP's and
their staff to Israel, in particular to Sderot and the border villages
with Lebanon. He advised we should always write to our local MP
whenever we felt the media was putting out biased reports.
Then Talya Lador-Fresher, deputy ambassador spoke.
She illustrated the imbalance that Israel receives from the Members of
The past year Russia had 3EDM's raised with a total of 52 Questions and
180 Signatures
India a total of 8 EDM's, 53 Questions and 115 Signatures.
Israel a total of 10 EDM's, 160 Questions and 530 Signatures( EDM- Early
day Motions)
This shows the interest at Westminster in Israel is far more than the
combined interest in Russia and India.
Then Alistair Burt, Conservative MP for North East Beds spoke, he has
written an article 'Betrayal of a Nation' This can be found at, January 2008 edition. He briefly
explained his support and admiration for the Israeli people and the
James Arbuthnot, Conservative MP for Hampshire North East, and
Parliamentary Chair of the Conservative Friends of Israel, is a staunch
supporter because of the unfair odds Israel has as such a tiny state
among its very many neighbours and enemies. He repeated the comment made
by John Bolton at the Conservative Party Conference that Israel is the
only ever (non) member state to never be voted onto the Security Council
at the United Nations.
Jerry Lewis, Israel Correspondent at Westminster, Journalist, confirmed
the debate at Westminster commencing the next day on Global Security in
the Middle East, following a number of papers issued by the foreign office.
He also reiterated the need to send letters to MPs to counter the
massive pro-Palestinian lobby. Geoffrey Smith commented that we should
consider MPs as fishermen from the Galilee rather than as Rabbis from
the Temple
The Final Speaker was David Horowitz, Editor of The Jerusalem Post. He
reiterated much of the problems of Gaza. He told us how young children
up to the age of 5/6 are brought to the Rocket Launching sites in the
hope that the IDF will therefore not fire at the launchers for fear of
killing the children.
I then went to meet up with my own MP Gareth Thomas, Harrow West .
We had an extremely good and frank conversation on Israel.
Gareth was unaware that the Gaza crossing had been closed by the
Israelis after the recent attempt to smuggle 6.5 tons of Potassium
Nitrate( probably to be used for bomb-making) into Gaza disguised as EU
sugar bags for humanitarian aid.
We had a discussion about the trauma caused to those in Sderot by the
continuous Rocket Firing and I pointed out the political deviousness by
Hamas in switching off the electricity, especially to a News Media
Camera Team to show them by Candlelight in their offices with the
curtains drawn while in Broad Daylight.
Gareth believed more work could be done by the Israelis in removing some
of the restrictions, but accepted that no UK Money should go for
educational purposes from UK Funds while text books in Palestinian
Schools provided hate literature and untruths.
We both hoped that monies provided to the Palestinians would end up
benefiting the Palestinian People in a Humanitarian Way.

IRAC Update - The Women Sent to the Back of the Bus

Dear Friend of the Israel Religious Action Center,
For the past twenty years a photograph of Rosa Parks has hung over my
desk. The photograph, taken in 1955, shows a policeman taking her
fingerprints. The title of the photo is Women Who Dared. In this week's
story, IRAC stands up for women who dare to sit in the front of the bus.

Women Sent to the Back of the Bus
One warm July day, a middle aged woman boarded an empty bus on her way
home. Exhausted, she took a seat in the front of the bus. After several
stops, the few men who boarded the bus after her, approached her and
demanded, with increasing hostility, that she move to the back of the
bus. Their voices grew louder, yet she refused to budge. Several of the
men began pushing her aggressively and a couple even hit her. They
yelled, shoved, cursed and threatened the woman, who remained seated in
her chosen seat in the front of the bus. Throughout the entire bus ride,
no one, including the driver, interfered on behalf of the woman.
You must think you have heard this story dozens of times. Yet the year
is not 1955, the location is not Montgomery, Alabama, and the woman, is
not Rosa Parks. This story is happening in Jerusalem in 2007 and this is
the personal story of an Orthodox novelist, Naomi Ragen. Ragen, and
another five women of all ages and religious affiliations, have been
harassed by Haredi men for refusing to move to the back of the bus or
for being allegedly dressed immodestly. Regan, a religious woman
herself, refused to give up her seat, claiming that there was neither a
sign indicating that the bus was gender segregated nor any basis in
halakha (Jewish law) for such a demand. She suffered from severe
harassment and violent behavior throughout her entire trip home. In
another instance, a woman was not allowed on a bus for wearing jeans and
a short sleeved shirt on a summer day. All these women, and probably
hundreds of other men and women who were too afraid to report similar
incidents, were profoundly disturbed and emotionally distressed by their

IRAC's Petition against Gender Segregated Buses
On January 24, 2007, IRAC filed a petition, on behalf of Naomi Ragen and
five other women, against the State owned and operated Egged bus company
and the Ministry of Transportation regarding numerous offenses against
women committed on their buses. Egged has designated more than 30 lines
as ultra- orthodox, called "Mehadrin Lines", where women, in accordance
with ultra-orthodox practice, are expected to dress "modestly," enter
through the rear door, and then sit at the back of the bus. These buses
are effectively segregated. Though these regulations are not explicitly
delineated, they have been accepted as a sort of customary law or
unspoken rule by both Egged and much of these lines' rider-ship. Those
who refuse to ride on these 30 segregated lines, 23 of which run on
major intercity routes, must often take multiple buses and pay higher
fares to reach the same destination. As such, these ultra-orthodox lines
violate not only the rights of women, but also the right to be free from
religious coercion.

Bus Route to the Supreme Court
On January 14th, after a long and fruitless correspondence with the
Egged bus company and the Ministry of Transportation, IRAC appeared in
front of Israel's Supreme Court to argue against discrimination and
religious coercion. The Egged bus company and the Ministry of
Transportation denied any form of discrimination and claimed that the
entire arrangement of segregated seating and "proper" dress code was
voluntary rather than coerced. IRAC asserted that the latter claim was
rather absurd, taking into consideration that IRAC's six clients all
suffered some form of verbal of physical abuse in their various
interactions with the Mehadrin bus lines. It is vital to note that IRAC
did not argue against the existence of Mehadrin bus lines. In the spirit
of religious pluralism, IRAC fully supports the right of the Haredi
sector for appropriate accommodations which correspond with their world
view and way of life. With this said, IRAC strongly believes that there
is simply no justification for blatant discrimination and violence.
Currently however, the segregation on Mehadrin bus lines comes in the
form of religious coercion rather than a free choice which is being
supported by the State. Furthermore, these bus lines are often the best
and even sole method of transportation to certain destinations. Our case
proposes that it is unacceptable that the State offers no alternative
means of transportation for individuals who do not wish to comply with
the Mehadrin bus line rules of "modesty". IRAC argued that Egged and the
Ministry of Transportation must take an active role in securing the
safety and comfort of the passengers, by instructing the drivers to
prevent incidents of violence and by allocating further resources to
secure a regular bus line to travel the same route as the Mehadrin bus line.

The Supreme Court was very sympathetic to IRAC's claims. His Honor,
Justice Elyakim Rubinstein, criticized the Ministry of Transportation
and the Egged bus company for its indifference and negligence and for
not taking a harsher stand against violent religious coercion on busses.
Justice Rubinstein also asserted that it is unacceptable for a driver
not to let a woman who is wearing trousers on the bus, since trousers
are considered "immodest" by the ultra-Orthodox community. The Justices
agreed unanimously that there is a compelling need to find a solution to
this predicament.

Heading in the Right Direction
On January 21st IRAC received the Supreme Court's ruling on the
Segregation on Busses case. The Supreme Court recognized that severe
harm was caused to IRAC's clients and the Ministry of Transportation and
the Egged bus company failed to protect the passengers and to secure
their rights. Furthermore, the Supreme Court urged the Ministry of
Transportation to establish a Forum that will review and analyze the
current situation and draw appropriate conclusions in a manner that best
serves all individuals involved. The Supreme Court argued that there are
lessons to be learned from IRAC's petition, which raised valid questions
about the allegedly voluntary nature of the segregation in Mehadrin
busses: the fact that many of the busses are not marked as Mehadrin
busses; the role of the driver in case of a controversy; and the lack of
alternative transportation means for those who do not wish to use the
Mehadrin busses.

IRAC's petition raised substantive concerns regarding the violation of
women's rights and religious coercion on Mehadrin busses. IRAC was glad
to see that the Supreme Court of Israel was able to recognize the
absurdity behind the claim that the segregation on busses is voluntary
and to condemn the violent behavior of the Haredi men as well as the
negligent response of the Ministry of Transportation and the Egged bus
company to such appalling behavior. IRAC hopes that the Ministry of
Transportation will adopt the recommendations of the Supreme Court and
will soon establish the Forum whose members will be non-bias officials
seeking to insure the safety and comfort of all passengers regardless of
gender and religious affiliation.

Court quizzes state over segregated buses
By Dan Izenberg, Jerusalem Post
The High Court of Justice on Monday asked tough questions of the
Ministry of Transportation during a hearing on a petition filed by five
women and the Israel Religious Action Center against the unregulated use
of segregated buses by the Egged and Dan bus companies.
cid=1200308086789&pagename=JPost% 2FJPArticle%2FShowFull