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Monday, 24 March 2008

Event This Week: AGM plus Israel Panel Debate

Another reminder...
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: ,

update 21/03/08

Dear Members,

Firstly, we would like to wish everyone Purim Sameach.

We have more interesting articles for you this week. First we have an
article about a caucus set up by the Knesset to discuss some of the
issues surrounding aliyah from the West. Next we have an article
calling for a merger between the Conservative and Reform Movements in
Israel. Finally we have an article addressed to those in the west that
give legitimacy to terrorism. These three articles all raise some very
interesting contemporary issues about Israeli society. If you have any
comments on anything then please write to us.

Sunday March 30th, is our AGM. Our keynote speaker at the AGM is
Shelley Kedar, from the Leo Baeck Education Centre, Haifa. Shelley will
be talking on the topic of "how do we bring Israel to our communities".
Following the keynote address will be a discussion with a panel
including: Meirav Kallush (Shlicha of the Movement for Reform Judaism);
Noa Marom (Shlicha of Liberal Judaism); and Daniel Needlestone (co-Chair
of Pro Zion). The discussion will be chaired by Rabbi Neil Janes of
Finchley Progressive Synagogue. There will be plenty of time to field
questions. We hope to see a lot of you there, at what promises to be an
interesting event.

Shabbat Shalom,

Charlie, Daniel and all at Pro Zion

Knesset members launch caucus to aid immigration from the West

Knesset members launch caucus to aid immigration from the West
By Daphna Berman
A Knesset caucus to promote western aliyah was formed yesterday, amid
warnings that the unsolved ulpan dispute could leave new immigrants
without free Hebrew instruction beginning September 1, a situation that
is expected to negatively affect immigration rates.
The caucus, headed by MK Gilad Erdan (Likud) and MK Yoel Hasson
(Kadima), is aiming to reduce bureaucratic barriers surrounding aliyah,
as well as further legislation - including sizable tax breaks - to
encourage western immigration. Licensing difficulties that face a number
of immigrants as they try to establish themselves professionally here,
as well as the economic difficulties involved in relocating, are also on
the caucus agenda. "One of the issues we're looking into is providing
tax benefits for immigrants to encourage aliyah," Erdan told Haaretz
yesterday at the caucus launch.

"If a lawyer comes to Israel and his salary is cut in half, one
possibility is that in his first two years here, he will be exempt from
income tax. Usually, the finance minister isn't willing to talk about
these issues, but if enough Knesset members get involved, we can put
this on the agenda. Two years of exemption from income tax can be the
difference in whether someone decides to make aliyah or not."
Government officials, however, warned that with the looming ulpan
crisis, western aliyah remains in danger - despite positive intentions
aimed at assisting immigrants. In December, the Education Ministry
announced it was handing over the responsibility for the ulpan system to
the Absorption Ministry, a decision the Education Ministry said was the
result of painful budget cuts.
The two offices set up an inter-ministerial committee to examine the
issue, but little progress has been made, officials say. "As of today,
come September 1, a new immigrant will not get even one minute of ulpan
study (as part of their absorption basket)," Erez Halfon, director
general of the Absorption Ministry said at yesterday's launch. Halfon
said that the Absorption Ministry is working hard to find a solution to
the problem, but added that at this stage, "there is reason for worry."
About a dozen MKs, representing most of the Knesset factions, are
expected to be active in the caucus, officials said. Yesterday's launch
brought together ministry representatives, as well as officials from the
Jewish Agency, Nefesh B'Nefesh, and AMI, the French aliyah organization.
Immigrant groups like the Association of Americans and Canadians in
Israel (AACI) and Telfed, the South African Zionist Federation, were
also present.
The caucus, which is now hoping to become a clearing house of sorts, is
expected to convene again next month.

Counterpoint: Merge Reform and Conservative Judaism

Counterpoint: Merge Reform and Conservative Judaism
In October 2005, I wrote a column, "Merge the movements," which called
upon the Reform and Conservative movements in Israel to meld together as
one religious entity. The primary opposition came from the
Conservatives, especially from many Conservative rabbis whose unabashed
derision of my suggestion gave me pause to think that unifying both
movements might be unattainable.
Of course, this does not mean that they shouldn't unite.
The Conservative movement's main objection to such a merger is its claim
that Conservative Judaism is far more traditional than Reform Judaism
and, unlike Reform, defines itself as halachic. However, my Conservative
rabbinic colleagues suffer from a delusion of traditional grandeur.
Their level of religious observance does not necessarily reflect that of
their constituents. For example, one critic responded that the
Conservative youth movement (Noam) observes Shabbat and kashrut, unlike
the Reform youth movement. All four of my children were active in Noam.
If their friends' and their parents' religious behavior is any
indication, then I can categorically state that - with rare exceptions -
the level of the Conservative movement's members' personal observance in
no way matches the standards of traditionalism that Conservative rabbis
pretend to be the case.
Another critic based his opposition to the unification of the movements
on the foolhardy supposition that "his synagogue had more in common with
an Orthodox one than a Reform one."
By whose standards? Certainly not Orthodoxy's. And why would a
Conservative rabbi take pride in such a specious comparison, when
Orthodoxy decries Conservative Judaism's legitimacy?
Before considering a partnership with the Reform movement, my
Conservative co-religionists argue that Reform in Israel must separate
itself from Reform in America. Since when is guilt by association a
criteria for judging someone? That McDonald's in downtown Jerusalem is
not kosher did not prevent McDonald's at the Central Bus Station from
receiving a kashrut certificate. Should Israel's Conservative movement
disassociate itself from its American counterpart because its rabbis in
the States altered halacha so their congregants could drive to synagogue
on Shabbat (as if it would matter)?
Does one truly believe that no Conservative rabbis and lay people in
Israel drive on Shabbat? This is another case of wishful thinking. Does
a violation of Shabbat by others diminish someone else's strict Shabbat
As one Conservative rabbi from Tel Aviv remarked: "Let my rabbinic
brethren in Jerusalem spend one summer in Tel Aviv, and they will find
halachic justification to drive to the beach on Shabbat!"
WHATEVER COMPLAINTS the Conservatives have against Reform changes in the
tradition, they eventually follow suit. The Conservative movement
followed Reform's lead by instituting egalitarianism and ordaining women
- both in Israel and abroad - despite its once-resolute opposition to
such far-reaching changes in halacha. And, in the States, there are
cracks in the once impenetrable Conservative wall, with musical
instruments used to enhance Shabbat services, the ordination of gays and
lesbians, and even some grudging recognition of children of patrilineal
descent as Jews.
Would the Conservatives here deny that one of its own rabbis performs
same-sex marriages, or musical instruments are played in some of its
synagogues on Shabbat? Conservatives, on both sides of the ocean, are
fast becoming a mirror image of Reform.
The Israel Conservative movement would benefit more from an affiliation
with Israel's Reform movement than vice versa. Jerusalem's prestigious
Van Leer Institute dedicated a conference to "Contemporary Reform
Judaism," the first serious academic symposium in Israel on a
non-Orthodox religious stream of Judaism, which demonstrates that the
Reform movement's profile is substantially more visible than the
Conservative movement's. The Conservatives hitch a ride on the Reform's
Israel Religious Action Center, whose organizational activism makes it
the chief proponent for equal rights for non-Orthodox religious branches
of Judaism. And while the Reform movement's Israeli rabbinic program has
grown, the Conservative movement's has shrunk, with many Conservative
rabbis employed by Reform institutions
ULTIMATELY THEN, a merger of the two movements would be advantageous,
especially since the most liberal count of Israelis who consider
themselves Reform or Conservative does not exceed a few thousand. Why
fight over essentially the same constituents by opening competing
synagogues in the same cities and towns? Why have two educational campuses?
In merging the two movements, neither one would need to give up its
ideological worldview or ritual lifestyle. Compromise would demand that
the Reform movement adjust to the Conservative movement's halachic
leanings, but more significantly, Conservative rabbis would have to
adjust their ideology to reality. And here we will find much to build
upon, because the religious practices of the majority of Reform and
Conservative Jews in Israel (and abroad) are virtually indistinguishable.
Yes, the Reform movement views halacha as nonbinding, which is far more
honest than the Conservative approach that surreptitiously "unbinds"
halacha. But the basic fact is that both movements in Israel hold equal
religious positions on marriage, divorce, conversion and patrilineality.
Many Israelis are facing crises of faith and are seeking answers to
questions regarding the efficacy of a Jewish state that should reflect
the best of Jewish moral values. The two movements should pool their
religious, educational and financial resources so that they might make
an impact upon Israeli society, which is in need of alternative
spiritual nourishment to Orthodoxy's rigidity and paternalism - an
alternative that is creative, progressive, inclusive and responsive to
the dramatic events that continually confront our country.

To the Westerner who 'understands' the terrorist
To the Westerner who 'understands' the terrorist
By Bradley Burston
To the Westerner who "understands" the terrorist:

Spare us the explanations.

Spare us the learned, sociology-drenched justifications.
Spare us the reasons why you "get" Palestinians when they gun Jews down
in cold blood.

Spare us the chapter and verse on how the plight of the Palestinians is
at the root of Islamic terrorism the world over, and if the Palestinians
were to receive full justice, Islamic terrorism would pass from the world.

Spare us.

You may well believe, with the blind faith of the hopeful and the
fear-stricken, that when these people are through with the Jews, they
won't come for you.

Think again.

Spare us the post-modernism and the radical chic and the guff.

Open your eyes.

When a gunman walks into a Jewish religious seminary at the main
entrance to that part of Jerusalem which has been Jewish since 1948, and
which was stolen from no one, pay attention.

When he opens fire on religious students hunched over books in a
library, firing and firing until blood soaks holy book bindings and open
pages of Talmud and the whole of the floor, pay close attention to the
reactions of the self-styled people of faith who run Hamas.

Spare us the conclusion that the only reason Hamas kills Jews, and that
its underlying motive for encouraging others to do the same, is to force
Israel to agree to a cease-fire.

Spare us the "Israel's policies are responsible for the bloodshed" and
"the seminary is, after all, an ideological bastion and symbol of the
religious right" and all the other scholarly, arrogant, condescending
and amoral ways of saying "they had it coming to them."
Spare us the understanding for the motivations of the mass murderer who
kills with God on his lips. Spare us the understanding of the words of
the Hamas official who says that after all the Israeli killings of
Palestinians, the Jerusalem killings are "our only joy."

Spare us the sight of the thanksgiving prayers for the great victory,
prayers that began in Gaza City mosques just after the slaughter of the
Jews. Spare us the sight of the sweets being handed out by little
children to motorists in passing cars in the Strip, sweets to celebrate
the young Jews dead on the floor, the young Jews dead at their desks,
the Jews killed for the crime of being Jews in that place of study and

Spare us the righteousness of those who condemned Baruch Goldstein for
entering a holy place with an assault rifle and murdering Palestinians,
but who can understand why a Palestinian might do the very same thing,

Open your eyes.

Last week, when Israeli forces drove into Gaza, and some 120
Palestinians were killed, many of them were gunmen, but with children
making up another sixth of the total, one grieving father spoke with
quiet eloquence, saying "Other places in the world, when this happens,
there is a great outcry. When this happens here, the world is silent. No
one cares."

He's right. The world has grown content to let Palestinians die. The
reason is not simple callousness. And it is not, as Hamas proclaims to
its followers in Gaza, that the Jews control the world media and world
finance, and thus Western government as well.

The reason is terrorism.

The world has grown weary of the Islamist's creed, that only the armed
struggle can resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and that the only
proper resolution is the end of Israel.

Even the Israeli left, which for decades championed the Palestinian with
courage and determination, has, in large part, had it with the
Palestinians. The reason is terrorism. The reason is murder. The reason
is that the rulers of Gaza are people who see an intrinsic value in the
killing of Jews for the sake of increasing the number of dead Jews in
the world.

The rulers of Gaza cannot bring themselves to accept the concept of
sharing the Holy
Land with the Jews.

The best that the rulers of Gaza can do, is to bring an end to hope
among their own people and ours as well.

They believe that the Jewish state is temporary, and that they Jews will
soon abandon it to Islamic rule.

After all this time, you'd think they'd know the Jews a little better.

Saturday, 22 March 2008

Weekly Update 13/03/08

Dear Members,

A smaller e-mail this week with just two articles. To make up for it
I'll update you or remind you of a few items that we've been up to this
Tuesday night was our final Pro-Zion executive meeting before our AGM
(March 30th). To start our meeting we were pleased to host Menachem
Leibovic the Deputy Chairman of KKL/JNF and someone who has been very
much involved in the progressive movement in Israel over the last 30
years. He filled us in on the great progress that the movement has made
in the last year and how much Pro-Zion's influence and places in the
World Zionist Organisation has started to yield real results in the
funding and legal issues faced by progressive Judaism in Israel. We hope
Menachem will have time to write us a more detailed update for next
week's e-mail.

On Wednesday night I had a fascinating night at the panel discussion on
Israel's next 60 years hosted at Alyth Synagogue. Amongst the panel of
journalists and polticians were ZF Chair Andrew Balcombe and my Pro-Zion
Co-Chair Charlie Gluckman. Even if I wasn't a neutral observer I have to
say a big well done to Charlie who delivered an impressive, impassioned
and thought provoking piece to start off the discussion.

The next panel to have in your diary should be at the Pro-Zion AGM where
we are hosting a fantastic panel of professional educators discussing
"How do we bring Israel to our communities". Please see the link below
for the full details
If you are interested in taking on a position in Pro-Zion or helping out
in any way send us a reply to the e-mail and we will get in touch with you.

So to the two articles for the week:
1. An update from IRAC: The Israel Religious Action Center have started
an anti-corruption campaign aimed at various institutions in Israel. As
we know corruption isn't just a problem in Israel but this interesting
update gives some examples of what is going on in Israel and how IRAC is
trying to improve it.

2. An Israel Article on the JFS admissions issue: As most of our British
readers will have no doubt seen in the Jewish Chronicle a family are
taking Jewish School, JFS to court as they refused their child a place
at the school as the child's mother had not converted to Judaism in an
Orthodox ceremony. It will certainly be interesting to see how the
results of this case affect progressive Jews in the UK..

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom
Daniel and all at Pro-Zion

IRAC Update 09/03/2008 - Anti Corruption

March 9th, 2008
Dear Friend of the Israel Religious Action Center,
Needless to say, we at IRAC are still all in shock from the tragic
events of last week. Our hearts go out to the families of the victims,
as we wish rafua shlema, a speedy recovery to those who were injured.
You have surely been following the rockets flying at us from the South,
the horrifying threats arriving from the North, and the deadly events at
the end of last week which struck us at the heart of Jerusalem. Yet,
what they don't show on television is that spring has arrived to Israel,
the fields are spotted with red anemones, green grass covers every hill
and a completely friendly sun shines over the Middle East. This pastoral
atmosphere only enhances the feelings of frustration. It could have been
so beautiful here. Jews from all over the world could have gathered in
this country, and blossomed side by side in a thousand shades and
colors. Our neighbors could have experienced this vibrant bounty as
well, and we all could have enjoyed the spring year round. I am sharing
with you my thoughts of all that we are missing. You know as well as
anyone that around here one must "walk and chew gum at the same time."
You must continue dreaming of another Israel, while persisting to do
your job every day. All that you achieve in this world amounts to the
force you apply, times the distance you're willing to go. We must find
this force in order to move the issues we care about just another inch
forward. My friend, I would like to say that I would rather be in the
wrong with the dreamers, than to think I am in the right with those of
us who claim to be 'realistic'. With that, we must know how to be both
at the same time, like we say in Hebrew, lahlom b'hakitz, to dream while

IRAC's Anti-Corruption Campaign
In the past few years, Israel has seen a rise in government corruption.
According to ombudsman reports, the rabbinical and religious
institutions are rife with corruption. In Israel, religious offices and
institutions function under the auspices of the government and receive
funds from taxpayers. Other Israeli government systems are subject to
special disciplinary courts, however the employees of the religious
councils cannot be held accountable by any disciplinary system, public
or governmental. No current legislation exists capable of addressing
this issue.

Corruption in the Chief Rabbinate
IRAC has begun an Anti-Corruption Campaign in order to initiate a
clean-up of the rabbinical and religious institutions in Israel. The
Campaign's most recent legal action is the case against the Chief
(Ashkenazi) Rabbi of Israel Jonah Metzger. Rabbi Metzger was found to
have received numerous illegal gifts, duplicate government services
(double dipping), and free extended stays for himself and his family at
luxury hotels where he is responsible for the Kashrut Certificate.
Despite the police having proven his dishonest conduct beyond a
reasonable doubt, the Attorney General of Israel was unable to impeach
the Chief Rabbi--there is no existing provision for the impeachment of,
nor can any disciplinary measures be implemented against a Chief Rabbi,
though such measures exist for Members of Knesset, the President and the
Prime Minister. IRAC recently drafted new legislation that would create
disciplinary measures through which to obtain legal recourse against
Chief Rabbi Metzger and other corrupt government rabbis.
A related focus in the IRAC Anti-Corruption Campaign is the state funded
Kashrut system. In most sectors of Israeli society, the attainment of
Kashrut Certificates is integral and crucial for a successful business.
However, there is no uniformity of regulations for granting
certification, leaving the door open for corruption. This has led to
corruption in: the granting or revoking of certificates, a lack of
formal training for Kashrut supervisors and the inherent favoritism of
Ultra-Orthodox establishments. One of the most significant issues are
the abundant cases of conflict of interest in the Kashrut System. The
official employees of the System are in many instances also involved in
or owners of their own private Kashrut businesses. Officials implicated
include Chief Rabbis and members of the Chief Rabinate of Israel.

The Campaign
IRAC's Anti-Corruption Campaign is dynamic and multi-faceted. The
campaign has four elements: internet and other public media, eHotline,
legal action, and legislation. IRAC recently launched a new website to
serve the Israeli public. This website is a significant part of the
larger anti-corruption media campaign which includes advertisements
calling on Israelis to report corruption that they have encountered in
religious services like marriage, burial, and Kashrut certification for
restaurants and caterers. The website hosts the eHotline for the
Anti-Corruption Campaign and will include a list of rights that Israeli
citizens have in regards to religious services and freedom of religion.
The Hotline provides invaluable evidence that can lead to legal action.
IRAC will be able file petitions with the intention of forcing the
government to implement disciplinary measures over employees of
religious councils who remain the only government employees for whom
there is no oversight, accountability, or prescribed disciplinary measures.

News from the Anti-Corruption Hotline
There was recently a terrible incidence of corruption reported to the
IRAC Anti-Corruption Hotline. A section of Mount Zion, an area of
Jerusalem that is home to many holy sites of all faiths, has recently
been taken over by a local boys' religious school, Yeshivat Hatfutzot.
The male students of this Yeshiva have taken over public property and
imposed their rule over the local residents and visiting tourists. A
Christian tourist hoping to visit a church in the area was denied
access, and several residents, including a widow and a local artist,
have been harassed and violently attacked for not adhering to the
Ultra-Orthodox rules of the Yeshiva students. Unfortunately no action
has been taken by police to control their behavior because of their
religious affiliation. The Legal Department is reviewing the evidence to
defend the widow and the artist (whose arm was broken) and force the
state to take action against the Yeshiva.

Building a Just State
The first goal of the IRAC Anti-Corruption Campaign is to create a
public awareness. The campaign is promoting a culture of openness,
inviting and encouraging the Israeli public to report cases of
corruption in the religious system regarding, for example, burial
services, weddings, and the Kashrut system, all aspects of Israeli life
that fall under publicly-funded religious institutions. IRAC will use
these cases as the impetus for the introduction of new legislation and
rulings by the court. There must be new legislation created that will
make it possible to address corruption in religious services directly
and will lead to disciplinary actions by the courts. Ultimately, the
Anti-Corruption Campaign will create a public atmosphere that no longer
tolerates corruption.

U.K. Jewish school sued for barring pupil over conversion

U.K. Jewish school sued for barring pupil over conversion

By Anshel Pfeffer, Haaretz Correspondent, and Saul Sadka
A British couple is suing the largest and oldest Jewish high school over
the school's refusal to accept their son as a student because his mother
did not convert in an Orthodox ceremony.

The case, now before the High Court in London, has attracted wide media
attention in the U.K. and is a source of contention in the Jewish

Most of the 1,900 students in the Jewish Free School (JFS), founded in
1732,do not come from Orthodox homes. Nevertheless, the school is
identified with the central stream of British Jewry, the United
Synagogue, which accepts the authority of the London Beth Din, or
rabbinic court. The London rabbinic court is considered more strict on
matters of conversion than rabbinic courts in Israel.

The parents, who have remained anonymous, describe as racist and illegal
the school's refusal to accept their son because his mother was
converted to Judaism in a Conservative ceremony. They say this is racist
and illegal because the school receives government funding.

Other couples whose children were refused entry by the JFS have also
joined the suit.

One of the parents, David Lightman, father of 14-year-old Maya, said his
wife underwent an Orthodox conversion in Israel 20 years ago, and
although they keep a kosher home, go to synagogue every Saturday and are
very active in the community, the London religious court said she had
not been sincere in her conversion because he is a Cohen (descendant of
a priest), and according to Jewish law should not marry a convert.

"Fundamentally it is running a racist admissions policy. You could eat
bacon every day and have no problem but a religiously practicing Jew
cannot attend," Lightman told Haaretz last month.

"There is a small cabal at the top that has Anglo-Jewry by the throat
and holds the Chief Rabbi in the palm of their hands," he added.

"[Chief Rabbi] Jonathan Sacks won't speak to us, we are very much pawns
in this situation," says Lightman. "I am an ex-pupil, my sisters
attended the school, my wife is head of English yet they will not take
my daughter," he says.

According to Rabbi Danny Rich, chief executive of the Liberal Judaism
movement in Britain, "the acceptance policy of the school is
discriminatory and motivated by political considerations. They are
trying to shore up the beth din and the United Synagogue establishment,
while 35 percent of British Jews belong to Reform and Liberal streams.
JFS is state-funded and should serve the entire Jewish community."

A spokesman for the school declined to respond during the hearing. But
in a position paper the school released, it said no discriminatory
policy existed and argued that according to British law, it was within
its rights to prefer certain students in keeping with rules set for the
school by Britain's chief rabbi.

The British Department of Education responded that "the ministry does
not intervene in internal school policy."

What is really going on is a power struggle between the British Chief
rabbinate and its Israeli counterpart," says Geoffrey Alderman, an
academic involved in the case. "The Chief Rabbi wants the London Beit
Din to be the only body competent to convert British people anywhere in
the world. Mrs Lightman is merely a pawn in this dispute," he adds.

Sunday, 9 March 2008

Update 06/03/2008

Dear Members,

Last weekend, Charlie and Daniel attended a young adult leadership
seminar in Paris organised by the ZF's young adult programme Israel
Connect. The programme brings together young adults from all over Europe
to learn together and to share experiences. With speakers from the
Jewish Agency, and the head of the Israel Project, it was an
informative weekend.

Please find a flyer attached for an event next week. Alyth Synagogue
are hosting an interesting panel discussion on 'Israel and Zionism: the
next 60 years'. On the panel will be Daniel Finkelstein OBE (Associate
Editor of the Times), Ian Black (Associate Editor of the Guardian),
Lorna Fitzsimons (CEO of Bicom), Andrew Balcombe (Chair of ZF), and
Charlie Gluckman (co-Chair of Pro Zion). The panel is to be chaired by
Walter Goldsmith (Chairman Jewish Music Institute). As well as coming
to support Charlie, this will be an interesting discussion and we hope
to see you there.

Please also find attached more interesting articles relevant to us as
Progressive Zionists. The first is an article outlining the Jewish
Agency's reaction to the new State Conversion Authority. Part of the
Jewish Agency's impetus for their demands is due to the influence that
ARZENU has been able to establish in WZO and the Jewish Agency. This
issue is a great example of how support for Pro Zion has a direct affect
on the State.

Secondly, we have an article written by our very own Mira Sasic, about
her experiences at a seminar at Beit Shmuel organised by the Anita Saltz
Education Centre. The report speaks for itself; if you would like any
more information about the Anita Saltz Education Centre please visit

Finally, please find attached information about an Israeli charity named
Yad Ezra V'Shulamit, that aids the poverty stricken in Israel. If you
are interested in donating to this charity then please visit

We also like to hear from you, so please do keep in touch.

Shabbat Shalom,

Charlie, Daniel and all at Pro Zion

Israel Panel featuring Pro Zion Chair!

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

Being at the Amazing Beutel Seminar

Being at the Amazing Beutel Seminar
by Mira Sasic

At the end of January the representatives of the Reform communities from
5 continents came together to the Beutel ten-day Seminar for Progressive
Jewish Leadership and Learning organised by the Anita Saltz
International Education Centre in Jerusalem.

I was a very proud member of Alyth synagogue when I entered the room 403
at the World Union for Progressive Judaism where we had most of our
talks and discussions and saw a plaque 'Donated by NWRS in London'. All
walls in Mercaz Shimshon / Beit Shmuel, headquarters of the WUPJ are
covered in plaques showing the commitment of individuals, families,
synagogues and other Jewish groups to Progressive Judaism and Jewish

Actually all over Israel you could witness how the country was built and
developed over the last 60 years through various donations and
contributions marked on the benches in the parks, kindergartens,
schools, Magen David Adom ambulances, hospitals and many buildings and
monuments. You could feel everywhere how important and essential it is
to continue supporting Israel and strengthen the ties between the
Diaspora and our Jewish State.

That's why we gathered at the seminar. We had two sessions with a
remarkable educator Steve Israel about the First Temple Period in
David's City and the Second Temple Period in the Israel Museum and the
Jewish Quarter of the Old City. We all heard something new about our
roots and felt strong belonging to our historic homeland where our
ancestors had been creating our Jewish tradition.

We spent memorable few hours with the most inspirational Rabbi Michael
Klein-Katz on the promenade and on the roof of his house overlooking
magnificent Jerusalem and the controversial fence/wall. We discussed the
ethical issues within the Jewish society and in relationship between
Jews and Arabs, the challenges in maintaining security for Israelis and
honouring the Palestinian human rights.

We also had privilege to be at Mount Hertzl with another wonderful
educator Paul Liptz whose uplifting lectures I remembered from Limmud.
We visited Ben-Gurion's hut and grave in Sde Boker with him and spent
two lovely days in the Reform kibbutzim: ecological Lotan and adjusting
to the new economic reality Yahel.

This is just a taste of Beutel. We experienced much more while walking
Jerusalem through the Psalms with Rabbi David Wilfond, praying in the
mornings with Rabbi Levi Wieman-Kelman of Kol Haneshama in Jerusalem and
listening to Rabbi Meir Azari of Beit Daniel about the projects in Tel
Aviv. We met with the leadership of the Israel Movement for Progressive
Judaism and the Israel Religious Action Centre who spoke about their
work on protecting and defending freedom of religion and on
strengthening the democratic character of Israeli society.

At the end of the seminar the participants expressed the heartiest
gratitude to the organisers Elyse Leifer-Anker, the educational
coordinator who took care about our wellbeing during the seminar, and
certainly Rabbi Rich Kirschen, the director of the Saltz International
Education Center. Not only that we discussed power and powerlessness of
Israel with Rabbi Rich, visited the Kotel tunnels and Yad Vashem with
him, we also experienced the most moving moment of the seminar. At the
Tzriffin Army base one of the carriages in which the Jews were taken to
the concentration camps was turned into a memorial museum. We stood in
the circle in that carriage and holding each others hands we sang
Hatikva. We remembered six million lives lost in the Holocaust with
tears in our eyes and with pride that we are in our Jewish State
celebrating its 60th birthday. We agreed that Israel is still young, it
faces a lot of problems and challenges but it achieved a lot within a
short period of time.

At the Beutel Seminar I made new friends and I felt like I met family I
never knew I had in Australia, Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, Canada,
Belgium, Spain, Hungary, Poland, Germany, and of course Israel and the
UK. I fell even more in love with Judaism and felt committed to the
Progressive Jewish values more than ever.

Due to the generosity of Austin and Nani Beutel and the Saltz family we
have got this enriching opportunity of Jewish learning. Please visit the
Saltz site to find out more about how you can have
the most wonderful Jewish experience yourself.

Agency demands Conversion Authority be more independent

Agency demands Conversion Authority be more independent
Controversy over a new State Conversion Authority is simmering on with
the Jewish Agency demanding this week that the government grant the new
authority greater independence from the Prime Minister's Office.
"The agency has been trying for more than 10 years to change the
conversion process in Israel, which is scandalous," explained agency
chairman Ze'ev Bielski. "The Jewish nation doesn't deserve a conversion
process like this."
The new authority was formally established by the government three weeks
ago, replacing the old authority of the same name. Conversion advisers,
more hands-on religious studies and new buildings for the conversion
court are all part of the reform.
The new authority was created to streamline the conversion process of
hundreds of thousands of non-Jewish olim who came to Israel as relatives
of Jews and, the government believes, wished to convert. About half of
the estimated 300,000 members of this group have expressed an interest
in converting, according to government officials, but most were turned
away from the process by stringent demands for religious observance and
an "unfriendly" bureaucratic environment. Only some 2,000 convert each
The Jewish Agency's Board of Governors, which met in Jerusalem this
week, issued the call to the government after a vociferous debate in the
agency's Committee for the Unity of the Jewish People heard criticism
that the current status of the new authority limits its independence.
It is currently classified as a department of the Prime Minister's
Office, making it subject to the PMO's labor union, legal adviser and
financial control. In its unanimous call, the 120-member agency board
called for the conversion authority to be given the status of a
government authority, similar to the independent status of the Chief
Rabbinate, which would allow it to conduct separate hiring practices,
oversee its own budget and not be subject to junior PMO officials.
The agency also called for the approval of 50 new volunteer rabbinic
judges, whose appointment has been held up by Attorney-General Menahem
Mazuz and the legal adviser's office in the PMO out of concern over the
legality of unpaid public servants wielding authority over a citizen's
conversion process.
The idea of the volunteer judges came from former justice minister
Yaakov Neeman, and was intended "to create a class of judges who perform
conversions out of a desire to solve an acute problem," not just to hold
a government job, said one of the participants in the Jewish Agency
The volunteer judges would still be chosen by Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar.
The agency also called for the government to work more closely with the
Institute for Jewish Studies, the conversion education program
established by the government and the Jewish Agency according to the
recommendations of the Neeman Commission.
The PMO and Absorption Ministry would not respond to requests for comment.
At the semi-official institute, aspiring converts study Judaism from a
pluralistic perspective that incorporates all the religious streams, but
undergo an Orthodox conversion at the State Conversion Authority.
The new authority was established based on the recommendations of the
Halfon Committee, headed by Absorption Ministry Dir.-Gen. Erez Halfon
and including representatives of the Education Ministry, Jewish Agency,
Conversion Authority in the Prime Minister's Office and the IDF.

Yad Ezra V’Shulamit

Yad Ezra V'Shulamit

Yad Ezra V'Shulamit provides weekly food supplements, vocational
training and educational materials for needy families in Israel. In
addition, we strive to attain jobs for the unemployed.
Unfortunately, our needs are great and our resources are limited. In
addition to the current 2,500 families who we presently help with weekly
food baskets, the Minister of Welfare has requested us to adopt families
that do not meet their criteria. In order to take one child off this
list we need a commitment of $100 a month or $1,200 for the year.
To our dismay, we have also recently discovered that some mothers have
been taking the drastic measure of diluting baby formula in order to
make it last longer! A donation of $800 a month would enable us to
provide one month's worth of formula for twenty five babies.
This is our latest effort to aid the poverty stricken here in Israel:
Recently there have been deaths among the needy due to the cold wave we
have been experiencing. We, at Yad Ezra VeShulamit, despite our budget
constraints, have provided $62,000 worth of heaters and blankets to
those who are finding it difficult to keep warm this winter in Israel.
We appreciate any contribution you can give us to help defray this cost
and to help us continue to provide assistance to the needy. Every
donation helps.
Aryeh Lurie, the founder of Yad Ezra V'Shulamit, couldn't sleep at night
thinking how a person in 2008 could die from cold. So what did he do? He
went out and ordered 1600 blankets and heaters, announced on the radio
that anyone who is cold can come to Yad Ezra V'Shulamit ( and pick up relief.
Thousands of people came, and are still coming. "You can't sit by and do
nothing while people are suffering",said Mr. Lurie.
He would know. He grew up in Israel and knew the pangs of hunger as a
child. He formed the organization Yad Ezra V'Shulamit which today feeds
thousands of children and familes throughout Israel. He is the firstline
response to any suffering in Israel.
During the Lebanon War, people called Yad Ezra V'Shulamit from the bomb
shelters with no food, water or basic supplies. Braving the bombs, Mr.
Lurie traveled from one bomb shelter to another, delivering the much
needed sustenance, as well as diapers and other basic necessities.
"We want to do for these Jewish children and families like we would do
for our own," said Mr. Lurie. "It can't be that people die from the cold
while I sit in my warm house. I had to do something."
Each heater costs approximately $30 and each blanket costs $20. "People
should think what it feels like to be cold. For $50, you can end a lot
of suffering and even save a life. Is it not worth it to skip going out
to dinner one night and make sure Jewish children are warm in Israel?"
Your contribution will make a difference.
To donate, please go to . In Israel,
please call 02-5400111.

Thank you!

28th February Update

Dear Members,

Another packed e-mail for you with 4 articles attached.
We've had another busy week at Pro-Zion. Our latest newsletter and
renewals form is at the printers and we hope to have it at your door
in the next couple of weeks. Our AGM is looking fantastic. We've had a
great meeting to set our budget for the next year and beyond. To
finish off the week both my Co-Chair Charlie and myself are off to
Paris this weekend with the Zionist Federation to participate in their
Young Leadership program along with Jewish Zionist leaders from across
Europe. We'll report back on the conference next week.

So on to the articles.

1. The first article is about Rabbi Miri Gold and husband, veterans of
kibbutz Gezer. The story is a wonderful tale of life and Israel.

2. Rabbi Michael Marmur provides a critique of Shas and some of the
outrageous statements they have come out with in recent weeks.

3. An artice about a new secular cemetery in Israel - surprisingly in

4. An article about the future relationship between the Jewish Agency
and the WZO. Our friends in the Progressive Zionist movement are busy
at Jewish Agency meetings this week and we will keep you updated of
any news there is.

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom
Daniel, Charlie and all at Pro Zion

Donors seek unpolitical Jewish Agency

Donors seek unpolitical Jewish Agency
Discussions taking place in the Jewish Agency look set to dramatically
change the Zionist movement.
As its Board of Governors meets in Jerusalem this week, discussions will
be held among its officials and representatives of donor organizations
in an effort to reduce the influence of Israeli political parties and
the World Zionist Organization in the agency's governing bodies, The
Jerusalem Post has learned.
The WZO, founded by Theodor Herzl at the First Zionist Congress in Basel
in 1897, is the umbrella organization of Zionist groups worldwide,
including the Zionist parties in the Knesset.
It selects about half the agency's 120-member Board of Governors and
half the agency's 26-member executive committee. In this way, the
"parliament of the Zionist movement" has significant influence over
Jewish Agency operations. (The other half of the Jewish Agency's
leadership comes from the fundraising bodies: the North American United
Jewish Communities (UJC) and the worldwide Keren Hayesod-United Israel
This structure has come under persistent criticism from donors, mostly
in America, as needlessly "politicizing" a Jewish Agency that, with
Israel's creation, long ago ceased to be the political arm of Zionism.
With aliya down dramatically, and even well-funded private initiatives
such as Nefesh B'Nefesh and AMI failing to produce dramatic waves of
aliya, the agency is now seen by donors primarily as a vehicle for
Diaspora philanthropy to social projects in Israel and the former Soviet
As such, say a growing number of American donors and UJC officials, it
is high time to weaken, and even to sever, the control that ideological
movements within the WZO - Zionist groups, parties in the Knesset and
religious streams in North America - exercise over Jewish Agency
The immediate debate raging within the agency deals with the WZO's
funding, half of which (around $7.8 million) comes from the Jewish
Agency. The current funding contract between the two organizations will
expire at the end of 2008, and some donors are pushing to completely
free the WZO from reliance on agency funds.
Proposals raised in December and January - including at a Jewish Agency
Governance Committee meeting in New York a month ago - include giving
the WZO a $70m. endowment that would provide around $4m. for its budget
annually, while the $7.8m. provided by the Jewish National Fund would
continue and another $4m. would be raised from other sources.
According to one Jewish Agency board member, the move isn't just due to
American donors' dislike of the WZO apparatus.
"When you have a 20 percent drop in the value of the dollar operating in
Israel, the money [the Jewish Agency] is bringing in is declining
rapidly. So the agency has to do something to stabilize itself," the
board member said.
As for weakening WZO participation in the Jewish Agency, the sides are
engaged in heated debate.
"We're talking about depoliticizing the WZO - whether the political
parties should have the same influence they've had historically," a
senior Jewish Agency official told the Post. "And why should the
religious streams, which are almost all North Americans, sit on the
[agency] board through the WZO rather than a separate group?"
Faced with such talk, including calls to reduce WZO representation from
nearly 50% of the board of governors to 25% and even less, some WZO
activists are responding in kind.
"Some of us in the WZO are thinking about voluntary disengagement," said
the World Likud's Danny Danon, a member of the WZO executive. "Why
should we be a little decoration with 10% representation on the board?
In that case, we'd rather be a separate organization, with our own ties
to the government of Israel and the Jewish world, and our own fundraising."
According to a Jewish Agency official, the agency would be more damaged
than the WZO by a potential split: "If the agency divorces itself of the
WZO, why would the UJC continue to fund the agency? They won't be seen
as a representative umbrella, but as just another charity. Isn't the
Jewish Agency cutting off its nose to spite its face?"
Danon agrees. "They say we're politicized, but they forget that the
prime minister of Israel and all Israeli society relates to the Jewish
Agency in a special way because of this unique relationship," he said
reduce the number of WZO representatives in the agency would be
difficult, said a senior agency official. "It would require a change in
the bylaws of the agency, but the non-WZO representatives [from the UJC
and Keren Hayesod] don't have the numbers to create the change. So it
can't be forced; it has to be consensual," the official said.
Among the most distressed over these developments are the Reform and
Conservative movements, who, as it is, have just single-digit
representation among the 120-member Board of Governors.
With their Jewish Agency representation, the American streams work to
provide funding to their sister movements in Israel, the Progressive and
Masorti movements. These funds, which amount to around $1.8m. annually
to each movement out of a Jewish Agency budget of about $377m., are
meant to offset the lack of government funds for non-Orthodox
institutions in Israel.
"The movements are very worried," said one Jewish Agency Board of
Governors member. "They can defend that funding only as long as they
have a seat at the table."
However, a board representative from one of the movements downplayed the
concern. "There is no intent to lower our voice in the Jewish Agency,"
he said. "It's important for the movements to be there because we
represent a sizable segment of Jews worldwide. I don't believe the
funding [to the Israeli movements] would be cut even if we weren't there."

Rabbi Marmur on Shas

Reform Reflections:
Shas - all shook up
Members of the Shas Party have contributed much to understanding and
tolerance over the last few weeks in Israel. Two weeks ago it was Nissim
Ze'ev, who likened the prevalence of homosexuality in Israel to the
phenomenon of Avian Flu, and suggested that only radical action similar
to the mass culling of chickens could help root out this abomination.
Last week it was Shlomo Benizri, who has suggested that the most
efficient way for the government to protect against the threat of
earthquakes would be to abolish homosexual practices, since it is a
well-known scientific fact that homosexuality causes earthquakes.
Now there is an important difference between these two learned
contributions to the public debate on sexual orientation and public
health. The reference to bird flu is certainly an original insight of MK
Zeev, who certainly deserves all the credit for this breakthrough in
immunology. This is not the case with regards to MK Benizri, who has not
been slow to point out that he has done nothing more than quote our
sacred sources.
It is indeed the case that both in the Jerusalem Talmud (Berakhot,
Chapter 9, Halakhah 3, 13c) and in the Midrash on Psalms (both 18 and
118), as well as in later anthologies of Midrash, a statement can be
found according to which the phenomenon of earthquakes is ascribed to
prohibited homosexual activity. The explanation provided is a clear
example of a microcosmic world view: that which happens in the human
domain is played out in the heavens. Paraphrasing for the sake of our
more sensitive readers (the Talmud is often X-rated, or demands at least
Parental Guidance), the logic offered is as follows: since the earth
moved for you by becoming excited in an inappropriate way, so I, the
Creator of the World, will make my earth move on account of your
I heard Benizri on the radio recently, and he was in robust form:
repentance was not what he had in mind. He argued that the world was
silent when opponents of Shas lambast Ultra-Orthodox Jews and accuse
them of being obscurantist parasites, but suddenly everyone gets
agitated when a rabbi quotes from our sacred sources. In short, the
world is going to hell in a handbasket.
There is nothing wrong in pointing out the inadequacies and
inconsistencies of the free press in Israel, but it is difficult to see
Benizri's defence as anything other than an elaborate diversion. He is
saying to us: if you want to talk about gay rights, I want to talk about
the rights of my constituency to respect (and also massive subsidies).
Behind the smokescreen of outrage, something else is going on here.
These religio-politicians are presenting a picture of Judaism and its
place in the world which goes like this: the Talmud is the source of our
values, and it provides us with the Truth. All we need to do is to quote
it as it is - if you don't agree with it, the problem is all yours.
I disagree profoundly with this approach to Judaism, and for that matter
to life. I believe that all we can ever do in a particular context and
generation is to search for the values by which we might best live. As a
Jew, I am part of a tradition which offers an extraordinarily rich
reservoir of moral insights and ethical tenets - I know of no greater
But the Judaism of which I am a part is one which considers the human
story as one comprising both decline and advance, both backsliding and
forward-thinking. On the question of sexual orientation, I believe that
we know more today than once was known about how our urges and
preferences come to expression. I look at my friends in caring same-sex
relationships, and I ask myself: is this the love which causes
earthquakes? If anything, it's the centuries of repression and denial,
the pain caused by an inability to face up to who we are which has
stored up enough frustration to account for any number of volcanic
eruptions and seismic shifts. The love which dared not speak its name is
now out of the closet, and that is something for which all of us should
thank God. In a way, this has caused an earthquake: it has forced us to
look again at our notions of Love and Family. It's worth remembering
that the passage quoted relates to the teaching that an earthquake is
something over which a blessing should be recited
Rabbi Acha, in whose name the earthquake tradition is to be found, was
using a metaphor. He was expressing his own belief that homosexual
relations were an aberration, and using it to cope with the Divine
aberration of natural disasters. In my version of Judaism, acknowledging
that the love between two adults of the same sex is a fact for me to
accept and celebrate encourages me to find new metaphors. It is the
constant interplay of changing moral insight and the religious
vocabulary of our tradition which has kept Judaism changing and growing.
Looking to the Talmud for insights and values is a wonderful idea.
Looking to it for geological analysis and contemporary social policy is
courting disaster.
So blaming homosexuals for earthquakes is really about how we want to
live our lives as moral and faithful human beings. Using the excuse that
it says so in the Talmud is no excuse: it represents a denial of the
notion that Judaism grows and evolves through time and in culture. The
God in whom I believe wants me to grapple and grow, not to mock and shrink.
And besides, there's a great deal to quote in the Talmud: in each
generation it is up to us to choose what we wish to quote. It is worth
reading further in the Talmudic passage to which MK Benizri referred.
Another explanation for the existence of earthquakes is given in the
name of Rabanan, the Sages as a collective: they say it is the continued
existence of fruitless conflicts which causes a shift in the Richter
Scale. It's lucky the MK didn't quote this in the Knesset - there might
have been a landslide.

Veterans: From America to Kibbutz Gezer

Veterans: From America to Kibbutz Gezer

Rabbi Miri Gold and David Leichman
From Detroit/New York to Kibbutz Gezer, 1977/1976
Though gezer means "carrot" in modern Hebrew, the kibbutz that bears its
name sits on a green swath of land near Ramle that was known as Gezer a
good 1,000 years before the orange vegetable came to share the word.
Yet the edible connotation is appropriate for the longtime home of David
Leichman and his wife of 30 years, Rabbi Miri Gold. The pair met in the
kitchen of the kibbutz and have chopped many a carrot side by side.
Gold was raised in a Zionist household in Detroit; Leichman in one in
Queens, New York.
"Although we didn't know each other, we have a very similar story," says
Leichman. "We both grew up in Conservative families, who even used the
same cookbook, Jewish Cookery."
Both visited Israel for the first time in 1966 on high-school programs
that would change the course of their lives. For Gold, the seven-week
trip led to a decision to come back for her junior year of college.
"After that year, I knew I wanted to come back here to live. I just
didn't know exactly when or how," she says. "When the Yom Kippur War
came, it speeded up my plans." She spent three months in the kitchen of
Kibbutz Grofit just after the war, determined to return.
For Leichman, the visit led to a position as regional head of United
Synagogue Youth's Israel Committee. He, too, returned to Israel to start
college, but the pull of late-1960s social revolution drew him back to
finish school in the US and immerse himself in Israel activism.
During the summers of 1971 and 1973, he led American Zionist Youth
Federation trips to Israel and later worked for the Jewish Agency and
the Hillel Foundation for Jewish Campus Life. Upon moving to Berkeley,
California, after graduation, he headed the Northwest Region of Young
Judaea. There, he and several like-minded friends prepared for aliya by
learning practical skills such as cooking and shoemaking.
Unbeknown to him, Gold had also moved to Berkeley, where she connected
with a seed group, or garin, planning to move together to Israel.
By 1974, the group had decided to go to Gezer, a defunct kibbutz with a
long history, waiting to be given new life.
"Our garin wanted a community that would not fit into the secular or
religious kibbutz model," Gold says. "We agreed we wanted to have a
kosher kitchen, so most people could feel comfortable eating here. At
the same time, we were going to try to create a liberal Jewish
community, blending where we came from - mostly Conservative and Reform
homes - with Israeli Judaism, a lot of which comes from the kibbutz
Driven by identical goals, Leichman had joined the garin and made aliya
in October 1976. Gold arrived in February, just as the group completed
10 weeks of ulpan.
After learning farming, factory and fixing skills for six months at
Kibbutz Tzora ("I think everyone in our garin had a degree in humanities
or social sciences," says Gold with a smile), she and Leichman found
themselves running the kitchen of what would become their lifelong home.
To her disappointment, Gold saw that the religious ideals of the group
weren't translating to reality. "Everybody was struggling to figure out
how to make the place work on a daily basis and the Jewish thing never
really took off," she recalls.
Soon, however, the kibbutz secured a Torah and invited Levi Kelman, a
newly minted Conservative rabbi who now leads Kehilat Kol Haneshama in
Jerusalem. He remained at Gezer for four years and officiated at Gold's
much-delayed bat mitzva.
After marrying in 1979, Gold and Leichman got involved in activities
such as clandestine trips to the Soviet Union on behalf of the
government, along with Leichman's father, Gil, who now lives here half
the year.
Leichman went from the kitchen to the vineyards, and then ran
educational seminars for the kibbutz movement. Drafted in December 1980,
he served four months as an army cook.
"After basic training, I came back to the kibbutz and they said they
wanted me to build houses. I said, 'You've got the wrong guy,' because
to this day I can't change a light bulb or hang a shelf straight."
But build he did - more than 50 houses and other structures for the next
six years. During that time he and Gold were also building a family.
Eliora was born in 1981, Arishai in 1984. Then the kibbutz movement sent
them as emissaries to the Boston college community. They spent nearly
three years there, and their son Alon was born just five weeks before
their return to Gezer in 1989.
While in Boston, Leichman often asked people what symbols or experiences
made them feel Jewish. "Beyond food, I heard 'synagogue' and 'rabbi' and
'Torah' and 'candles' and 'wine' and 'Shabbat,' but the word 'Israel'
rarely came up," he says.
This discovery sparked idea to build an educational nature park at the
kibbutz to promote an understanding of the essential tie between Jews
and the land. For the past 15 years now, about 10,000 visitors -
students, clergy, tourists and prisoners - come each year for hands-on
learning experiences at the park, called Pinat Shorashim, under
Leichman's direction.
Despite their culinary beginnings - both are still enthusiastic chefs -
Gold and Leichman became renowned for other pursuits.
Gold became the third female Reform rabbi in Israel. This accomplishment
had its roots in her determination to continue what Kelman had
started.From learning how to lead services and give bar and bat mitzva
lessons, she made the logical leap and enrolled in rabbinical school at
Hebrew Union College in Jerusalem in 1994. The kibbutz gave its
blessing. "We agreed that I could be a better breadwinner for the
kibbutz as a rabbi," she says.
Since her 1999 ordination, she has been overseeing religious life at the
kibbutz - everything from securing paper goods for its recent Tu Bishvat
seder to visiting the sick and teaching classes. The Gezer synagogue
became Kehilat Birkat Shalom, a regional Reform congregation.
In the meantime, Leichman initiated Arab-Jewish friendship enterprises
in nearby Ramle. He also turned his passion for softball into a
well-known league and was instrumental in constructing, at Gezer, what
is now the home field for the Israel Baseball League's Beit Shemesh Blue
Sox and Modi'in Miracles.
Alon Leichman combines IDF service with his professional career pitching
for the Blue Sox.
"Hebrew," says Leichman. "I'm fluent, but I can't say that my Hebrew is
as good as my English."
For Gold, the hardest obstacle has been political. "Israel is not the
democracy it's supposed to be," she says. "There clearly isn't
separation of church and state."
"It is filled with challenges of bringing the kind of Judaism that is
meaningful to me to this country, along with issues of gender equality,
environment and Arab-Jewish relations," says Leichman.
"I feel at home," says Gold. "And yet I also feel in some ways removed.
Home always has good things and bad things about it."
"Have a sense of humor," says Gold. "Balance that with assertiveness to
make sure you get what you deserve."
"Believe in the future," adds Leichman.

Jerusalem To Allow Secular Burials

Jerusalem To Allow Secular Burials

By Nathan Jeffay

Jerusalem - Lior Brand, a Tel Aviv businessman in his thirties, has some
ideas about death — specifically, his own.
"I don't lead a religious life, and neither do my parents or my wife,
but we like ceremony," Brand said. "I want a ceremony that reflects the
way I lead my life. I feel as close to the religious people here in
Israel as I do to the religious people of India."
As of two years from now, Brand and other secular Israelis like him will
be able to rest in peace, without the piety. On January 31, Jerusalem's
ultra-Orthodox mayor, Uri Lupolianski, made the announcement that the
city will build a secular cemetery. Until now, burials in Jerusalem —
which are funded by the state — have been conducted by burial societies
that are aligned with Orthodox Judaism. This was true even if the
deceased belonged to a Reform or Conservative synagogue, or shunned
religion altogether.
But now, approximately 12 acres of the capital's burial space will be
devoted to the new secular cemetery. It will be run by a nongovernmental
organization called Menucha Nechona, which takes its name from the
liturgical phrase meaning "proper rest." There will be no rules on
gender separation at burials, and ceremonies will be run entirely in
accordance with the family's wishes, following any rite or none.
"Jerusalem is a pluralistic city which requires letting each person
choose his lifestyle and burial style without coercion of one form or
the other," Lupolianski declared.
Over the decades, the Orthodox-only burial practice offended a number of
people — not only because other rites were ruled out, but also because
strict gender separation is often enforced through ceremonies and
because intermarried couples cannot be buried in the same cemetery
This resentment has intensified in recent years. In 1996, a court ruling
called on the government to provide a non-Orthodox burial for anyone who
so desired, but the situation remained the same. A lucrative private
market has cropped up, creating a situation in which those without
savings must accept an Orthodox burial — unless their families are
prepared for them to be buried far south in the one existing public
secular cemetery in the Negev Desert — while the better off can afford
choice. Some people have begun to take advantage of private burial
arrangements on kibbutzim, which typically cost $6,500.
"Burials on kibbutzim are becoming increasingly popular," said Shalom
Naim, who runs the operation on Kibbutz Einat near Tel Aviv. "When we
started offering burial 12 years ago, there were 15 a year at first.
Five years ago there were 60. Today there are 80 to 100."
According to Irit Rosenblum, head of an advocacy group that works to
break the rabbinic monopoly over lifecycle rites, although the 1996
ruling and the private market have highlighted the issue, it is
demographic factors that have forced this move.
Thousands of immigrants from Russia who may have Jewish ancestry but are
often not considered to be Jews under Jewish religious law now live in
Israel. Some regard themselves as Christians and will be buried in
churchyards, but others have a Jewish identity and will want a Jewish
"This makes burial a key issue for the state," Rosenblum said.
The matter has been raised in Knesset, where the chairman of the
left-wing Meretz Party, Yossi Beilin, recently drew a parallel with the
Orthodox monopoly over marriage, which leads some citizens to travel to
nearby countries to wed under civil law. But, he noted, "secular
Israelis can't just go to Cyprus to be buried."
This problem leavesMenucha Nechona, which has been entrusted with
overseeing the new burial practices, with the task of satisfying two
very different groups.
The first group includes people who the Orthodox establishment has
traditionally insisted on dealing with even if they would prefer
otherwise. This is made up of individuals who are considered Jewish
under religious law but may prefer a secular, Reform, Conservative or
otherwise non-Orthodox burial.
The second group includes those who consider themselves Jews but are
rejected by the Orthodox burial system, because they are not regarded as
Jewish by the Orthodox rabbinate according to religious criteria.
Menucha Nechona has developed a philosophy for dealing with both
"We believe that everyone who feels and acts as a Jew should be buried
as a Jew, and that everyone should be buried in the manner they want,"
said Ze'ev Kunda, who runs the organization.
The new approach offers a solution for intermarried couples, who until
now have been placed in different cemeteries if buried by the state. In
the secular cemetery, anybody married to a Jew will be automatically
admitted. It also clarifies the situation of people who regard
themselves as being in common-law marriages, as well as gay and lesbian
couples. In Orthodox cemeteries, a connection is only recognised between
blood relatives and couples married under a chuppah. At the secular
cemetery, any two people will be able to request adjoining plots.
Non-Orthodox synagogue movements will be permitted to run their own
"This is much needed for us," said Anat Hoffman, who directs the Reform
movement's Israel Religious Action Center. "In Orthodoxy there is just
one way of doing things, which does not suit our members, or many other
"We will be able to allow people to create the funerals they want. If
people want Mozart instead of El Malei Rachamim," she said, referring to
the traditional mourning prayer, "that is fine."