We are writing today from Israel, where we have been attending the Board of Governors Meetings of The Jewish Agency for Israel, one of the Federation system’s longtime overseas partners.
As you may have read, the Government of Israel made two unexpected decisions on Sunday, which — unless reversed or significantly modified — will have serious and negative implications regarding the nature of Israeli society in the future and its relationship with Diaspora Jewry. As a result of pressure from certain factions within the governing coalition, a decision was made to suspend the hard-fought compromise regarding the accessibility of the Kotel (Western Wall) to Reform and Conservative groups wishing to use the space for prayer. In addition, the Cabinet made the decision to allow a piece of legislation to advance, one which would have the effect of giving the Chief Rabbinate the exclusive right to control the conversion process in the State, a significant and troubling change from the status quo.
As a result of these decisions, The Jewish Agency leadership revamped the entire agenda of our meetings, focusing almost exclusively on determining the most effective means of encouraging the Government to reverse or amend its decisions. Remarkably, a resolution was passed unanimously (not a common occurrence at Jewish Agency meetings!). Multiple meetings also have already taken place with various elected officials — including the Prime Minister himself, and yesterday there was a memorable meeting with more than 25 Members of Knesset — members of the Lobby for Strengthening the Jewish World — in which MKs from both the coalition and the opposition voiced regret for the decision, understanding its importance to our work in the Diaspora. They pledged to work with us to find a constructive and satisfactory path forward on both issues.
We are gratified to report to you that all these meetings have been characterized by tremendous respect and complete civility, and the depth of engagement and dialogue is a positive sign for the future. That said, the struggle against the delegitimization of the religious identification of the overwhelming majority of American Jews requires both these kinds of short-term interventions as well as long-term strategies. The Jewish Federations of North America has been extremely active on the issue and is fully supportive of the position of The Jewish Agency, and especially of its Chairman, Natan Sharansky, who has provided moral authority and an influential voice in dealings with the Government and in representing the interests of the Jewish world — and especially the next generation of Diaspora Jews — to the Israeli public.
Below are links to PDFs, in English and Hebrew, of full-page ads published this morning by The Jewish Agency in six Israeli newspapers, including The Jerusalem Post. We are also sharing an update sent to Federation executives from JFNA President and CEO Jerry Silverman about the Government of Israel’s actions on Sunday, June 25. We will continue to keep you updated on the situation.
הארץ עברית – הסוכנות היהודית (English version)
הארץ אנגלית – הסוכנות היהודית
Background of the June 2017 Kotel Decision
Background of the Proposed Israeli Conversion Law
Updates from Federation executives from JFNA President and CEO Jerry Silverman about the Government of Israels actions on Sunday June 25
Cynthia D. Shapira
Chair of the Board
Jeffrey H. Finkelstein