Wednesday, July 14, 2010


As one of my friends reminded me a few weeks ago -- before the recent outbreak of the conversion bill in Israel -- we used to tell our donors that our Government and Israel measured our commitment as American Jews to Israel in part based upon the achievement of our annual fund raising and our communal allocations to the Jewish State. If that is still the case, just think of how we are thought of in those precincts today.

In Fantasyland, our leaders send urgent letters to the Prime Minister but the reality of our impact is quite different -- in the reality of today, were it not for the relationship between the PM and JAFI's Chair of the Executive, Natan Sharansky, JFNA would have no impact at all. (I would add that there is one professional at JFNA with access to the Prime Minister, Yitzchak Shavit, the Executive Vice Chair of UIA and when Itzik retires, there will be none.) And JFNA should continue to piggyback on JAFI in this "process." (There are, of course, Federation CEOs with real access -- you probably know who they are -- from federations which demonstrate their continuing commitment to Israel through their Israel and Overseas allocations.

As one terrific North American leader asserted to me earlier today, if we as the Jews of North America had any real influence in Israel today, we wouldn't be pleading for "dialogue" on the conversion issue, we would be asserting in no uncertain terms (without apologizing for our "strong language" as JFNA has) that the pending Conversion Bill must be withdrawn from Knesset consideration before any dialogue can begin. But we don't have that clout -- we have allowed it to dissipate away by our national organization's ineptitude.

One doesn't begin "negotiations" with pleas for inclusion...inclusion must be presumed. But that presumption must be based on reality. To speak for the 6,000,000 Jews of the United States and Canada, you must stand for sacred and historic values and principles. And here we are today -- with a JFNA whose leaders neither know nor comprehend them.

Strong letter to follow, of course.



paul jeser said...

As I commented (your post 'Who is a Jew' on July 12) ) I believe that the possible success of the Conversion bill can be laid at our door steps.

Comments from two close friends (both Americans who made aliyah many years ago) reinforce my belief (both gave permission for their comments to be publicly shared):

1) Once upon a time, long before Haim Ramon turned himself from a prince into a frog with a kiss, he attended an event in the center of the country sponsored by AACI (Association of Americans and Canadians in Israel).

He was asked in public whether as a liberal, labor politician he supports the equal rights of all streams of Judaism in Israel.

This question seems like a no-brainer, but his response was (to paraphrase) that all the Reform and Conservative Jews together don't add up to even one mandate in the Knesset, therefore he couldn't bother his pretty head about the issue.

That response allows two conclusions:

First, that the non-orthodox streams truly have no political clout.
Second, that politicians aren't reticent about admitting that principles take a back seat to votes.

2) By not making aliya any kind of priority on the American Jewish communal or educational agenda, at very best, and kindest, an afterthought, and without sizable numbers of North American Jews setting the example of moving here, American Jews have not contributed to strengthening the local non-orthodox streams, whose presence does make inroads, but without sufficient volume.

In other words, it IS our (American Jewry's) fault, by forfeiting the chance to take active part in building Israeli society, and forfeiting their places at the ballot box -- where they would be seen, heard and recognized.

lisab said...

Apart from your disdain at my previous comment....

I disagree to an extent with Paul Jeser.

There IS Aliyah from the US but it is Orthodox and Modern Orthodox, generally right wing (frequently moving to the settlements). They have a very different perspective that means they have little interest in aiding or encouraging the US Jewish community to exercise any say whatsover in internal Israeli religious affairs.
They do expect us to lobby extensively for US support of anything any current government decides.

Many other olim, the French spring to mind, have no interest either. Plus they are religious.

We are also seeing the rise in power of the 1 million Soviet Jews who made Aliyah in the '90's and while not religious, have again, a very different perspective. Yisrael Beitanu would represent them in many areas.

None of those groups has any interest in allowing the US community any real say whatsoever.

RWEX said...


No disdain on my part to any of your Comments. If you are referring to the "most hysterical" observation, it was directed to the suggestion by an Anonymous Commnetator that Jerry Silverman's intervention with the Prime Minister had assured that the Conversion Bill was "off the table." Wish it were so.

Anonymous said...

lisab, you are missing the point completely. You correctly point to the groups who have made aliya --American Orthodox, French and the Yisrael beiteinu constituency. Fine. Then you say: "None of those groups has any interest in allowing the US community any real say whatsoever." Why should they? Isn't it unreasonable to expect them to adopt the interests of a group that has remained, for all intents, remote? The point is, by all means, Let the US non-Orthodox community have its own say, WHEN THEY MAKE ALIYA. It hasn't. It forfeited the opportunity to constitute a viable voting bloc. and now that it blows up, and we who live here have idiots calling the shots, they boo-hoo. Not only that, they will now play 'Brogez' and hold a grudge, estrange themselves even further and blame Israel for reflecting its actual constituency.

paul jeser said...

I agree with both Lisa and 'anonymous'.

To add to the balagan, and as I wrote a few days ago, most of the public criticism of Israel comes from leaders and Rabbis from the non-Orthodox community (i.e., I do not think that one of the JSTreet 400 is Orthodox).

No wonder they do not have any clout...

Anonymous said...

Consider the following very real case study: 1958 - An American Jewish family adopts a female child through their local JFS. The family is very Jewish engaged but does not live a halachic lifestyle. A conversion of the child by a conservative Rabbi occurs. The girl becomes a woman, has a bat mitzvah, attends Jewish camps, perhaps day school. Marries a nice Jewish boy in a Conservative ceremony and has children who themselves go to Jewish camp, join a youth group and god bless us all go on Birthright. Those children, under the current atavistic mindset of the Israeli Rabbinate, are not Jews and their mother never was a Jew, they could not be married in Israel unless they converted and promised to adopt a halachic lifestyle. The shandeh and the betrayal of Jewish reality and Jewish peoplehood is that simple.

paul jeser said...

A 'worse' case study:

Before a friend gets married, his wife-to-be goes through an Orthodox conversion (in the States).

They have a bunch of kids - belong to a Consv Temple; kids go thru Day School, etc.

They make Aliyah.

When the kids want to get married, the Israeli Rabbinate decides not to accept the American Orthodox Rabbi's conversion.

Thus, the kids (who served in the IDF), have to get married in Cyprus.

Lisab said...

To the second Anon and to Paul Jeser post 3 -I've seen both situations. Paul Jeser post 2, funnily enough quite a few JStreet spokespeople actually have Israeli citizenship funnily enough. Israelis do in fact criticize their own country on occasion.

To Anon 1. As someone who made Aliyah I'm well aware of your argument. And agree, to an extent that ISRAELIS have the right to self determination and that American Jews don't have the right to interfere in internal Israel politics.

However, and this is a big however, there are 2 additional wrinkles in the situation.

1. Israel has absolutely no problem both taking a considerable amount of money from the US on a yearly basis. American Jews support the poor, assist development towns, plant trees and pay for hospital wings and ambulances. They also carry out extensive lobbying on behalf of Israel in the US itself, "special relationship" or "strategic partnership" not withstanding.

If the adult child moves out and supports him or herself totally independently then he is free to do whatever he wants. On the other hand, if he comes home to get his laundry done, have a hot meal and expects mommy and daddy to subsidize his rent then he is going to have to accept a level of input. Davka.

2. Judaism has, since the destruction of the second temple, been a decentralized religion. We are people of the book, not the judge. A religion of laws not of leaders. The religious authorities in Israel, by virtue of geography and political expediency are creating of themselves a virtual Sanhedrin. Worse, because of the way in which THEIR Judaism is tied to politics, they are able to frame the political and even immigration landscape to suit their own ends.

When you have a Jewish State, he who controls who is a Jew, controls the State. A big enough majority and they can prevent any but the most Orthodox, and only the most approved from making Aliyah. Disagree and next they will be stripping away Jewishness (it's already happening) and thus the right of citizenship.

Not long after that you have a Jewish version of Iran.

LisaB said...

One last thing.

If Israel just wants to be Israel, then we have to right to input.

If they want to carry the banner of "The Jewish State" then yes, the other Jews get a say in Jewish matters.

For the record, I'd like to see a separation of synagogue and state. We are showing we can't be trusted more than any other people when it comes to mixing politics and power.

Just think of the uproar in this country and among the Orthodox if the Kotel was under Christian or Muslim control and Anat Hoffman, a Jewish woman, was arrested for trying to pray there.

paul jeser said...

Lisa, of course Israelis have the right to criticze - and should. Non-Israelis (i.e. those who don't pay taxes, serve in the IDF, etc) don't have the moral right to publically criticize.

The 'I give $ but there is a string attached' argument is old and not effective.

If we (diaspora Jews) want to effect serious change in Israeli government decisions then we should make aliyah.

LisaB said...

Paul, even when I was living in Israel as a tax paying Israeli citizen I always said that we (Israelis) had no right to complain about the input of other Jews when we were more than happy to take their largesse. And actually ask for it too.
I say this as an Israeli - Israelis want their cake and to eat it too and they think anyone who doesn't realize this is a "frier".

And this isn't about whether or not stores stay open on Shabbat. This is about defining the Jewish people, money and power. Don't be fooled.

RWEX said...

OK, Lisab and Paul, I would hope that you csn now carry on your exchange, important as it is, "offline" as I TRY to retake my Blog from the two of you on this subject.

Thanks for your input.