Saturday, July 24, 2010


At the Jewish Federations of North America there is an obsession with "tables."

You may recall that at the "Federation Leadership Institute" in Winter 2009, attended by those representing a little more than 1/3 of the federations, the then Chair of the Executive, now the Board Chair, attempted to find a consensus on allocations to JAFI and the Joint where there was none. The "consensus" she conjured was in support of something called "planning tables" to assess needs. Nobody knew what these "planning tables" would be, who would be sitting around them -- in fact they were undefined. In the JFNA 2011 Budget, this conjured consensus morphed into facts on the ground when $250,000 was budgeted for them. This is what passes for "decision making" at JFNA.

We move on. In its announcement of the great news that the Conversion Bill has been put "on hold" for 6 months thanks to the efforts of the Prime Minister within the governmental coalition, the efforts of Natan Sharansky and JAFI and the agreement of the Reform and Conservative Movements not to pursue issues before the Israeli courts for a like period, the JFNA CEO and President also announced his hope that there would now be a "dialogue table" at which the federations would be represented you or me? And represented by just who exactly?

So, we have a "planning table," hope for a "dialogue table" and, in the meantime, how about a kitchen table, yada, yada, yada. One thing for certain...these guys love tables.



paul jeser said...

I'm not so sure that we should be celebrating the 6 month delay. The forces for the bill are probably very patient and will bring it back again.

What we should be doing is less dialogue and more action:

1) Pushing for more aliyah from the non-traditional community.

2) Working for more financial support of Progressive (Reform) and Conservative institutions in Israel.

3) Convincing Jewish leaders from the non-traditional community (i.e. leadership of the Reform movement, members of JStreet, etc) that ongoing public criticism of Israel on issues of its security will dilute efforts in trying to influence Israeli government decisions.

Anonymous said...

I am afraid Paul's suggestions just are not realistic or have too long of a lag time to be practical.

Pushing aliyah from non-traditional community? Just exactly who should be doing the pushing and who should we push within the next 6 months? What right do any of us have to "push" someone else to make aliyah unless we ourselves are prepared to make aliyah. Even if we had the right to "push" someone else how realistic is it that thousands or even hundreds, nay even dozens, are going to stop their current lives and make aliyah in a significant period of time to affect the decision in the next six months.

More financial support for Progressive and Conservative movements? Exactly how much is more? It isn't like we can say that if we provided $10 million (pick the amount) that it will have a guaranteed result on the passage of the bill. What exactly would the movements do with that money that they can't currently do to influence the legislation?

Leaders of J street? Exactly what affect does Paul think they have on the decision makers? If J Street ceases their criticism is there a guarantee that the issue goes away? I seriously doubt it. What possible reason would those pushing the legislation have to listen to J Street? Should we really believe the proponents of the legislation are pushing the legislation in order to counter anything that J Street says or does? If so, then we should label them with a different term.

It is my belief that there are only a few successful methods we have. One is to organize the more liberal Israelis to act on their own behalf, not just those of the Diaspora. The second is to use the clout of liberal Diaspora Jewry in one (supposed) voice as was done 12years ago and has been suggested by RW. Unfortunately we don't have that one voice at the moment so it seems to me that our efforts need to be in finding those "voices" and mobilizing them as best we can. If JFNA can't (won"t) do that then we need to look elsewhere such as COPMJO.

paul jeser said...

Anonymous misses my point: If there is only a small number of non-traditional Jews making aliyah, and if the non-traditional movements in Israel are week, and if the strongest and most vocal critics of Israel (be they right or wrong) come from the non-traditional world, then the non-traditional world will not have any clout with the democratically elected government of Israel.

The ability to organize liberal Israelis will only happen if the above is changed.

Liberal diaspora Jews - even if they speak in one voice - have no clout in Israel today because of the actions (or lack thereof)as listed above.

Right or wrong; good or bad, the non-traditional diaspora can not have it both ways. Even if it speaks with one voice, it will have no effect.

Anonymous said...

Non-Orthodox Judaism in Israel has always had the deck stacked against it, from an institutional, governmental, political and financial perspective.

So why should it be a surprise that non-Orthodox Jews have not been making aliya? Far easier to be a committed Reform, Conservative or Reconstructionist Jew in America than in Israel.

That said, the real story of the conversion bill has nothing to do with these movements and everything to do with the triumph and growing hegemony of the non-Zionist Agudah over the religious nature of the Jewish state.

Why aren't other Orthodox Jews protesting these developments? By the time they get swallowed up by the Agudah, they'll be the last ones standing and by then it will be too late....

LisaB said...

Tend to agree with anonymous 1.

I've made Aliyah. It's incredibly tough, takes a lot of preparation and requires a willingness to suspend career/family etc. for a considerable time. Never mind the difficulty in making ends meet as well as having to live life without an extended support system/family.

Nobody has the right to "push" someone else to make such a life altering decision. Support, yes, assist, of course - maybe more would make aliyah if they had some actual structure in place in Israel for the non-traditionals.

It also ignores the fact that many non-traditional Jews DO make aliyah and are driven out by the difficulties they face there in the areas of marriage/birth/death. I've known committed, army serving Jews who've left because their upcoming nuptuals were destroyed by the establishment.

I do think the diaspora can provide more financial support for non-traditional streams in Israel, especially to the secular majority who views them as strange just through lack of knowledge. An educational campaign may go a long way towards bringing the diaspora closer to the secular Israelis who frankly are already there.

J-Street has nothing to do with this and the obsession with lockstep public agreement with all things Israeli by the diaspora has to end. It is counter-productive and allows Israel to believe that we'll be in agreement even in areas such as this

Anon 2 - I know Modern Orthodox who aren't in favor of Haredi control either and protest it. In Israel they are strongly connected to the settler movement which complicates things.