Wednesday, December 15, 2010


The self-imposed "moratorium" on JFNA engagement with the venal portions of the Conversion legislation in Israel, our leaders are back in the game, JFNA style. They wrote a letter. It appears below. You might not know about it because it wasn't copied to you -- as with so many things, it was sent to your federation chief professional...but not to you.

Here is the letter:

"December 10, 2010

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu
Office of the Prime Minister
Kiryat Hamemshala
Jerusalem, Israel
Dear Mr. Prime Minister,

On behalf of the Jewish Federations of North America, we are writing to you once again regarding proposed conversion legislation before the Knesset.

As you will recall, our movement, indeed Jews across North America, were very grateful when you publically (sic.) expressed your opposition to MK David Rotem’s bill last August. We welcomed your call for a “freeze” on the legislation and supported your appointment of Jewish Agency Chair Natan Sharansky to lead efforts in finding a solution to this problem that is acceptable to all sides.

Your thoughts were also echoed in your strong words when you honored us with your presence at the General Assembly in New Orleans last month. We know that the thousands of Jewish leaders who were in attendance at the GA were appreciative of your words and impressed by your stand on this issue.

With the freeze on Rotem’s bill drawing to an end, we understand that there is some pressure to reintroduce this bill in the coming months. We urge you to extend the freeze on the legislation, allowing JAFI Chair Sharansky to complete the process of finding a just solution.
We have been most thankful that thus far you were able to stand firm in your beliefs in Jewish unity and freedom and firmly oppose this bill. Your public statements have sent a strong message to the Israeli public, to members of the Government and the Knesset, and importantly, to Jews across the world.

We trust that you will be able to oppose the bill in its current form, institute an extension of the freeze on any legislation on this issue and continue this path that cements Jewish unity.


Kathy Manning Jerry Silverman
Chair of the Board President & CEO

Nice letter, right? The fact that it follows by a month an article in the November 12 Forward -- All Conversions Now Under Review in Israel as Crisis Escalates -- and a Summer and Fall in which JFNA maintained disciplined silence while the Reform, Conservative and Reconstructionist Movements in Israel were under assault, doesn't merely suggest that JFNA has left the crisis in the hands of JAFI's Natan Sharansky and the Prime Minister, but that JFNA has abandoned (albeit maybe just temporarily) a most critical responsibility. Yes, yes, I know as you do that we had a big GA and then the horrific fires, but we also have a playbook sitting on a shelf about how this crisis should be met (and being totally ignored) and we have a $7 million Israel Office doing...what, exactly?

JFNA leaders ought to know that federation leaders have placed this issue squarely on JFNA's desk for the last 8 months since the Rotem legislation was first introduced. What exactly has JFNA done since Silverman did his best one man show in the Knesset, the PM's office and the media? As promised, they did nothing...but now, they are back, engaged...they sent a letter.

Every reader knows from your communal experience that if, for example, there is a serious issue with a Jewish Community Center, it is the federation and its beneficiaries which will suffer any consequences and be held responsible. What this nice letter evidences to me is that our leaders believe that in the event this legislation passes intact, they can point their fingers and shout "it wasn't us, it was them." Sorry, that won't work.



Anonymous said...

Israel cannot sustain a policy that defines marraige as exclusively a religious institution dominated by clerics with 12th century mentalities. Nothing short of a civil marraige option for all (present in evey liberal western democracy bar none) will work. If one follows the issue, the rabbinate is now claiming jurisdiction over all Jewish divorces in Israel and the financial settlement thereof --even for those who have been married abroad or took the Cypress option. And while Sharansky is a great hero of our people, his political track record in getting anything done is abysmal. Rather than hoping that Sharansky will be the white knight on this issue (as we stupidly put our faith in the right wing orthodox Neeman and his conversion institutes years ago) we should take our position to the Israeli public directly through newspapers, internet op-eds and the media. This is an issue that effects every Jew in Israel and the diaspora and their is a silent Jewish majority that will rally to this cause.

Anonymous said...

To Anonymous: I am reminded of the famous quote: take me to your leader. In this case JFNA is (supposed to be)our leader. They should be doing what you and certainly RW are suggesting, but alas, they aren't, hence the need for the blog posting.

Anonymous said...

If any issue is a Federation issue -- this is it. Just look at the people who sit on our boards, on the JAFI board, on the JDC board. Look at the people who were on the phones on Super Sunday and the professionals who organize our events and the kids who go on Birhright and attend our day schools and camps. By way of adoption, mixed marraige and the many variations on how today's families are formed many of them and their children would never pass Rabbinic muster in Israel. But they are us and they are our family and we must fight for them as they have stood strong for us.