Religious Life

Vote! – A Weekly Letter From Rabbi Davis – January 24, 2020

Shalom Chaverim

My eldest son, Yonah, is spending his gap year between high school and college in Israel. He is on program run by USY called Nativ in which he spends the first semester studying in Jerusalem and the second semester volunteering in Tiberas. Yonah is having an amazing time- making new friends and exploring Israel.

There has only been one upset phone call. Once on Rosh Chodesh, Yonah went to The Wall to observe what happens when Women of the Wall approached the Kotel to pray. He was so disturbed by what he saw- men and women verbally attacking the Women of the Wall, throwing insults and objects at them. It was ugly. It was scary. It was depressing.

There is much to say about this monthly occurrence. (The issue of access to the Kotel may be more important to diaspora Jews than to secular Israeli.) But it highlights an issue critical to Israel’s future: religious freedom.

We spend much time speaking about Israeli’s external enemies. And we should for they are real. But the internal challenges are no less critical.

As you know, the official Israeli rabbinic organization, the Rabbanut, has repeatedly blocked attempts to advance religious freedom. For example, they blocked the Israeli Government’s own agreement to expand the egalitarian footprint of the Wall.

What can we do? Diaspora Jews may not and should not vote in Israel’s election. But as the Homeland of the Jewish people, we should and can influence its ongoing development. Specifically, we can vote in the World Zionist Elections which take place once every five years.

Voting in the elections for the Conservative movement’s slate, Mercaz, accomplishes two important goals:

  1. It gives those who are not citizens of Israel the opportunity to express support for religious freedom and pluralism.
  2. It gives us the power to receive our fair share of funds – up to $1 billion annually – from the Jewish Agency for Israel used to build our movement’s institutions and programs in Israel.

The Masorti-Conservative movement has made great progress in Israel: There are over 80 communities providing religious services, lifecycles and educational programs. Their youth group, Noam, and Ramah summer camp are growing in popularity among Sabras (native-born Israelis). And they are the driving force behind an outstanding inclusion program for Jews with special needs.

Join me in voting for Mercaz:

In 1902, Max Nordau, a close friend of Herzl and Zionist leader, wrote about the emerging Zionism initiative:

Never before has the effort been made to transplant several million people peacefully and in a short space of time from various countries… It will be necessary to get Jews of different origins to adjust to one another, to train them practically for national unity, and at the same time to overcome the superhuman obstacles of differences of languages, cultural level, ways of thought, and varying prejudices of people who will come to Palestine from all the countries of the world. What gives Zionists the courage to begin this labor of Hercules is the conviction that they are performing a necessary and useful task, a work of love and civilization, a work of justice and wisdom.

That work continues to this day in Israel which remains wonderfully and frustratingly complex. But with love, justice and wisdom, we shall realize a unity that simultaneously respects and honors differences.

Rabbi Alexander Davis