About The Author
Rabbi Josh Weinberg and Sarrae G Crane
Rabbi Josh Weinberg serves as the President of ARZA, and Sarrae G Crane serves as the Director of MERCAZ
In the age of fake news and alternative facts, Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely doesn’t miss a beat in propagating an alternative reality. In a meeting with top leadership of the American Jewish community Hotovely claimed that Reform and Conservative Judaism is only relevant for Diaspora Jews and that “secular Israelis don’t need Reform at all.” She continued to explain that in her view, “secular Israelis already do whatever they want, so why do they need the Reform movement to tell them that they can do whatever they want.”
Hotovely joins an illustrious group of Israeli ministers and MKs (Yariv Levin, Zeev Elkin, Miri Regev, just to name a few) who are at best simply misinformed, and at worst, tragically out of touch with the reality in their backyard. Allow us to set the record straight. For a great many non-Orthodox Israelis, the polarizing dichotomy between ‘Religious’ and ‘Secular’ no longer answers the needs of the mainstream. A substantial chunk of the Israeli Jewish population has come to the realization that having a Jewish State does not necessarily mean having a Jewish community or a Jewish identity beyond what is printed in one’s I.D. card. With that realization, many are not looking for a license for freedom but rather a gateway into Judaism that is relevant and meaningful. For those that find it in the Orthodox world, wonderful. For those that are looking for other ways to be religious, we have what to offer and are gaining traction.
In fact, despite Hotovely’s insistence that she is merely reflecting what the “people say,” the data point to a different conclusion. Over the past decade, both the Reform and Conservative movements have grown considerably, now reaching 125 communities throughout Israel and engaging hundreds of thousands of Israeli Jews. This past holiday season, the Reform and Conservative movements welcomed many more minyanim throughout the country offering alternatives to Israelis who are searching for meaning and expression in an inclusive and authentic environment.
A recent IDI poll showed that roughly 8% of the Israeli Jewish population identifies with Reform and Conservative Judaism. Additional data show that 59% of the population support equalizing the status of the different denominations, which continues to increase from year to year.
The more Israelis who are exposed to the Reform and Conservative movements – whether abroad or at home – the more they cannot tolerate the chokehold that the government-backed Chief Rabbinate has on Judaism.
Our mission is much greater than any single debate, and goes far beyond the pressing issues of our time such as the egalitarian prayer space at the Kotel, or the issues of conversion, marriage or divorce. This is about what it means to be Jewish in the Jewish State, and touches on the fundamental understanding of what it means to have a nation-state of the Jewish people.
It is mindboggling that the Deputy Foreign Minister, Israel’s #2 diplomat, would choose to behave in such an un-diplomatic manner and actively work to alienate the largest Jewish community outside of Israel.
Ironically, about an hour following the meeting with Hotovely, a group of MKs including David Bitan of Likud met with Rabbis Wernick, Schonfeld, Jacobs and Dratch from the three major denominations in North American Jewry to reflect on their week in the US learning specifically about our work, values and support of Israel. Though there is still disagreement about the way forward, these MKs (brought here by JFNA and the Jewish Agency) were clearly impacted by their visit and returned with a new understanding and appreciation of the strength and challenges of North American Jewry.
The contrast between the experience of these MKs and that of the Deputy Foreign Minister was stark. Whereas Hotovely seemed out of touch, and frankly showed little interest in “getting in touch,” the MKs were beginning to get it. Relationships are built through shared experiences, frequency of contact, and an openness to listen and learn. That Hotovely as the #2 diplomat is using incorrect data to understand our community, even in Israel, and worse shows no interest in learning the facts, is shocking.
We have more work to do.