There has been such a flurry of meetings here in Israel. The Conversion Bill introduced by Member of Knesset David Rotem went from being a simple way to fix a huge problem with Russian immigrants to threatening the entire Jewish people.
This bill was to be the fulfillment of an Israel Beiteinu campaign promise. Many of the Russian immigrants to Israel couldn’t actually prove their Jewish heritage with paperwork and yet they often suffered Anti-Semitism because they knew their family was Jewish. How many of you could “prove” your Jewishiness? Did you keep your Bar Mitzvah certificate? Do you have a copy of your parents’ ketubah? How do you prove your mother is Jewish?
That is the dilemma for hundreds of thousands of these immigrants. Even though they came to Israel because they were Jewish to build a new life when they got here they couldn’t marry since there is no civil marriage in Israel. And the Chief Rabbinate which controls personal status issues like marriage won’t do interfaith marriages! (Even though these immigrants are not of another faith!)
Yes it is complex.
But the Conversion Bill was to expand the authority of local rabbis in various cities rather than have them subject to the stricter conversion courts controlled by the Chief Rabbinate.
But here is the problem.
Amendments were introduce (as politicians are wont to do to make political deals) that would have then given the Chief Rabbinate control of those courts and further set aside Supreme Court rulings that would have recognized conversions outside of Israel except for a short list approved by the Chief Rabbinate.
This isn’t just a threat to Reform and Conservative Rabbis outside of Israel (inside of Israel they already can’t convert or marry folks) but this is a threat to even those Orthodox rabbis not approved by the Chief Rabbinate. And it is most of the Rabbis in North America!
Plus add a layer of the tensions between Avigdor Lieberman foreign minister and head of the political party Israel Beiteinu and Benjamin Netanyahu, Prime Minister and you had a recipe for a disaster. Sacrificing the Jewish people abroad.
The Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist movements along with North American Jewish Federations worked diligently to lobby Bibi Netanyahu and many members of the Knesset.
I went to a meeting with Rabbis David Saperstein of our Reform movement’s Religious Action Center and Rabbis Julie Schonfeld of the Rabbinical Assembly and Steve Wernick of United Synagogue of Conservative Judasim and members of the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism and the Masorati movement (Conservative) in Israel. They were here this week to bring home the message of threat to the Jewish people.
They have made an important dent in shifting the direction of this bill.
But this issue will be back. And soon.
This is one of the reasons we must not walk away from our relationship with Israel. It is complex and multilayered. And truthfully, as much as we need Israel-Israel needs us.
It is exactly like a complex family. You love and you get pissed at ’em but in the end they are your family.
For now it seems we can still say–one Jewish people.