Washington Post: To wear, or not to wear? French Jews wrestle with the yarmulke amid growing fears

By Elizabeth Bryant | Religion News Service January 13 at 3:59 PM
PARIS — Claude Chiche doesn’t wear a skullcap, but he has strong opinions about them.

“There are some here want to take off their kippah because they’re afraid,” said Tunisian-born Chiche, referring to the Hebrew word for yarmulke or skullcap. “But they shouldn’t accept this; they shouldn’t give in to fear.”

Chiche’s comments, spoken in a Paris neighborhood that is home to many Orthodox Jews, add to a growing debate among France’s half-a-million-strong Jewish community after a skullcap-wearing Jewish schoolteacher in Marseille was attacked Monday (Jan. 11) by a Kurdish teenager claiming allegiance to the Islamic State.

After the attack, the head of Marseille’s Israelite Consistory, Zvi Ammar, suggested Jewish men and boys should stop wearing the skullcap “until better days.”

“As soon as we are identified as Jewish, we can be assaulted and even risk death,” he added.

Coming just after the one-year anniversary of January’s terrorist attacks in Paris that killed 17 people — including four Jews — the latest aggression has intensified fears among Jews of more violence to come.

Already thousands have left the country in recent years — with a large number heading to Israel.

Still, top Jewish leaders are urging male faithful to remain true to their religious identity and to keep their skullcaps on.

“We should not give an inch,” said France’s chief rabbi, Haim Korsia.

Roger Cukierman, head of the national Jewish umbrella association CRIF, agreed, saying that removing the kippah in public amounted to a “defeatist attitude.”

Sociologist Martine Cohen of the Paris-based CNRS research institute said many French Jews today battle conflicting sentiments. They want to live their faith openly, but at the same time they fear reprisals for doing so.

“Many French Jews feel completely integrated in France,” she said, “even as they are more vigilant than ever against anti-Semitism.”

Israel Nessim, who stood outside a small synagogue in northeastern Paris, briefly removed his bowler hat to show his kippah underneath.

“As Jews, we have obligations towards our religion,” he said. “We have to stick to our traditions. Even if we don’t wear one, we’ll always be attacked,” Nessim added. “We’ll always be recognized as Jews.”

Wearing a kippah or yarmulke is seen as obligatory among Orthodox Jewish men and boys, especially when studying Torah or entering a synagogue.

France is not the only country where the skullcap has become a lightning rod. In neighboring Germany last year, Jewish leader Joseph Schuster advised Jewish men to forgo the kippah in areas with high Muslim populations, over fears of anti-Semitism.

Separately on Tuesday (Jan. 12), a French Jewish politician was found dead in his home outside Paris, in what reports suggest appears to be a homicide.

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Coloring isn’t a Jewish issue but creativity, relaxation, and decreasing negative thoughts definitely are Jewish thoughts.

Coloring isn’t a Jewish issue but creativity, relaxation, and decreasing negative thoughts definitely are Jewish thoughts.
This aritcle from Higher Perspective shares 7 benefits.

1. You improve your concentration.

We live in a hectic world these days. Our concentration is often incredibly split between work, home, electronics, and other stimuli. When you sit down and focus on one thing, like coloring, it improves your ability to focus elsewhere.

2. You unleash your inner creativity.

Coloring inside or outside the lines does wonders to unleash your inner creativity. Adults who color are more likely to approach problems more creatively and find better solutions.

3. Your brain treats it like meditation.

When you color, the same things happen inside of your brain as when you meditate.

4. You can chill out anywhere any time.

Bored on a plane? Color. Feeling stressed at work? Color (on your break). Nothing to do at home? Color. It’s awesome. You can do it wherever.

5. You improve your motor skills.

All that coloring inside of the lines improves hand-eye coordination and your overall motor skills.

6. You release negative thoughts.

It’s like with meditation. When you color, you focus on what you’re doing and you just sort of naturally release a lot of tension and negative thinking.

7. You’ll decrease your anxiety and stress.

Coloring is the ultimate anxiety and stress relief. Spending a half hour coloring does wonders.

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Why are rabbis encouraging family estrangement and why are parents listening?

Having personally witnessed this, my feeling is that it never helps and always damages.

A great piece by Sharon Shapiro.

One bad apple spoils the whole bunch. This seems to be the philosophy behind why some rabbis advise parents to kick out a deviant child, cutting off all contact, except for the most delicate thread of connection that might inspire them to return to the right path.

The child parent bond is the most primal form of relationship. I never fully understood the innate connection between parent and child until I became a parent myself. Yes, as the child of parents, I felt a love and dependence upon my mother and father. However, it wasn’t until I became a parent myself that I felt the immediate magnetic bond, that “mamma bear mode” protective instinct, that I knew that my babies will always be my babies even when I have to crane my neck to look them in the eye.

Therefore, I can’t imagine coming to a bump in the road with my teenage or adult children, where I would seek rabbinic counsel and be told that the only solution is to cut off my child so that they don’t taint the rest of my kids. I can’t imagine this because I don’t believe that the rabbinic counselors I would choose would offer this advice. However, I also can’t imagine, no matter how great my respect for the rabbinic authority offering this counsel, placing my reverence for that person over my love and responsibility for my child. I personally don’t believe a good rabbi would ever force a parent to make such a choice.

Some of us seeking the advice of our rabbis concerning a family crisis, know that the choice to follow that advice is still ultimately left to our own discretion. However, in some communities, the rabbi’s counsel is never simply advice, but a mandate. Going against the decision of the rav is akin to breaking a commandment. In those communities, rabbis have a tremendous responsibility to their followers. Their word is irrefutable, and as such, they have the power to hold families together or tear them apart.

I often wonder, when I hear stories about parents who shun their children because – they no longer want to be religious, they come out as having a same sex preference, they identify as a different gender than their God given biology conferred upon them, or any other number of other revelations that are incompatible with the path laid before them by the Torah, the rebbe, the parents, and the community – how could they abandon their child?

Maybe in my heart I can understand. Their child must be the sacrificial lamb. Perhaps they can justify their actions by feeling that they made the ultimate sacrifice for the sake of the whole family unit. This child will reflect poorly upon the entire family. Their younger children will be ostracized at school and their older children won’t get good shidduchim. They themselves will be viewed by their neighbors with suspicion as having failed as parents and possibly inspiring the devious ways of the wayward child.

How many times have I heard people clucking about families who have kids who went off the derech – “I always knew this would happen. When the kids were younger the parents would always say negative things about the rabbaim. They would complain about the teachers and criticize their shul rabbi in front of the children. It has an impact. You always want to speak positively about religious figures in front of your kids. Now, not one of their kids is frum!”?

It’s the parent’s fault. They didn’t have the proper respect for rabbinic authority and that’s why their kids are no longer religious. By shunning the errant children, the parents show their allegiance to authority, both by respecting the rav’s psak and by making the ultimate sacrifice of their children.

The parents see their actions as selfless, while outsiders see it as selfish. Perhaps it’s a bit of both. However, the one thing that remains is the broken child, who not only is embarking upon a new and sometimes frightening path outside of the only world they’ve ever known, but embarking upon that journey without the support of their family. More than that, the child embarks upon their journey knowing that their family harbors hope and confidence in their failure, which they pray will send their wayward offspring back home with their tail between their legs.

What parents don’t grasp is that the chance of failure is very high when your entire support system vanishes in rubble. Without their love, their child has little chance of a happy existence no matter how successful they are in their educational or career goals. What parents need to understand is that sometimes failing in the outside world doesn’t result in a return to the home, but a return to their maker. The ultimate price could be life of their child.

Parents don’t understand the real gamble they are taking by shunning a child. They aren’t merely risking their child being lured into a secular existence versus returning to the orthodox enclave, they are risking their child’s emotional and mental well-being, and ultimately their lives. The parents might not understand the high stakes they are playing with, the question is, do the rabbis advising them to cut off their children understand that risk?

Killing off non-believers and non-conformists is a heck of a lot easier than bearing the burden of having them in our midst. You don’t even have the pull the trigger, give them enough time, they’ll do it themselves. Assisted suicide.

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9 months after the Gaza War, a baby boom hits Israel. Experts disagree if it’s from soldiers returning from war or from people being forced to spend time together during missile attacks.

Interesting article from The Forward.
When Jessica Zimet gave birth to her daughter Aviah in April, the Tel Aviv hospital was so crowded, she said, that she was rushed out of the delivery room to make space for the next expectant mother.

Born nine months after the start of Operation Protective Edge, Aviah was part of what some are calling a post-war baby boom in Israel.

“The stress of the fight means more deliveries after the war,” said Avivit Karni, head midwife at Kaplan Medical Center, in Rehovot.

The Israeli Ministry of Health has yet to compile data on birthrates over the past few months. But according to anecdotal reports, some Israeli delivery rooms were working overtime in April, May and June. At Kaplan, Karni’s staff facilitated 100 additional births per month (around 650 versus the typical 550).

Karni suspected that many of the births at her hospital were to couples that conceived when the husband was home from reserve duty during the war.

Soldiers returning home had “missed their wives,” Karni said.

But Leanne Kaye, a consultant who helps new immigrants and others navigate the Israeli birth system, had a different explanation for the baby boom: boredom. As Hamas fired rockets — many of which were intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome system — on major Israeli cities, Tel Aviv’s famously active nightlife ground to a halt. Stuck indoors, bored Israelis got busy.

“People’s lives slowed down to the point where they just stayed at home,” Kaye said. “Those trips to the beach during the day or the evening weren’t happening for quite a chunk of the summer.”

Nine months later, Kaye said, many of her clients encountered manic delivery room scenarios.

“You arrive at the labor ward, and every ward is full. Someone leaves a room, and you go in that room. It was a proper conveyor belt,” she said.

Calls to other maternity wards yielded mixed information on just how widespread the uptick in births was nine months after last year’s war. Some reported no increase, while others echoed the experience at Kaplan Medical Center.

But to the extent that there was a postwar “boomlet,” it would certainly not be Israel’s first. According to Karni, Kaplan’s delivery room saw similar upticks in births after Israel’s previous two operations in Gaza: Operation Cast Lead in 2008–2009 and Operation Pillar of Defense in 2012. There was also a baby boom nine months after the 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah was fought on the Lebanese border. And Israel had prolonged periods of increased birth rates after the 1973 Yom Kippur War and the 1967 Six Day War.

Zimet, who works in marketing, conceived with her husband shortly after the first warning sirens sounded in Tel Aviv, at the beginning of Operation Protective Edge. She said she’d wanted a child but had been adamant about waiting.

“I didn’t want to get pregnant during the war, because I thought it would be stressful and bad for the pregnancy,” she said.

By the time Zimet learned that she was carrying a daughter, the war had already ended.

“I think if I had known I was pregnant, it would have been a lot more stressful,” she said.

Sandy Heffez Milrad conceived a few months before the war began, but her 6-month-old son is in a sense part of the baby boom. That’s because his name is Eitan, a popular Israeli name that means “powerful” or “strong.” In Hebrew, Operation Protective Edge was called Mivtza Tzuk Eitan, or Operation Strong Cliff.

When Milrad registered her son with the Ministry of Interior after his birth, she learned from officials that many parents had chosen the name Eitan precisely because of their wartime pregnancies. This phenomenon is not unique to Israel’s most recent war. A popular name for Israeli women born in the mid-’70s is Maya, an acronym of Milhemet Yom HaKippurim, the Yom Kippur War.

But Milrad said that she and her husband had picked out the name Eitan long before last summer’s Gaza operation. She bristles at the notion that she named her son after the war, which she believes Israel lost.

“For me, it is a memorial of dead soldiers,” she said.

She is resigned to the fact that her son will be one of many Eitans when he begins attending school in a few years: “It is going to be Eitan A, Eitan B and Eitan C.”

Contact Naomi Zeveloff at z eveloff@forward.com or on Twitter, @naomizeveloff

Read more: http://forward.com/news/311847/9-months-after-gaza-war-baby-boom-hits-israel/#ixzz3gLeWLeIJ

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This bothers me to no end!

Reform Jews can die for Israel, but not all would be buried as JewsAfter another round of insults from ultra-Orthodox Israeli politicians, Diaspora leaders and Israeli MKs defend Liberal Judaism, saying ‘a Jew is a Jew.’ But freedom of religion activists say that’s not enoughBY AMANDA BORSCHEL-DAN July 8, 2015, 4:58 pm 63

At age 13, Seth fulfilled a lifelong dream and celebrated his bar mitzvah atop the ancient Jewish fortress Masada. The intense July heat was made barely bearable by an infrequent desert breeze. But to the group, singing Israeli folk songs and ancient prayers under a canvas tent on the poignant historic site overlooking the Dead Sea, the experience was joyous and meaningful.

Seth was raised in a Charleston, South Carolina, Reform synagogue, where he went to Hebrew school every week. His father is Jewish, his mother is not. And although he was converted by a rabbinical court in a ritual bath as a baby and raised as a Jew, he’s not considered Jewish by the Israeli chief rabbinate.

Were Seth to immigrate to Israel under the Law of Return, this proud Reform Jew and Zionist would not be allowed to marry — or be buried — in Jewish ceremonies. And naturally for Seth, like for the majority of Diaspora Jews who do not practice Orthodox Judaism, this is puzzling — and insulting.

But the dissonance between the stance of official Israel and the phenomenon of legions of committed non-Orthodox Jews was spotlighted this week when Religious Affairs Minister David Azoulay was pressed on the question of the legitimacy of Reform Jewry by interviewer Razi Barkai on Army Radio Tuesday.

“A Reform Jew, from the moment he stops following Jewish law, I cannot allow myself to say that he is a Jew,” said Azoulay. (In Hebrew slang, “reformi” connotes any Jew whose religious practice diverges from traditional Orthodoxy.)

Religious Services Minister David Azoulay during a press conference in the Knesset on March 08, 2011. (Abir Sultan/Flash 90)
Religious Services Minister David Azoulay during a press conference in the Knesset on March 08, 2011. (Abir Sultan/Flash 90)

Modifying his argument, Azoulay, born in Morocco and a member of the Sephardic Orthodox Shas party, cast Reform Jewry in the halachic category created by Maimonides of “kidnapped babies,” who are ostensibly Jewish but sin through ignorance.

“These are Jews who have lost their way, and we must ensure that every Jew returns to the fold of Judaism, and accept everyone with love and joy,” matter-of-factly said Azoulay, whose professed profession is “educator.”

On Wednesday, MK Moshe Gafni of the United Torah Judaism joined the fray and told Army Radio that while Conservative and Reform Jews were “Jewish, no question about it,” they “take the Torah and tear it to pieces, heaven forbid.”

When asked about Azoulay’s remarks on Tuesday, Seth, today a 23-year-old college graduate currently working in tourism, said, “The Orthodox Jews who discount Reform Judaism are missing the point… People can argue Scripture all day long, but, when it comes down to it, I think the best Jews are the ones who live with understanding, tolerance, and love towards others. Nothing good comes from egotism, but a whole lot of good has come from understanding,” he said.

The roots of the Orthodox religious monopoly stretch back to the foundation of the State of Israel, when prime minister David Ben-Gurion’s fledgling government ceded authority over life-cycle events to the Israeli Chief Rabbinate, a strictly Orthodox institution.

Today, however, the stringency of the institution’s Orthodoxy has palpably intensified and alienated much of the majority secular Israeli population. And, as the rabbinate takes a hardline position to conversion, the almost 400,000 Israeli immigrants from the former Soviet Union who may desire to officially join the Jewish People have increasingly found stumbling blocks in their paths.

Liberal Judaism, with its emphasis on traditional Jewish values and peoplehood, would naturally fill this spiritual vacuum, according to Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism on Tuesday.

“Reform Judaism is keeping Judaism relevant and ever evolving. Without a vibrant alternative to ultra-Orthodoxy, many choose assimilation. Our Judaism is innovative, inclusive, egalitarian, joyful, probing, spiritually open and inspiring. That is why we are growing and reshaping the landscape of Jewish life,” said Jacobs.

However, under Ben-Gurion’s status quo, Orthodoxy, which represents ten percent of Israelis, still controls 100% of religious services. This monopoly has created a ripple effect as increasingly, a perceived lack of understanding between Israeli decision makers and the Liberal Jewish streams alienates Diaspora Jewry, where the overwhelming majority define their Judaism in non-Orthodox terms, said Steven Bayme, director of the Contemporary Jewish Life Department of the American Jewish Committee.

“The image of Judaism in the Jewish state is badly tarnished by statements like that,” Bayme said a few hours after Azoulay’s radio interview.

The Jewish Agency as a ’round table’ of pluralism
For secular Ben-Gurion, the synagogue he didn’t attend was Orthodox, said head of the Jewish Agency for Israel Natan Sharansky on Monday in a conversation with The Times of Israel after the defeat of a conversion initiative in the Knesset.

In Ben-Gurion’s experience, explained Sharansky, the Reform and Conservative movements in the Diaspora played a role that was not then needed in Israel — demonstrating how to be a Jew at home and a German, or American, in the street.

Today, said Sharansky, although still at a very micro level, Liberal Judaism in Israel is “enriching more and more Israelis” and helping them reclaim a stronger Jewish identity that was lost in the struggle to become Israeli.

The Jewish Agency, arguably the largest Jewish nonprofit organization in the world, annually distributes nearly $3 million to Reform, Conservative, and Modern Orthodox organizations in Israel “in an effort to foster Jewish pluralism and strengthen diverse expressions of Jewish life in Israel.”

With more than 30 total grantees, in 2014 JAFI distributed just over $1 million to Reform and Conservative organizations and programs, and $546,400 for Modern Orthodox.

“In daily life, the movements, which have been practically non-existent in the experience of Israelis, are playing a more active role,” said Sharansky. He added, however, that the movements “have to spend less time on fights in the Supreme Court and more time in promoting more institutions and services.”

With its multi-denomination board of partners, the Jewish Agency, said Sharansky, has played a unique role as a “round table” since its founding and is a forum for Jews of all religious and secular movements from across the Jewish world and Israel to sit together and voice their concerns.

As such, said former Likud Knesset member Knesset Sharanksy, when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is dealing with a thorny Diaspora-divisive problem such as egalitarian prayer at the Western Wall, he turns to JAFI for advice in coming up with solutions acceptable to Liberal Jewry.

“If there is somebody in the government who understand this problem very well, it is the prime minister,” said Sharansky. Indeed, hours after Azoulay’s outburst, Netanyahu issued a statement reprimanding Azoulay and rejecting the religious services minister’s “hurtful remarks.”

According to the AJC’s Bayme, contemptuous and dismissive statements such as Azoulay’s and Gafni’s are “a direct insult to the bulk of American Jewry.” Bayme, who is Modern Orthodox, said these outbursts are “wrong, both on a philosophical level — all the expressions of Judaism require respect and dignity — and on a practical level. [The MKs should be] trying to strengthen bonds between Israel and the Diaspora and not weaken them.”

‘I’m past the question of whether this is creating an emotional gap, the Israeli government and thought leaders have to do something to effectively reverse this trend’
But Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, the executive vice president of the Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly, is done talking about her insulted feelings.

“I’m past the question of whether this is creating an emotional gap. The Israeli government and thought leaders have to do something to effectively reverse this trend,” said Schonfeld.

She called for a large public agreement, driven by the prime minister and enforced by all elected officials, “to recognize, to celebrate the diversity of Jewish religious belief, to celebrate Jewish identity around the world, and for people to agree that they will not allow those incidents to go by,” said Schonfeld Tuesday.

Schonfeld called for Education Minister Naftali Bennett to institute a required curriculum in which all students would visit synagogues of different Jewish streams and learn about their theologians and thinkers.

But at the very least, said Schonfeld, “the first step has to do with civility.”

Rabbi Julie Schonfeld delivers a psalm at the presidential inaugural service at the National Cathedral. (Ron Kampeas/JTA)
Rabbi Julie Schonfeld (Ron Kampeas/JTA)

Bayme, who holds a PhD in Jewish History from Columbia University, explained, however, that ultra-Orthodox leaders throughout the Jewish World often define Reform Judaism as a code word for “assimilation,” and blame everything from intermarriage to dwindling birthrates on Liberal Jewry.

But “it’s not a road to assimilation, it’s a counter to assimilation” that expresses a commitment to Jewish values and Israel, said Bayme.

Sharansky said the Jewish Agency is continuously working with government ministers and MKs to raise awareness about the importance of Liberal Judaism in the life of Jewish people.

“You want to gather exiles, you want more support from Jews in the Diaspora? You need to understand what an important role [Liberal Judaism plays] in their Zionist life, that these streams are part of Jewish people,” said Sharansky.

‘All Jews are Jews’
Some politicians are already savvy to pluralism. Although he declined to speak with The Times of Israel about the status of Liberal Judaism in Israel this week (and on several other occasions), on Wednesday Education Minister Bennett posted to his Facebook page, “All Jews are Jews. Whether Conservative, Reform, Orthodox, haredi or secular. And Israel is their home. Period.”

Bennett, the son of immigrants from the United States and Diaspora minister since 2013, has had much more exposure to vibrant Liberal Jewry than most Israeli politicians. Most Israelis are not aware of the vitality and importance of Reform and Conservative Judaism outside of Israel, said rookie Labor MK Ksenia Svetlova in a conversation with The Times of Israel Tuesday.

“They think it’s just a few synagogues here and there and are astonished when they get to the States,” said Svetlova, a former journalist who immigrated from the former Soviet Union as a child.

Svetlova is part of an initiative pushing for the right to civil marriage in Israel that was rejected on Wednesday in the Knesset, with 39 MKS voting for and 50 against. It is part of a broader strategy of legal maneuvers to increase the separation of church and state.

“We had to start from something, and started with something very basic — the right to get married in the State of Israel and not have to go abroad,” said Svetlova.

There is currently no civil marriage in Israel and those Jews — such as immigrant converts to Liberal Judaism or children of immigrants who entered using the Law of Return — who are not recognized by the chief rabbinate have no recourse for domestic legal marriage.

“The prime minister is calling for olim [immigrants] to land, but what will be waiting for [those not considered Jewish here]? They’re good enough to fight in the IDF and die here, but won’t be able to be buried next to those they’re fighting with,” Svetlova said.

‘By promoting the equality of the different movements of faith, we’re also promoting unity in the Jewish people’
Svetlova admitted that most Israelis don’t vote based on religious and state issues. The current ultra-Orthodox-bound coalition, coming on the heels of a secular-based government, clearly illustrates that.

She called for more awareness of the lack of religious freedom in Israel, particularly among NGOs.

“Not everything can come from the Knesset. We can help with legislation, but not everything can come from top down,” and grassroots efforts are necessary.

“By promoting the equality of the different movements of faith, we’re also promoting unity in the Jewish people,” said Svetlova.

Rabbis are ‘wrapping themselves up in their own tefillin’
After handling decades of heart-rending cases of women who cannot receive a religious divorce, lawyer Susan Weiss, founder of the Center for Women’s Justice, has come to the conclusion that “all interference of the state with religion is an error.”

The Center for Women’s Justice is mostly funded by Jewish organizations in the Diaspora that have human rights agendas, said Weiss — “mostly Jewish nondenominational organizations that want to make sure Judaism keeps up with the 21st century.”

Weiss, who grew up going to Orthodox day school in the States, said the bureaucracy involved in the religious authority has become so stringent, it is as if the rabbis are “wrapping themselves up in their own tefilin [phylacteries].”

For the rabbinate to have the authority to carry out their job, “they’ve turned into this Inquisitorial apparatus and become people who can be inspectors of Judaism” and even go into people’s proverbial bedrooms, she said, in cases of suspected adultery.

In a cynical conversation with The Times of Israel this week, she related an anecdote about a distant cousin with the last name Cohen, who was not of the priestly class. Several decades ago he asked her to prepare a document attesting to his non-priestly status. The prescient cousin was aware that without this, he and his descendants would be prevented from marrying converts or divorcees, should they choose to.

‘The whole country is in an identity crisis… and needs to be put on the couch and analyzed’
Weiss, still astounded that such a document is a necessity in a modern state, said, “Why should his kids be precluded from those love interests? That’s nuts!”

“The whole country is in an identity crisis… and needs to be put on the couch and analyzed,” said Weiss.

With the increasingly ultra-Orthodox rabbinate, Weiss urges Israelis to opt out of using the religious authorities, including for marriages. Indeed, there is a growing trend of illegal halachic weddings among young Modern Orthodox couples that are performed by like-minded rabbis who risk incarceration.

“It’s becoming increasingly clear the state is trampling on our liberties. Now they’re even questioning the legitimacy of the Modern Orthodox,” referring to Rabbi Shlomo Riskin’s well-publicized rabbinate probe.

In her work, Weiss says she asks the legal system to protect human rights and try to interpret the law in a way that is consistent with human rights. Among her recent cases was the revoked conversion of a woman whose ex-husband claimed she was no longer living a religiously observant lifestyle.

“How come I can sin, and converts can’t sin,” she asked.

She calls her work Sisyphean. “The fundamentalists are growing stronger and stronger. But I’ve reached the conclusion that it’s important for me to make noise. By bringing my legal activity and framing it as a matter of human rights, it helps people see things more clearly,” she said.

And if a human rights angle doesn’t work, then perhaps Israelis will understand when it starts to hit them in their pocketbooks.

‘Israeli society has got to see religious pluralism as a really major social, political, and economic issue’
“Israeli society has got to see this [religious pluralism] as a really major social, political, and economic issue,” said Conservative Judaism’s Schonfeld. “The Israeli public has to grapple with the long term, and even the medium term, risk to their own society, in continuing to fund support and enable definitions of Judaism that don’t allow each individual Jew to play a role in Israeli society.”

Referring to the Israeli ultra-Orthodox ideal of continued religious study in place of army service or employment, Schonfeld said this practice will soon have painful ramifications on Israeli society as a whole.

“There is going to be an immense and very negative impact on the economy of the country, in its international competitiveness, educational standards, and educated adult populace that can build and defend the country,” said Schonfeld.

Jerusalem-based Weiss agreed.

“I don’t think the country can support all these people sitting and learning. Israel can’t sustain ignorance — we need doctors and lawyers,” Weiss said.

Why spit on your best friends?
According to all censuses and surveys, Liberal Judaism, primarily represented by the Reform and Conservative movements, represents the largest stream in the American Jewish community.

“Reform Jews hold leadership positions not only in every major American Jewish organization, but also occupy key roles in American society,” said Jay Ruderman, president of the Boston-based Ruderman Family Foundation.

The Ruderman Foundation initiated a project in 2011 which exposes new and rising MKs to Jewish communities in Boston and New York. The foundation annually sends a delegation of young MKs of varied affiliations to the US where they meet a widespread representation of the Jewish community.

The Ruderman initiative and other like it are slowly influencing Israeli politicians, said CEO of the Jewish Federations of North America Jerry Silverman.

“I do believe that there is a lack of real understanding of what Reform and Conservative Judaism actually mean, especially as it pertains to the Diaspora,” Silverman said Tuesday.

“When we have brought groups of MKs, in partnership with JAFI and others, and exposed them to the richness of Judaism across the streams, they’ve been taken aback. They’ve truly been surprised by its robustness, its Jewish learning and the ruach [energy] that has been displayed when they’re exposed,” said Silverman.

For Ruderman, there is also the strategic component for a strong continued Israel-America friendship.

‘When Israeli political leaders disrespect the form of religious worship embraced by Reform Jews, they risk alienating the very people that secure the important relationship between Israel and the US’
“Many Reform Jews are actively engaged in ensuring the United States stands strongly behind Israel. When Israeli political leaders disrespect the form of religious worship embraced by Reform Jews, they risk alienating the very people that secure the important relationship between Israel and the US. This is simply a potentially disastrous strategy,” Ruderman said.

Schonfeld agreed. “David Azoulay really needs to understand that you don’t want to tell your best allies that they’re not Jewish.”

Charleston-based Reform Jew Seth is puzzled why these “religious” politicians are making such statements at all. He attends services most Fridays and Saturdays, often leading the singing while playing his guitar.

“Why worry so much about others? Why does it matter that I drive on Saturdays? Does that make me less holy than another person?” Seth asked.

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