Masorti Judaism debates Israel @ 70
By Masorti Judaism
Over 100 people attended Masorti Judaism’s Israel@70 Conference at New North London Synagogue on 28 October 2018. The keynote speaker was Yael Cohen-Paran MK, co-leader of the Green movement, a member of the Zionist Union Knesset’s faction, and a member of the Israeli Masorti movement. Cohen-Paran was joined by an impressive panel of Israel and UK-based Masorti rabbis, as well as speakers from a diverse range of UK-based organisations including New Israel Fund, UJIA, BICOM, Yachad and UJS.
The day included sessions on the struggle for religious pluralism, the Israel Masorti movement, and attitudes to Israel on campus and in the UK Labour party. The best attended talk was on the experiences of Israel’s Palestinian citizens, led by Sana Knaneh of the Mitvim Institute in conversation with Masorti Judaism’s senior rabbi, Jonathan Wittenberg.
At a panel about the obligations of Masorti Jews towards Israel, Rabbi Chaim Weiner, head of the European Masorti Bet Din, said: “Every day I thank God I live in a time when Jews live as a free nation in our homeland. At the same time, I’m suspicious about mixing religion and politics. We should be promoting engagement with Israel, encompassing the widest range of political views among our members.”
In contrast, Rabbi Joel Levy, head of the Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem, said: “The future of Israel hangs in the balance. As Masorti Jews, we have to fight for the kind of pluralistic, democratic Israel that we believe in, and against the kind of Israel being advocated by the fundamentalists.” Rabbi Levy pointed out that research now shows that there are as many Israelis who identify as Masorti or Reform as identify as national-religious (modern Orthodox).
Yael Cohen-Paran commented: “The non-Orthodox streams are still struggling to be accepted in Israel, not only for the benefit of Diaspora Jews but also to change the black and white discourse of religious versus secular. This is what I’m fighting for every day in the Knesset.” Asked whether Masorti Jews should form a political party, Cohen-Paran said that “we should jump in, play the game and get our people into politics. She added that we can learn from the Israeli LGBT community who have not formed their own party but have built significant support by organising within the existing parties.
In a session about combating anti-Israel views on campus, Rachel Rose of Marom (Masorti Students) said: “One-to-one conversations are the best way of changing the Israel discussion on campus. We need to equip Jewish students not only to advocate for Israel but to feel comfortable criticising Israeli policy when they don’t agree with it. Marom is great at providing a safe space for Masorti students to process their experiences and decide how to react.”
The day opened with a moving tribute and prayer for the victims of the massacre at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, led by Rabbi Marc Soloway of Boulder, Colorado. It concluded with a concert of Israeli music performed by Yoav Oved.