Friday, 2 February 2018

Inside the Knesset

I am just back from an exceptional trip to Israel as part of the European Masorti Rabbinic Assembly. Aside from the chance to reconnect with colleagues from across Europe (France, Germany, Poland, Ukraine, Sweden, Czech Republic ...), our trip was timed to coincide with the 40th Anniversary Celebrations of the Masorti Movement in Israel. And so we, and a bunch of other international Masorti types, found ourselves at the Knesset.

Over the course of several hours we met with Yesh Atid Chairman, and poll-leading candidate to be the next Prime Minister, Yair Lapid MK, head of the opposition Boojy Herzog MK, Chair of HaTnuah Tzipi Livni MK and Speaker of the Knesset, and senior Likkud politician, Yuli Edelstein MK. It was a tremendous privilege to be able to put matters of Masorti concern to such high ranking Israeli politicians.

Whether the presenting question was conversion recognition, government funding of ultra-orthodoxy to the exclusion of other branches of our faith or access to the Kottel, the real issue underlying so many of our questions was the relationship between Israel and her Diaspora. Leaders of the American Masorti Foundation - also represented - shared that it was becoming increasingly difficult to maintain traditionally hugely supportive Jews for Israel - indeed the same issue arose in the context of a question on the deportation of ‘infiltrators’ or ‘refugees’ from war-torn African States.

Yair Lapid talked about the importance of fighting religious coercion without fighting religion. He talked of the importance of not handing religion over to the ultraorthodox (“defrosting it for the holidays”). Boojy Herzog talked about the absence of values in a political world driven by the need for power to achieve anything and insisted that there is no conflict between being worldly and religious. Tzipi Livni talked about the importance of a Jewish State that allowed “each of us to express our Judaism in different ways.” Yuli Edelstein rejected any notion of a split between the Diaspora and Israel - citing data drawn from Birthright returnees - and the atmosphere in the room grew heated.

But the highlight was a meeting with newly elected MK Yael Cohen-Paran, a woman who came into politics through environmental activism and was invited onto Tzipi Livni’s HaTnuah list. Cohen-Paran is a proud Masorti Jew, a founder member of the Masorti Kehillah of Pardes Hannah. She came into our meeting room directly from a testy meeting of parliament on the deportation of refugees furious at the proposal tabled, ‘this isn’t the Israel I want to be part of, this isn’t the Israel I want for my children. What about “And you shall love the stranger”? It’s not moral, it’s not Jewish to forget our past.’

It was an extraordinary insight into the Israeli democratic process. There is so much more I could share, and will on another occasion. Anyone interested in these issues is warmly encouraged to sign up to a monthly bulletin from the Masorti Movement’s Pluralism Rights Watch - mail to go on their mailing list.

What I would like to share, on Shabbat, after the service is a look at some of the signs I saw around Jerusalem on my short trip. There are stories and insights I hope will prove interesting. I take a Rabbi’s version of holiday snaps, you are welcome to view them, during Kiddush.

Good to be back, Shabbat Shalom

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