North Americans Seek to Educate Israelis on Jewish Identity Issues

A diverse group of North American secular Jewish leaders is recommending that local Jewish Federations join their national umbrella organization in educating Israelis on why American Jews feel strongly that issues of Jewish identity should be kept off Israel’s political agenda.

The leaders include the president of the umbrella organization, Shoshana Cardin of the Council of Jewish Federations. Five of them returned last week from a hastily scheduled Israel trip taken to persuade Members of Knesset to avoid putting the determination of Jewish identity in the hands of religious officials and courts.

The latest such bill, which would have given Israel’s rabbinic courts sole authority to validate conversions, marriages and divorces performed abroad, was at the last moment withdrawn from Knesset consideration last Wednesday by its sponsor, Shas.

In their recommendations, distributed by CJF, the leaders said their efforts can’t stop with that latest Knesset triumph. “The dialogue has just begun, both in Israel and in North America,” the recommendations say.

“This program should not necessarily be limited to pending legislative attempts to amend the Law (of Return),” it adds.

The Law of Return gives automatic Israeli citizenship to any Jewish immigrant. Ultra-Orthodox parties have sought to amend the bill so conversions to Judaism would be valid only if done under traditional Jewish law, a move opposed by the millions of non-Orthodox in North America.

LIST OF RECOMMENDATIONS

The recommendations, to be mailed to Federation presidents this week, propose.

A session on the issue, including key Knesset leaders, be conducted at the next annual CJF General Assembly.

A planned program of visits to Israel by North American Jewish leadership, including attempts to reach the “different Israeli publics.”

That CJF continue to convene and coordinate these efforts, while broadening the coalition working on the issue.

That the program also “relate to … constituencies” at home.

That the CJF Israel Office keep the North American leadership informed of Israeli actions and thinking on this issue.

Education “in the broadest sense on both sides” is recommended. “Diaspora Jews must become significantly more familiar with the underlying Israeli political realities, as well as with the sincere and heartfelt concerns of many influential Israelis on these issues,” the report says.

“Conversely, Israelis…require a much more detailed understanding with respect to diaspora Jewry…This can only happen through a targeted educational program.”

Specifically, the leaders who made the recommendations are: Cardin, Martin Stein, United Jewish Appeal national chairman; Donald Carr, United Israel Appeal (UIA) of Canada board member; Carmi Schwartz, CJF executive vice president; Walter Hess, UIA of Canada executive vice president; and representatives of the National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council, the Jewish Agency and four of the largest local Jewish Federations.

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