Calling on the federation system to join synagogues in a fight against religious discrimination in Israel, Reform leader Rabbi Rick Jacobs aimed to engage the broader Jewish community in the struggle for equality of non-Orthodox Jewish denominations in Israel.
Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, described Israel as “the only democracy that legally discriminates against the majority of Jews who are in the non-Orthodox streams.”
He also spoke out against Israel’s decision not to allow women full access to the Western Wall, its refusal to recognize marriages performed by non-Orthodox rabbis and the discrimination against religious institutions affiliated with the Reform and Conservative movements.
“It is time to end this discrimination once and for all,” Jacobs declared.
While this call for arms is not new in the Reform discourse with Israel, his effort to enlist the federation system in the struggle does represent a new phase in the battle against the Orthodox denomination’s hold on Israel Jewish institutions.
Reminiscing on the golden days of Jewish American activism, two heroes of the Soviet Jewry movement took to the stage at the General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America in its main plenary session on Monday.
Natan Sharansky, the former refusnik who is now head of the Jewish Agency for Israel and Nobel peace prize laureate Eli Wiesel, shared the stage as the Jewish community marked the 25th anniversary of the 1987 March on Washington, a seminal moment in the struggle to free Soviet Jewry and a high point in Jewish mobilization for a national cause.
The idea for the march on Washington, planned to coincide with a meeting between President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, came from both sides of the Iron Curtain, with activists on both ends sharing the vision of a massive call for opening immigration doors to Soviet Jews. Sharansky was released from the Russian prison several months before the December 6 protest, which brought more than 250,000 Jewish activists to the nation’s capital.
“We showed how strong we are as a people,” Sharansky said. “When we feel this power, as one people and one family, we can change the world.”
UPDATE: JFNA defends reference to Homeland Security grant program
The Jewish Federations of North America chose an odd way to offer condolences to the Sikh community over the weekend shooting rampage that killed six people at a temple in Wisconsin.
After offering its “deepest sympathy” to the victims, the JFNA claimed the mass shooting spotlights the value of a federal Homeland Security grant program dubbed the “Jewish earmark.”
There’s no reason to doubt the JFNA’s sincerity. But in fact, the Sikh killings would seem to be an object lesson in the failure of that program to protect a more diverse slice of Americans.
Not one of the 109 organizations that received the $10 million in nonprofit security grants distributed in 2012 are Sikh.
As the Forward reported, 97% of the funds went to Jewish groups.
“It is with the deepest sympathy that The Jewish Federations stand with and extend our prayers to the Sikh community following this weekend’s deadly attack on the Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin,” the JFNA statement began.
It closed: “At this time of national reflection, we must ensure that people of all faiths are safe in their places of worship. Programs like the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Nonprofit Security Grant Program are vital to protecting at-risk communities and institutions, enabling us to work, worship, gather, and learn without fear.”
JFNA vice president for public policy William Daroff defended the statement, claiming that 400 non-Jewish groups had received grants during the program’s seven-year lifespan.
“The attack that occurred on Sunday is exactly the sort of attack that we are hopeful that nonprofit security grant funding would go towards preventing, or least safeguarding against,” Daroff said.
Daroff said that the majority of the program’s funding goes to the Jewish community because of threat assessments made by Homeland Security officials.
“It doesn’t meant that the program should be limited to us, nor is it,” Daroff said. “The question is, why is the federal government whittling away this program that is necessary and should be expanded as homegrown risks grow for both the Jewish community and for other communities.”
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