Sisterhood Blog

Masorti Leaders Challenge Oren's Remarks on Tallit Arrest

By Debra Nussbaum Cohen

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Leaders of the Masorti Foundation for Conservative Judaism in Israel today sent Israel’s ambassador to the U.S. a letter questioning recent remarks which seemed to criticize accounts of a woman who was arrested at the Kotel for wearing a prayer shawl.

Ambassador Michael Oren, speaking at last week’s convention of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, said that the young woman, Nofrat Frenkel, was not arrested but merely “led away” by police from the prayer area at the Kotel when haredi men became aware she was wearing a tallit.

The report of his statement can be read at the bottom of the Forward story here.

Oren’s statement is directly contradicted by Frenkel’s first-person account, published in the Forward here, and by other women who were part of the Women of the Wall group which was trying to pray at the Wall on the first day of the new Jewish month. The account of one of them, Anat Hoffman, can be read here.

Now Rabbi Alan Silverstein and David Lissy, the chair and chief executive, respectively, of the Conservative movement’s foundation to support Masorti communities in Israel, have written Oren a letter saying that they are “astonished” by his “somewhat disparaging” remarks about the Frenkel affair at the United Synagogue conference.

In the letter, a copy of which was obtained by The Forward, they write:

It is always good to deal with facts. Nofrat Frenkel’s first person account, not disputed by any participant or published report, indicates that if ‘arrest’ is not the proper term under Israeli law to describe what happened, some equally harsh term would fit.

The Masorti Foundation leaders go on to recount the facts as related by Frenkel and others, and conclude the letter by writing:

We are devoted supporters of Israel but we understand that Israel’s future and spiritual integrity depend on it being pluralistic and democratic.

In an interview with The Sisterhood, Lissy said, “There’s data out there showing that Israelis overwhelming favor pluralism.”

What’s more, he said, stories like Frenkel’s discourage connection with Israel among young American Jews. He said:

When young people in the U.S. see a story about a woman being arrested for wearing a tallit, our people are being turned off. It’s the kids growing up in the Conservative and Reform movements who look at this and say ‘why should we care’ about Israel?

If they don’t see Israel as an intrinsically democratic society, they won’t support Israel and won’t even give to Jewish federations. It really matters that the Israeli government pay attention to these sorts of things.



Comments
Shoded Yam Tue. Dec 15, 2009

"...When young people in the U.S. see a story about a woman being arrested for wearing a tallit, our people are being turned off. It’s the kids growing up in the Conservative and Reform movements who look at this and say ‘why should we care’ about Israel?"

They don't neeed an anvil dropped on their heads to understand that the Israeli Government is actively trying to disenfranchise conservative and reform jews. Of course they're asking; "Why should we care about Israel?" Its obvious that Israel doesn't want them, just their money and aquiesence.

esthermiriam Tue. Dec 15, 2009

Chanukah Candle-Lighting at Western Wall Protests Gender-Segregation December 15, 2009

[ from NIF Newsletter ] On a chilly Jerusalem evening this week, several hundred social activists – men and women, Orthodox, Conservative, Reform and secular Jews - gathered at the Western Wall plaza for a unique celebration of Chanukah. The candle-lighting ceremony was organized by Yerushalmim, which seeks to strengthen social solidarity in the city, with support from NIF and many NIF grantees working to promote religious pluralism in Israel.

Yerushalmim's Rachel Azariah lights the third candle. She said the ultra-Orthodox are trying to impose gender segregation in all public places.

The aim of the gathering was to protest growing gender segregation in public places including the Western Wall plaza, and to assert that the plaza belongs to all Jewish people – regardless of gender or affiliation. Many held stickers saying "The Wall Belongs to All of Us."

Rachel Azariah of Yerushalmim explained that while she accepted the status-quo segregating the area immediately in front of the Wall for prayer, she could not accept the notion that the plaza above the Wall should also be segregated.

She said, "The ultra-Orthodox are trying to impose gender segregation in all public places. It started on buses , now it is here at the Western Wall Plaza and soon it will be everywhere."

After lighting the Chanukah candles the crowd sang traditional holiday songs including, "We have come to banish the darkness".

Many of those present were US Jews in Jerusalem for Chanukah. NIF International Council Member Louis Newman from St. Paul, Minnesota who was leading a Carleton College study trip, said, "The issue of promoting religious pluralism here in Israel is very dear to us."

Rabbi Amy Eilberg, a Conservative Rabbi from St. Paul observed, "We have been shunted aside and it was very important for us to come here today to say that the Wall belongs to all of us."

The candle-lighting closed with the singing of Israel's national anthem Hatikvah. Anat Hoffman, Executive Director of NIF grantee Israel Religious Action Center of the Movement for Progressive Judaism in Israel (Reform) and Chair of Women of the Wall urged all women to attend prayers for Rosh Chodesh (the new month) of Tevet on Friday. "I was there last month when a woman was arrested for the 'crime' of wearing a talith. We must not let this happen again."

esthermiriam Tue. Dec 15, 2009

Jerusalem Post, December 10, 2009 "Is the Writing on the Wall?"

More about the situation there -- http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?apage=1&cid=1260447407875&pagename=JPost%2FJPArticle%2FShowFull

Qol Wed. Dec 16, 2009

Shoded Yam - You oversimplify the crisis. American Jewish youth might be less and less concerned about Israel - but the reason is not merely the issue of religion in Israel. There is an ongoing process of assimilation; i.e. Jewish identity in general is less and less important (and this weakening identity includes a lessening of interest in Israel, in community life, in Jewish studies, etc). It's very easy to blame Israel for every problem. It has a government that is the address to which we can send our complaints. There is no address (no one holds any responsibility) in the American Jewish community. Still, the weakening of American Jewish identity is a major crisis in Jewish history for which complaining about Israel is not the remedy.

Shoded Yam Wed. Dec 16, 2009

"...There is an ongoing process of assimilation; i.e. Jewish identity in general is less and less important (and this weakening identity includes a lessening of interest in Israel, in community life, in Jewish studies, etc). It's very easy to blame Israel for every problem. It has a government that is the address to which we can send our complaints."

While this may or may not be true, it is irrelvant to the discussion at hand, which is namely the on-going Israeli push to marginalize and deligitimaize conservative and reform judaism and their reasons for doing so.

Sephardiman Wed. Dec 16, 2009

I don't think Mr. Netanyahu could have found anyone worse to represent Medinat Yisrael than Mr. Oren. He is the James Watt of the Israeli political scene.

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