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.