Sisterhood Blog

Raising a Daughter, Without Adelson's Help

By Allison Kaplan Sommer

  • Print
  • Share Share
Courtesy of the author
Allison Kaplan Sommer and her daughter Naomi

Dear Ariel Beery and Erin Kopelow:

Congratulations on the impending birth of your baby girl.

When I saw your essay on Tablet questioning whether it was wise to raise a daughter in Israel at a time when “war is waged against girls and women” I understood the feeling. I had my first child when I, like you, was living in Tel Aviv, way back in 1996, just after the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and during the height of terrorist suicide bombings. I, too, was worried about the place I had decided to raise kids.

You correctly point out the disturbing domination of the ultra-Orthodox establishment on the state. You knew that the rabbinate wasn’t your friend when you moved here, and that you would face problems regarding Erin’s halachic status — her mother underwent Conservative conversion during pregnancy — and that this would affect your future children. But now that a baby is on the way, that reality is upon you. Add that to the current crisis over the “exclusion of women,” the situation in Beit Shemesh, the issues over buses and women’s singing in the army and I can see why it would concern you.

I was sure that your piece was heading for a discussion of how to raise an Israeli daughter confident in both her Jewish and her female identity under these circumstances. Instead that the article was essentially a 911 call to American Jews, arguing that Diaspora leaders need to “demand” Israel “make liberalization of the rabbinate a priority.”

How?

The Jewish Federations of North America, the Jewish Agency, the United Jewish Appeal, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the Jewish National Fund, and so on, should give the Israeli government a 90-day window to enact legislation to protect the rights of women and the non-Orthodox. Jerry Silverman, Sheldon Adelson, Howard Kohr, Ron Lauder, and other leaders of powerful Diaspora Jewish groups: Enough with the back-room diplomacy. It is time for Jewish leaders, especially in the United States, to make it clear that no money or lobbying support will flow to the government of Israel, or government-sponsored programs, if the state’s official institutions discriminate against non-Orthodox Jews. No pluralism and no recognition of women’s rights equals no cash and no lobbying support.

Don’t get me wrong: I share your vision of a kinder, gentler, rabbinate (since it is unrealistic to fantasize about separation of church and state). And it would certainly be wonderful if such an effort came to be. But I’m not waiting around for American Jewish organizations or individual U.S. Jewish billionaires to ride in on a white horse.

You say that “it is time that the world Jewish community knew about this systemic bias in Israel.” I don’t think that American Jews, and certainly not their leadership, are ignorant regarding the situation. I think they know the problems with the rabbinate well — the “Who is a Jew” wars were traumatic enough to leave a scar. And as for exclusion of women, if they haven’t been reading our extensive coverage of it on The Sisterhood, they certainly noticed the attention it has been given in places like The New York Times.

But these Diaspora leaders also know that Israel is a democracy and believe that as such, it is the job of Israelis to make such fundamental change happen. American Jews aren’t going to save Israelis from themselves. Enough Israelis are going to have to care about the character of their country in order to do something about it.

Indulge me and let me respond for a moment to the article that I thought you were writing, the more personal one about your family. In the end, what will make your daughter a proud, confident, Jewish woman won’t be the state, the rabbinate or any official document. That identity depends on you and, very importantly, the community — not just the country — in which you choose to raise her.

Raising a kid in Israel with both a strong Jewish identity, familiarity and appreciation of their religion and heritage and an understanding of pluralism and tolerance, I’ve learned, isn’t such an easy feat. It takes a village: and a specific kind of village. Like oases in the desert, egalitarian modern Orthodox congregations, strong Conservative and Reform communities, havurot exist all over Israel. Before I had kids, I scoffed at them a bit. I joked that one of the benefits of immigrating to Israel was the ability to be fully Jewish without joining anything. But once you have kids, and realize you want to pass on the same values that brought you to Israel in the first place, finding fellow travelers is key.

The jury’s still out on my newly teenaged daughter. She’s young. I’ll cautiously say, so far, so good. Unlike most Israeli girls, she chanted her Torah portion at her bat mitzvah. She spent the evening of her 13th birthday demonstrating for women’s rights in Beit Shemesh. For me, the real hope for change in this country isn’t Sheldon Adelson’s wealth and influence, it’s more young Israeli women who won’t let themselves be hidden or silenced. It would be great if you decide to stay, and your daughter becomes one of them.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Sheldon Adelson, Israel, Erin Kopelow, Daughter, Beit Shemesh, Ariel Beery

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • Novelist Sayed Kashua finds it hard to write about the heartbreak of Gaza from the plush confines of Debra Winger's Manhattan pad. Tough to argue with that, whichever side of the conflict you are on.
  • "I’ve never bought illegal drugs, but I imagine a small-time drug deal to feel a bit like buying hummus underground in Brooklyn."
  • We try to show things that get less exposed to the public here. We don’t look to document things that are nice or that people would like. We don’t try to show this place as a beautiful place.”
  • A new Gallup poll shows that only 25% of Americans under 35 support the war in #Gaza. Does this statistic worry you?
  • “You will stomp us into the dirt,” is how her mother responded to Anya Ulinich’s new tragicomic graphic novel. Paul Berger has a more open view of ‘Lena Finkle’s Magic Barrel." What do you think?
  • PHOTOS: Hundreds of protesters marched through lower Manhattan yesterday demanding an end to American support for Israel’s operation in #Gaza.
  • Does #Hamas have to lose for there to be peace? Read the latest analysis by J.J. Goldberg.
  • This is what the rockets over Israel and Gaza look like from space:
  • "Israel should not let captives languish or corpses rot. It should do everything in its power to recover people and bodies. Jewish law places a premium on pidyon shvuyim, “the redemption of captives,” and proper burial. But not when the price will lead to more death and more kidnappings." Do you agree?
  • Slate.com's Allison Benedikt wrote that Taglit-Birthright Israel is partly to blame for the death of American IDF volunteer Max Steinberg. This is why she's wrong:
  • Israeli soldiers want you to buy them socks. And snacks. And backpacks. And underwear. And pizza. So claim dozens of fundraising campaigns launched by American Jewish and Israeli charities since the start of the current wave of crisis and conflict in Israel and Gaza.
  • The sign reads: “Dogs are allowed in this establishment but Zionists are not under any circumstances.”
  • Is Twitter Israel's new worst enemy?
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.