January 25, 2012 Wednesday 1 Shevat 5772 10:14 IST
First mixed prayer service in Knesset
By JEREMY SHARON
A historic prayer service was conducted in the Knesset on Wednesday by a leadership mission of the Masorti-Conservative movement from North America who held the first ever mixed men and women service in the Knesset.
The group, including male and female rabbis and communal leaders from the US and Canada, met with several MKs to discuss the issue of religion and state, including Ministers Dan Meridor and Uzi Landau, as well as Yohanan Plesner and Orit Zuaretz.
The meetings focused for the most part on the issue of religious radicalization in Israel and its influence on the country's image abroad, particularly in America.
As has been the norm for the group during the visit, they went to say the afternoon mincha prayers when their schedule of political engagements was over, and, as is the custom in the conservative streams of Judaism, men and women sat together without a partition.
The service was led by Rabbi Jen Gorman in the Knesset synagogue in what the group described as an historical first.
"It was an inspiring service and we were extremely happy to be praying in the beautiful synagogue of the parliament of the Jewish State," said Rabbi Dr. Alan Silverstein, president of the Masorti foundation in the US. "Each Shabbat we pray in communities of Conservative Judaism worldwide, for the well-being of the State of Israel, and here we had the opportunity got to do this great mitzvah in the synagogue of the Israeli Knesset of Israel, one of the most important symbols of Jewish sovereignty."
The group also raised the controversial issue of rights for non-Orthodox streams of Judaism, referring to the lack of recognition the state grants the Conservative movement's rabbis and ceremonies.
"All of us love Israel and support Israel and members of our communities are part of the central leadership of AIPAC, Hadassah and the Jewish Federations," said David Lisi, the director of the Masorti Fund in the US. "But the State of Israel degrades us time and again when it says that we are second-class Jews," he continued mentioning conservative marriages and converts in particular. "The discrimination against non-Orthodox movements in Israel does massive damage to the image of Israel as a state for all Jews," Lisi asserted.
The director of the ITIM religious rights group and orthodox rabbi, Seth Farber, told The Jerusalem Post that the state of Israel finds itself at a cross roads in this regard and that as the relationship with the Diaspora matures "some very difficult decisions lie ahead."
"A lot of work still needs to be done to make Jews of all denominations feel comfortable in Israel," he said.
"There isn't enough strategic thinking going on to think about how Israel can be a homeland for all Jews. The state wasn't founded to be insular and indifferent to Jewish people and so there needs to begin a sincere dialogue with Diaspora communities to tackle these issues."