Monday, January 28, 2013

Rabbi Eric Yoffie on #Haaretz: "Dear Prime Minister Netanyahu: U.S. Jews are fed up with not being valued"

Dear Prime Minister Netanyahu: U.S. Jews are fed up with not being valued

In your post-election Knesset speech, address directly the Reform and Conservative majority of American Jews - the heart of our Jewish family and the core of Jewish support for Israel – and who are finished being understanding and patient while Israel's official representatives offend them and denigrate their religious practices.

Dear Prime Minister Netanyahu:

American Jews are exceedingly agitated about issues of religious freedom, and there are things that you—acting on your own—can do about it.

I write to you now because after the election, which I am sure that you will win, you will be immersed in the politics of putting together a new coalition. Everyone, including the Orthodox parties, will be making demands of you, and it will be easy to forget that the citizens of Israel are not your only constituency. The Jews of the Diaspora—and of America in particular—also look to you, as the Prime Minister of the Jewish State, for leadership. And what they need right now is your help in creating a new alliance between the Diaspora and Israel built on trust and mutual respect.

And the starting point must be a new approach on Israel's part to issues of religious pluralism. Peace, settlements and the Iranian threat are all matters of deep concern, in the Diaspora as they are in Israel. But the simple fact is that the failure of Israel to offer recognition and support for the streams of Judaism with which the great majority of American Jews identify is nothing less than a disgrace—and an obstacle to engaging fully on all the other issues on Israel's agenda.

Let me say it directly: American Jews are fed up. They have had enough. They are finished being understanding and patient. They will no longer accept that Reform and Conservative Judaism are ostracized by Israel's government bureaucracy; they will no longer tolerate that Reform and Conservative rabbis are scorned and despised in Israel; they will no longer sit silently while Israel's official representatives offend them and denigrate their religious practices. You have seen some of this newly aroused anger in the reaction of Diaspora Jewry to the arrests and detentions at the Western Wall; and this is only the beginning. And make no mistake: The angry voices are not coming from the ranks of the indifferent or the fringe left. They are coming from the heart of American Jewish leadership.

As to what must happen now, American Jews understand your coalition politics; they are not ignorant or naive when it comes to such things. They are fully aware of what it is that you cannot do. But they are furious that Israel's leaders have not done what they can do.

And what you could do, Mr. Prime Minister, is the following: When you present your new government to the Knesset, you could say that the time has come for a new national dialogue in Israel on religious pluralism. You could point out that only 2 million of the 13.5 million Jews in the world are Orthodox, and that the overwhelming majority of American Jews come from the Reform and Conservative streams. You could say that these streams are the heart of our Jewish family and the core of Jewish support for Israel. You could recognize that Orthodox Jewish leaders in Israel and elsewhere profoundly disagree with the positions taken by these streams, but whether one agrees with them or not, it is the intention of the State of Israel to embrace them and draw them near—because it is the right thing to do, our Jewish future depends on it, and it is also serves the vital interests of the Jewish State.

Then you could say that you will use the authority of the Prime Minister's office to assure that allocations will be made available to synagogues and rabbis of the Reform and Conservative streams on the same basis as the Orthodox stream. (Since the two movements are small, the allocations will be modest). You could make it clear that you will no longer wait until you are forced to act by the courts.

You could announce your intention to invite Israeli Reform and Conservative rabbis to participate in state events, and mention that you will personally ask Reform and Conservative rabbis and scholars to teach the Bible study group that you conduct in your home.

And you could ask a prominent member of your Cabinet to chair a Commission intended to study how the Reform and Conservative streams, in Israel and the Diaspora, can be brought into a new relationship with the Jewish State.

You need not sweep away the Orthodox religious bureaucracy. You need not solve the problems of conversion and civil marriage—as welcome as such a solution would be. Such things may not be possible now. But you do need to speak out strongly and publicly in favor of a new initiative by the State of Israel to connect with the non-Orthodox religious movements. And if Shas and United Torah Judaism are unhappy, so be it.

Mr. Prime Minister, this is a time for you to inspire American Jews and to demonstrate that the State of Israel values the religious choices that they make. This is a time for daring, and creating a new partnership that will be an essential element of your legacy.

Sincerely yours,

Rabbi Eric H. Yoffie

Rabbi Eric H. Yoffie served as president of the Union for Reform Judaism from 1996 to 2012. He is now a writer, lecturer, and teacher, and lives with his family in Westfield, New Jersey.  

Rabbi Menachem Creditor

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Wednesday, January 23, 2013 Yair Lapid, Israel's Rising Star, Is Still Great Unknown in Washington Yair Lapid, Israel's Rising Star, Is Still Great Unknown in Washington

Newcomer Lived in L.A., But Has Scant Ties to Establishment

Fresh Face: Yair Lapid, the man of the moment in Israel, is still widely unknown in Washington policy circles.
Fresh Face: Yair Lapid, the man of the moment in Israel, is still widely unknown in Washington policy circles.

By Nathan Guttman
Published January 23, 2013 -

Few in America have a close acquaintance with Yair Lapid, Israel's new political kingmaker and a top contender for the post of foreign minister in a new Israeli government soon to be formed.

Lapid, who emerged as the nation's new political star, winning 19 Knesset seats in the January 22 elections, has spent time working in the United States and has taken on the issue of religious pluralism in Israel, a topic dear to many American Jewish activists. But he is still a great unknown, especially to policymakers and analysts trying to assess his views on the Middle East and the Israeli – Palestinian peace process.

Lapid is no stranger to Washington, although he had little contact on issues relating to foreign policy. He attended the 2012 policy conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, but spoke about his book rather than about policy. Lapid also visited Washington several times when his son spent a semester in the city.

Perhaps his most important point of contact for American politics is Mark Mellman, a top Democratic pollster and political strategist. Mellman worked on Lapid campaign in Israel and was praised in the Israeli press for his contribution to the successful campaign.

In 1997, after leaving a lucrative position as host of a popular entertainment show on Israeli TV, Lapid moved to Los Angeles, where he took on a job as head of New Regency Films' TV division. The offer was made to Lapid by Israeli-born Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan, who was a close friend of Lapid's late father, Yosef (Tommy) Lapid. Milchan had taken on the young Lapid as his protégé and Lapid later credited the time he spent with Milchan for his good English, which could now come in handy as a top Israeli cabinet member.Less than a year moving to Los Angeles, Lapid decided to return to Israel. In his book Memories After my Death, a posthumous biography of his father, he recalls making the decision after hearing of the March 1997 terror attack in a Tel Aviv cafe his father used to frequent. "I remembered this was your coffee shop," he told his father on the phone from Los Angeles. "Yes, I just left before it happened," Yosef Lapid replied. After a short pause his son announced: "I'm coming home."

In 2008, Lapid returned to Los Angeles as a keynote speaker at a star-studded event honoring Milchan. In his speech ( he thanked Milchan for "the many things we don't know" about his work for Israel, apparently hinting to the movie producer's rumored ties with Israeli intelligence services.

Yair Lapid's ties with the American Jewish community began to take shape last year, after he announced his intention to enter politics and upon publicly taking on the issue of religious pluralism in Israel. "We saw him as someone who has this issue on his radar and wanted to build a relationship with him early in the game," said Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, executive vice president of the Rabbinical Assembly. The group invited Lapid to speak at their conference last May, and Lapid, though already in full campaign mode, agreed to make a 24 hour visit and attend the Rabbinical Assembly conference in Atlanta. By the time he landed in the U.S., Lapid had learned that Prime Minister Netanyahu, in a last-minute political maneuver, called off the early elections.

In his speech ( Lapid touched on all the right chords. He told the crowd of Conservative rabbis they are "the last line of defense that believes that Judaism shouldn't be the jailhouse of ideas, but the liberator of ideas," and promised to do all in his power "to make it feasible to women, Conservative or Reform, to pray at the wailing wall, wearing their prayer shawls." Lapid also argued that "the majority of Israelis are actually Conservative, they just don't know it." "We look forward to working with him on these issues," said Rabbi Schonfeld, who described the leader of Yesh Atid party as "a very bright, possibly brilliant charismatic individual."

Ties Lapid forged with members of the American Jewish community throughout the years proved helpful when he embarked on his political career. In just one month in 2012, Lapid raised nearly $30,000 from American Jewish supporters and Israeli expatriates living in the United States. One of the notable donors is leading Jewish philanthropist Michael Steinhardt.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

A Response to "Re-engineered United Synagogue has made great strides"

A Response to "Re-engineered United Synagogue has made great strides"

Rabbi Steven Wernick's OpEd "Re-engineered United Synagogue has made great strides" (Jan 15) expresses dismay that, despite the USCJ strategic plan adopted three years ago in response to a threatened large-scale revolt of Conservative synagogues, there remains a "narrative of decline" among some in the media and some "critics." But sometimes narratives are true. Wernick correctly points to the considerable re-engineering USCJ has accomplished since the beginning of his tenure. But that's a big part of the problem. Engineering is the design, building, and use of engines, machines, and structures. Engineers are not about purpose - they are experts on efficiency. Just as the most efficient method of animal sacrifice would not resonate with Rabbi Solomon Schechter, the founder of the United Synagogue of America (today the USCJ), so too the centralized institutional model of USCJ does not speak to today's mobile/hyper-local communities that have evolved within Schechter's Movement. Conservative Judaism will continue to thrive and evolve. But that will be more possible when its members and leaders remember that the message of Conservative Judaism is not the same as institutional continuity.

Rabbi Menachem Creditor
Congregation Netivot Shalom
Berkeley, CA

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

From Camp Ramah: Retreats for Married Couples with a Spouse Recently Converted to Judaism

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National Ramah Commission, Inc. of The Jewish Theological Seminary 
January 2013
Shevat 5773
Dear Rabbinic Colleagues:

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Our first series of retreats:

Fantastic opportunities for young married couples (20's and 30's) 
with a spouse who has recently converted to Judaism
  • celebrate Jewish life 
  • experience a joyful Shabbat 
  • build strong friendships with other couples

Please forward this email to couples from your communities who would benefit from a Shabbat experience designed specifically for them.

Three options for Spring 2013:
  • West Coast: April 12-14, 2013 at Ramah California (Ojai, CA: 1.5 hrs from LA)
  • Northeast: May 10-12, 2013 at Ramah New England (Palmer, MA: 1 hr from Boston)
  • Southeast: May 24-26, 2013 at Ramah Darom (Clayton, GA: 2 hrs from Atlanta)
Retreats begin on Friday afternoon and conclude on Sunday morning. Program cost is $200 per couple per retreat, and includes kosher meals, snacks, lodging and program (subsidized by National Ramah). Due to the generous support of the RA, additional funding may be available to help underwrite the cost of OpenDoor Retreats for couples you recommend.

For additional information, please visit, or contact us at (212) 678-8881 or

Please give us your thoughts for more retreats in this 5-minute survey.

Mitch Cohen

  Cheryl Magen

Rabbi Mitchell Cohen
National Ramah Director
Cheryl Magen
Director, OpenDoor Retreats

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Dear Rabbinic Colleagues,

Every year, hundreds of people across North America proudly choose to be Jewish. You and your colleagues work hard to prepare, teach, guide, and celebrate their progress. As you are the rabbinic link to Jews by choice on their Jewish journey, we would like to partner with you by offering an opportunity for a Jewish living experience in the form of a retreat. We believe that retreat programs impact people in powerful ways. Packing your bags and physically going away somewhere, unplugging from the day-to-day concerns and pressures and connecting with like-minded people in a natural setting is a recipe for success! The Ramah Camping Movement has been doing this for years.

The National Ramah Commission and the William Davidson Graduate School of Jewish Education of The Jewish Theological Seminary are proud to announce OpenDoor Retreats, a series of short-term programs for couples, families, and individuals who are celebrating aspects of life's journey or may be challenged by bumps in the road. JTS Chancellor Arnold Eisen feels strongly that we need MORE of this type of experiential education for the Jewish people.

As indicated above, the first series of retreats will take place this spring and is designed for young married couples (20's and 30's) with a spouse who has recently converted to Judaism (no children at this pilot retreat). Please forward this email to couples from your communities who would benefit from a Shabbat experience designed specifically for them.

Other short-term experiences offered in the future may connect people through specific elements of commonality such as (but not limited to) adoptive families, or families who are raising children while also caring for aging parents. Another type of short-term program may be thematic such as (but not limited to): "Healing," "Spirituality," or "God Moments." OpenDoor Retreats may take place at Ramah conference centers in North America or off-site as travel programs.

Please join us as we celebrate this next phase of experiential learning for our communities!


Rabbi Mitchell Cohen, National Ramah Director
Cheryl Magen, Director, OpenDoor Retreats

P.S. Please give us your thoughts for more retreats in this 5-minute survey.