We need to keep our eyes on the ball over the next 12 months to protect Jewish rights and prosperity around the world. A number of familiar and unfamiliar challenges are converging that threaten the interests of Jews of all stripes and colors. In 2014, I think it is vital we tackle these four issues to ensure Jews’ rights and equal footing among the world’s other 7 billion citizens.
1. Roll back anti-Jewish legislation in Europe
Circumcision. Kosher meat. Yarmulkes. All these staples of Jewish life have faced legislative or judicial bans in the last several years. The Jewish community worldwide, whether European Jews would welcome their involvement or not, have a vested interest in protecting the rights of the Jewish people to those rituals and talismans. They are essentials to Jewish life in varying degrees, but all being the subject of restrictive laws all elevate to the same level of importance.
Global Jewry’s priority needs to be 1) promote the freedom of religion and simultaneously defend its practice from zealous secular laws, 2) counter attacks on practices like circumcision by openly promoting them, 3) influence European Union policy to the point that religious rights are protected continent wide from individual countries’ attempts to restrict free practice, and 4) to advocate for the rights of parents to raise children as they see fit / to do for them what they see are in their best interests. This fourth point is a parental right.
2. Establish stronger ties between Israeli and North American Jewry
If the recent Jewish Federations of North America GA in Jerusalem was any indication, Israeli and NA Jews are not on the same page.
Of all the cross-continental Jewish relationships, this one is the essential. Most of global Jewry’s resources are split among the US, Canada and Israel. Given the widening divisions between Israeli and American Judaism, it’s imperative for uncommon groups to find common ground and address mutual interests worldwide: protection of Jewish holy sites, stronger Jewish outreach and anti-assimilation efforts. This dovetails with my third point . . .
3. Bridge gaps between Orthodox and non-Orthodox groups in the United States
Not close the gaps, but bridge them; make them narrower. There are common launching points in terms of outreach and initiatives -accessibility to kosher food, expanded and cheaper Jewish education among them – where groups can work together to enrich the lives of Jewish of multiple affiliations, ambiguous affiliations and no affiliation.
Strategically, it hurts the global Jewish community if these groups cannot get on the same page and continue to work on global Jewish initiatives in different committees. Jewish federations, Orthodox and Chabad congregations need to begin working together, even for the sake of just building relationships, to lay the groundwork for more effective political and international initiatives in the near future. Those initiatives could be critical, whether they deal with the aforementioned expansion of anti-Jewish legislation in the European Union or security concerns for the State of Israel.
4. Conversion. GET. IT. TOGETHER.
Stop it. Seriously. This is the mack-daddy. Congregations worldwide need to converge on this issue and come to a practical, efficient common ground.
Efforts have been made in the past, namely the Ne’eman Commission and Norman Lamm‘s attempt at a common rabbinical court to get Reform, Conservative and Orthodox groups to coordinate a common conversion policy. Even if some groups continue to reject a compromise with non-Orthodox leaders, something must be implemented that forces the issue and makes it difficult for Ultra-Orthodox Jews to ignore. On the one hand, it’s imperative that Orthodox leaders acknowledge the bare requirements of conversions and ease up on the excessive restrictions imposed over the last several years that seem to discourage conversions rather than facilitate them. On the other, Reform and Conservative Jews need to accept certain standards of commitment from their candidates that they would not otherwise.
I’m sure there are plenty of other things that need to be on this list. The task is immense and the time is short, but consider where we might be January 1, 2015 if the Jewish World makes even a nanometer of a step forward on any of these issues, we will be better off. But we know minute progress will only suffice for so long. We have played with fire for so long; we need to be able to quell the blaze.