An Open Letter of Support to JAFI Chair Isaac Herzog

The Masorti/Conservative Movement is extremely pleased to welcome you as the new Chair of the Jewish Agency for Israel. You are an inspiring leader and will bring blessing to Jewry around the world. You have identified the religious streams as “strategic assets,” which Israel’s government must not disregard. We stand ready to be your partner, accessing our multiple pro-Israel qualities.

Conservative rabbis and synagogue delegations are the largest component among AIPAC’s Policy Conference [PC] representation from among “the Streams of Judaism.” Media report the growing number of kippot worn by PC delegates, yet incorrectly assume that they are all worn by Orthodox attendees. This group includes 200 Conservative rabbis and hundreds of our kippah-clad Conservative lay people.

The majority of Nefesh B’Nefesh’s young Olim hail from Conservative households. The Michael Levin Lone Soldiers Centers report that more than half of the American Lone Soldiers were produced by Conservative Jewish homes. If you would ask my generation of Conservative rabbis, old enough to have adult offspring, you will find that many of us [such as my household] are blessed to have had at least one of our sons or daughters “make Aliya.”

The Pew Survey of 2012-3 indicated that political opinions vary from Right to Center to Left, yet 88% of self-identified Conservative Jews feel an “attachment” to Israel, especially the 56% who have spent time in the Medinah. Related statistics indicate that our congregations, Solomon Schechter Day schools, USY youth chapters, Ramah Camps, and Israel-programs impressively transmit Zionism.

For example, USY’s gap year program NATIV is a very successful MASA program: 96% of alumni are involved in Israel and Jewish organizations on campus, with 77% in leadership positions. Furthermore, 16% make Aliyah!

Recent studies of Ramah alumni reveal that close to 100% have been to Israel. 85% have been to Israel more than once. Almost all feel “attached” to Israel, with two thirds feeling “very attached.” Three quarters have close friends or immediate family living in Israel. 5% currently reside in Israel, 29% have lived in Israel for three or more months. The Ramah Camp Movement partners with Nefesh B’Nefesh. A Nefesh B’Nefesh shlaiach is placed at each of Ramah’s 10 overnight camps. Ramah/Nefsh B’Nefesh programs are offered in six North American major metropolitan areas and 15 college campuses. Each Ramah camp hosts a large delegation of Jewish Agency Shlichim, impart Hebrew language and Israel identity

Our congregations promote Israel at Shabbat and Holy Day prayer. In my synagogue, we display the American and Israeli flags. We recite prayers for the USA and for the Jewish State. We include liturgy on behalf of United States Armed Forces and the IDF. We chant the traditional texts affirming the centrality of Eretz Yisrael. Sermons and guest speakers often discuss issues facing the Jewish State. During the past eight years alone, nearly 20 of our Young Adults have become Olim.

Conservative Jews both individually and collectively are major donors and leaders on behalf of Israel. Conservative synagogues are the largest component within the Israel Bonds nationwide Synagogue Campaign. Conservative household philanthropy is pivotal to local Jewish Federations. Conservative Jews are crucial to the success of Jewish National Fund. Conservative Jews have established hundreds upon hundreds of Family Foundations which allocate designated funds for Israel-based projects.

The Pew Study of 2012-3 affirms our substantial size. 1.2 million American Jews are self-identified with Conservative Judaism. This is the same number as indicated by the National Jewish Population Survey of 2000. Three out of 10 American synagogue members belong to a Conservative congregation. An additional 800,000 folks in Europe, Latin America, Israel and beyond self-identify with Masorti/Conservative Judaism. Inside Israel, the Masorti Movement has grown from 50 (in 2000) to 80 kehillot, offering not just prayer but a full range of activities. Our NOAM Youth Movement has expanded into 20 local chapters, gaining governmental recognition. Our Ramah NOAM summer camp is bursting at the seams. Thousands of Israelis turn to our Movement each year for B’nai Mitzvah and other life cycle ceremonies. We also host more than 100,000 Diaspora Jews each year at Robinson’s Arch.

A Spring 2017 poll conducted by the Sochnut’s Jewish Peoples Policy Institute revealed that the majority of Israelis prefer family seating (men, women and children together) for the celebration of their family smachot. The full implementation of Ezrat Yisrael at Robinson’s Arch would enable tens of thousands of Israelis to mark their spiritual family milestones in a manner reflective of their preferences.

Our commitment to the State of Israel and the People of Israel is unshakable. But we do have a quarrel. We insist upon the implications of the Prime Minister’s words to the General Assembly of JFNA in November, 2015. He promised “to ensure that all Jews can feel at home in Israel, Reform Jews, Conservative Jews, Orthodox Jews… that the Kotel will be a source of unity for the Jewish People, not a point of division.” We will never ask people to curtail visits to Israel but will seek an itinerary which includes site visits and spokespersons promoting Religious Pluralism. We oppose calls to withhold donations to Israel but affirm that a suitable response is to reallocate more and more of these funds to grow “the religious streams.” Our mission is focused upon The Prime Minister’s agreement to “One People, One Wall,” of proportional treatment for all streams, of mutual respect between Israel and the Diaspora, and of Ahavat Hinam, the promoting love of all Jews for one another.

JAFI Chair Herzog, we are proud to work with you, serving as a strategic asset for the State of Israel.

About the Author
Rabbi Alan Silverstein, PhD has been the religious leader of Congregation Agudath Israel in Caldwell, New Jersey since 1979. From … 1993 to 1995 he served as President of the International Rabbinical Assembly of the Conservative Movement. From 2000 - 2005 he was President of the World Council of Conservative/Masorti Synagogues. He served as Chair of the Foundation for Masorti Judaism in Israel from 2010-2014. He currently serves as the president of Mercaz Olami. He is the author of It All Begins With A Date: Jewish Concerns About Interdating; Preserving Jewishness In Your Family: Once Intermarriage Has Occurred; as well as Alternative to Assimilation: A Social History of the Reform Movement in American Judaism, 1840-1930.
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