Alan Silverstein

Conservative Judaism and Israel: A response to Daniel Gordis

The notion that Masorti/Conservative Jews don't support the Jewish state is not borne out by the data
Conservative rabbis from across the United States surround Rachel Goldberg and Jon Polin (center), whose son Hersh Goldberg-Polin was taken hostage on Oct. 7, 2023, at the Fuchsberg Jerusalem Center, October 31, 2023. (Courtesy Fuchsberg Center)
Conservative rabbis from across the United States surround Rachel Goldberg and Jon Polin (center), whose son Hersh Goldberg-Polin was taken hostage on Oct. 7, 2023, at the Fuchsberg Jerusalem Center, October 31, 2023. (Courtesy Fuchsberg Center)

Daniel Gordis’ blog post, “How my toddler grandson convinced me it was time to leave Conservative Judaism,” implies that even during wartime a significant portion of Conservative/Masorti Jews and rabbis do not support Israel.

Not true! Quite the contrary! Among non-Orthodox Jews, Conservative/Masorti Jews comprise part of the backbone of Zionism.

Global Conservative/Masorti Zionism is anchored in Mercaz Olami, our Zionist arm, with 16 country-based chapters worldwide.

The war commenced on October 7. Within a week a solidarity mission was organized by Conservative/Masorti’s Fuchsberg Center. The following week a second mission was arranged by Mercaz Olami and its allied global Zionist arm, Masorti Olami.

Most of the participants in the two missions were Conservative rabbis. When Mercaz Olami mission participants met with President Herzig, he was amazed. From a group of 30, 4 had children or siblings serving in the IDF. He even took their names to send them personal notes.

Cantor Luis Cattan chants a prayer for the dead at Kibbutz Be’eri on a mission of Conservative Jewish leaders to Israel on Oct. 30, 2023. (Screenshot)

Additional synagogue-based missions are being planned for December and January, as is a Misson by the Cantors’ Assembly and by Mercaz for its worldwide chapter leaders

The 900,000 Canadian, Latin American, European, Australian, FSU Conservative Jews are staunch Zionists. They visit Israel. Some speak Hebrew. They teach their children about Israel in synagogues, schools, camps, and Israel experiences. Some family members have made “Aliya.”

The majority of the 1.2 million Conservative/Masorti Jews in the United States identify with Israel. According to the 2020 Pew Study of American Jewry.

95% of Conservative Jews indicate that “belonging to the Jewish people” is “important” to them.

93% feel “a responsibility” to “help Jews in need.”

78% feel “emotionally attached” to Israel.

77% feel “a commonality” with Jews in Israel.

75% follow news about Israel.

71% donated to a Jewish charity during the past year.

66% regard “caring about Israel” as being either “essential” or “important” to them.

61% watch television programs with Jewish/Israeli themes.

59% have been to Israel, most more than one time.

54% listen to Jewish or Israeli music.

43% attend Jewish/Israeli film festivals.

Conservative Jews represent almost 30% of those who are synagogue members in the United States. Conservative shuls play an important role in support of Zionism. For example, delegations from Conservative congregations have comprised the largest “stream” at the annual AIPAC Policy Conference.

♦Related: From anger to embrace
♦Related: My toddler convinced me…to leave Conservative Judaism

A sizable minority of married American-Jewish olim and a plurality of American young single adult olim come from Conservative Jewish households. Many Conservative rabbis with adult offspring have at least one son or daughter who has moved permanently to Israel. I am proud to be among them.

Pro-Israel attitudes can be traced to Conservative Judaism’s youth programming, such as Solomon Schechter Day Schools and USY. Nativ, USY’s gap year Masa Israel Journey program, reports that 96% of its alumni get involved in Israel-centered and Jewish organizational life on campus, with 77% in leadership positions; 16% make aliyah.

Nearly 100% of the alumni of the Conservative Camp Ramah system have been to Israel, 85% more than once. Almost all feel “attached” to Israel, 75% have close friends or immediate family living in Israel, 5% currently reside in Israel, and 29% have lived in Israel for three months or more.

Each Ramah camp hosts a delegation of Jewish Agency shlichim, cultural emissaries. Ramah partners with the Nefesh B’Nefesh aliyah organization in programs in six metropolitan areas and on 15 campuses. (Among the roster of former Ramahniks is Israel’s president, Isaac Herzog.)

Conservative congregations represent the largest component within the State of Israel Bonds national USA synagogue campaign. Philanthropic involvement by Conservative Jews is pivotal to the UJA campaigns of Jewish federations across the United States. Their contributions are essential to Jewish National Fund and to Friends of the Israel Defense Forces.

Family foundations established by Conservative Jews often designate funds for Israel-based projects. The Movement produces a plurality of both lay leaders and professionals who steer institutional life on behalf of the Jewish community and Israel.

Along with schools and youth movements, American Jewry’s religious movements were the backbone of the recent March on Washington.

At this moment, we need solidarity with Israel and for Jewish unity. We need positivity toward each and every Jewish religious stream.

Am Yisrael Chai!

About the Author
Rabbi Alan Silverstein, PhD, was religious leader of Congregation Agudath Israel in Caldwell, NJ, for more than four decades, retiring in 2021. He served as president of the Rabbinical Assembly, the international association of Conservative rabbis (1993-95); as president of the World Council of Conservative/Masorti Synagogues (2000-05); and as chair of the Foundation for Masorti Judaism in Israel (2010-14). He currently serves as president of Mercaz Olami, representing the world Masorti/Conservative movement. He is the author of “It All Begins with a Date: Jewish Concerns about Interdating,” “Preserving Jewishness in Your Family: After Intermarriage Has Occurred,” and “Alternatives to Assimilation: The Response of Reform Judaism to American Culture, 1840-1930.”