Of Deals, Democracy and Declarations – A Zionist Reflects on the 4th of July

Today, July 4, 2017, 10 Tammuz 5777 on the Jewish calendar, is the 241st birthday of the USA.  For me, these days also mark the seventh birthday of a modern Zionist spiritual/social/civil rights movement working to build a healthy modern Jewish democracy in Israel.  It has taken these seven years for AIPAC and the Conference of Presidents to finally react to what the Sacred Rights, Sacred Song Project has been reacting to for seven years.  The terribly timed announcement of the suspension of the Kotel Agreement and the introduction of the Conversion legislation (again) finally shocked major players of modern organized Jewish life into action.  The Jewish world is now openly talking about the proverbial elephant in the room – the express violation of the spiritual civil rights of Jews Other than Orthodox by the “status quo” Orthodox monopoly in the modern State of Israel.  This has been the focus of the SRSS Project  whose mission since 2010 has been to draw attention to and support the Modern Jewish Democracy Movement within the modern State of Israel.  The time has come for more communities to work with the SRSS Project and produce Concerts of Concern in their communities in order to raise their voices in concern.

As my brother Scott said, “American Jews don’t like it when the State of Israel breaks an agreement with them.” It was clear to me a year ago that the ultra-Orthodox coalition partners were squashing the historic Kotel Agreement as no action was being taken by Netanyahu’s government.  While the possibility that the Jewish People would actually work together to expand Holy Space at the Kotel was exciting, the reality of Israel’s political structure doomed the project from the start for the simple reason that the Prime Minister values staying in power over the Government of Israel’s promise, covenant if you will, with the Jewish People.  Shame on Bibi for putting his political survival over the future of the Jewish People.

Seven years ago this coming Rosh Hodesh Av, Rabbi Steven C. Wernick and I were immediately behind Women of the Wall leader Anat Hoffman when she was arrested for carrying a Torah away from the Kotel towards Robinson Arch.  That day sparked the beginning of the Modern Jewish Democracy Movement.  The chagrin we feel today corresponds to how much progress was made during those seven years, culminating in the now suspended Kotel agreement.  The betrayal and sense of delegitimization is real amongst Jews Other than Orthodox and it is time for all Zionists who care about a fair and just “Public Jewish Law” to raise their voices in concern.

NYT writer Isabel Kershner wrote a comprehensive piece in today’s Times entitled “Liberals Abroad Bristle as Netanyahu Yields to Orthodox Pressure.”  Reporting on the protest held outside the Prime Minister’s home on Saturday night, Ms. Kershner offered this quote from a third-generation Israeli whose children went to a pluralistic TALI school in Jerusalem, Ofra Daus Kreisel, “I want the American Jews to flex their muscles and set an ultimatum.  There is a feeling that we are only going backward in this country.”

On that hot Jerusalem day in July seven years ago, I stood next to my friend, Israeli Reform Rabbi Levi Weiman-Kelman, as WOW leader Anat Hoffman was dragged away, up the stairs, still clutching the Women of the Wall Torah scroll that Levi had passed to Anat over the mechitza.  In that first moment of shock, I exclaimed to Levi, “Wow, that was civil disobedience.  I was too young for the civil rights movement of the “Secular 60’s”, but I am going to sing my way through the spiritual civil rights movement of the “Sacred 70’s.” In other words, I declared to myself then and there that I would “flex my muscles.” Seven years later, on Rosh Hodesh Av, 5777, I will be at the Kotel with the Women of the Wall, joining the Jewish People, with Jews who define themselves in a variety of ways, all who understand that as Israel approaches her 70th Birthday, the religious status quo simply must go.  On this Rosh Hodesh Av, the Hallelujah of our Hallel must reflect not just the glory and the majesty of the Levites from days gone by, but the strength and the power of the Jewish people when we rise up, especially in song, on behalf of our beloved Modern Jewish State of Israel.

Which brings me back to today, the 241st 4th of July in the USA.  The elephant in the room here is of course, President Donald Trump, who to my dismay, is embraced by Israel’s Prime Minister.  Yet even Mr. Trump reminded his friend Mr. Netanyahu, with respect to the Kotel, that a deal is a deal.  The mission of the Sacred Rights, Sacred Song Project, using the megaphone of choral music, is to be our collective musical voice demanding change.  Through performances of the orchestrated cantata, SRSS points out to Americans and Israelis that in order to truly be a homeland for the Jewish people, there must be fundamental change within Israeli society.  Israel need only look to the United States for an example of a society that has seen change over the 241 years of our existence.

Today, as an American, I celebrate 241 years of my country whose  lifeblood is social change through participatory democracy.  Further, as an American Jew, I celebrate the freedom to develop the SRSS Project  to be a a Zionist voice for a new form of Public Jewish Law in Israel.  On this day, especially, I celebrate that Israel’s Declaration of Independence is grounded in America’s Founding documents, which in turn are grounded in our Jewish tradition.  I am inspired to be an activist, knowing that Israel aspires to be a nation that “will uphold the full social and political equality of all its citizens, without distinction of race, creed or sex; will guarantee full freedom of conscience, worship, education and culture….”, concepts grounded in the Jewish notions of human dignity and equality.  To this I say, Happy 4th of July/Sh’ma Israel!

About the Author
Francine M. Gordon is an artist/activist who maintains homes in New York and Cleveland. From November 2010 through November 2016, through The Sacred Rights, Sacred Song Project, she produced over 10 Concerts of Concern in the US and Israel. Since establishing her New York residence, Ms. Gordon has become a member of the New York Federation’s Israeli Judaism committee which focuses on exactly the same issues as SRSS. In addition, she has become a proud member of the Zamir Chorale which allows her to express her Zionism through song.
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