Federation leaders are poised for a trip to Tel-Aviv this October, where the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) will hold its annual General Assembly — headlined “Israel and the Diaspora: We Need to Talk.” But are they going to Israel for true dialogue, or merely to change Israeli minds? This is the question that the Coalition for Jewish Values (CJV), representing more than 1000 North American traditional Orthodox rabbis, posed to Jerry Silverman, President and CEO of the JFNA. A letter from the CJV contends that the GA program “seems to place far less emphasis upon understanding Israelis’ different positions than how best to communicate American views.”
“The program is almost entirely devoted to Israel: its security, religious practice, and overall future,” said Rabbi Pesach Lerner, President of the CJV and author of the letter. “We were disheartened to see that the agenda seems more about influencing Israeli opinion than understanding it.”
As examples, the CJV letter highlighted a session on “Peace-Process Realities” that belies the majority belief in Israel that such a process no longer exists, and one on “Market Forces: The Business of Religious Pluralism” which could be seen “as outlining a business plan to impose changes to Israel’s religious practices through economic coercion.” Traditional Orthodox Jews, called charedim in Israel, are addressed only as a group to be “integrated,” rather than, in Lerner’s words, “an outstanding model and resource for Jewish life.”
The CJV further noted that what the JFNA identifies as “American” views on liberalism, pluralism and peace are a misnomer, given that Orthodox American Jews, the fastest (and only) growing segment of American Jewry, overwhelmingly agree with the Israeli consensus in each of the highlighted areas of difference.
“Most important of all, Jewish life is growing in Israel,” said Rabbi Lerner, “while non-Orthodox Jewish affiliation is literally collapsing here in America, with intermarriage now over 70% and synagogue attendance at all-time lows. One could hardly imagine an issue more essential to the JFNA than the future of American Jewry, yet the program expresses no interest in discussing this crucial topic.” Rabbi Lerner mentioned in the letter that “Israel has a surfeit of Rabbinic scholars, creative thinkers and master teachers able to articulate successful models for strengthening Jewish communities.”
Rabbi Lerner described the CJV as “urgently waiting for a response” and anxious to hold a substantive discussion regarding the issues raised in their letter.