Federation movement demands Israel reverse ‘divisive’ moves on Western Wall, conversion

LOS ANGELES (JTA) – The Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) called on Israel to reverse its “divisive and damaging” steps to freeze an agreement on egalitarian prayer at the Western Wall and its support of a bill that would grant a monopoly to Orthodox authorities in Israel over conversions to Judaism.

The JFNA’s board of trustees, representing Jewish communal philanthropies across the United States and Canada, passed the resolution Monday morning on the second day of the organization’s annual General Assembly here.

The sharply worded statement, which warned that ignoring the concerns of the non-Orthodox Jewish movements could “undermine the Zionist vision and the State of Israel’s sacred role as a national home for the entire Jewish people,” was an unusual step for a fundraising umbrella that seeks to build consensus between American and Israeli Jewry.

It also came just hours before a speech at the General Assembly by Israel’s president, Reuven Rivlin, and a day before Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was to address the 3,000 professional and volunteer leaders via satellite.

Amid pressure by its haredi Orthodox coalition partners, the Israeli government in June suspended the agreement to expand and upgrade the egalitarian prayer section at the southern end of the Western Wall after passing the deal in 2016. The government had negotiated the agreement with the Reform and Conservative movements along with the Women of the Wall group and the Jewish Agency for Israel.

The conversion bill would nullify Israel’s recognition of conversions performed in Israel under Reform and Conservative auspices, as well as a Supreme Court ruling recognizing conversions performed by private Orthodox rabbinic courts.

“We urge the leaders of Israel to fully appreciate the strength of feeling on this matter, and its detrimental effect on Jewish unity and world Jewry relations,” read the resolution, which seconded a similar resolution earlier this year by the Jewish Agency for Israel.

Jerry Silverman, CEO of the JFNA, addressed the anger of non-Orthodox Jews in the United States, a majority here and among the JFNA leadership, over the Orthodox religious monopoly in Israel.

“Can Israel truly be the nation-state of the Jewish people when there is not official recognition of non-Orthodox movements in Israel?” he asked in a speech Sunday night to loud applause.

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