Out Loud

  • The women of the wail

    04 May 2012

    by Rabbi Joshua Hammerman


    Just as the so-called “War on Women” has become a major issue in American politics, it appears likely that it will be prime subject in the upcoming Israeli campaign. Pundits and politicians from around the world, including Hilary Clinton, have joined Israelis in questioning continued segregation, discrimination and humiliation of women in the public sphere. The images of females being shunned on buses and spat at on their way to school have generated an outcry even among Israel’s most solid supporters, and they’ve found their way into the mainstream media, permeating the pages of The New York Times and the airwaves of CNN.

    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu understands that the treatment of women is a ticking electoral time bomb. Although most of the coverage of his March speech at AIPAC dealt with his use of Holocaust imagery and the Iranian nuclear duck, something he said at the very end of the speech got one of the loudest ovations:

    And as prime minister of Israel, I will never allow anything to threaten Israel’s democratic way of life. And most especially, I will never tolerate any discrimination against women.

    While the prime target of feminist scorn is typically the haredim, there is more than enough blame to go around. Secular leaders and police have tacitly accepted the increased humiliation of women because of coalition politics and simple apathy, but also ostensibly out of respect to ancient traditions. Funny, I don’t recall where the Talmud states that women need to ride in the back of anything. And nowhere do Jewish sources suggest that there should be gender segregated HMO clinics, banks, elevators, grocery stores and pizza parlors, and a corner snack shop in the Bukharian quarter of Jerusalem that has a side entrance with a sign marked “women only” (as reported in ”Excluded, for God’s Sake: Gender Segregation in the Public Sphere in Israel”).

    That “respect for ancient traditions” is overrated.

    Maybe this tipping point of outrage will bring about a change in attitude that, for too long, has tolerated the intolerable.

    A new form of exile

    Since 1989, the Women of the Wall, a prayer group consisting of women from all Jewish streams, has been denied the basic right that every Jewish group should have: the opportunity to pray peacefully at Judaism’s holiest site. The Kotel should be for everyone. Sadly it is not. As one committed to egalitarianism and inclusiveness, I’ve long since stopped bringing my congregation groups to the Kotel Plaza to pray together. Too many scary experiences have led us to the Robinson’s Arch area, which is the Kotel’s equivalent of the back of the bus – though also a beautiful and peaceful spot.

    Who said the back of the bus can’t be comfortable?

    It’s the same Wall, but an area that can only be used by appointment, and it is clearly not the place that people think of when referring to the Kotel. For Jews from the liberal streams, to visit the Kotel these days is to experience a new form of exile at the very moment of supposed return. The Judaism that we grew up with is not accepted in the singular place that was intended to be for all of us, our courtyard of ingathering. Historically, the Kotel was never a synagogue, nor should it be one now, much less a place that excludes the majority of Jewish congregations from praying as they normally do. But even if it were a synagogue, what synagogue have you ever seen that sanctions people throwing everything from verbal abuse to chairs to excrement at women?

    I recall my first visit to that holy spot, on Tisha B’Av when I was 16, on a summer teen tour. In ancient times, the Kotel was the Temple’s outer, retaining wall, the place where all the people could gather, from the largest to the small, sheep and pigeons in hand, before arriving at the inner courtyards where degrees of separation set in. The Kotel has always been a festival of earthy democracy for the plain folk: the sweaty Herodian-era laborers who moved enormous slabs of rock; the late-Roman period artisans who scribbled joyous graffiti from Isaiah; the dying whispers of medieval pilgrims, having reached their long-sought final destination; the teary paratroopers in ’67; and the final breath of my grandmother, who never got there. At the Wall, the Jewish body beat with one heart.

    When I first came to the Kotel that Tisha B’Av, I saw a white dove about halfway up, glowing in the light, perched on a nest of moss. I quivered with recognition of the Shechina, God’s most manifest and loving presence, sent to that very spot to weep with Her people among the ruins. For centuries, that legend and that weeping bound motionless stones to a yearning nation. Now the stones have lost their heart — and strangers beware.

    The courageous Women of the Wall continue to stand their ground. Each month on Rosh Hodesh, they pray in the women’s section of the main plaza, at least for a while. In order to read Torah, they then descend to Robinson’s Arch. And they do this in an atmosphere of intimidation and abuse, some of which is tolerated by the police, reminiscent of the anti-Semitism faced by Jews over the centuries as they sought only to pray in their little shtiebels in peace.

    ‘Why do they hate us?’

    A few days ago, I received an email from Allison Green, a congregant of mine, a proud and committed young woman who is on a fellowship in Jerusalem this year. She decided to attend the Women of the Wall’s service last week for the first time, on Rosh Hodesh Iyar. With her permission I’m posting her stunning, distressing email here with minimal editing, because it is a reminder to us all that the things we have come to accept – or overlook – can appear incredibly shocking when seen through fresh eyes:

    Hi Rabbi Hammerman,

    How are you? I’m so sorry that I have been so out of touch all year. I’ve been meaning to email you since the fall and suddenly now, it’s late April. However, I’ve also been meaning to attend Rosh Chodesh services with Women of the Wall since the fall, but that did not happen until last Monday.

    I have a friend on Otzma who just moved to Jerusalem and started interning for Women of the Wall; since she now lives across the hall from me, I had no excuse not to join the group the other morning for what would be one of the most meaningful experiences of my life.

    We arrived at the Kotel a bit early and found a few of the organization’s board and staff members at the back of the women’s prayer section; they welcomed us with open arms and were extremely excited to meet the organization’s new intern. As 7:00 am rolled around, more and more women showed up, and we were all handed the new (and almost finished) Women of the Wall siddur for Rosh Chodesh. Apparently, the women who brought these for the group had problems getting the books into the Kotel complex, as security guards argued that 7 siddurim was a large number and broke some rule instituted by the rabbi in charge of the Kotel. Still, they were somehow able to bring the books in and distribute them.

    Next, the policemen hired by the organization for our protection showed up. This was our cue: those of us who had them took out our talises and kippot. The first Orthodox woman to come up to us simply asked what blessing we say when we put on the talis; the second woman asked if our talises keep us warm; and, so, the heckling and harassment continued. Mind you, the policemen were there for our protection, but also to make sure that we did not break any laws; they filmed everything from the minute they arrived at the Kotel to the minute we left for Robinson’s Arch to read Torah. Still, before we even started praying, the Orthodox onlookers were not our only problem.

    The police told a young woman next to me that she was wearing her talis incorrectly, according to the rabbinical courts, because rather than wearing it like a scarf, as women are apparently supposed to do, she wore it as a prayer shawl. Some women thought they did this because she has led services before and would be doing so again that morning. Others thought it was because Orthodox women were saying things to us and the policemen felt the need to do something. Still others said that this particular young woman often gets a lot of grief because of her alternative haircut and piercings. I think that it may have been a combination of all these things. However, I also think that it was because those of us who were wearing talises were wearing very feminine ones, regardless of which style it was (simple shawl or the one you fold over the shoulders), but she was wearing a traditional white and navy talis which you fold over the shoulders.

    Regardless of the reason for their singling her out, she told the policemen to stop looking at her. The rest of us gathered to surround her so she could lead the service. Meanwhile, the police talked to their superiors on their radios and cell phones. There seemed to be a very good chance that our chazanit would be arrested at any moment.

    At this point, I felt my muscles tense and my jaw lock; my eyes, open wide, darted from one policeman to another. I found myself hiding in the middle of the crowd of women, right next to our chazanit. I shrank into myself and my generally decent posture ceased to exist. My shoulders were closer to my ears than I thought was humanly possible and I slouched so much that my back hurt.

    The concern over our chazanit only intensified when she alone, or all of us together, sang and prayed out loud. However, my own fears and discomfort quickly dissipated. The louder we sang, the taller I stood; the further into shacharit we prayed, the bigger my smile (and everyone else’s) grew. The policemen tried telling us that we were forbidden to sing, but they soon seemed to gather that there was no stopping us.

    Throughout the service, more and more women and girls joined us; some came ready with their tallises, others had no idea what was going on, but felt inclined to become part of the group. Tourists, seminary girls, and pious Kotel regulars stared at us as they entered the female section and approached the holiest Jewish site of today’s world. A few young men stood on chairs to see us from their seemingly endless side of the mechitzah. We could hear husbands, brothers and friends behind us, standing in the main part of the plaza in order to show their support and pray with us.

    Upon finishing Hallel, the organizers told us we would grab our stuff quickly and then walk to Robinson’s Arch together for the Torah reading. But, before we moved, we said the Prayer for the Women of the Wall. As I read the English translation, all I could think was “this prayer belongs in every siddur, everywhere; in every Jewish day school and Hebrew school classroom.”

    Finally, we quickly grabbed our things and sang and clapped our way to Robinson’s Arch. Tourists waiting in security lines, who probably had no idea what we were doing or that we were breaking any laws, clapped along with us as we passed.

    Since we could not bring a Torah into the Kotel complex, it was waiting for us in the archaeological park. We set down a table cloth and talis over a stack of ancient Jerusalem stone bricks and laid the torah down. It was as if this pile of bricks was left just for us as a lectern for the Torah. The organizers asked that the men and boys who joined us to step to one side, so that the women could have the “front row seats.” The entire Torah service was conducted by women. It was followed by a quick Musaf and then an oneg and dvar Torah. As I was already late for work, I grabbed a few almonds and was on my way.

    As I made my way out of the Old City, to a bus stop, and to my office on the other side of Jerusalem in Talpiyot, I could not stop thinking about what I had just done. I felt so empowered and rebellious, part of something so important and special, I wanted the whole world to know. Instead, I just smiled to myself, knowing that my morning made a difference in the struggle for religious pluralism in Israel, a cause that I continue to work so hard for as the Public and International Communications Fellow at Melchior Social Initiatives.

    When I settled in at work, I opened the internet to find the headline “The Real War Against Women” near the top of my homepage. I immediately clicked and was redirected to Why do they Hate Us? The Real War on Women is in the Middle East. As I read, I felt my feminist high of the morning come tumbling down. While the article concentrates on Israel’s neighbors, which is for another email and conversation entirely, there was one quote, attributed to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that struck me: ‘”Why extremists always focus on women remains a mystery to me…. But they all seem to. It doesn’t matter what country they’re in or what religion they claim. They want to control women.” This resonated so deeply with me because she’s right: whether we’re talking about the Taliban, the Christian right in the US, or the hareidim and Chief Rabbinate of Israel, they are all patriarchal social movements which seek to unjustifiably and irrationally control women with burkas, trans-vaginal ultrasounds, and a monopoly over religious expression in the Jewish State, which is supposed to be the only democracy in the Middle East.

    I could go on, but I need to get back to work and do not want to take another week to actually send you this email.

    I hope all is well and I look forward to seeing you when I come home this summer.

    Best,
    Alli

    I read Alli’s words and shuddered. Why are women treated so harshly, so many decades after they were supposedly liberated? What craziness guides the thinking of supposedly sane men, who blindly follow what they misconstrue to be God’s wishes? How long will the politicians endorse extremism and tolerate hate?

    I’ve always loved the Kotel. And yet, now, as the global War on Women plays itself out in Israel, the Wall has become a locus of strife rather than unity.

    How lonely sit the stones of the Kotel. The dove is gone.

    The Shechina has left the building.

    It is up to us all to welcome her back.


    This article was originally published in The Times of Israel and is reposted with the author's permission.

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  • Progress?

    30 April 2012

    by Noam Shelef

    Social change is a long, drawn out process, frustratingly so. Sometimes it’s hard to decide whether to welcome modest change, or wait to celebrate until the change amounts to a significant revolution.

    Two of our colleagues -- Rabbi David Rosenn (our COO) and Naomi Paiss (our Communications Director) -- had an instructive email exchange earlier last week about the significance of a recent High Court ruling. I thought it was worth sharing.


    David:

    Israeli advocacy groups (including our grantees) are talking about this latest High Court ruling: a victory (although partial and complicated) over the ultra-orthodox hegemony on the conversion issue.

    Naomi:

    It’s still a situation where you have to convert Orthodox to be considered Jewish in Israel, so the impact is limited. And this is a case where the Orthodox were trying to reverse other Orthodox conversions – nowhere is there a hint of recognition for Conservative or Reform conversions.

    David:

    I won't argue about limited impact, but the story here is that the High court told the rabbinical court that they had gone too far. That is a positive within the current framework.

    Also, there's an underlying outrage. The rabbinical courts had, in a radical interpretation of Jewish law, retroactively annulled the conversions of people who had been living for years as Jews.

    It's like the U.S. Supreme Court telling Madeline Albright that she's no longer a U.S. citizen because they deem her current behavior to be so unAmerican that her oath of citizenship must have been a lie and therefore her status as a U.S. citizen was never valid. Crazy!

    We shouldn’t have to wait until there is a story about the elimination of Orthodox requirements for conversion, to see progress. Even this more limited issue is significant.

    Naomi:

    Excellent point, that last one. Unfortunately, if we insist on real pluralism in conversion to celebrate, or even better for the disestablishment of the ultra-Orthodox hierarchy, we might be sitting next to each other at the Hebrew Home when we break out the champagne.

    But in the meantime, I’m more worried about by the link you sent me regarding the ordinary, Masorti woman who was threatened in her ultra-Orthodox neighborhood. When the modesty police become vigilantes, the trend we’re seeing of extremism shading into violence should be our central concern.

     

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  • One woman’s battle against extremism

    18 April 2012

    By Roni Hazon-Weiss

    RoniPosterI was delighted to take part in promoting public awareness for preventing the exclusion of women in public spaces in Jerusalem specifically and Israel in general. My name is Roni Hazon-Weiss, 28 years old, Jerusalemite, married to Nachi and mother to 9 month old Yuval, a teacher and educator at the Givat Ronen school in the Katamon neighborhood of Jerusalem, studying for my Master’s in Talmud and Halacha and Women’s Studies at the Schechter Institute.

    In addition, I am a social activist in the “Yerushalmim” (Jerusalemites) movement, and a board member of Ne’emanei Torah vaAvodah. I joined Ne’emanei Torah vaAvodah in order to take a part in changing the national religious community in Israel. The movement – which was established in the 70s – seeks to critique the Orthodox community and to present an alternative Jewish, religious, Halachic perspective on issues relating to religion and state, democracy, education, and the status of women. We work to prevent the growing extremism in the religious community. The movement is active in both spirit and deed.

    As part of my social activism, I participated in Yerushalmim’s campaign, “[Women] uncensored – men and women fighting against the exclusion of women in the public sphere”.

    The campaign began in Jerusalem, at the initiative of the Conservative rabbi, Uri Ayalon – the Director of Yerushalmim – in response to the absence of women in public space: on billboards, ads etc… The campaign, which started as a Jerusalem-based struggle, expanded into a nationwide struggle about the place of women in public spaces.

    When Rabbi Ayalon invited me to participate in the campaign, it was clear to me that I needed to take part in this initiative: as a woman, a mother, a teacher, a Jerusalemite, and an Orthodox person. Participation in the campaign was the beginning of the activities to return women to the public sphere, whether on billboards or as a part of ceremonies, cultural events, and the like.

    The sense that Jerusalem is slipping through our fingers prompted a personal and public realization that shaping Jerusalem’s character as a pluralistic capital is in the hands of the general public. It’s in the hands of the majority to which I belong as an Orthodox woman. We now know that we cannot continue to compromise on our values in the name of the “public sensitivities.” After all, we too have feelings. We must therefore stress to everyone the value system by which we live. As a religious woman it was important to me to take a part in the campaign in order to say that there is another Judaism, that this is not the Judaism I grew up on, and that I have a place in Judaism as a woman, both in the private and the public sphere.

    As a teacher, I was able to bring this value system to the classroom, to the boys and girls whom I teach. The poster campaign began while I was on maternity leave. When I returned to school, my students asked me about it.

    I could feel that my presence in this campaign increased the sense of belonging, and of pride, among my students. It triggered a deep discussion on values, on feminism, on activism, and on the difference between public and private spaces

    The campaign began by hanging huge posters from the balconies of private homes, coffee shops, and cultural institutions facing the street. The second stage was to place posters on billboards throughout Jerusalem. The advertising company we approached told us that we were crazy, that all our signs would be destroyed, that it would be a wasted effort. To my delight, they were wrong. Some posters were vandalized, but most were not.

    The campaign proved that we should not be afraid. In the wake of our efforts, advertising agencies and cultural institutions, such as the Jerusalem Theatre, found the courage to include women in different ads around the city.

    I choose to emphasize the fact that I am an Orthodox woman who is active in Ne’emanei Torah vaAvodah in order to convey that the censorship, the growing extremism, and the obliteration of women from public spaces is not the true face of Jewish Halacha, but the view of a radical minority which has taken hold in recent years and which has no basis in Jewish law. As part of my activism, it is important to me to show a different Halachic perspective, to work to advance gender equality, and to make women’s voices heard.

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  • Israeli Independence Day 2048: Shaharit's Centennial Celebration

    26 April 2012

    Imagine what Israel will look like on its 100th birthday.

    Israel of 2012 is a place of stark contradictions. For most Jews, Israel is a dream fulfilled: a national home and a place of their own. It is also a homeland for Palestinians who also seek a state of their own. Israel is a boisterous democracy, with courts committed to humane, liberal values and a contentious watchdog press. It is also a country where discrimination,, especially against Arabs, is commonplace. Israel's economic success has been remarkable, from the agricultural miracles wrought by the collectivism of its early days to the "Start-Up Nation" it has become. But economic growth has left many behind, producing gaps between the powerful haves and the vulnerable and often alienated have-nots. Israel is a rich and splendid quiltwork of cultures - some woven here and some gathered from every corner of the earth – that together produce literature, music, arts, sciences and scholarship of world renown. Yet many see it as a culture in decline, newly reluctant to fund universities, libraries, theaters and museums. Israel is a land of extravagant natural beauty. But its landscape is blighted by strip malls and polluted water and air, as open spaces yield to the asphalt and concrete of thoughtless development.

    All these contradiction can equally fund hope and despair. Increasingly, despair wins the day. It is a regrettable fact that most discussions of Israel’s future are self-lacerating and unflaggingly critical. They proceed from an unspoken assumption that today’s problems will only worsen tomorrow. Polls show that only a minority of Israelis believe that the future will be better than our embattled present. This pessimism is twice a problem. It prevents us from seeing Israel's extraordinary achievements, and thus from identifying those things that can strengthen and expand on those achievements. And it discourages us from giving voice to a vision for a better future. Absent such a vision for the future, it is hard to figure out what we ought to be doing today. Despair breeds inaction which in turn breeds despair.

    In the Fall of 2009, the Shaharit initiative was born. Its goals at the outset were at once both modest and ambitious – to bring a diverse group of Israelis together who would together imagine the future, and would then strategize about how to bring such a future into reality. We brought together a unique group of twenty participants, which has met regularly for the past two years. They came from varied social, cultural and religious backgrounds. They are Arabs and Jews, religiously observant and secular, Ashkenazi and Mizrachi, immigrants and native-born Israelis. All of us share criticisms of the current ideological discourse in Israel; we also share an aspiration to establish the intellectual and social infrastructure from which a new approach to Israel's future can emerge.

    To do this, we took to the road, meeting with leading scholars of Israel's politics, economics, law, history, culture and society. We spoke with politicians and policy makers. And we set out to revisit the country. We spent days and nights with Ultra-orthodox Jews in Beit Shemesh. We did the same with Russian immigrants in Ashdod, with Palestinian Israelis in Nazareth, with Mizrahi residents in the development town of Yerucham, with Bedouin in the neighboring unrecognized village of Rachma, and beyond the Green Line in the settlement of Kfar Etzion and the Palestinian town of Beit Jallah. We travelled to Efrat, Uhm el-Fahm, Tirat Carmel, Ein Hud, Haifa and Jerusalem. When the summer protests produced tent camps across the country, we visited them from Kiryat Shemona in the north to Dimona in the south.

    In every place we visited, we found people working with single-minded devotion to strengthen the places which they live – their neighborhoods, towns and cities -- and to building bridges between these communities and those that surround them. We met with concern for the future of the country, and frequently with disgust for its politicians. No less, we met with quiet and determined hope that things can be better.

    Our most surprising finding was a great and growing discrepancy between the way Israeli politics and society are discussed, at home and abroad, and the way they operate for real around the country. The dichotomies that so many of us have for so long believed define the country – Ashkenazi vs. Mizrahi, Jew vs. Arab, secular vs. religious, center vs. periphery, native vs. immigrant, left vs. right – no longer reflect the complexity of Israeli society. There are commonalities in values and in visions that have gone largely unnoticed, and in these things that we share one find seeds of a common future characterized not by conflict, but by community.

    We are publishing the conclusions from our experience in a series of essays. The first – Israel at 100 – indeed envisions what 2048 might be. In keeping with the spirit of Shaharit, it chooses optimism to pessimism; hope to despair. And in an attempt to capture something of our own conversations over the last two years, we have chosen to publish it as a Talmudic conversation, with the commentaries of Shaharit's travelers illuminating the essay.

    It is of course far from certain that the future we describe will come to pass; the nightmares of the pessimists have a plausibility that one cannot deny. And yet, after revisiting the country and its people, seeing and hearing people of different backgrounds and different beliefs, we have seen that the seeds of such a future have already been planted. With much work, and a good bit of luck, these seeds will blossom and, by the time Israel celebrates its first centennial, will flourish.

    In 1906, Theodor Herzl ended Altneuland, his novel anticipating a Jewish State, with an aphorism: “If you will it, it is not a dream.” This implausibility was dismissed by Herzl’s contemporaries, but only forty-two years passed before Israel was established. Herzl himself insisted that the seeds of the future he envisioned had already been planted when he wrote, and that his was less an act of prophesy than it was of sensitive observation of a future already unfolding. Today there are many who regard Israel with bleak resignation that leaves little room for hope. They are wrong. For those able to look with a careful eye and an open heart, there is far more here, and far more to come, then they are willing to imagine. It takes no great act of imagination to envision an Israel at 100 that is decent and sustaining for all Israelis, at peace with its neighbors and at home in the world.

    Click here to download Israel at 100 (PDF).

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  • Jews in the Desert and Conversations about Social Justice: NIF at JFNA’s TribeFest

    17 April 2012

    By: Penina Eilberg-Schwartz, NIF Director of New Generations in San Francisco


    I had the great pleasure of representing the New Israel Fund at the Jewish Federations of North America’s (JFNA) TribeFest conference at the end of March. TribeFest was a remarkable thing – over 1500 young Jews convening in Las Vegas to talk about Jewish identities, social media, engagement strategies, social justice, and Israel.

    TribeFest was a deeply important place to celebrate the work the Jewish community is doing in the name of social justice – fighting poverty domestically and globally; promoting equal opportunities in education, bringing Jews abroad to witness the challenges of marginalized communities, and that is to name just a few areas of work among many. My colleagues who planned a session with me about Jewish social justice strategies entitled “How do you Tikkun?” (Repair the World, JDC, AJWS) represented organizations doing just that crucial work.

    So there was much to celebrate.

    Still, celebration of the Jewish community’s place within social justice movements can eclipse important self-critique, and reminders of the great work yet to be done.

    On the first day of the conference I was sitting in a hotel suite with representatives of JFNA from Jerusalem and the American Zionist Movement in New York, waiting for the arrival of Stav Shaffir, one of the leaders of Israel’s tent protests last summer. We were putting final touches on our session about the protests and how they fit into a global context, into a world where things – at least in some arenas – seem to be tipping toward the power of crowds, of the voices of many rather than those of a privileged few.

    When Stav walked into the suite, we almost immediately began talking about Las Vegas. She was wondering about the workers in the Venetian hotel – where they were, and how they were treated. She felt like they were invisible in all the extravagance of the enormous restaurants, bars, never-ending casinos, and fake canals of the Venetian Hotel.

    “When we go somewhere in Israel now,” she said, “we always look for the workers, and if they are not already organized, we organize them. It’s our hobby now.”

    Stav’s reaction pointed to a significant incongruence in TribeFest. I, for one, felt uncomfortable talking about social justice work among the casinos and extravagant, yet cheap-looking, hotels. Like Stav, I wondered about the negative socio-economic impact of Las Vegas, and how we as a community might be participating in it.

    At the New Israel Fund, our work does not affect workers’ rights in Las Vegas. We have, however, been deeply engaged for over thirty years in issues of workers’ rights – and other issues of socio-economic justice -- in Israel.

    Israel’s Declaration of Independence enshrines democracy and equality for all people – regardless of race, religion, or sex. It is a beautiful document, but its values – as in America – have not been so easily translated into reality. There is a contradiction between this written commitment and the reality of the lives of immigrants, women, Palestinian citizens of Israel, and -- as the tent protests affirmed -- of all Israelis. Israel’s social safety net has been severely compromised – by policies of privatization, dramatic subsidies for the ultra-orthodox, and funding for the settlement enterprise. There are immense challenges not only for groups with traditionally less power and privilege, but for everyone living in Israel. That is why Stav and other young leaders like her organized a protest. That is why Israelis pitched their tents last summer, and marched through the streets in staggering, inspiring numbers.

    In Israel, as in meetings of American Jewry, if we do not look deeply into ourselves and see the extent of the work that needs to be done, if we focus too heavily on celebration, we face a real danger. If we celebrate too much, we won’t take to the streets.

    In Israel there is a great deal to celebrate – I know that for me, meeting Stav Shaffir, engaging in a new way with the incredibly moving protests of last summer and hearing about the work she is continuing through The Social Movement, reminded me of that. And there is so, so much needed in Israel - repairing the gutted social safety net, protecting and furthering religious pluralism, fighting for environmental justice, and working towards more true and complete equal rights for women, immigrants, and Palestinian citizens of Israel. This is the work of the New Israel Fund.

    We should celebrate our communal accomplishments. We should be proud. And TribeFest offered an essential opportunity for us -- speakers and attendees, lay leaders and young Jewish professionals -- to do both. But TribeFest also reminded me of how our Jewish community needs to talk more about the ways we are implicated in the injustices we speak out against, and about how we can do better. Thinking about all of this, I felt proud of the way the New Israel Fund family asks some of the hardest questions and acts so bravely and strategically to address them.

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Israel's dilemma: Who can be an Israeli?

By Daniel Sokatch and David N. Myers

13 January 2014