First Ever Conference of Israel’s Religious Left

9 February 2023

Credit: Gilad Kavalerchik

The power of organizing was demonstrated in full force on January 24th when the first-ever Israeli religious left conference brought together over 600 people to push back against the government’s anti-democratic policies and actions. Among those gathered were ultra-Orthodox, national-religious, and traditional Israelis – all unified by their desire to stand up for democracy and make their voice as a community heard.

The conference was both a joyous afternoon of solidarity and shared experiences, and a much needed opportunity to discuss critical issues such as feminism, distributive justice, fighting poverty, the occupation, and LGBTQ+ rights.

Even before the speakers began, the conference hall was abuzz with declarations of awe and excitement about the impressive attendance. “I have been active in left-wing activist spaces for over a year,” expressed one participant, “but I didn’t realize how meaningful it would be for me to be in a space where so many people shared my background and can swap stories about the experience of being left-wing in midrasha.”

This gathering exists within a larger context of left-religious mobilization. Since the November elections, Facebook groups, WhatsApp chats, and petitions have been circulating at increasing rates – all in the name of giving a voice to the religious left to denounce the acts being done in their name, and organize for a democratic and equal country.

The event was organized by a series of independent activists, including Shatil’s Director of Religious Freedom and Gender, Brit Yakobi, Mikhael Manekin, Michal Chernowitzki, Aviad Houminer-Rosenblum, Pnina Pfeuffer, and Dvir Warshawsky. They brought together their diverse religious backgrounds and connections from across the field of civil society to create this innovative and much needed space. Their goal, they said, was to create the foundation for a broad-based religious left-wing community ready to impact social and political change. NIF awarded an emergency grant to assist with the expenses of the conference.

A primary theme throughout the event was that the religious parties in power do not represent the Judaism of the people in that room. Avi Mutaheda, a social activist from Shatil’s Fellows Program for Contemporary Traditionalism, laid it out clearly. The traditionalism espoused by politicians and public figures, he said, “erases the foundation on which our grandfathers and grandmothers rested — seeing others.”

Rabbi Leah Shakdiel, an anti-occupation activist and scholar, drove home the importance of organizing together at this moment in history. “There are historical moments of black and white, there is no center, either we are part of the problem or we are part of the solution.”

As participants left the hall at the end of the evening there was an overwhelming sentiment of excitement for what will come next. The size, ingenuity, and reach of the conference are testament to the power of networking and organizing, two strategies for social change Shatil is emphasizing going forward.