Just prior to an address by Israel’s president, Reuven Rivlin, at the Jewish Federations of North America’s General Assembly, the umbrella group’s board of trustees passed a resolution urging Israel to undo recent actions that the JFNA said could “undermine the Zionist vision and the State of Israel’s sacred role as a national home for the entire Jewish people.”
The harshly worded statement reproached Israel for the Jewish state’s recent reversal of an agreement on egalitarian prayer at the Western Wall, as well as a bill that would put the authority of Jewish conversions in Israel solely in the hands of Orthodox.
Hours later, Rivlin appeared in person before the thousands of professional and lay leaders gathered in Los Angeles last week for the JFNA’s annual conference.
Rivlin attempted to assuage the G.A. delegates’ concerns.
“The State of Israel was, and will always be, the home of every Jew; Orthodox, Reform, Conservative, secular, traditional, Ashkenazi, Sephardi Jews,” he said. “We are all one people, and Israel is dear to all of us.”
The development of the agreement for egalitarian prayer at the Western Wall, he said, “was a sensitive process, led by our government in order to try and bridge the gap” between Israel and the diaspora community. “I hope that in the future we can return to the table together and reach an understanding on this important issue.”
Rivlin urged the North American Jewish community and the Jewish state to “put the arguments aside and work together. Let’s develop our mutual commitment as a value and as action. For the good of the Jewish people, for the good of the State of Israel, for the good of the whole world.”
The following day, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed the JFNA live via satellite, saying that “all Jews should have access to the Western Wall.”
Netanyahu said he would work to expand the egalitarian prayer section at the Kotel’s Robinson’s arch by next year.
“I’m very proud of the JFNA for taking this brave stance in support of egalitarian prayer at the Western Wall,” said Meryl Ainsman, chair of the board of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh.
Ellen Teri Kaplan Goldstein, a board member of Pittsburgh’s Federation and vice chair of its community campaign, said she was in favor of the resolution passed by the JFNA urging Israel to be mindful of the prayer and conversion needs of the non-Orthodox Jewish community.
“I believe that was the right thing to do,” Kaplan Goldstein said. “Those are two things that will make Jews around the world feel that Israel is their homeland, where they are totally accepted for whatever type of Jews they are.”
While Pittsburgher Todd Rosenfeld was “encouraged” by Rivlin’s words and Netanyahu’s reassurance that an expanded egalitarian prayer space at the Kotel would be forthcoming, he said he does not “put much stake in what politicians say.”
Israel’s relationship with the Palestinians has made the country’s politicians suspect, according to Rosenfeld, chair of Pittsburgh Federation’s Men’s Philanthropy.
“Being an American Jew, there are all kinds of conflicts we deal with when relating to Eretz Israel,” said Rosenfeld. “On the plus side, the country is our homeland in times of conflict, but it has treated the Palestinians so poorly, it has colored my views.
“It’s great to hear the politicians are listening, but until they show they’re listening, I don’t put much stock in it.” PJC
Toby Tabachnick can be reached at