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RELIGIOUS PLURALISM IN ISRAEL:  WHY SHOULD WE CARE?

By Ann Pava, Jewish Learning Chair, National Women's Philanthropy

was the title of a session, developed by the JFNA Israel & Overseas department at the ILOJC held in November in New Orleans.  Clearly, the “why we should care” part was unnecessary as the session was standing room only with more than 200 “caring” women (20% of conference attendees!) packed in to the room.

The issue of religious pluralism in Israel is complicated. As Israel undergoes an unprecedented renaissance of creative religious expression, we are witness to many situations where pluralism is facing significant challenges. The conversion issue, arrests of women praying at the Western Wall, and Supreme Court cases on gender-segregated busing are just a few examples that make the situation so complex. 

The tone of the session at moments was heated. The animation and sparks, interestingly enough, were not because participants disagreed on the key issues but because many of us are afraid to even have the discussion. We are a community who watches with despair and disbelief as Israel is constantly demonized in the world theater, the UN, the media, the EU, and on college campuses. We are hesitant to approach issues that might be seen as critical of Israel.  G-d forbid we be seen as joining the voices of those who wish harm to Israel. 

If this is the reality, then perhaps the question we need to be asking ourselves is not “why” we should care but, “how” we should care; and how we, at Federations/JFNA, lead this discussion? We must lead the discussion (as our fabulous speakers did) with derech eretz – the utmost love and respect for Israel. Using the resources that I&O provides, we must lead the discussion with knowledge. Familiarize yourselves about the issues; and not just the issues that make headlines. Visit some of the amazing grassroots programs that are happening on a daily basis across the religious spectrum in Israel.  Furthermore, be vocal and don’t be afraid to engage in fruitful discussion. As leaders of the Jewish world and as Israel’s greatest supporters, it is our mission to ensure that Israel be the best and most inclusive homeland for all Jewish people.