Conservative Jews' Embarrassment
is an embarrassment and an out-
rage that the Masorti movement,
the Israeli version of North
America's Conservative Jewry, has had
to fire staff , including 10-year veteran
director Rabbi Ehud Bandel, the
movement's public face, for a shortage
The embarrassment is not the domes-
tic movement's. In some ways, it is a
victim of its own modest successes. It
has just ordained its 62nd rabbi in
Israel, and involvement in its youth and
student programs is continuing to grow.
The red faces should belong to the 1
million or so Conservative Jews in
North America, one of the richest and
most successful but self-satisfied
agglomerations of people the Jewish
world has ever seen. Their failure to
support their cousins in Israel is basi-
cally the back of the hand to a com-
munity attempting the most difficult
of all mergers: that of modernity and
tradition in a country that seems to
want to embrace either, but not both.
Let's back up a little. Masorti — the
name means traditional and is associat-
ed with the root word both for trans-
mittal and message — has been seeking
to find a place in Israeli social, political
Alan D. Abbey is editor and managing
director of Ynetnews. His e-mail address
is firstname.lastname@example.org .
me that the Conservative rabbi
who conducted my wedding
ceremony in New York state
and religious spheres for decades. It has
could not have done so in the
worked hard and long to establish itself Jewish state.
in the face of active and even vicious
Masorti has focused on
opposition from the Orthodox religious building communities
establishment that garners the lion's
throughout the country, and
share of governmental financial, legal
has eschewed the more overtly
and bureaucratic support.
political track taken by
The Jewish state has long subscribed
Reform's Israeli arm.
to the canard that only Orthodoxy (and
Firing Rabbi Bandel was in
its even more intolerant ultra-Orthodox step with the plan to spend
spin off) is the "legitimate" Judaism.
more time on grassroots activi-
It's a belief the Orthodox have worked
ties than political ones. That's a debatable
long, hard and cynically to foster both
strategy, but it has had its successes,
in Israel and in North America.
including growing congregations and
Non-Orthodox streams such as
youth groups in many of Israel's smaller
Masorti and Reform (called
cities, as well as vibrant synagogues in
"Progressive" in Israel) have struggled
Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.
to get even the most basic level of sup-
Especially because of that, it
port from the government, such as
behooves Masorti's American cousins
land on which to build synagogues (In — the Conservative movement -- to
a country in which the government
help with funding and political sup-
actually owns more than 90 percent of port. Weak-kneed Conservative reli-
all available land, the government is
gious organizations in the U.S. have
virtually the only source of real estate.) been positively wimpy when it comes
Now is not even the place to get into
to flexing political muscle. Orthodoxy
the systematic way Masorti and
and their fellow travelers have shown
.Progressive rabbis have been kept off
no such hesitation.
local religious councils or otherwise out
The only way to get anything in
of the mainstream. It has always galled
Israel is to show political strength and
Failure to support Israel programs shows
back of hand to Israeli cousins.
mental toughness. It's no sur-
prise that so-called "religious"
political parties have been in
existence for decades. Fed up
with decades of prejudice and
Sephardic Jews in Israel, even
those who are not religious,
rallied around the Shas Party.
Once it showed an ability to
get votes, the money and min-
istry positions in coalition gov-
ernments began to roll in.
With the American
Conservative movement in disarray —
the impending retirement of Jewish
Theological Seminary Chancellor
Ismar Schorsch threatens the organized
arm of Conservative Jewry even more
— it is even more incumbent upon
individual Conservative American Jews
and their congregations to come to the
aid of their cousins in Israel.
Masorti Jews need money, visitors,
aim (emigres) and a willingness from
American Jews to speak out on their
behalf when they meet with Israeli
Rich Conservatives have been will-
ing to put their names on lavish build-
ings throughout North America, and a
few token spots in central Jerusalem.
But those buildings will fall empty and
still, and none will flourish elsewhere
in the Jewish homeland, if they don't
stand up now for what they profess to
believe — that modernity and tradi-
tion can be melded. The Jewish state
needs no less.
Choose Life, Not Terror
the injuries, physical and psychologi-
s if mocking the scenes of
cal, that may never heal. But I have
jubilation at London's success- wept also at the courage of the vic-
ful 2012 Olympics bid, the
terrorist explosions that came the next
Terror fails and will always fail
day left devastation in their wake.
because it arouses in us a profound
Terror has become the scourge of our
instinct for life. Will we ever forget
age, and it will take all our inner
the heroism of the New York fire-
strength to cope with it.
fighters on 9-11, or the courage of
I have met far too many victims of
the passengers on United Airlines
terror: survivors of the Istanbul syna-
Flight 93, or the kindness of strangers
gogue bombing in 2003; of the 1994
who brought comfort to the trauma-
terrorist attack on the Jewish commu-
nity center in Buenos Aires; and in
Free societies are always stronger
Israel, where almost everyone knows
than their enemies take them to be.
someone who has been affected; as
Enemies of the West mistake its open-
well as survivors of the massacres in
ness for vulnerability, its tolerance for
Cambodia, Bosnia, Rwanda and
decadence, its respect for differences
for a lack of moral conviction.
Like others, I have wept for the bro-
Britain has exceptionally strong links
ken families and shattered lives and
of friendship among its different faiths
and ethnic communities. That is a
Sir Jonathan Sacks is the United
vital source of stability when nerves
Kingdoms Orthodox chief
are frayed and fears aroused. London,
column first 1:117 in the Times of London
itself, has a long history of courage.
July 9, 2005.
That, too, was evident in the calm
that prevailed on July 7, the
The real answer to terror was
day of the bombings.
enacted in London and else-
The best response to terror
where five days before July 7.
is not anger but the quiet
Millions of people took to the
strength to carry on, not giv-
streets and parks to demon-
ing way to fear.
strate their solidarity with the
I think of one of the most
victims of poverty in Africa.
promising young men our
Their methods were peaceful,
community has produced, Yoni
their weapons were song and
Jesner, who was killed at age 19
and their greatest
in a suicide bombing in Tel Aviv.
the justice of their
His family, out of deep religious Comm entary cause.
conviction, donated his organs
The people with whom they
to save lives — among them a 7-
were identifying— the hun-
year-old Palestinian girl who had wait-
dreds of millions of children who lack
ed two years for a kidney transplant.
food, shelter, clean water, medical
Michael Walzer, a leading American
facilities, sustenance and hope — have
political theorist, has written,
never resorted to terror to bring their
"Terrorists are like killers on a ram-
plight to the attention of the world,
page, except that their rampage is not
nor did they need to.
just expressive of rage or madness; the
The choice humanity faces was set
rage is purposeful and programmatic."
out long ago by Moses: "I have set
Its victims, deliberately, are the
before you life and death, the blessing
innocent and the uninvolved: workers
and the curse. Therefore choose life,
in an office, passengers on a train,
so that you and your children may
passersby on a pavement. Its aim is
fear. It advances no interest. It has no
The strongest answer to the forces of
conceivable claim to justice. It dishon-
death is a renewed commitment to the
ors any cause it claims to represent.
sanctity of life.