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August 29, 2013 - Image 82

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2013-08-29

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Publisher's Notebook

When Family And Community Intersect


he weeks leading up to Rosh
Hashanah 5774, which begins
Wednesday evening, provide the
time-tested and well-traveled path of tran-
sition, enabling us to reflect upon the past,
refine our relationships with each other
and God, and recommit to moral and
meaningful lives.
But this self-assessment and
soul cleansing cannot be done
in a vacuum. From chaos in the
Middle East and political grid-
lock in Washington, D.C., to
the unimaginable slaughter of
elementary school children in
Newtown, Conn., and Detroit's
ugly financial collapse, we are
constantly reminded that our
individual lives are framed by
larger events. Even if we retreat
into a secluded cave to clear our
heads and escape these influences, odds
are it has a WiFi connection. Perhaps the
NSA is watching or listening, too.
That's where family and community
enter into the Rosh Hashanah equation.
Collectively, they provide the history, con-
text, continuity and support that enable

us, as individuals, to navigate an increas-
ingly complex world. In essence, family
and community serve as compasses, point-
ing us toward the future while retaining
our bearings.
Much has been said and written over
the years about the uniqueness of our
Detroit Jewish community.
As its immigrant and first-
generation families pursued
"the American Dream; they
also understood they had a
responsibility to care for each
other. An array of resources,
including health clinics and
health care for those lacking
insurance, schools, recreation
centers, campsites, facilities for
the aged and those with devel-
opmental disabilities, a kosher
food pantry and interest-free
loan funds were created to provide Jewish
continuity and a communal "safety net"
The establishment of Israel in 1948, and
subsequent waves of immigration there
from Yemen, the former Soviet Union and
Ethiopia, energized Detroit Jewry as it dra-
matically extended its global philanthropic

leadership footprint.
this November into the
On a personal level,
Israel Defense Forces.
this intersection of fam-
Family and Detroit
ily and Detroit Jewish
Jewish community
community is particular-
are intertwined for
ly meaningful this New
Her grandmothers,
As I write this, our
41 1 Sally Horwitz and Berta
daughter, Stephanie, is
Wesler, are Holocaust
settling into her new life
survivors. Sally
as a citizen of the State of
survived concentration
Israel. She and 124 of her
camps and slave labor
fellow "Lone Soldiers"
factories in Nazi
were part of a 330-per-
son Nefesh b'Nefesh
Poland before coming
Stephanie Horwitz
immigration flight
to America. Her only
earlier this month from
surviving cousin
New York to Tel Aviv. Through a live web-
moved to pre-Israel Palestine and settled
cam feed, my wife, Gina, and I witnessed
on Moshav Amminadav, abutting the
the festivities enveloping Stephanie and
Kennedy Forest in Jerusalem. Berta
the other ohm (new immigrants) at Ben-
escaped Germany following Kristallnacht
Gurion International Airport. Every image
as part of the Kindertransport and lived
of Stephanie from the webcam captured
the war years in England. She spent time
her joy and happiness at finally being
in pre-Israel Palestine with the Haganah,
there. She and 23 other "Lone Soldiers"
the Zionist defense organization, before
from throughout the Midwest are living
returning to England and settling in
on Kibbutz Ein Dor, being tended to by
America. Her sister Klara escaped from
their foster families before being drafted
Germany to England several months


Israel Must Resolve Its Religious Turmoil


he Days of Awe provide an
intriguing backdrop for Israel
to consider ways to solve the
simmering battle for religious pluralism
that haunts the Jewish state. Israel's
newly elected chief rabbis can set the
stage for a landmark solution by show-
ing sensitivity toward the state's chang-
ing spiritual landscape.
In swearing in Ashkenazi Chief
Rabbi David Lau and Sephardi Chief
Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef to 10-year terms
on Aug.14, Israeli President Shimon
Peres declared: "The nation prays for
a respected, esteemed Rabbinate that
will bring back the spirit of greatness,
and eternal values, to daily life."
Peres imagined a Rabbinate that
knows "how to bring people closer,
how to respect differences and how to
hold the Ten Commandments up high."
Well put, Mr. President.
Israel has suffered enough reli-
gious unrest. The Orthodox-led Chief
Rabbinate may have the government's
blessing to oversee Israeli religious
life, but that mandate shouldn't per-
mit diminishing the state's growing
Progressive (Reform) and Masorti
(Conservative) religious streams, long


August 29 • 2013

considered second class by the Israeli
government even as they have climbed
in number and stature. It's hard to
establish a number, but a recent sur-
vey suggests more than 500,000
Israelis identify with one of those
streams. The total represents 8 per-
cent of Israeli Jews. More than 70 rab-
bis are serving Israel's 100 Progressive
and Masorti congregations. About 20
percent of Israelis are Orthodox; most
Israelis are secular.
Israel is the ancestral homeland
for all Jews, whatever their religious
observance. It should be a beacon of
pluralism, not a cauldron of suspicion
and division. Disenfranchising the
non-Orthodox by rejecting their ability
to marry, convert, pray or be buried
outside the strictures of Orthodoxy is
Rabbis Lau and Yosef would bolster
their leadership standing by learning
from much of the Jewish diaspora,
including North America, and install-
ing a texture of Jewish life that uplifts
as opposed to deflates. Torah and its
enlightenment are central to all three
major streams; no one movement com-
mands a monopoly on that Divine gift.

There's even strife within Orthodoxy;
a Shas rabbi is under fire for recently
calling the Modern Orthodox com-
munity or perhaps only its political
leaders "Amalek," in reference to the
archenemy of the Jewish people. It's
unclear precisely who Rabbi Shalom
Cohen was referring to in denigrating
the "knit kippot" community, but it's
a good bet he had in mind govern-
ment minister Naftali Bennett, who is
seeking legislation that would require
haredi Orthodox men to serve in the
Israeli military.
In May, Israel took a significant stride
when the Religious Services Ministry
affirmed that non-Orthodox rabbis
would be allowed to serve in communal
positions with state-funded salaries
once such a policy was in force. The
ruling gives impetus to Progressive
and Masorti Jews, who continue to
make incremental progress toward
level treatment with Orthodox Jews in
the eyes of the government.
Last year, Israel opted to fund cer-
tain non-Orthodox rabbis in outlying
areas through the Ministry of Culture
and Sport, not through the Religious
Services Ministry. The action didn't

Rabbis Lau and Yosef

grant the rabbis authority over Jewish
law or ceremonies, but it did open the
reform gates. The initial impact will be
limited because most non-Orthodox
Jews live in the larger metro areas,
not within the regional councils and
farming areas affected by the ruling.
Israel's government-controlled reli-
gious structure has never been whole,
forcing the more liberal streams to
rely on the American Jewish commu-
nity for financial and spiritual support.
Giving these streams a toehold in the
rushing waters of Halachah (Jewish
law) and politics wouldn't endanger
Chief Rabbinate oversight. But it would
underscore the inclusive nature of the
only Jewish state.
Pluralism in Israel will stay elusive
until religious equality is, as Rabbi
Rick Jacobs, president of the Union
for Reform Judaism, put it, "codified in
Israeli law."

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