Thank you to the Nominating Committee for having faith in me and nominating me to be president of MERCAZ USA.
I’d like to tell you a little about myself and how and why I am a Zionist, and more importantly, a Zionist from the Conservative/Masorti Movement. When I was in Junior High School, my best friend’s mother decided to start a Junior Hadassah group. My friend and I got involved. Those of you who know me could guess that I served as president of that group and on the regional and national boards of Junior Hadassah. Thus, my Zionism started, but it was an idealized concept, as I hadn’t yet been able to visit Israel.
Fast forward a number of years to 1987, and I was able finally to take my first trip to Israel with Women’s League for Conservative Judaism. As much as I am a committed Conservative Jew, I am also a strong feminist and I thank Women’s League leaders who introduced me to the real Israel on that trip and on many subsequent ones.
On my second trip in 1989, we met the Women of the Wall and davened Shacharit with them at the Kotel. Imagine my astonishment when I was told I could not wear my tallit. I was horrified when we had objects thrown at us and when there was screaming and yelling by the men trying to drown out our voices. That was my first taste of an Israel that was very different from my idealized version.
I came home from that trip knowing that I was not comfortable in an Israel that didn’t allow me to practice my Judaism in the manner to which I was accustomed, to an Israel that did not accept Conservative/Masorti rabbis to perform conversions, weddings or burials. The more I learned about Israel, the more I saw the issues emanating from a lack of pluralism and an official “state religion.” It was then I decided to get involved in MERCAZ USA.
Getting involved showed me more problems, but it also showed me what determined individuals can do. The first World Zionist Congress I attended, I was frustrated and angry. Every single resolution that dealt with pluralism in any way shape or form was defeated. I was furious when I watched Hadassah who was seated in front of us at the Congress and who were in coalition with Likud vote against the pluralism resolutions. When I got home from that Congress, I resigned my membership in Hadassah.
Progress in Israel is slow but I am happy to tell you that there is much good news there and in the growing Conservative/Masorti Movement throughout the world. For example, because of the increased representation of Conservative/Masorti Jews at the last two Zionist Congresses, pluralism resolutions have now passed overwhelmingly.
It is because of our Movement’s actions that there has been a section of the Kotel at the southern end, Robinson’s Arch, where egalitarian minyanim have been held for more than 15 years and now the Israeli government has agreed to expand that area for an official Kotel for egalitarian and full women’s only minyanim. While there is opposition from within the Ultra-Orthodox element within the Netanyahu government, we will continue our fight until we have achieved our goals.
It is because of our Masorti congregations throughout Israel that Israelis are now being offered a Judaism that is a non-coercive joyous Judaism. Are there problems because these congregations don’t get supported by the State in the same way that Orthodox congregations do? Yes! But inroads are being made there as well.
There are now children with special needs who for the first time are able to have Bar/Bat Mitzvahs because the Masorti Movement in Israel has special programs for these children. Is it perfect? No! Especially not when the mayor of Rehovot could cancel one of these celebrations just 48 hours before it was to occur because it was being held in our Masorti congregation. I am very proud of our Movement here in the United States who objected vociferously to what was done.
As many of you know there are separate secular and religious public schools in Israel and where religious means Orthodox. However, since 1987, there has been a separate stream within the secular public schools, the TALI Schools, established and organized by the Schechter Institute founded by the Conservative/Masorti Movement. This network of schools provides a pluralistic Jewish studies program to tens of thousands of schoolchildren in 300 public schools and pre-schools throughout Israel, comprising more than 10% of all secular public schools in Israel.
I won’t go on and bore you with other details. I think you get the picture. I am a Zionist and love Israel but I am a feminist and a Conservative/Masorti Jew. As such I view MERCAZ USA as a vehicle to continue to criticize and push Israel when she is not living up to her potential, where Jews of all stripes can consider it their homeland and feel comfortable.
I have to thank Deb Finkelstein for all the work she has done to make today possible, to Sally Heckelman for giving of her beautiful voice and time on her birthday weekend, to Rabbi Bob Golub and Janet Tobin for their help and planning of today, to Rabbi Alan Silverstein, President of MERCAZ Olami, with whom I am looking forward to partnering, Rabbi Jonathan Maltzman for arranging his schedule to be here today, to my daughter, Rebecca, and my husband Gary for their support in all my endeavors, and finally to my friends and Kol Shalom family who are here to support and cheer me on. We have a lot of work to do and I am counting on all of you to join me in this effort.
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