Ruach Ukraine: Music for Peace and Solidarity

Watch the Cantor’s Assembly program, which was co-sponsored by MERCAZ USA, and presented live on Facebook and YouTube on Sunday, March 6, 2022, below

To make a donation to any of the organizations highlighted in this program, go to cantors.org/ruachukraine and scroll to the bottom of the page.

Ukraine is under siege. The current conflict has generated over 1,500,000 refugees in less than two weeks with the promise of many times that to come. Thousands of people have been hiding in underground bunkers, subways and basements to avoid the bombs and missiles that have devastated neighborhood and cities. Hundreds of civilians have died and massive damage has been inflicted on every major urban center by an adversary bent on domination at any cost. 

We wanted to send a message of peace and solidarity to the people of Ukraine, Jews and non-Jews alike, to let them know that they are not alone: This was the inspiration behind our program on Sunday, March 6 to support the people of Ukraine called, “Ruach Ukraine: Music for Peace and Solidarity.”

Created by the hosts (Hazzanim Laurie Akers, Wendi Fried, Jeremy Stein and Abbie Strauss) of the Cantors Assembly’s popular and long-running SongSwap and Shir Chadash programs …

Ruach Ukraine brought together a uniquely gifted selection of the Cantors Assembly’s Ukrainian members who have been directly touched by the conflict, and featured Cantors: Pavel Roytman, Natasha Hirschhorn, and Itzhak Zhrebker …

with special appearances by: Neshama Carlebach, Rabbi Menachem Creditor, Cantor Azi Schwartz, Rabbi Cantor Inna Serebro-Litvak, Ilya Aizenshtadt, and Nazar Dzhuryn, cellist.

We cannot solve this conflict with music alone, but we can help.

In addition to beautiful music, we heard from Ukrainians on the ground, and learned what the average Russian on the street really thinks about this conflict.

Integral to the program were, and are, opportunities for viewers to give to a selection of humanitarian relief efforts of various charities dedicated to providing food, shelter, medical care and other critical resources to refugees and others affected by this deepening conflict.

We hope that you will join us in this important effort as we seek to share a musical message of hope, peace and solidarity for the people of Ukraine. Please help us spread the word among your social networks and organizations that you are a part of to watch and share this presentation, and take action by contributing to the worthy organizations that were highlighted.

Together, we will send a message of hope to the people of Ukraine.

To make a donation to any of the organizations highlighted in this program, go to cantors.org/ruachukraine and scroll to the bottom of the page.

Celebrate Tu B’Shevat with MERCAZ and the Cantors Assembly

MERCAZ USA, MERCAZ-Masorti Canada, and The Cantors Assembly present …

Tu B’Shevat 5782: A Celebration
Presented Live on Sunday | January 16, 2022 | 7:30 p.m. EST

In collaboration with the Cantors Assembly, MERCAZ USA and MERCAZ-Masorti Canada are delighted to celebrate this Zionist chag (holiday) – which draws our attention to the land of Israel and our connections to it, with all of you!

If you missed the live presentation on Sunday, January 16, you can still celebrate with us by downloading our Seder packet and watching the recording of our program below. Enjoy … and Chag Sameach!

Tu B’Shevat, Mercaz, & the World Zionist Congress

A Resource for Educators & Youth Group Directors:

This guide was designed to help young people in 4th-12th grade make the connection between Tu B’Shvat, the World Zionist Organization, and the World Zionist Congress election – which will next take place in 2025.

The guide includes both an overview of these connections, and activities to help students think through these issues.

It is our hope that this guide will encourage clergy, educators, students, and life-long learners to reflect on the connection among Tu B’Shvat, trees, land, and the government of Israel … and how they can personally make a difference by supporting Masorti Judaism and MERCAZ.

Download this resource

Today’s Zionist: Committed Yet Conflicted | MERCAZ USA General Council Meeting 2021

On Sunday, November 7, MERCAZ USA held their annual General Council meeting via Zoom.

Prior to discharging our outgoing board members and installing our incoming officers and board members, we presented an important, eye opening, and thought provoking panel discussion:

Today’s Zionist: Committed Yet Conflicted with

  • Yizhar Hess, Vice Chair, World Zionist Organization
  • Rebecca Russo, Executive Director, Campus Climate (Antisemitism) Initiative, Hillel International
  • Richard S. Moline, Assistant VP, JUF/ Jewish Federation of Metro Chicago
  • Rabbi Ashira Konigsburg, COO, Rabbinical Assembly and Chief Program Officer, The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism

The panel, moderated by MERCAZ USA Executive Director Sarrae Crane, can be viewed in its entirety below:

To support our mission, join or donate to MERCAZ USA.

MERCAZ USA is the United States branch of MERCAZ Olami, the Zionist organization of the Masorti (Conservative) Movement.

MERCAZ represents Masorti Judaism within the World Zionist Organization and Congress, the The Jewish Agency for Israel, the American Zionist Movement, and the Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael – Jewish National Fund.

MERCAZ is the force that advocates for funding of pluralistic streams of Judaism in Israel through the World Zionist Congress, which is crucial to our movement’s growth in Israel and around the globe.

Our mission is to further the cause for true religious pluralism in Israel and strengthen the connection between, and create engagement opportunities for, the people of Israel and Jews living in the Diaspora.

MERCAZ USA is proud to be the sponsor of MASORTI On Campus, supporting Masorti activities on college/university campuses, and MERCAZ Reads Israel, an online book club connecting Diaspora Jews to Israeli authors.

Call for the Prevention of Bloodshed and Immediate Implementation of the “Kotel Agreement”

To:

  • Mr. Isaac Herzog, President
  • MK Naftali Bennett, Prime Minister
  • MK Yair Lapid, Alternate Prime Minister of Israel and Minister of Foreign Affairs
  • Minister Matan Kahana, Minister of Religious Services
  • Mr. Shalom Shlomo, Cabinet Secretary

Dear Sirs,

Subject: Call for the Prevention of Bloodshed and Immediate Implementation of the “Kotel Agreement”

We, the leadership and leaders of the Masorti movement in Israel and around the world, call on you – our elected officials – to act immediately to implement the outline of the Western Wall Agreement, in accordance with Government Resolution 1075 of 31.01.2016. This is all the more necessary in light of the real threats to the Women of the Wall, who are scheduled to pray tomorrow (Friday, Rosh Chodesh Kislev 5742) as every Rosh Chodesh, at the Western Wall.

The incidents of violence in recent months at the Kotel must be seen as a red flag before more serious incidents of violence and even bloodshed occur.

The violence directed against the Women of the Wall and egalitarian prayers in the Kotel plaza have reached new heights with every passing month. On Rosh Chodesh Tammuz, Siddurim were torn apart by crowds incited to violence and by calls that can only be described as anti-Semitism; On the 9th of Av, the prayers of the streams in the Ezrat Yisrael / Egalitarian section of the Kotel, were interrupted by shouts and incitement by girls and boys who were brought especially to halt the prayers of Jews on this day of fasting for the destruction of the Temples. All of this is in addition to the incitement and the calls of Knesset members from the ultra-Orthodox factions, rabbis and public figures, who have called for harming our members, who only seek to pray in keeping with our custom at the Western Wall, and harm toward MK Rabbi Gilad Kariv.

Please, it is in your power to prevent bloodshed and blasphemy in this place sacred to the entire Jewish people. Announce today the full and immediate implementation of the approved agreement – also accepted by the ultra-Orthodox Knesset members and the Head of Holy sites. Announce, unequivocally, that the Western Wall is not a place for quarrels and violence, that there is no place for harming the Women of the Wall who wish to pray as they have been doing for so many years each month

Honored officials, we appeal to you – this is not a political matter but a real Matter of Pikuach Nefesh. We call upon you to immediately announced the implementation of the Western Wall Agreement.

Sincerely,

  • Rabbi Jacob Blumenthal, CEO, USCJ and the Rabbinical Assembly
  • Rabbi Prof. Bradley Shavit Artson, Dean, Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies and Zacharias Frankel College
  • Rabbi Mikie Goldstein, President, the Rabbinical Assembly of Israel
  • Rabbi Jennifer Gorman, Executive Director, MERCAZ-Canada
  • Rabbi Mauricio Balter, Executive Director Masorti & MERCAZ Olami
  • Rabbi Prof. David Golinkin, President, The Schechter Institutes, Inc.
  • Rabbi Ariel Stofenmacher, Rector, Latin American Rabbinical Seminary
  • Rabbi Ellen Wolintz-Fields, Executive Director, Women’s League for Conservative Judaism
  • Rakefet Ginsberg, CEO, Masorti Israel
  • Dr. Shuly Rubin Schwartz, Chancellor, Jewish Theological Seminary
  • Rabbi Avi Novis-deutsch, Dean, Schechter Rabbinical Seminary
  • Rabbi Irina Gritsevskaya, Executive Director, Midreshet Schechter
  • Sarrae G. Crane, Executive Director, MERCAZ USA
  • Rabbi Ashira Konigsburg, Chief Operating Officer, the Rabbinical Assembly Chief Program Officer, USCJ

Mercaz Reads Israel Book Club Meeting | Hope Valley

On October 21, 2021, MERCAZ Reads Israel held our fourth book club meeting to discuss Rabbi Haviva Ner-David’s novel, Hope Valley, with the author.

Hope Valley is the story of two women who come together to form the unlikeliest of friendships. Tikvah, a Jewish-Israeli second-generation Holocaust survivor, is a frustrated artist with multiple sclerosis and a husband who suffers from trauma from the First Lebanon War. Ruby, a Palestinian-Israeli second-generation Nakba survivor, is a renowned artist who has come back to her village after many years abroad, to be treated for cancer.

If you missed our book club meeting, you can watch (or just listen to) the discussion below. If you need to purchase the book, you can do so here.

 

Our next book club meeting will be held on Thursday, February 3, 2022 to discuss David Grossman’s novel, Someone to Run With.

More details on this upcoming book club meeting will be available by December 2021. You can buy the book here.

 

 

 

Conservative Movement Leadership Meets with President Herzog and Others in Israel

Sarrae Crane, Executive Director of MERCAZ USA (fifth individual from the left), pictured with the Masorti/Conservative movement delegation to Israel the week of July 11, 2021.

The week of July 11, Rabbi Jacob Blumenthal, CEO of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism (USCJ) and the Rabbinical Assembly (RA), led a movement delegation that met in-person with Israel’s new President, Isaac “Bougie” Herzog, several members of his cabinet, foreign ministers, and representatives from the new majority coalition in the Knesset and other members of the Knesset.

The American delegation raised three explicit concerns with the new government:

First, the rabbis called for implementation of the so-called Kotel Deal, nearly 5 years after the initial agreement was ratified (only to be tabled 6 months later). This necessary and timely proposal expands the non-Orthodox “mixed” prayer area for both men and women near the southern part of the Western Wall. “This project is significant not just for its emphasis on religious pluralism, but also for attracting Jewish and non-Jewish visitors to one of the holiest sites in the entire country,” the delegation members said.

Second, the delegation compelled Israeli lawmakers to support and defend the rights afforded to Jews who convert or marry. Currently, the State of Israel fails to meet this sacred responsibility when its lawmakers refuse to recognize the customs – the minhagim – of the majority of the Jewish people around the world. “In this light,” the delegation members said, “Israel today is the only western country that doesn’t give freedom of religion to all Jews.”

And finally, the group raised the issue of government funding. In Israel there is no separation between State and Religion. This means that the government funds religious services, but not equally and not for all denominations. “Part of Israel’s effort to promote equality, not just equity, must include diverting government funds and other resources to non-Orthodox communities,” the delegation said.

“With these clear goals in mind, and growing support from millions of American Jews, this new government has a golden opportunity to mend the rift between Israel and world Jewry,” said USCJ and RA CEO Rabbi Jacob Blumenthal. “The solutions to the problems Israel faces this century, as well of those of Jews globally, will only develop through deliberate discourse and advocacy. We are ready and eager to play our part.”

“It was heartening to see the warm reception our movement received from members of the cabinet. We hope that they will be able to address these important issues and wish the new coalition much success” said Rabbi Stewart Vogel, RA president.

A delegation of Conservative movement leaders from the U.S. and Israel meet with President Isaac “Bougie” Herzog in the President’s residence in Israel. Seated next to Herzog is Rabbi Jacob Blumenthal, CEO of the RA and USCJ.

 

 

In addition to meeting with President Herzog at his official residence, the delegation also met with:

  • Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar
  • Diaspora Minister Nachman Shai
  • Intelligence Minister Elazar Stern
  • Labor Party leader and Transport Minister Merav Michaeli
  • MK Yoel (Yuli) Edelstein
  • MK Rabbi Gilad Kariv
  • MK Zvi Hauser
  • MK Miki Tzohar
  • MK Tamar Zandberg
  • MK Alon Tal
  • Mr. Ya’akov Hagoel, Chair of the WZO and Acting Chair of JAFI.

The delegation was led by Rabbi Blumenthal and included:

  • Rabbinical Assembly President Rabbi Stewart Vogel
  • USCJ President Ned Gladstein
  • Rabbi Ashira Konigsburg, COO of the Rabbinical Assembly and Chief Program Officer for USCJ
  • Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson, Dean of the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at AJU
  • Dr. Shuly Rubin Schwartz, Chancellor the Jewish Theological Seminary
  • Mercaz USA Executive Director Sarrae G. Crane
  • Masorti Foundation Executive Gideon Aronoff
  • Masorti Foundation board chair Heidi Schneider
  • Rakefet Ginsberg, Executive Director of Masorti Israel
  • Yizhar Hess, former Executive Director/CEO Masorti Israel and Vice Chairman of the World Zionist Organization
  • Sophie Fellman Rafalovitz, President of Masorti Israel
  • Rabbi Mauricio Balter, Executive Director Masorti Olami and Mercaz Olami
  • RA Israel President Rabbi Mikie Goldstein

Israel’s High Court Rules For Pluralism

On March 1, 2021, after more than 15 years of struggle, the Masorti Movement of Israel was vindicated by the Israeli Supreme Court, which now recognizes its conversions to Judaism for the purposes of the Law of Return and Aliyah to Israel.

Rakefet Ginsburg, the CEO of Masorti Movement, responded to this fantastic news by declaring: “Today is a historic day. The decision handed down by the Israeli Supreme Court was a  just and clear verdict. There is more than one way to be a Jew in the State of Israel. Time and time again we are forced to fight for our rights in the courts instead of through dialogue. The elections are moments away. I call on our elected officials at this time to restore Israel’s relations with Conservative and Reform Judaism in the State of Israel and in the Diaspora. The court said this in a clear voice and it is time for our elected leaders to recognize it too: “Judaism has more than one color.“

MERCAZ USA stands with our Israeli partners on this crucial victory for religious pluralism in Israel – one that affirms the core identity of Israel as the homeland of Jews of all backgrounds.  We applaud the Supreme Court for its wisdom in recognizing Masorti conversions. While today we celebrate, we know that many in Israel are still organizing against pluralism and so we will continue our support for Masorti Israel in the political, social and legal arenas, and of course for the crucial work of Masorti’s Jewish Pluralism Watch.