In the Shadows of the Shoah and Refusniks: A New Tradition to Celebrate the Miracle of Israel

This piece is adapted from a sermon delivered by Rabbi Eytan Hammerman to his congregation on the Shabbat after Yom Ha’Atzmaut (Israel’s Day of Independence):

Emily, when I was your age, at my Bar Mitzvah, in 1989, we had an extra chair on the Bimah and on the chair we put a tallit, a siddur and a piece of paper  where we printed a name. I don’t remember the name any more – but, of course, I remember why we did this, why we put that extra, empty chair on the Bimah. The name was a Russian name – the name of a Russian Jewish boy who was not permitted to have a Bar Mitzvah. He and his family were refusniks – they weren’t allowed to leave the Soviet Union and they could not practice Judaism in the Soviet Union as they wished, with the same religious freedoms that we enjoyed in the United States. We spoke once by phone and wrote several letters back and forth. Somehow, the translation was worked out. We took the symbolic step in 1989 of giving him a “Bar Mitzvah,” treating him as if he was my Bar Mitzvah twin.

The year 1989 might have caught your attention or the attention of your mother because that’s the year that her family was able to leave the Soviet Union and, indeed, my Bar Mitzvah twin was also allowed to leave not too long after. Unfortunately, we did not keep in touch – I believe that his family left the Soviet Union for Israel, just like so many other Jews left for America and elsewhere. And, when they arrived, and when your family arrived, it wasn’t perfect, it wasn’t easy. The streets are not paved with gold – as all immigrants to our country learn very quickly. But, hopefully, his family – and your family – were welcomed not just as new citizens but also as Jews. We cared for you when you were there and when you arrived here – Kol Yisrael Arevim Ze ba Zeh – all of Israel is responsible, one to another.

Years before my Bar Mitzvah, I remember learning the name of another Soviet Jewish refusnik – and this name we should all know. Anataoly Sharansky: Sharansky was a leader in the Jewish community and for this he was pursued, punished and jailed. Until enough pressure from outside the Soviet Union – because Jews around the world brought up his name at every opportunity, caused the Soviet leadership to strip him of his citizenship, just what he had been asking for – and expelled him from the country, to Israel, where he reunited with his wife Avital and then began their lives anew. I remember in the late 1980s, reading Sharansky’s memoir, of his triumph over the police state. It was called “Fear No Evil.”

Adonai li V’lo Ira – just like Adon Olam concludes; if I have God with me, I won’t be afraid. More recently, Sharansky – now, Natan Sharansky, no longer Anatoly … former member of Knesset, former head of the Jewish Agency for Israel, continued Hero of the Jewish People … now, Sharansky has published a new book called, “Never Alone .” Kol Yisrael Arevim Ze ba Zeh – we are all responsible for one another. The long arc of Jewish history is always with us.

In the book he tells the story of his time as a journalist when he first made Aliyah. He was also a religious Jew. And, yet, he was invited to cover a story of a different Exodus, this, the Exodus in 1991, the miraculous mission in which the State of Israel launched Operation Solomon, the clandestine and truly heroic effort to save over 14,000 Jews from Ethiopia. They were brought, over the course of one Shabbat, to Israel in El Al airliners – על כנפי נשרים, on the wings of eagles – where the planes had been painted over and seats removed, to make more space. With Yom HaShoah recently behind us on the Jewish calendar, the sentence uttered by the IDF spokesman summarized it all, “This operation shows that if the Jews had an airline and if they had had an address in 1939, there would have been no Auschwitz.”

The State of Israel and we, Jews around the World, mark Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israel’s Independence Day, shortly after we remember the Shoah.

In Jerusalem, at the Kotel, a new way of observing the holiday was born this year, in a quintessential Masorti/Conservative Judaism way. You’ve all heard of the Kotel and its Egalitarian section, Robinson’s Arch, where so many kids from our shul have become Bar and Bat Mitzvah in recent years. This year, our brother and sister Masorti Jews went to the Kotel and brought with them a new holy Jewish text of the Jewish people, the Declaration of Independence.

And they read this text, that some would think was purely a political text just the same way that we read other holy texts, with the traditional Haftorah trope (you can watch of a recoding of this historic ceremony with English translations, below)

And, to echo Sharansky, who may very well have been there at this reading of the Declaration, we will do the same here, right now.

Gabe Nechamkin and Deborah Bers and Cantor Marcos and I have each prepared a page from the Megillah – yes, the same word (we use to identify other sacred writings), the Megillat Atzmaut – the Independence Scroll – and I invite you to follow along.

But, how? Ah! I don’t know if any other published siddur has the words of Israel’s Declaration of Independence within. But, yes, our siddur (Lev Shalem) editors recognized the sanctity of those words, as a modern holy text of the Jewish people and included it for us, as if they knew what we would want to read it.

So, you are all welcome to turn to page 449 and follow along and, maybe, for the first time, actually read every word of Israel’s Declaration of Independence. You can also download a PDF of the Megillat Atzmaut with the trope here.

See what its founders were dreaming of: The state that they hoped to create, the way they intended to treat Israel’s citizens of all religions, how they hoped to interact with her neighbors.

I don’t have any illusions about just how complicated it is to maintain a Jewish State in the 21st century. What is “Jewish,” what is a “State?” These questions can consume us. But especially, on יום העצמאות, I celebrate … and I only celebrate:

  • I celebrate that in 1948 the Jews won the war, for to lose it would have meant to lose everything and everyone.
  • I celebrate that the State of Israel exists, for its existence is so much better for the Jewish people than would be its non-existence.
  • I celebrate that there was a home and an address to which Operation Solomon brought Jews from Ethiopia.
  • And I celebrate dreaming about the next time I will be able to visit …

I heard from JJ Jonah recently, the tour operator for our cancelled March 2020 trip. He’s ready for us to come back – are we ready to go?

Eytan Hammerman assumed the rabbinate at the Jewish Community Center of Harrison in August, 2014. He had previously served Temple Beth Shalom, Mahopac NY, for four years where he substantially grew the congregation and brought innovative programming along with his trademark energy and enthusiasm. He is committed to doing the same at the JCCH and, especially, to finding ways of making Conservative Judaism both relevant and meaningful to our 21st Century lives. Rabbi Hammerman looks forward to infusing time-honored traditions and stong values into our younger congregants with whom he enjoys a remarkable connection.

Landmark Israel Supreme Court Ruling Recognizes Masorti-Conservative and Reform Conversions for Aliyah

This statement was released by The Masorti Foundation for Conservative Judaism in Israel on March 1. The original posting can be found here.

Also … read the statement issued by the Rabbinical Assembly

After more than 15 years of struggle, the Masorti Movement of Israel today 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.“

The Masorti Foundation stands with our Israeli partners on this crucial day 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.

For the latest on the Court ruling, check out these articles:

Haaretz.com: Israel’s High Court Orders State to Recognize Reform and Conservative Conversions

Jpost.com: Israel to Recognize Reform and Conservative Conversion for Law of Return

Times of Israel: ‘Long time coming’: Reform, Conservative Jews hail Israel conversion ruling

Watch Our Shushan Purim Party!

Feel like climbing the walls? That’s Ok. Because when you drop down on the other side you’ll find a joyous Shushan Purim Party!

Purim may be over, but you can watch our Shushan Purim Party that was broadcast on Saturday, February 27, 2021 at 9:30 p.m. EST.

Who’s threw this Shushan Purim bash? We’ll tell you who:

  • MERCAZ USA
  • MERCAZ Canada
  • Women’s League for Conservative Judaism
  • Federation of Jewish Men’s Clubs
  • International Kiddush Club

Downloads to enhance your viewing experience:

1)  We will be making the perfect cocktail for a Haman led horse ride on a bright sunny day in Shushan. Download the recipe (alcoholic and non-alcoholic versions) by clicking here or on the image below:

2) Download our Purim Song Sheet, courtesy of the Rabbinical Assembly, to join us as we sing joyous tunes!


Women’s League for Conservative Judaism has a special message for all of us as we commemorate one year mark, about the time we celebrated Purim in 2020, of living with the pandemic in North America:

Mercaz Olami’s Statement on Keren Kayemet L’Yisrael (JNF) New Guidelines on Land Purchasing

Mercaz Olami, the political arm of Masorti-Conservative Judaism in the National Institutions of the Jewish people – WZO, Keren Kayemet L’Yisrael (JNF), Keren Hayesod, the Jewish Agency – strongly opposes a proposal made by the recently appointed Chairman of the Keren Kayemet Board of Directors to establish new guidelines for purchase of land in Judea and Samaria. Our opposition is based upon four principles.

First, we insist that the National Institutions of the Jewish People relate to the Government of Israel in a Democratic manner. Inherent to KKL’s mandate is to work in tandem with the democratically elected Government of Israel, currently engaged in an election campaign. Democracy dictates that settlement policy for the Judea and Shomron remains as the jurisdiction of the Knesset and the soon-to-formed Governing Coalition. It would be undemocratic for KKL to politicize and overstep its role by formulating its own settlement policies.

Second, we insist that KKL symbolize the principle of Zionist consensus. The Land of Israel is embodied by KKL. Thus KKL belongs to the entire Jewish People in Israel and the Diaspora. Fundamental changes in the manner in which KKL manages The Land ought not be made by Israelis alone. Wall-to-Wall Coalition Agreements must emerge from each Zionist Congress. So too, as in the past, KKL must act according to this principle of Zionist consensus. KKL’s policies must recognize and respect different approaches to the actualization of Zionism. The proposed action attempts to favor the settlement policy of one group, Israeli Jewry’s Far Right, over all others. Politicizing KKL would be inconsistent with KKL’s principle of Zionist consensus, a basic tenet of KKL throughout its history.

Third, we oppose any sudden and dramatic change in KKL’s status quo. Throughout the past decades, KKL has purchased land in the Negev, the Galilee and throughout the areas within sovereign Israel as a unifying element for Israeli and World Jewry. The proposed changes represent a dramatic departure from KKL’s status quo. Moreover, the process is flawed. These changes have been presented in a deliberately rapid and vague manner. It has not allowed for in-depth consideration of implications and consequences. The attempt to conduct a hasty discussion, also is blemished by attempts to conceal from members of the Directorate relevant information. This is not proper conduct for a public institution of the Jewish People.

Fourth, we oppose any distortion of Zionism. Though he claims otherwise – what the new chairman of KKL is proposing is not a return to a KKL-Israeli government collaboration, the basic core of KKL Zionist ideology. Instead, what is proposed is a unilateral act by the KKL to buy lands in the territories at its own discretion. Unilateral non-government private purchases of lands in the territories using Jewish money is not Zionism. It is a distortion of Zionism. It demolishes the bedrock of cooperative collaboration between the National Institutions of the Jewish People and the State of Israel. It would damage bonds between them.

Our member of the Executive Committee of the KKL Board of Directors, Emily Levy-Shochat, was part of a group which succeeded in slowing down the process and demanding changes in the content. Our Masorti-Conservative Judaism representatives in KKL’s Executive Committee, Board of Directors and General Assembly will persevere in this effort.

As noted by Levy-Shochat, KKL Deputy Chair on behalf of Mercaz Olami: “This is not just a KKL policy issue, but a much bigger question about the future of the Zionist Movement. We will continue to insist that the National Institutions, among them KKL, not be taken over by partisans of any one group. We also call our Zionist concerns to the global Jewish organizations represented in the World Zionist Congress and in the KKL Board of Directors – Hadassah, WIZO, Maccabi World Union, B’nei Brit and NA’AMAT International.”

Statement on the KKL-JFN Move to Purchase West Bank Land

New York, NY – The Rabbinical Assembly, the rabbinical association of the global Conservative/Masorti movement, joins with Mercaz Olami, Mercaz Canada, Mercaz USA, and the Cantors Assembly in strong opposition to the decision by the Executive Committee of Keren Kayemet L’Yisrael (KKL – JNF) to establish more expansive guidelines for the purchase of land in the West Bank territories. We reject these plans, approved by the executive committee on February 14, and oppose the new leadership’s efforts to fund settlement expansion, which fundamentally weakens the prospect of a two-state solution – an issue on which the Rabbinical Assembly and its members have spoken out in support in 2011, 2012, and as recently as 2020.

The proposed framework will damage KKL’s legitimacy in Israel and among Jews around the world, and may even endanger its very existence.

We believe that, as it has done in the past, KKL must act according to the principle of Zionist consensus – recognizing and respecting different approaches to the actualization of Zionism. The current action attempts to impose a structure that reflects and favors the settlement policy of Israel’s extreme right, an act which is inconsistent with what has been a basic tenet of KKL throughout its history.

We believe that the proposed action will severely damage Israel’s foreign relations. Allocating organizational funds to purchase land in the West Bank unnecessarily politicizes an essential and broad-based Zionist institution, at a time when Israel instead seeks to enhance the special U.S.-Israel relationship with incoming Biden administration officials and diplomats.

We are taught in Psalms (34:15) to “Seek peace and pursue it.” In that spirit, we call on KKL-JNF stakeholders to reject the plan in its current proposed state and to contact relevant board representatives and KKL leadership to share their concerns.

Statement on the Attack on the United States Capitol

Organizations of the Conservative Movement of Judaism are appalled by the violence that took place at the United States Capitol Wednesday afternoon. We call on all American political and religious leaders to condemn in unequivocal terms this attack on democracy and its institutions. We also demand that, having been certified by the respective states and in the courts, all political leaders, including President Trump, defend and uphold the Constitution of the United States, affirm the results of the recent elections, and speedily return to the peaceful transfer of power that has been the hallmark of American democracy for over 200 years.

We are grateful to law enforcement for ejecting the rioters and re-establishing control of the Capitol, and pray for their safety and the security of Congressional leaders.

As a minority within American society, the Jewish people appreciate the democratic principles enshrined in the US Constitution. Civil liberties, and those of other minorities and marginalized groups, are guaranteed only when all leaders affirm the rule of law. The sight of a noose and Nazi symbols at the Capitol was sickening. Since the riot in Charlottesville in 2017, we have been concerned about both the danger posed by white supremacist and other extreme groups, and the weak response to those groups by some US political leaders. It is time for all political leaders to unequivocally denounce such beliefs and behaviors. As we remember each Passover, our people’s historical experience reminds us that every generation must respond to the challenge of bigotry and rise to the defense of freedom.

The basis for democracy stems from the Torah’s belief that every person is created equally in God’s image and is therefore entitled to equal representation in government and equal protection under the law. Each week we pray during our Shabbat worship to “uproot from our hearts hatred and malice, jealousy and strife. Plant love and companionship, peace and friendship, among the many people and faiths who dwell in our nation.” This prayer is more than an expression of faith. It is a call to action, and we have much work to do to heal the deep wounds and divisions which afflict the United States and society.

May the new US leaders, who are coming to power this month at every level of government, rise to the responsibility the voters have entrusted to them to bring healing and exercise responsible governance.

The Rabbinical Assembly
American Jewish University – Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies
The Cantors Assembly
Mercaz USA
North American Association of Synagogue Executives (NAASE)
Jewish Educators Assembly
The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism (USCJ)
Women’s League for Conservative Judaism

Read the Rabbinical Assembly’s Resolution on Voting in the 2020 US Elections here.

MERCAZ Presents … Tu B’Shevat 5781: A Celebration with the Cantors Assembly

MERCAZ USA, MERCAZ Canada, and MERCAZ UK presents

Tu B’Shevat 5781: A Celebration with the Cantors Assembly
Presented Live on Wednesday | January 27, 2021
3:00 p.m. EST (New York)

We are delighted to announce that MERCAZ USA we will be partnering with our fellow English-speaking MERCAZ organizations, Mercaz Canada and Mercaz UK (United Kingdom) on a number of initiatives. It is our hope that this arrangement will enable all of us to provide a wider variety of educational and engagement opportunities for members of the Conservative/Masorti community we collectively serve.

The first of these programs was held on Tu B’Shvat (Wednesday, January 27 at 3:00 p.m. EST) in collaboration with the Cantors Assembly. We are delighted to be have been able to celebrate this Zionist chag (holiday) together, which draws our attention to the land of Israel and our connections to it!

If you missed the live celebration, you can watch the recording of our program below:

For those that wish to participate fully, you should bring to your Seder table:

  • White and red wine (or grape juice)
  • At least 3 kinds of fruit:
    • One fully edible such as grapes or figs
    • One edible outside with an inedible pit such as dates or olives, and
    • One edible inside with an inedible rind such as pomegranates or citrus
  • Prior to watching, download our Tu B’Shevat Seder packet

Feature Article: A Millennial Yankee in Theodor Herzl’s Court

Eric Leiderman, Board Member, MERCAZ USA

In late October, I was supposed to be in Israel attending the 38th World Zionist Congress, as a young adult delegate on the Mercaz slate. However, as with every other conference held since March 2020, we met in cyberspace instead of the International Convention Center in Jerusalem. The building initially built to house this Congress has done so every five years for the past six decades. Even though I could not be there in person, I was reminded of the importance of my participation in the Congress from my apartment thousands of miles away in the United States.

The World Zionist Congress – held every five years since 1946 – was established by Theodor Herzl in 1897 as the supreme organ of the World Zionist Organization (WZO). The purpose of the WZO is to set the agendas and budgets for several National Institutions: (1) The Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI) – responsible for Zionist education in the Jewish Disapora, as well as recruitment and facilitation of Aliyah (immigration) to Israel, (2) Keren Kayemet LeYisrael/ Jewish National Fund (KKL/JNF) – responsible for fundraising throughout the diaspora to build and develop the Land of Israel. Examples of KKL/JNF’s work are Israel’s famous forestry projects, waterworks, and modern initiatives to build the economies of Israel’s peripheral communities, and (3) Keren Hayesod. This institution is probably the least familiar of the three organizations to American Jewry since, for us, many of this organization’s functions are handled by the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA); namely raising funds from the Jewish community allocated for Jewish education and programming.

At this year’s World Zionist Congress we voted on policy resolutions, an amendment to the WZO Constitution, and elected the officers who will implement these policy changes. These people will also be responsible for distributing the equivalent of nearly one billion U.S. dollars annually.

What makes the World Zionist Congress exceptionally Jewish is the sheer number of political parties and factions that make up its membership. At this year’s Congress, 521 delegates were seated, pulling from two dozen slates with the smallest slate representation coming in at just two delegates, compared to the 114 delegates representing Israel’s Likud Party and 97 from the joint list of the global Reform and Conservative (Masorti) Movements’ Arzenu/Mercaz Slates.

Now for the drama.

With hundreds of people representing the entire spectrum of Jewish backgrounds, priorities, and interests, you can imagine that there will be some tension. For those attending the Congress, or following closely, there was a rash of spicy tweets, sour misinformation, and dry Jerusalem Post articles. This year, the spectrum of representation grew even larger when a new Ultra-Orthodox slate made headlines by garnering enough support to be awarded 25 seats. With this new slate’s arrival, a new infamous plot twist was launched. In a break from over a century of tradition, a Right-Wing-Ultra-Orthodox voting bloc attempted to seize control of the National Institutions by trying to treat this Congress in much the same way as the Israeli Knesset functions; by forming a majority coalition government.

Yet, in what I can only see as the biggest miscalculation in Zionist Congress history, this immediately forced into existence an opposition bloc.

As it was quite frantically explained during a pre-Congress party caucus, the tradition of the World Zionist Congress is to overcome the stereotypes of overly opinionated Jews by forging a “wall-to-wall” or collective bargaining agreement. In which every faction – left, right, center, religious, secular – is represented and equitably allocated officers within the National Institutions.

After successful political maneuvering by the leadership of the global Reform and Conservative (Masorti) Movements, along with unprecedented pressure from the women’s Zionist organizations (Hadassah, Na’amat, WIZO), along with their centrist and left-wing Israeli allies, this Congress was no exception to the tradition of forming “wall-to-wall” agreements. For the first time since the position was vacated by Ehud Avriel in 1972, in addition to the Chairperson, there will be a President of the World Zionist Organization. In a doubly historic move, this seat will be filled by a woman from the center-left liberal Zionist party. This appointee will serve as a goodwill ambassador of the Zionist movement to every sector of the global Jewish community.

Other key contested roles included the Deputy WZO Chairperson and Deputy Head of the Jewish Agency (JAFI) and will be filled by representatives from the Reform and Conservative (Masorti) Movements. The centrist Blue and White Party, headed by Alternate Prime Minister of Israel Benny Gantz, will fill the Keren Hayesod Chair. A position much sought after by the new Ultra-Orthodox party, Chair of the KKL/JNF Education Committee, will be shared in rotation first by this new group and followed by Blue and White.

Additionally, this new Ultra-Orthodox party sought to create a new department within the WZO specifically for “Orthodox Spiritual Services.” Not only did this attempt fail, but the new collective agreement stipulates that all WZO departments must work with all sectors of Israeli society and diaspora Jewish communities.

Beyond the politics of the slates, delegates to the World Zionist Congress were assigned to various committees focusing on specific issues. Meeting over Zoom, each committee discussed resolutions submitted prior to the Congress to be modified or amended before being put to a vote. Not surprisingly, voting took place almost entirely along party lines. However, each committee member was free and able to contribute directly in these meetings, as it served their particular interests. There were five committees in all representing the primary policy concerns of the Zionist movement. Most importantly promotion of Aliyah (immigration to Israel), Zionist education, Hebrew language and culture, diversifying voices within the Zionist movement while working toward a united Jewish People, combating anti-Semitism/anti-Zionism, and empowering the next generation of Zionist.

It is this final point that brought me to this year’s virtual Zionist congress. According to Congressional rules, at least one fourth of each slate must be 35 years old or younger. As a co-founder of the grassroots organization Masorti On Campus, I ranked as an alternate delegate to the previous World Zionist Congress in 2015. This time around I am now President of Masorti On Campus and a board member of MERCAZ USA, the Zionist arm of the American Conservative Movement, and accordingly was placed as the highest ranking “young” person on their slate.

Rhetorical questions and snide comments aside as to what any of us could, should, or would do to empower the next generation of American Jews is a column for another week. Yet, for all the talk from Congressional veterans and party elders, it was the nonpartisan American Zionist Movement (AZM) who did the most for the young adults at this year’s Congress. Beginning with a pre-Congress Zoom meetup that included a succinct rundown of what to expect from the Congress, along with what we would be missing by not meeting in person. Following the initial program we were broken up into small groups that were purposefully mixed to allow members of different slates to meet each other for the first time. This event was coincidentally held at a crucial moment as rumblings of the alleged right-wing “power grab” were already abound. My breakout group included delegates and alternates from Arza (Reform), Eretz Hakodesh (Ultra-Orthodox), Hatikvah (Progressive), Mercaz (Conservative/Masorti), Mizrachi (Modern Orthodox), and ZOA.

As a direct result of this initial AZM young delegates event, a WhatsApp group was opened allowing for candid and sometimes heated dialogue between members of different parties. In an attempt to maintain civil discourse, the AZM team arranged an optional midweek Zoom call for young delegates to meet with Herbert Block, AZM executive director, to help share more of the history of the “wall-to-wall” agreements and the processes that were taking place behind closed doors. Aside from the in-person “wall-to-wall” negotiations at the National Institutions Building in Jerusalem, and official committee meetings over Zoom, sadly, it is possible that these few conversations were the only substantive interactions between members of different parties.

I would be remiss if I did not highlight our greatest strengths. Why did we fight tooth and nail to pitch the widest tent possible? It is our variety of opinions. Disagreements can be healthy and welcome, particularly when seeking to craft resolutions with the greatest impact. However, when we are nasty and deride each other, we not only create division but foster an air of Sinat Chinam (senseless hatred) – a destructive force that has gotten us into trouble before. If I were to boil down the true essence of the Mercaz platform it would be an unquenchable thirst for pluralism. One of the frustratingly beautiful aspects of the Conservative Movement is that no two Conservative Jews could ever agree on what it means to bear that label. We struggle in a polarized world, finding an us-versus-them mentality abhorrent, and thrive on the notion that amicable agreements can be reached.

After many months of campaigning, it was these three days in October filled with passionate Zionists across every time zone, working hard to make sure their community’s interests were represented. It was extraordinary to witness. I am encouraged by the changes afoot and by the unity and strength of the center-left Zionist community. For those of us who view the values of Zionism to be not only those of Jewish nationalism and peoplehood but also of a shared pluralistic nature, there is hope. With the new “wall-to-wall” collective agreement in place, the next five years will hopefully inculcate the principles of transparency, quality, and accountability much needed in our National Institutions.

Eric Leiderman (@EricLeiderman) is a Deputy Member to the Zionist General Council, Founder & Creative Head at MASORTI X, President & Co-Founder of MASORTI On Campus (@MasortiCampus), and a board member of MERCAZ USA. Eric grew up in the New York Metropolitan Area, and has spent significant time in several North American Jewish communities as well as in Israel. He currently resides in Chicago, Illinois with his fiancé.

Masorti on Campus is a project of MERCAZ USA.

 

MERCAZ USA Board Votes to Accept IHRA Definition of Antisemitism

A component of Mercaz USA’s mandate to foster engagement opportunities between Israelis and those in the Diaspora is combating antisemitism, anti-Zionism & BDS. In support of those objectives, and to align ourselves with the greater Jewish community, our board voted on December 1, 2020 to accept and adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism:

“Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”

To guide IHRA in its work, the following examples may serve as illustrations:

Manifestations might include the targeting of the state of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collectivity. However, criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic. Antisemitism frequently charges Jews with conspiring to harm humanity, and it is often used to blame Jews for “why things go wrong.” It is expressed in speech, writing, visual forms and action, and employs sinister stereotypes and negative character traits.

Contemporary examples of antisemitism in public life, the media, schools, the workplace, and in the religious sphere could, taking into account the overall context, include, but are not limited to:

  • Calling for, aiding, or justifying the killing or harming of Jews in the name of a radical ideology or an extremist view of religion.
  • Making mendacious, dehumanizing, demonizing, or stereotypical allegations about Jews as such or the power of Jews as collective — such as, especially but not exclusively, the myth about a world Jewish conspiracy or of Jews controlling the media, economy, government or other societal institutions.
  • Accusing Jews as a people of being responsible for real or imagined wrongdoing committed by a single Jewish person or group, or even for acts committed by non-Jews.
  • Denying the fact, scope, mechanisms (e.g. gas chambers) or intentionality of the genocide of the Jewish people at the hands of National Socialist Germany and its supporters and accomplices during World War II (the Holocaust).
  • Accusing the Jews as a people, or Israel as a state, of inventing or exaggerating the Holocaust.
  • Accusing Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel, or to the alleged priorities of Jews worldwide, than to the interests of their own nations.
  • Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor.
  • Applying double standards by requiring of it a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.
  • Using the symbols and images associated with classic antisemitism (e.g., claims of Jews killing Jesus or blood libel) to characterize Israel or Israelis.
  • Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.
  • Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel.

Antisemitic acts are criminal when they are so defined by law (for example, denial of the Holocaust or distribution of antisemitic materials in some countries).

Criminal acts are antisemitic when the targets of attacks, whether they are people or property – such as buildings, schools, places of worship and cemeteries – are selected because they are, or are perceived to be, Jewish or linked to Jews.

Antisemitic discrimination is the denial to Jews of opportunities or services available to others and is illegal in many countries.

You can learn more about how the IHRA’s working definition of antisemitism is being used by governments and organizations here, and download a recently released FAQ in PDF format here.

Mercaz Reads Israel: Diving Into the Israel Experience

In the midst of the emerging pandemic and in the wake of the World Zionist Congress election campaign, MERCAZ USA launched an online book club featuring contemporary Israeli literature that provides insight into and understanding of the lives and concerns of our Israeli counterparts: MERCAZ READS ISAREL, a partnership between MERCAZ USA, MERCAZ Canada, MERCAZ UK, and the Israel Forever Foundation.

Our first book club meeting in June was with author Avigail Graetz. Nearly 150 book club members joined Avigail on Zoom to explore and discuss her book “A Rabbi’s Daughter.” This was followed in September with our second book club meeting, where we drew an equally large audience for our dive into “If All The Seas Were Ink” with author Ilana Kurshan.

In addition to our book club discussions with authors on Zoom, individuals can join our ongoing discussion of our book selections in our book club’s Facebook group.

This winter, we will be reading ‘All The Rivers’ by acclaimed novelist Dorit Rabinyan. This work, a controversial, award-winning story about the passionate but untenable affair between an Israeli woman and a Palestinian man, was banned from classrooms by Israel’s Ministry of Education. This remarkable novel is a bold portrayal of the strains – and delights – of a forbidden relationship.

In choosing this book, MERCAZ is not endorsing its position or its politics, rather we want to expose our readers to a different Israeli perspective. This book may be a challenging read for some but exploring the complex issues of Israeli life is at the heart of our mission with MERCAZ READS ISRAEL.

Learn more about MERCAZ READS ISRAEL and watch the recordings of past book club meetings.

Join our discussion group on Facebook.