Sunday, October 28, 2018

Pittsburgh Solidarity

In the wake of the horrible murders at the Tree of Life Synagogue, a Conservative congregation, Israeli Minister of Diaspora Affairs and Minister of Education Naftali Bennett announced that he would fly to Pittsburgh to show his solidarity with the Jewish community there. 

While referring to the Pittsburgh congregants as “our brothers and sisters,” Bennett stated that “All Israel are responsible for one another” and that “the State of Israel is deeply pained by this terrible antisemitic murder.”

Normally the Israeli Consul General would serve as the Israeli representative at events in an American Jewish community.  Occasionally, an event is of such significance that the Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. would attend.  Given the enormity of this attack, Bennett, the highest-ranking Israeli official with responsibility for the diaspora, a member of the ruling coalition, an aspiring Prime Minister, apparently felt compelled to vividly demonstrate his and Israel’s solidarity with the American Jewish community by personally going to Pittsburgh. 

Minister Bennett’s gesture, no doubt heartfelt and sincere, is a commendable one.  Bennett obviously wants to demonstrate that he and Israel care for all Jews regardless of how they pray or the stream of Judaism they belong to.   Declaring that “When Jews are murdered in Pittsburgh, the people of Israel feel pain,” Bennett makes no distinction amongst Jews. We are one. 

Given that Bennett is the leader of the Jewish Home party, a “right wing” party with many Orthodox Jews as members, American Jews should take note and appreciate the Minister’s demonstration of support and solidarity. 

However, there is something awry when a Minister travels to Pittsburgh to demonstrate his oneness with the Jews of a Conservative congregation, but the Jews of that congregation know that their own rabbi is not given the same respect as Orthodox rabbis.  Their rabbi and his Israeli colleagues cannot officiate at their marriage here in Israel.  Their rabbi and his Israeli colleagues cannot bury the dead here in Israel.  Their rabbi and his Israeli colleagues cannot convert a person to Judaism here in Israel.

Tree of Life’s rabbi and his congregant do have the right to pray in an egalitarian minyan at the Kotel, and Bennett should be credited with playing a positive role in developing that space, albeit with the Supreme Court’s encouragement.  However, the coalition that Minister Bennett and his party are members of refused to implement the agreement they negotiated that would have truly recognized their equality as Jews in Israel, an agreement that would have instituted a common entrance to the Kotel area and that would have placed members of the Reform and Conservative movements on the board responsible for the area. 

On the important vote truly expressing respect for, equality of, and solidarity with all Jews, a politically tough vote, Minister Bennett abstained.  When it came to a gesture of solidarity with political risk, he took a duck. 

If Bennett truly wants to show that the Jewish people are one, if he wants his meaningful and appreciated gesture, to have even more meaning, to last more than the day or two he is in Pittsburgh, to really resonate, he would be well-advised carry forth this sentiment into his life and actions as an Israeli political leader.  He would not just recognize that all Jews are equal and worthy in times of despair and destruction, but every day and in every way in the only Jewish nation on earth. 

If Bennett truly wants to show that he respects the Jews of Tree of Life, he will turn his sentiments into action.  As the ultra-Orthodox threaten to bring down a government that recognizes the legitimacy and equality of all streams of Judaism, he would pledge to bring down a government that does not do so.  In marriage, in conversions, in death.  And he would act on his pledge. 

Now that would be a gesture of solidarity, of respect, with meaning. 

(Originally published in The Times of Israel)

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