Over the past year, clashes between Israel's secular and religious communities have threatened the social cohesion essential to Israel’s long-term survival. In late 2011, the city of Beit Shemesh became the case study for this issue, when Israeli television aired a prime-time news segment. Our Partnership’s work to enhance pluralism in Beit Shemesh provides models for other Partnership 2Gether communities. Not surprisingly, discussions about pluralism in Israel have been on the conference agenda of most major Jewish organizations this past year.
Our P2G co-chair, Wendy Rudolph and Becky Caspi(JFNA Senior Vice President for Israel & Overseas) , recently spoke to 200 women about the role of Partnerships in addressing this complex social issue at the 2012 Lion of Judah Conference convened by Jewish Federations of North America [JFNA]. Part of a three-day conference attended by 1,700 women, this session provided the “Lions” with an opportunity to better understand the issues and to think about appropriate roles for their Partnerships.
Becky Caspi provided background on competing approaches to Judaism in the Jewish State. “Israel has a very clear, generally pluralistic, tolerant approach for defining the Jewishness of Israel in the realm of citizenship… However, the same approach does not apply when Jewish traditions, laws and values are integrated into the public sphere. Indeed, life-cycle events are governed by the ultra-Orthodox Chief Rabbinate. And where there is confusion about how the two approaches coincide in the public sphere – there is often conflict as well.”
Wendy outlined the situation in Beit Shemesh, and talked about the development of our Partnership’s role in building bridges in the city. “For Greater Washington, Beit Shemesh is not some random place in Israel, but our home address. Once you know people in a place, the news from that place becomes suddenly real.” Finding the appropriate role for the Partnership and interpreting our involvement to Federation leadership were challenging tasks. Wendy described the four tolerance programs established by our Partnership. “Through Partnership 2Gether,” Wendy emphasized, “We work with those who are seeking to build bridges of tolerance—whether in the Ultra Orthodox or secular communities. “
Her closing comment sums up the challenges for the Lions: “The Jewish Agency’s Partnership Program can be platform for social change in Israel. The Jewish Agency has historically been focused on confronting the Jewish people’s most significant challenges. Right now, the issue of pluralism is tearing at the fabric of the global Jewish family. P2G is uniquely positioned to help Diaspora Jews participate in social change in Israel, if we have the courage to listen to each other but also to our own values. We are all stakeholders in a strong, vibrant Jewish homeland that reflects our diversity, so we must engage.”