Chicago Jewish leaders call for unity, protection of religious pluralism in Israel

JUF President Dr. Steven B. Nasatir and Chairman Michael H. Zaransky released the following statement in response to recent decisions by the Israeli government regarding an egalitarian prayer space at the Western Wall and the recognition of certain conversions.

We live at a time when the Jewish People in Israel and throughout the world face deep and abiding challenges, from rising global anti-Semitism to efforts to delegitimize the Jewish state.

These times demand Jewish unity not division, cooperation not internal discord.

That is why members of Chicago's Jewish community, and leaders of the Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago, were stunned, saddened and aggrieved by two significant decisions taken last Sunday by the Cabinet of Prime Minister Netanyahu. 

The first decision was to suspend the landmark Kotel /Western Wall agreement -- which our community worked vigorously to secure -- to provide proper and dignified space for Jews of every denomination to pray at Judaism's holiest site, the Western Wall in Jerusalem. The second decision is to proceed with legislation that denies recognition to conversions to Judaism in Israel performed outside the official Israeli Chief Rabbinate. This legislation would delegitimize conversions performed by Conservative and Reform rabbis, as well as the many hundreds of conversions performed by Orthodox rabbinic courts outside the official chief rabbinate system. 

The work of securing the State of Israel in every sense of that word, and of protecting and passing to future generations the legacy of our proud, ancient and diverse civilization, is a shared project of Klal Yisrael , of all the Jewish people. No one group, within Israel or outside of it, should act as though it, alone, can dictate and determine what -- and whose -- legacy that is. 

Our love for Israel is as unshakable as our commitment to working together with Israel on this and other issues. In times of celebration, in times of danger, and in times of sorrow, the people and the State of Israel can count on JUF/Federation to give unconditional love and support. This will never change.

Unity between the Diaspora and Israel always will be a central tenet of Israel's national security and of our thriving as a Jewish People. There is no Israel without the Jewish world; there can be no Jewish world without Israel.

For the sake of unity and to secure the birthright of all Jews, we therefore call on the Government of Israel to reinstate the Kotel agreement immediately, and to desist from proceeding with the exclusionary conversion bill. To that end, we and our fellow Jewish community leaders will continue to actively engage with Israeli officials, lawmakers, civic and religious leaders, to raise our voices and our concerns.  


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