Religious Pluralism in Israel : Reality or Pipedream?


Rabbi Adam Feldman of The Jewish Center in Princeton, NJ felt it was his responsibility to educate his congregation on issues of religious equality in Israel.

“I have been to Israel many times. I have read the stories for years. I am familiar with the Kotel and Robinson’s Arch and what Masorti is doing for non-Orthodox Jews in Israel. I have spoken to many Israelis about this issue and I knew that the large majority of Jews in North America and in my congregation did not have these same experiences to help them form their own views,” said Rabbi Feldman.

So Rabbi Feldman decided to create a program called “Religious Pluralism in Israel : Reality or Pipedream” featuring Rabbi Steve Wernick, CEO of USCJ, Yizhar Hess, CEO of Masorti in Israel and Osnat Fox, a shlicha sent by the Israeli government to the Colorado Jewish community to help people feel a more personal connection to Israel.

Rabbi Wernick shared details about the negotiations with Prime Minister Netanyahu around the creation of an egalitarian prayer section at the Kotel, explaining how we reached the stalemate we are in today.  He also clarified the correct terminology to use when speaking about this topic, explaining that the conversation is about religious equality, not religious pluralism – why the non-Orthodox institutions do not receive the same funding and respect as the Ultra-Orthodox.  He concluded on a hopeful tone, reminding us that it is critical to continue to fight this fight and support the people in Israel who align with our values as Conservative Jews.

Yizhar Hess joined via satellite from his office in Jerusalem to help attendees understand more about the negotiations with the Prime Minister and who supports our movement in the Knesset.  He shared success stories about Masorti congregations and helped participants appreciate how many successful non-Orthodox religious institutions there are in Israel.

Osnat Fox described her mission as helping American Jews understand the complexities of Israeli life and accepting that the role of religion in Israel is quite different than its role in America. She explained that, from her perspective as an Israeli, she too is bothered by the decisions of the Chief Rabbi in Israel and the religious leadership. In fact, she was the leader of a group of Israelis who sent a letter to the Prime Minister explaining why they were so opposed to his decision not to honor the Kotel agreement.  She also spoke of how Israelis are concerned about issues of personal status and how it relates to marriage and divorce – more and more Israelis are searching for non-Orthodox rabbis to officiate at their weddings and this presents a huge challenge today.

Said Rabbi Feldman, “So many congregants shared with me afterwards how glad they were to participate in the program and learn more about this issue.  I’m thrilled we could bring these three speakers to the Princeton community so that congregants can have a personal connection to them and to their work. To me, this is what it means to be a member of a USCJ shul and the greater Conservative movement.”

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