Israel

by Tinamarie Bernard June 30, 2010
 

 

As I contemplate the efforts of those within Israeli’s borders to advocate for religious freedom for Jews, I know some readers might question the importance of the topic. Certainly in the wake of the Gaza flotilla incident that left many of us outraged at an apparently botched effort, rightly commissioned, but imperfectly enacted, it seems that addressing Israel’s global PR problem is as pressing an issue.

Should Israel fix her image abroad before dealing with a lack of pluralism? Will pushing back on a rigid rabbinate — by carving space for Reform, Conservative and other non-Orthodox Jewry, even converts — make a difference in the long-term security of Israel? Or does Israel need to engage the Diaspora in better ways, educating Jews abroad to assist her in her right to defend her citizens?

After learning more about a new organization, the answers to all are a hopeful yes. Two newly formed organizations, one in San Diego, the other in Israel, are lending their might to both of these efforts.

Following the now infamous flotilla incident, a new group has formed in San Diego — the San Diego Israel Coalition — to discuss what individuals can do locally to support Israel. Before the Coalition even formed, the group, eager to support Israel amid local pro-Palestinian rallies, managed to do something small, remarkable and upwardly focused: they, along with Morris Casuto of the Anti-Defamation League, organized a peaceful pro-Israel counter rally. The counter rally drew local press and helped empower the local community to take back the dialogue from an increasingly noisy and hostile media.

“We took the other side by surprise and motivated hundreds of San Diegans that there was a place for them to stand up and show their support for Israel,” said Audrey Jacobs, who, along with Michael Lurie, is organizing the group.

Due to the overwhelmingly positive response, Jacobs and Lurie formed the San Diego Israel Coalition, “a grassroots, passionate, inclusive pro-Israel group focused on powerful and peaceful Israel advocacy in San Diego, working in partnership with all local pro-Israel organizations,” Jacobs said.

By the time this article goes to print, they will have had their first community-wide meeting to mobilize future actions.

Such efforts are collaborative fits for what is going on in Israel as well. Launched in September 2009 to coincide with the Jewish New Year, Hiddush.com is a trans-denominational advocacy and public education organization aimed at “promoting religious freedom and diversity and realizing the promise of Israel’s founders.” In less than a year, they have helped reframe the narrative of who is a Jew, and what responsibilities the State of Israel and her citizens have toward ensuring the Israel Declaration of Independence:

“The State of Israel…will ensure complete equality of social and political rights of all its inhabitants irrespective of religion…it will guarantee freedom of religion and conscience.”

Noble words that echo the familiar tenets of America’s promise put forth by our own founding fathers; indeed, constitutionalists have argued that religious tolerance, even freedom from religion, is paramount to a thriving democracy. But as the organizers behind Hiddush.com state, there is a gap between what is written on paper and what many Israeli citizens experience on a day-to-day basis.

They further note that a close alliance between religion and politics, even in a Jewish state, has led to the creation of laws that “undermine democracy, human dignity and civil liberties.”

Hiddush.com points to other complicating factors in the failure to build a pluralistic society. Not only are the ultra-religious less likely to enter the workforce and more likely to require lifetime state aid, but “approximately 25 percent of Jewish boys study in state-funded ultra-Orthodox educational institutions which illegally refuse to incorporate core studies into their curriculum. These schools either do not teach or teach very little civics, mathematics and English. Worse, they often transmit the message that democracy is incompatible with Jewish values.”

That is another reason why the work of the San Diego Israel Coalition is so important. Both efforts are historic; they are necessary to create the global paradigm shift of thinking that, if accomplished, will strengthen both Judaism and Israel. They go beyond just religion and they address a broader purpose, one about which we don’t really have a choice: If we want to be safe, we’ve got to be strong and unified.

For more information on the San Diego Israel Coalition, email Audrey Jacobs at sdisraelcoalition@gmail.com.

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