January 2012 / Shvat 5772
Since its founding in 1929, the Jewish Agency has been the principal vehicle for bringing Jews from the Diaspora to Israel so they could live openly, according to their own Jewish ideals, in the Jewish homeland. As a founding organization of the Jewish State, the Jewish Agency has always been at the forefront in confronting the greatest challenges facing the Jewish people. And we remain so today, when one of these challenges is maintaining an Israeli society that remains open and tolerant.
Cultural realities, political complexities and personal passions will cause friction at times, but in honoring the democratic principles articulated in its Declaration of Independence, we believe that Israel itself should reflect a Jewish peoplehood that embraces all of us. The Jewish Agency is proud of its role in helping the people of Israel navigate the ever-present sources of religious tension. Like the majority of Jews—Orthodox and non-Orthodox—in Israel and around the world, we are deeply disturbed by the recent reports of extremist behavior.
Our programs foster unity rather than division and dialogue rather than intimidation. A core tenet of our work is to underscore our shared destiny and the reality that our common ties are far more powerful than our differences. Programs that do not embody a commitment to a pluralistic, democratic Israel will not receive our support. As the government’s official representative of world Jewry, we are a leader in advocating for and promoting tolerance and pluralism on all issues pertaining to Jewish status and citizenship. In fact, through an agreement with the Ministry of Interior, we recently assumed responsibility for legal verification of certain conversions that had previously been under the purview of Israel’s religious leadership.
In 2002, we founded the Jewish People Policy Institute, where a multidenominational team of research fellows focus on ensuring a strong, inclusive global Jewish future through public policy recommendations and identification of broad-based programming needs.
Also, in 2002, we launched the Nativ Jewish Zionist Identity Program—a groundbreaking pluralistic Jewish education initiative, for immigrant IDF soldiers of mixed parentage, staffed by Israeli Jews of all denominations. Nativ offers a series of seven-to-nine week courses in Bible, Jewish law, Jewish history, Zionism, Jewish philosophy, the Jewish calendar and lifecycle. Considered Jews according to Israeli law but not Orthodox Jewish law, Nativ participants often arrive with tenuous connections to Judaism. Though not required, participants have the option of going through a formal conversion performed by the IDF’s Rabbinical Court.
Because Israel’s religious establishment is heavily influenced by the Orthodox Chief Rabbinate, the multi-denominational religious life that characterizes the Disapora has not thrived in Israel. Though the Jewish Agency recognizes and respects the Chief Rabbinate’s role in preserving the traditional Jewish influence that broadly frames life in Israel, we also work hard to support and bolster the presence of the emerging Reform, Conservative (Masorti), and Modern Orthodox movements so there will continue to be multiple pathways for Israelis to engage with their religious heritage and find spiritual meaning.
Israel’s vibrancy comes from the passion of its people. Spirited debate—while at times unpleasant—can be productive, even essential, so long as we maintain sight of the fact that we are a people—one people. The Jewish Agency is committed to preserving this fundamental Zionist teaching as a guiding principle for all Jews.