This week, we read the opening chapters of the book of Numbers, Bamidbar. This is a clear case in which meaning is lost in translation: The book is entitled "Numbers" in English based on the census that is related in the opening chapter of the book, but in Hebrew the title "Bamidbar" means "wilderness" . . . as the book relates the saga of the Israelite journey through the wilderness from Sinai to Eretz Yisrael, the Land of Israel.
This is also a week in which the whole world is watching the spiritual wanderings of the residents of modern Israel.
The Christian Science Monitor, The Arab News as well as The Jerusalem Post, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency and every other Jewish news source has covered the turn of events at the Western Wall this week.
One month ago, at the beginning of the new Hebrew month of Iyyar, police arrested (for the umpteenth time) women who were participating in a participatory women's service celebrating the new month . . . for disrupting the peace. Following these arrests, a series of Israeli justices have ruled that it is not the praying women who have disturbed the peace of this significant historic sight (the Western Wall is the western retaining wall of the Temple Mount, the height on which the long-destroyed First and Second Temples stood).
Today, the beginning of the Hebrew month of Sivan, saw a new development in the wake of the court decisions. This month the women returned to pray . . . but instead of arresting the women, as ultra-Orthodox Jews threw chairs, water and worse at them, the police restrained the outraged onlookers.
Since 1948, with Jewish sovereignty over Israel established, a significant dynamic of wandering came to an historic resolution. We are, in the words of Israel's national anthem: am chofshi b'artzeinu . . . a free people in our land.
But in other profound ways, we have not yet arrived.
The tendency to self-righteousness and even contempt between Jew and Jew is not limited to the conflicts within Israel around the Western Wall. Although generally less violent, there are those within the Jewish community who label other Jews as violaters of Torah, abductors of innocents, sabotagers of our tradition.
In my view, we will remain at the very beginning of our spiritual growth as a people as long as we foster theological one-upsmanship and self-righteousness. I await the spiritual milestone at which all of us who identify with our Torah and our people and our God and our tradition will be able to address each other with theological humility and say: your path may not be mine, your interpretation of Torah may not be that which is practiced in my community, but we are all the children of Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekkah, Jacob, Leah and Rachel and we share the same God, the same values and deserve the same respect.
This week, the Jewish world marked the beginning of the new Hebrew month of Iyyar. The beginning of each Hebrew month is observed as a semi-holiday called "Rosh Hodesh," the "head" of the month. The synchronicity of the lunar month and the female biological monthly cycle has led to a long-standing special relationship between women and Rosh Hodesh.
There are many ways in which Jewish women have celebrated Rosh Hodesh: refraining from cooking or sewing, gathering a group of women together for study or discussion . . . and for more than two decades, a group of women have gathered together every Rosh Hodesh to conduct a prayer service together at the Western Wall in Jerusalem . . . actually the western retaining wall of the Temple Mount.
What began, in the 1980s, as an informal group of women seeking to deepen their spiritual engagement in Rosh Hodesh by gathering at this unique, historic site has become, over the years, an official organization with a director and a president. Women of the Wall have supporters . . . and detractors . . . all over the world. As women's prayer groups go, Women of the Wall is pretty tame. They are guided by liberal Orthodox halachah (Jewish law) meaning that there are passages of prayer they will not recite as a group of women in the absence of a minyan (prayer quorum) of Jewish men. They are on the left edge of the liberal Orthodox Jewish world because it is quite accepted practice for these women to wear tallitot (prayer shawls) and they do read Torah together (although they have been forced to move their Torah reading away from the Western Wall for several years now).
The photograph above documents this month's new outrage: Anat Hoffman, chair of Women of the Wall, was arrested with four other women, on the charge of "disturbing the peace" by attempting to pray, early in the morning, modestly, as has been their practice for decades while wearing tallitot and holding a Torah scroll.
This is actually not the first time this has happened . . . but this month's arrest led to an unprecedented judicial decision. The website thejewishpress.com reported:
After examining the evidence, Judge Sharon Larry Bavly stated that there was no cause for arresting the women, WOW Director of Public Relations Shira Pruce reported.
In a groundbreaking decision, the judge declared that Women of the Wall are not disturbing the public order with their prayers. She said that the disturbance is created by those publicly opposing the women’s prayer, and Women of the Wall should not be blamed for the behavior of others. The women were released immediately, with no conditions.
This decision is long overdue . . . the travesty of arresting and harassing and allowing others to abuse women who are simply trying to pray has been an ongoing source of shame. Personally, I've never participated in a Women of the Wall service, even when I've been in Jerusalem on Rosh Hodesh . . . largely because I find perseverating about a retaining wall politicizes and distracts from prayer. On the other hand, I cannot accept the legitimacy of any authority that seeks to prosecute women who seek to pray . . . in a public space . . . respectfully . . . knowledgeably . . . and I am deeply relieved that Justice Bavly has put the weight of her office behind the obvious: "...Women of the Wall should not be blamed for the behavior of others."
There is a bit of irony that this arrest took place during the week that we read the Torah portion Tazria-Metzora. The parashah (Torah portion) opens with a controversial passage defining the protocol a woman was to follow to restore her ritual purity after childbirth. One aspect of this passage which is often overlooked as people deal with the apparent inequities of the system is that it is absolutely clear that the assumption was that a woman was responsible for her own state of ritual purity or impurity, that no one was authorized to act on her behalf to rectify a state of ritual impurity, but rather that she was expected, with the means at her disposal, to bring her own olah offering on her own behalf, placing her offering directly into the hands of the kohein/priest herself.
How odd and how sad that 2000 years after the women of Jerusalem were freely entering the precincts of this outer courtyard bounded by the western retaining wall of the Temple Mount, purchasing animals for their own sacrifices, that their 21st century counterparts should be frog-marched off of that same piece of real estate for exercising that very seem spiritual responsibility established in the Torah.
Justice Bavly has inched us back towards the right direction. Natan Sharansky is addressing this issue through other avenues at the Prime Minister's request. We are not finished discussing the issue of women praying at the Western Wall . . . but I sure hope we're done with women getting arrested at the Western Wall.
Every year, within a week of emerging from Passover's journey from slavery to freedom, we gather together as a community to remember and to mourn on Yom HaShoah: Holocaust Memorial Day.
The proximity of these two days is thought-provoking: truly for neither our ancient Israelite ancestors in Egypt nor for our more immediate forebears in Nazi Europe did "Arbeit Macht Frei" . . . did work generate a state of freedom.
For much of the last half of the 20th century, Jews all over the world (although less so in Israel) suffered from a form of collective Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. We were well and truly traumatized by the truths revealed about the Nazi campaign to create a Judenrein Europe . . . a Europe stripped of any Jewish presence. The truths revealed by the mountains of human hair and eyeglasses and suitcases . . . the emaciated prisoners liberated by Allied Forces . . . the testimony recorded at the Eichmann trial . . . it was all stunning, shocking, too much to take in.
In the Torah, in the books of Shmot/Exodus and Bamidbar/Numbers, we are witness to some dramatic expressions of faith, doubt, fear, backsliding and commitment coming from the released slaves following Moses through the wilderness. Considering all that they had been through, and no doubt suffering from some PTSD themselves, our ancestors who did not die at Egyptian hands had a lot of processing to do before they could formulate a new, coherent, positive Jewish identity and commitment to the Torah and the covenant with God.
Two thousand years later, there was a wide spectrum of reactions within the Jewish world as we emerged from World War II: some Jews found their faith reinforced . . . only a caring God could have succeeded in seeing any remnant of the targeted Jewish communities survive. Other Jews lost their faith . . . there could not be a God after all if a horror like Auschwitz could have come into existence. Yet others simply remained angry at God for the rest of their lives . . . how does the God described in Deuteronomy as אל רחום וחנון . . . as a merciful and caring God . . . remain silent and inactive as that God's covenantal partners, the Jews, are brutally enslaved, tortured, slaughtered, traumatized for life, marked for life . . .
As a Jewish kid in New Jersey growing up in the 50s and 60s, I was being educated as a Jew at a time when the adults in my community were still figuring it out: they were figuring out what really happened; they were figuring out how to take care of the survivors and their families; they were figuring out what this horrific attack meant for us as a people; they were figuring out what to tell us kids. I have a very vivid memory of sitting in the sanctuary of my New Jersey synagogue as an elementary school student, watching a film about the Holocaust that no Jewish educator today would be allowed to show to anyone under the age 16. Those images seared themselves on my brain . . . perhaps for better, perhaps for worse. I can't say I was traumatized by those images more than I was traumatized by other events in my life; but I did "get the message": being Jewish from now on was going to have to involve living with the shadow of the Holocaust.
It is 2013. World War II started almost 75 years ago. Like our ancient ancestors who came back home to Canaan after 40 years of wandering in the wilderness, we are a generation informed by, but not directly touched by, our experiences of slavery. We are about to celebrate the 65 anniversary of the establishment of the State of Israel. We are making history in East Greenwich opening up the town's first synagogue since the town was established in 1677. We are comfortable and safe here . . . more comfortable and more safe then our ancestors were when they followed Joshua into Canaan.
Our journey has led us into and out of Egypt, into and out of Auschwitz . . . and where will our journey take us next? What need we take with us from our history as we create our renewing identities as Jews today?
Twenty, thirty years ago, we were still talking about the importance of preserving Jewish tradition and community and observance in order not to hand Hitler a posthumous victory. It was a compelling image at the time, but I find that I need much more than the specter of Hitler to inspire me as a Jew. Hitler's dead, we're still here. Pharaoh is dead, we're still here. Titus is dead, we're still here. Stalin is dead, we're still here.
Surviving is great . . . but it is not enough. As we gather as a community to contemplate the incomprehensible chapter of Jewish history called the Shoah, let us also come together to integrate our past experiences into a positive Jewish identity that inspires us and infuses our lives with "kedushah" / holiness and "simchah" / joy.
The photograph on the left is of a street sign in Jerusalem. As is the standard in that holy city, every street sign bears the name of the street in Israel's three official languages: Hebrew, Arabic and English.
Only in the Hebrew does there appear a short explanation of the street name, or a short description of the person for whom the street has been named. In the case of Martin Luther King Street in Jerusalem, the epitaph appears: An American Leader. A warrior for equal rights in the United States.
This past Monday, people all over the United States, and, indeed, people all over the world, came together in celebration and remembrance . . . and appreciated the confluence of . . . President Obama's second inauguration and the anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King. There is no question that Reverend King would have been bursting with pride had he survived to enjoy the sight of Barak Obama taking the oath of office of President of the United States. The fact that President Obama's hand rested on Reverend King's bible . . . and Abraham Lincoln's bible . . . acknowledged with humility that President Lincoln and Reverend King made it possible for his hand to rest on their bibles.
I think, though, that Reverend King would also have acknowledged that, although we have come a long way from slavery, we have not yet reached the Promised Land. For Reverend King, visionary that he was, looking into the Promised Land in which race will be a non-issue, was also a clear-eyed leader, engaged in the real-world struggles that shackled innocent people of integrity.
For Reverend King, this week's Torah reading, Beshallach, was profoundly resonant: the people may have left slavery behind, but there is a long way to go before we reach the Promised Land. There are milestones along the way: manna and water, civil rights legislation and a black President of the United States, the attack of the Amalekites and the inordinate percentage of people of color living in poverty . . . . We are still wandering.
The Jerusalem street sign standing at the corner of Emek Refa'im and Martin Luther King Street is a banner of tribute to a man of courage who drew inspiration from the text originally written in the Hebrew of the street sign, and the Jerusalem street. That Jerusalem street sign, proclaiming Martin Luther King street, in the city at the heart of the Promised Land, also stands as a warning against complacence: Jewish sovereignty over the State of Israel does not mean that the journey is over. The inequities within Israeli society: economic, ethnic, educational must also be resolved before we can declare that the journey is over.
This week's parashah/Torah portion contains the powerful story of the rebellion instigated by Korach. Korach challenged the relationship between God and Moses and presumed to decide for God who would control and interpret God's word to the people. For this hubris, Korach and his followers were swallowed up alive as the ground opened up beneath their feet.
This very week, as we approach the Shabbat during which we read of Korach, the man who presumes to know who should serve as God's representative in the world, the Masorti (Conservative) and Mitkademet (Reform) rabbis in Israel and, indeed, all over the Jewish world were attack by the Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Israel, Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar.
I bring you the Jerusalem Post report on Rabbi Amar's remarks and some of the aftermath. I invite you to share your opinion of Rabbi Amar's remarks, and to share your opinion on the recent Supreme Court decision to recognize Masorti (Conservative) and Mitkademet (Reform) rabbis in Israel with Israel's Ambassador to the United States, the Honorable Michael Oren: Israel Embassy to the United States,
3514 International Drive Northwest, Washington, DC 20008, (202) 364-5500
Amar: Stop recognizing of non-Orthodox rabbis
By JEREMY SHARON
19/06/2012 / The Jerusalem Post
Sephardi Chief Rabbi plans to convene emergency meeting of Chief Rabbinate to combat state’s recognition of non-Orthodox rabbis. Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar said Sunday night that he would be convening an emergency meeting of the Council of the Chief Rabbinate next week to discuss the state’s recent recognition of non-Orthodox rabbis and its decision to pay their wages.
“With God’s help, a great voice [of protest] will come out against this shameful phenomenon in which they [non-Orthodox rabbis] insist on describing themselves as rabbis at the same time as they uproot the foundations of Judaism,” Amar told haredi radio station Kol Berama.
“We have tried to explain the great damage they cause,” he continued. “There is a great danger here to the Jewish people. It is well known that the greatest danger in our times is assimilation and they recklessly enable this phenomenon.”
Last month, the Attorney-General’s Office announced that the state would recognize non-Orthodox rabbis working in regional council jurisdictions, kibbutzim and other small communities as “rabbis of non-Orthodox communities,” and would fund their wages from state coffers.
This decision came in response to notice from the High Court of Justice that unless the state changed it’s position, it would issue a ruling in favor of the non- Orthodox Jewish groups who filed a petition with the court against the state on this matter back in 2005.
Orthodox rabbis serve in state-funded positions such as rabbis of cities, towns and neighborhoods. Non-Orthodox rabbis have been excluded from such positions, and the attorney-general’s decision covers only positions in small municipal jurisdictions.
Several non-Orthodox movements have already petitioned the High Court to allow non-Orthodox rabbis to be selected for positions in larger jurisdictions as well.
In addition to convening the Council of the Chief Rabbinate, Amar will also be inviting rabbis from across the country to participate in the meeting in order to form a broad coalition against state recognition of non- Orthodox rabbis.
Reaction to Amar’s comments was strong, with non- Orthodox groups condemning him as unrepresentative of Israeli society and the broader Jewish community.
Reform Rabbi Gilad Kariv, director of the Reform Movement in Israel, called for Amar to resign, and until then to internalize the principles of democracy.
“Amar’s intentions to work against the decision of the state, supported by the High Court of Justice, proves how much the Chief Rabbinate has lost its state function and how much it is disconnected from the heart of broader Israeli society, which is fed up with the Orthodox monopoly.”
Reform Rabbi Uri Regev, head of the Hiddush religious- freedom lobbying group, added to this theme saying that Amar’s proposal was “proof of how disconnected the rabbinate is from the values of democracy, the rule of law and equality.”
Regev accused Amar of seeking to recruit rabbis in a struggle against “the majority of the Jewish people, which is non-Orthodox” and putting Israel on a “collision course with the Jewish people.”
Yizhar Hass, head of the Masorti Movement – the branch of Conservative Judaism in Israel – said in response that Amar was abusing his position as a state official to promote hatred instead of respect, and was responsible for the declining perception of the rabbinate.
As we take the Torah scroll from the ark we sing "Ki mitzion teitzei Torah" ... For Torah will emanate from Zion and the word of God from Jerusalem." Part of the cache of our Holy Land is the unique relationship between God and this Land. For all that the original revelation of Torah was not in the Land, we Jews have looked to the Land for the wisdom and insight of Torah for millennia.
This makes recent events emanating from Israel all the more disturbing: Ultra-orthodox Jews have intimidated and attacked females from school-age girls to professional women visiting Orthodox neighborhoods on business.
Make no mistake: This is not the Torah of 90% of the Jewish world.
But it's easy to draw attention to negatives. Congregation Moreshet Israel on Agron Street in the center of Jerusalem has decided to walk the talk of another kind of Torah . . . a truer Torah, from Jerusalem. Led by Dr. Naomi Sarig (a member of the congregation), Rene Feinstein (president of the congregation) and Rabbi Adam Frank (spiritual leader of the congregation), Moreshet Israel has decided to celebrate this year's confluence of Purim and International Women's Day with a Shabbat led entirely by women.
I am deeply honored that the congregation is flying me to Jerusalem to serve as "Rabbi in the Congregation" for Shabbat. I will have the pleasure of welcoming a series of formidable, inspiring Jewish women to Moreshet Israel's bimah to teach, to lead prayer, to preach: Professor Alice Shalvi, founder of the Israel Women's Network, Naomi Sarig
Project Coordinator, Jewish Art and Visual Culture Research Project at Tel Aviv University, Rachel Azaria, a member of the Jerusalem City Council, Emily Levy-Shochat, Chair of the Masorti Movement in Israel . . . and me!
When I was a rabbinical student, I was studying in the Israeli rabbinical school at The Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem. But Schechter was not officially accepting women at that time, so I was officially registered as a student of The Jewish Theological Seminary of New York. During the first few years of my rabbinical training, Schechter was undergoing a process of studying and examining and contemplating the ordination of women as rabbis. I was privileged to be a student of Rabbi Zev Falk, z"l ... a brilliant and committed and inspired professor of halacha (Jewish Law). At one of our very intense school-wide discussions of women's ordination at Schechter, Professor Falk got up and said that the Jewish people had been robbed of the teaching and insights of Torah for too long. We have the Talmud of the men, Professor Falk declared, it is time to train women so that we can also embrace the Talmud of the women.
Professor Falk used to be a member of the daily minyan at Moreshet Israel, he would have been so proud of the Shabbat we are about to celebrate there this week: It will be a Shabbat of women's Torah, Talmud, prayer and inspiration.
Parashat B'har Torah Reading: Leviticus 25:1-26:2 As we approach the end of the book of Vayikra/Leviticus, we read a thought-provoking verse:
"I am Adonay Your God. It is I who brought you out of the Land of Egypt to give you the Land of Canaan to be your God." (25:38)
We are not often given a glimpse into God's intent. We are invited to ponder the motivation behind God's act of creation in the first place; we can only guess at the reason God reached out to Avram to seal the first covenant/brit; and the questions only multiply as we witness the stories of the Genesis/B'reishit families and ultimately the saga of Israelite slavery in Egypt.
There are other verses that offer similar insights into God's intent. Perhaps the most familiar is the verse we read twice a day in the liturgical unit of biblical excerpts of the Sh'ma and the following paragraphs: "I am Adonay your God. It is I who brought you out of the land of Egypt to be your God. I am Adonay your God."
But it is in this Leviticus verse that God includes the gift of the Land of Canaan to the Israelites in this statement of motivation. These verses indicate that God redeemed the Israelites from Egyptian slavery in order to "be" the God of the Israelites and their descendents (us!).
What does this mean? For centuries, since God first tapped Avram on the shoulder and instructed him to leave home, God has been "the God of the Israelites.? Right?
Well, yes and no. Avram, who would be transformed into Avraham . . . the father of a multitude . . . would ultimately serve as the patriarch for Jews, Christians and Muslims. So the God to whom Avraham was devoted was the God of several faiths.
During the centuries of Israelite slavery (that is the servitude of the descents of Israel/Jacob) it seems as though God was not "shochein" not dwelling among the people. It is through God's messenger, Moses, that God will, in effect, reintroduce the relationship with the Israelites.
As Israel leaves Egypt they are lead by the God who had seemingly abandoned them for generations, but then crossed all borders and broke all conventions to redeem them from slavery.
And the first major event of their journey back to their geographic home in Canaan is the only collective revelation of the Torah at Sinai. It is there that the unique relationship between God and Israel is forged. It is at Sinai that Adonay becomes the God of Israel irrevocably. "It is I who brought you out of the land of Egypt to be your God."
And in Leviticus, in the verse we read in this week's parashah, we learn that God also wanted to bring together the people of Adonay and the land of Adonay: the land of Israel and the people of Israel. It is with this statement that we learn how central this love triangle of God, people and land is to the core identity of our people.
In the past week, we celebrated Yom Ha'atzma'ut, Israel Independence Day, and we will soon be celebrating Yom Yerushalayim, Jerusalem Day (celebrating the reunification of Jerusalem after the 6 Day War). This is a propitious time for each of us to address the issue of Land and People and God for ourselves. Some of us, of course, visit Israel. Some of us make "aliyah" and choose to settle in Israel. Some of us don't feel drawn to make that "pilgrimage" visit. Some of us are knowledgeable about Israel and some of us don't know much more than what we absorb through our usual news sources.
This week's Torah reading challenges us to try to complete the sentence: "As a Jew, Israel means ______________________________ to me."
I'd love to hear what you come up with!
Parashat D'varim Torah Reading: Deuteronomy 1:1-3:22
On the eve of our annual commemoration of the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem (which takes place on Monday evening and Tuesday this week), we are reminded of the startling lesson the rabbis of the Talmud drew from this disaster: that the Temple was destroyed because that generation of Jews fostered among themselves "sinat chinam", baseless prejudice.
It is painful to see, in that same venue, the heart of Jerusalem, that baseless prejudice against non-Orthodox Judaism, threatens to become legislated policy of the government of Israel. Please read this article and then log onto www.masorti.org to send your e-mail of protest to Prime Minister Netanyahu.
Our own officers and board members signed such a letter jointly this past Tuesday at our board meeting. This was a true act of leadership and I urge you to follow their lead.
The link to send your e-mail to Prime Minister Netanyahu:
For background on this issue, excerpts from a recent article from the Jewish Telegraphic Agency:
Opponents alarmed as Israeli conversion bill moves ahead
By Jacob Berkman · July 13, 2010
NEW YORK (JTA) -- Opponents of a controversial bill that could give the Orthodox Rabbinate the final say over conversions in Israel are trying to keep the bill from moving ahead in the Israeli Knesset after its surprise introduction and passage by a Knesset committee.
For months, Israeli lawmakers have been discussing a bill that would put more power over conversion into the hands of Israel's Orthodox-dominated Rabbinate by giving local rabbis the ability to perform conversions and giving the Chief Rabbinate oversight and control over the whole process.
The bill, sponsored by Yisrael Beiteinu Knesset member David Rotem, gained steam Monday with its approval in the Knesset law committee by a 5-4 vote. The bill now must pass three readings before the full Knesset to become law.
Opponents are desperately trying to stall the process, at least until the Knesset starts a two-month break next week.
"They have to bring it to the Knesset now for a first reading, and we have to make sure that it will not happen," the chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel, Natan Sharansky, told JTA.
Sharansky is leading a coalition against the bill that includes the leaders of the North American Jewish federation system and the non-Orthodox Jewish religious movements in the United States.
Rotem's bill originally was intended to ease the conversion process within Israel and make it easier for non-Jewish Israelis of Soviet extraction to obtain conversions and marry within Israel.
Despite its intent, opponents warned that the bill would consolidate control over conversions in the office of the Chief Rabbinate and drive a wedge between Israel and the Diaspora by carrying the risk that non-Orthodox conversions performed in the Diaspora could be discounted in Israel. In addition, they said the bill would affect the eligibility of converts for the Law of Return, which grants the right to Israeli citizenship to anyone who is Jewish or at least has one Jewish grandparent.
The opponents urged Rotem to revise the proposal. They believed they had a deal in place with Rotem to hold off on the bill pending more discussion after Rotem came to the United States in April to discuss the bill with them, and after a number of meetings between Sharansky and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Several top Israeli officials, including the justice minister and minister for Diaspora affairs, had agreed to work with Sharansky on altering the bill.
But Rotem caught Sharansky and the Diaspora leaders by surprise by bringing the bill to a committee vote this week; Sharansky was given only a day's warning. The move set off a maelstrom of criticism from the Diaspora.
The CEO of the Jewish Federations of North America, Jerry Silverman, called Rotem's action a "betrayal."
In a letter of protest from the president of the Union for Reform Judaism that was signed by 14 other organizations, including various arms of the Conservative movement, Rabbi Eric Yoffie wrote, "Rotem's actions are contrary to the assurances we received in meetings with him and with others over the last several months."
In an interview with JTA, Rotem was unapologetic about moving ahead and said, "This bill will pass, no doubt. I never promised anything," Rotem said. "I told them all the time in the meetings that if I will see there is a majority, I will bring it a vote. No one can say I promised anything."
Since Monday, Sharansky has engaged in a number of discussions with Israeli lawmakers, including Netanyahu. The Jewish Agency chief said he believes the bill will not come before the Knesset this week, and hopes it will not be on the agenda before the two-month recess provides a chance to alter or scuttle the bill.
Sharansky said he is pushing for Netanyahu and his Likud Party to publicly oppose it.
The Jewish Federations say that Silverman and federation lay leaders met with Israel's president Shimon Peres Monday. Peres, according to a JFNA press release, pressed for more dialogue on the proposed bill that would give American voices greater credence.
"More than half of our people are living in the State of Israel. Almost half of it lives outside of Israel. We should remember that those living outside of Israel are not represented by the Knesset, they have their own communal life," Peres told the group.
"A discussion that bears consequences on the entire Jewish people should include different voices -- from within Israel and from without. The legislative process should include an open public discussion that will lead to an understanding. It should be conducted with tolerance, with open hearts and open minds
"It is important for us, for the unanimity of the moment, that we have to keep the pressure on," Rabbi Steven Wernick, the executive vice president of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, told JTA.
"I think it would be an error to think that in the political society as dynamic and hyper-dynamic as Israel is that we are done with this," he said. "The people who care about these issues have to constantly keep them on the agenda and explain why they are important to decision makers."
Parashat Shlah Torah Reading: Numbers 13:1-15:41
The headlines scream condemnation of Israel for attacking humanitarian activists on a peaceful mission to bring essential goods to the beleaguered residents of Gaza. I believe that facts are the best response to vitriol. So here are some facts:
I have excerpted an article from the Israel Foreign Ministry website which details the record of Israel's support of Gazan's. (www.mfa.gov.il) Behind the Headlines: The Israeli humanitarian lifeline to Gaza 25 May 2010Despite attacks by Hamas, Israel maintains an ongoing humanitarian corridor for the transfer of food and humanitarian supplies to Gaza, used by internationally recognized organizations including the United Nations and the Red Cross. Well over a million tons of humanitarian supplies entered Gaza from Israel over the last 18 months equaling nearly a ton of aid for every man, woman and child in Gaza. Millions of dollars worth of international food aid continually flows through the Israeli humanitarian apparatus, ensuring that there is no food shortage in Gaza.
- The Israeli government and its military repeatedly warned the flotilla that they were not to dock at Gaza and the legal blockade would be enforced.
- Israel repeatedly offered the port of Ashdod Harbor as the place to unload all humanitarian goods for inspection and transport to Gaza.
- Activists on the Turkish ship Mavi Marara were armed and attacked the Israelis boarding the ship. The other five ships provided no resistance and therefore incurred no casualties and were peacefully escorted to Ashdod where the goods were unloaded and will soon be transported to Gaza for humanitarian purposes.
Food and supplies are shipped from Israel to Gaza six days a week. These items were channeled through aid organizations or via Gaza's private sector.
Large quantities of essential food items like baby formula, wheat, meat, dairy products and other perishables are transferred daily and weekly to Gaza. Fertilizers that cannot be used to make explosives are shipped into the Strip regularly, as are potato seeds, eggs for reproduction, bees, and equipment for the flower industry.
The medical corridor
No Palestinian is denied medical care in Israel. However, if the Hamas regime does not grant permits for medical care, the Israeli government can do nothing to help the patient. Israel will facilitate all cases of medical treatments from Gaza, unless the patient is a known perpetrator of terror.
In 2009 alone, 10,544 patients and their companions left the Gaza Strip for medical treatment in Israel. Moreover, there were 382 emergency evacuations from Gaza for medical purposes.
On 24 May 2010 Israel opened the Kerem Shalom crossing to 97 trucks loaded with aid and goods, including six trucks holding 250 tons of cement and one truck loaded with five tons of iron for projects executed and operated by UNRWA
According to the UN report of May 2010, 120 megawatts (over 70%) of the Strip's electricity supply comes from the Israeli electric grid, while 17 MWs come from Egypt and 30 MWs are produced by the Gaza city power station.
During 2009, 7.5 million tons of flowers and 54 tons of strawberries were exported from Gaza with Israeli cooperation.
In 2009, 1.1 billion shekels (about $250 million) were transferred to the Gaza Strip for the ongoing activity of international organizations and to pay the salaries of Palestinian Authority workers. Healthcare
Palestinian families receive the same subsidized healthcare as Israelis, about 10% of the cost for the same treatment in the United States.
Israel transfers school equipment supplied by UNRWA including notebooks, school bags, writing implements and textbooks. Israel is currently coordinating the transfer of 200,000 laptops for Gaza schoolchildren and the shipment of 74 maritime containers for conversion into Gaza classrooms.
Despite the inherent dangers involved, Israel permits Gazans and visitors to travel between Gaza and Israel, from Gaza to Judea and Samaria (the West Bank), and even abroad for medical treatment, religious pilgrimages, and business trips. Whenever possible Israel allows for diplomatic activities and trade and commerce with the Gaza Strip.
During the Christmas holiday, approximately 400 permits were given to visit Bethlehem from Gaza as well 100 permits to travel abroad. In addition, 257 permits were given to businessmen from Gaza to facilitate business operations.