Open Hillel calls on organizations protesting Kotel decision to stand up for religious pluralism in the American Jewish community and join our call for Hillel to cut ties with Mosaic

 

June 29, 2017

Early this week, the Israeli government suspended its plan to create permanent space for egalitarian prayer at the Western Wall. At the same time, an Israeli government committee advanced a bill that would deny recognition of conversions performed by non-Orthodox rabbis.

In response, a wide variety of diaspora Jewish organizations have expressed anger at these moves against religious pluralism. The Jewish Agency for Israel; the Union for Reform Judaism; the Reconstructionist Movement; the Conservative/Masorti Movement; a number of Jewish Federations; and Hillel International, among others, have called on the Israeli government to reverse its decisions.

Open Hillel shares these organizations’ commitments to religious pluralism, and we share their concerns regarding the Israeli government’s dismissive treatment of non-Orthodox Jews both in Israel and in the diaspora. We commend these organizations for their leadership on these issues; and we call on them to extend their fight for religious pluralism to Jewish communities here in the United States.

After all, the same political forces driving these Israeli policies are also threatening religious pluralism in American Jewish campus communities. In August 2016, Naftali Bennett, Israel’s Minister of Education and Diaspora Affairs, launched Mosaic United, a $66 million “Jewish identity-building” project that aims to combat “critical discourse on Israel” and promote “the Jewish foundations of the family unit” on college campuses in the Jewish diaspora. Through grants to Chabad, Olami, and Hillel International, Mosaic works to promote an exclusionary, Orthodox-only vision of the Jewish family and Jewish identity. Just as Jewish communal leaders are calling on the Israeli government to respect religious pluralism at the Kotel and in the conversion process, so too must they work to protect religious pluralism in the American Jewish community.

Bennett and his Habayit Hayehudi (Jewish Home) party have a proven record of undermining religious pluralism. As Minister of Education, Bennett halted government funding to pluralistic Jewish organizations in Israel and directed $15 million shekels ($4.28 million) to inserting Orthodox religious programming into non-Orthodox public schools. Bennett and Habayit Hayehudi support state-enforced Orthodox marriage laws, which prevent women from initiating a divorce and preclude same-sex marriage. Bennett’s deputy, Ayelet Shaked, called the Reform movement’s call for egalitarian prayer spaces “nonsense” and said that under no circumstances would non-Orthodox rabbis be admitted to the Israeli Rabbinate. Bennett’s actions reveal his disregard and disrespect for non-Orthodox expressions of Judaism.

We cannot stand by as Bennett spends $66 million through Mosaic United to gatekeep Jewish identity and impose his anti-pluralistic agenda in Jewish communities on North American college campuses.

We are glad to see leading American Jewish organizations take action in support of religious pluralism. Disparate Jewish communal institutions must work together to stand up for the right of Jews to express their Judaism in ways that ring true to their values. We hope that communal leaders will extend their values of inclusivity and pluralism to Jewish communities on college campuses.

To Hillel International: we welcome your stated commitment to religious pluralism and hope that you move to act on your values by ending your partnership with Naftali Bennett and Mosaic United.

To other Jewish organizations who are standing up for religious pluralism: we invite you to join our call for Hillel International to cut ties with Mosaic United.

The American Jewish community’s commitment to religious pluralism has long fostered rich and diverse Jewish communities. We urge communal leaders to keep sight of their values and to join us in working towards vibrant and inclusive Jewish communities on campus and beyond.