Kol Shalom, a Conservative congregation in Rockville, will not make its traditional Israel Bonds appeal on Yom Kippur as a statement of disappointment over recent actions by the Israeli government limiting religious pluralism that have angered the U.S. Reform and Conservative movements.
In an email to the congregation, Rabbi Jonathan Maltzman said the action is meant to be symbolic and individual congregants may decide to buy bonds on their own.
“But to simply accept without protest this gross insult as to our very status as Jews by the Jewish state would be a violation of our basic moral, ethical, and Jewish principles,” the email continued.
The suspension of the appeal is not permanent, Maltzman told WJW, and the congregation’s commitment to Israel remains strong.
“[It’s] like a marriage that’s hit a rough spot and [we’re] trying to work through it in various ways without a divorce, which, of course, would never happen,” he said. “But it’s a tough time for the relationship between Israel and American Jewry.”
In June, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu suspended an agreement to recognize religious pluralism at the Western Wall. The next month, the Israeli government considered a bill to place all conversions in Israel under the haredi Orthodox-dominated Chief Rabbinate.
After the Western Wall decision, Maltzman told WJW he was “appalled, angry, disgusted [and] fed up” and felt the decision was “a slap in the face to all non-Orthodox Jews.” He also said a congregant had come to him suggesting the suspension of the synagogue’s usual High Holiday Israel Bonds appeal.
Maltzman acknowledges that not all his congregants agree with his decision. But the board was unanimous in its agreement.
In place of the Israel Bonds appeal, Kol Shalom will feature an Israeli speaker who will share her experiences with the Masorti (Conservative) movement in Israel. The point, Maltzman said, was to continue to support Israel, but in a way in line with the congregation’s values.
“This is not an anti-Israel action or public attention-seeking, but a quiet way of showing our disappointment without really affecting [the bottom line] for Israel,” Maltzman said.
Congregation B’nai Tzedek, a Conservative synagogue in Potomac, also wanted to address the issue, but “it really never occurred to me to suspend the Israel Bonds drive,” said Rabbi Stuart Weinblatt. Instead, the Israel-Diaspora relationship will be the subject of an afternoon discussion on Yom Kippur.
“I thought it was important to have an open, nonjudgmental discussion to see where people are on this issue,” said Weinblatt, who chaired the Rabbinic Cabinet for the Jewish Federations of North America when the Kotel agreement was being negotiated.
Congregants have voiced a variety of opinions, he said, ranging from those who are frustrated and alienated by the decisions in Israel to those who feel American Jewish leadership is using the issue to drive a wedge between the two communities.
Mishkan Torah, a synagogue in Greenbelt affiliated with both the Reconstructionist and Conservative movements, makes a High Holiday appeal on behalf of Israel, but not specifically for Israel Bonds, said Rabbi Saul Oresky. Instead it presents alternatives, including the New Israel Fund.