Jewish Leaders Rally Against Orthodox Control of Religion — and Waning Faith Practice

Federation GA Shies Away From Strident Iran Call to Arms

The Jewish Federations of North America capped their convention in Israel with a march to the Western Wall. Their prayer at the egalitarian prayer section of Robinson’s Arch was symbolic of their push to ease Orthodox control of religious affairs.
jfna
The Jewish Federations of North America capped their convention in Israel with a march to the Western Wall. Their prayer at the egalitarian prayer section of Robinson’s Arch was symbolic of their push to ease Orthodox control of religious affairs.

By J.J. Goldberg

Published November 13, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

Defying predictions, America’s Jewish federations mustered to mount an unabashed show of strength when they gathered in Jerusalem November 10 for the annual General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA). It wasn’t exactly the sort of defiance their Israeli hosts were accustomed to seeing at an American Jewish philanthropists’ convention.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu opened the three-day meeting with fiery call to arms against Iran. His defense minister, Moshe Yaalon, delivered the same stern message the next day. Such Israeli battle cries are usually the cue for American Jewish activists to line up for duty.

But Iran was not the enemy the delegates had come to Israel to confront. Their main targets were closer at hand. Target No. 1 was Israel’s system of strict Orthodox control over Jewish religious affairs, which offends many liberal Jews who are the charities’ main support base. No. 2 was the waning Jewish loyalty of their own children, the next generation of American Jews. These threats aren’t physical, but they’re seen nonetheless as mortal threats to American Judaism.

Looking to move those two balls forward, planners added something new to this year’s assembly program: argument.

Open controversy is something North America’s 153 local Jewish charity federations have strictly avoided since their emergence a century ago, mostly for fear of alienating donors. Their traditional attitude was captured in the iconic slogan of their erstwhile national fundraising arm, the United Jewish Appeal: “We are one.”

The new tone was evident in the assembly’s opening moments, shortly before Netanyahu’s speech. In brief comments welcoming the delegates, the American co-chairs of the assembly, Washington, D.C., federation leaders Michael and Susie Gelman, said that they “look forward to the day when Israel will realize the dream of being a Jewish, democratic and pluralistic state.” Susie Gelman delivered her remarks in fluent Hebrew, which was then translated into English by her husband.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Happy birthday Barbra Streisand! Our favorite Funny Girl turns 72 today.
  • Clueless parenting advice from the star of "Clueless."
  • Why won't the city give an answer?
  • BREAKING NEWS: Israel has officially suspended peace talks with the Palestinians.
  • Can you guess what the most boring job in the army is?
  • What the foolish rabbi of Chelm teaches us about Israel and the Palestinian unity deal:
  • Mazel tov to Idina Menzel on making Variety "Power of Women" cover! http://jd.fo/f3Mms
  • "How much should I expect him and/or ask him to participate? Is it enough to have one parent reciting the prayers and observing the holidays?" What do you think?
  • New York and Montreal have been at odds for far too long. Stop the bagel wars, sign our bagel peace treaty!
  • Really, can you blame them?
  • “How I Stopped Hating Women of the Wall and Started Talking to My Mother.” Will you see it?
  • Taglit-Birthright Israel is redefining who they consider "Jewish" after a 17% drop in registration from 2011-2013. Is the "propaganda tag" keeping young people away?
  • Happy birthday William Shakespeare! Turns out, the Bard knew quite a bit about Jews.
  • Would you get to know racists on a first-name basis if you thought it might help you prevent them from going on rampages, like the recent shooting in Kansas City?
  • "You wouldn’t send someone for a math test without teaching them math." Why is sex ed still so taboo among religious Jews?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.