President, World Organization of Jews from Arab Countries
I am a native of Iraq, an Arab and Islamic country where I lived until we were forced to leave and go to Israel. As a penniless refugee, I went to school and medical school, acquiring many Arab and Muslim friends — Shia, Kurd and Sunni.
Just when the conversion crisis seemed to have abated, with a six-month hiatus in place for the controversial bill proposed by Knesset Member David Rotem, the Israeli High Court of Justice was the scene this week of a new setback — one that could undermine negotiations under way to resolve the deeply troubling issue.
For all the major obstacles that remain, last week’s Washington summit, which featured the first direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians in 20 months, represented an important step forward.
As was widely reported, the atmospherics at the State Department were positive. President Barack Obama, learning from his early mistakes, made it clear he rejects imposed solutions, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton showed a willingness to put her reputation and political future on the line by taking a leadership role in the talks.
At this time of year, it is common for many of us to pick up our phones and send emails apologizing to others for the ways that we wronged them in the past year. In addition to doing personal repentance (teshuva), Rav Kook, the first Chief Rabbi of Israel, explained that we as a people (Knesset Yisrael) must also do teshuva. How do we, as a nation, ask the nations of the world for forgiveness?
I recently learned the term "bageling,” in which you make known your status as a member of the Tribe to a fellow member, without ever saying so directly. As in approaching someone with a yarmulke and saying, “Gee, it’s as hot as Tisha B’Av today, don’t you think?”
Or, for example, a client with a WASP-sounding name managed to tell me about his son's bar mitzvah, coming up in five years. These people, and there are tens of thousands of them, want to be identified as Jews. But where does that go and how far?
Rabbi Avi Weiss’ recent introduction of women-led Kabbalat Shabbat services in his synagogue has produced yet another kerfuffle among his rabbinical colleagues, albeit one significantly subdued when compared with the recent “Rabba” controversy. And Rabbi Michael Broyde, a noted rabbinic scholar, has once again responded with an article that purports to outline the “normative” Orthodox position on Rabbi Weiss’ latest innovation. Not surprisingly, that position is different than Rabbi Weiss’.
Over the last number of weeks, people with good intentions, and some with not such good intentions, have written and dealt extensively with the proposed Conversion Bill in Israel. I read what they are writing and wonder: do they really understand the Bill?
Following is an explanation, framed in a Question and Answer format.
I cannot say that I have ever rejected God. There were some years in which I was not interested, and that, perhaps, is the greatest rejection of all (much more than hostility or lack of faith). But then the world seemed too small, too confined, far too senseless without Him: To me, He is the all-embracing, all-encompassing being, the great Mystery, the transcending reality that is above, beyond and behind all that exists.