This week, WRJ President Blair C. Marks and WRJ Executive Director Rabbi Marla J. Feldman are travelling to Israel with the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations (COP) to meet with Israeli leaders. We will be publishing anecdotes and photos throughout their trip!
We arrived in Israel last night and after a quick dinner (and a little shopping). We got a good night's sleep, getting ready for the beginning of a very busy week. On our way to breakfast we ran into two WRJ sisterhood women on their first visit to Israel and the daughter of WRJ Board member Andrea Cannon traveling on a unique 'honeymoon mission.' The world is just so small!
We began the day with a breakfast meeting with Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC) Executive Director Anat Hoffman. Anat is also Women of the Wall (WOW) chairwoman, and she filled us in on the latest events. Sadly an ultra-Orthodox man set one of their siddurim on fire after the recent Rosh Hodesh celebration. Anat feels that this was the result of incitement and an unrelenting stream of vitriolic messages coming from rabbis and government officials about WOW and Reform Jews following the announcement of the historic agreement to create an egalitarian prayer space at the Kotel. She emphasized how critical it is that American Jewish women continue to speak up and raise this issue with Israeli leaders. We also discussed ways WRJ can be helpful, including by purchasing tallitot and other Women of the Wall products.
Next, Anat shared with us the current work of the IRAC. WRJ gives an annual YES (Youth, Education, and Special Projects) Fund grant to support IRAC's social justice work. The past several years our grant has been used to produce an annual report on gender issues in Israel; because of the tremendous success the IRAC has had in recent years, they have decided that the report is no longer needed. Success! They continue to work on gender issues, such as discrimination against women in the military and by airlines to accommodate Orthodox men. In the coming year they will also be tackling the issue of secular education within the Orthodox community.
Over lunch, we had the opportunity to meet with Anna Kislanski, of the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism (IMPJ) and Marina Polinovsky, WRJ–Israel chair. They filled us in on the impact of our grant in support of their Mother-Daughter Bat Mitzvah project has been. The program currently takes place in about half of the Reform congregations in Israel. We also had a chance to talk about the women's groups in WRJ–Israel and how much they value their twinning with North American sisterhoods. We discussed future opportunities to connect with our Israeli sisters, including the upcoming WRJ Wilkenfeld International Women's Leadership Seminar and WRJ's next Israel mission in May 2017.
Finally it was time to meet the other mission participants and begin what will be an incredible week of high level meetings and briefings. The first speaker was Israeli Minister of Justice Ayelet Shaked, followed by several experts and military leaders addressing the current dynamics of the Middle East. The evening climax was a gala dinner with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Among the few questions posed from the audience was Marla's question about the recent incitement against Women of the Wall. We were pleased to raise the profile of that issue as Anat had requested earlier in the day.
What a first day! We were not only very busy, but also stimulated and engaged in serious learning about the reality of life in Israel. We are enjoying meeting our counterparts from other organizations and we have found that our presence on the mission also has had an impact on others. At the end of the day, one of the Orthodox participants approached us to learn more about Reform Judaism, having never met Reform Jews previously. It was an eye-opening conversation for all of us! We hope to share more with you as the week progresses, but for now, good night!