The world is changing fast, but Jewish institutions? Less so.

Today the Jewish world is experiencing a decline in old models of Jewish legacy institutions. This decline poses a new challenge to Jewish communities in the United States and elsewhere. In our recent paper, we argue that the traditional mediators must be updated, and that we also need new and fresh mediators that can promote the relationship between Israel and the Diaspora.

Old Models of Jewish Legacy Institutions No Longer Working, Experts Say

Read more in our research paper: www.reutgroup.org/…/20170331-Reut-Nation-State-English-FINA…

Today it was announced that the government promised $5 million to renovate and expand the egalitarian prayer space at the Davidson Archaeological Center next to Robinson’s Arch. This money won’t solve the Kotel Crisis. Even if the government rescinded the cancellation today, and reinstated the Kotel Compromise in full, it would not resolve the deep division that this crisis exposed between Israel and Diaspora Jews. This crisis is not just about prayer arrangements at the Kotel. It is about the relationship between Israel the Jewish People, and the State of Israel’s role as the nation state of the entire Jewish People.

Israel must redefine and reexamine its status and role as the nation state of the entire Jewish people. The longer Israeli society avoids this conversation, the more likely we are to experience further crises and events like the cancellation of the Kotel Compromise.

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In the past several weeks, we’ve seen sharp reactions from Jewish communities throughout the world, following the Israeli government’s decision to cancel the Kotel Compromise. The cancellation of the Kotel Compromise, the Conversion Bill, and the Rabbinate’s Blacklist of Diaspora rabbis, are not just insults to the Reform or Conservative movements, or even just American Jews. These events cause serious damage to the relationship between the State of Israel and the Jewish People. Diaspora Jews, in the US, France, and Britain, the three largest communities in the Diaspora, all see these developments as a serious blow to Israel’s ability to to be the national home of the Jewish People, and even as a “desecration of God’s name.”

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This time its clear that the fault line runs between Chief Rabbinate of Israel and the spiritual leadership of all Diaspora Jews – not just Reform and Conservative Jews. The list includes Orthodox Jews as well, including Rabbi Yehoshua Fass, CEO of Nefesh B’Nefesh.

Together with the collapse of the Kotel Compromise two weeks ago, the blacklist is more than just another symbol of Israel distancing itself from Diaspora Jews. It is proof that the State of Israel directly damages the cohesion and prosperity of the Jewish People. It is proof that Israel’s institutions refuse to consider Jews living outside of Israel, and that Israel’s actions damage the network of communities and spiritual leadership of the Jewish People.

For thousands of years the network of the Jewish People was key to its survival and prosperity. The State of Israel was created in order to protect the prosperity and cohesion of the Jewish People. Today, it acts in complete contrast to the original vision of its founders, and strengthens deep divisions within the Jewish People.

Israeli society must continue to ask itself: How can the State of Israel serve the entire Jewish People?

It’s not about the wall.

On June 26, Naftali Bennett, Minister of Diaspora Affairs, released a video (in Hebrew) explaining the cancellation of the Kotel Compromise, intending to calm the storm. Bennett calmly explained that although the compromise was cancelled, men and women could still pray together at Robinson’s Arch, and so there was no big deal. As Bennett said: “Is this a tragedy of all generations? No.”

Bennett was right. Reform and Conservative Jews can still pray at Robinson’s Arch, according to their custom. But the cancellation of the Kotel Compromise is an issue that cuts much deeper at the heart of the Jewish People: Israelis don’t care about egalitarian prayer at the Kotel, and don’t understand the needs of Diaspora Jews, or the ways Israeli policy influences Diaspora Jewish identity.

Bennett’s second response (in English) on June 27, understood this difference. Bennett admitted that “mistakes have been made,” declared that American Jews “are our brothers” and that they are “a fundamental pillar of the State of Israel.” Bennett went on to promise to engage in dialogue with Diaspora Jewish leaders.

Dialogue is a good start. But in order to fully embody its role as the nation state of the Jewish People, a real appreciation of the relationship between Israel and the Diaspora must be integrated into Israeli policy and national identity.

The Kotel is the symbol of the expression of Jewish longing throughout generations and exile for Zion. It is the most foundational Jewish symbol, not real estate to be traded within Israeli coalition agreements. It is a spiritual asset that the State of Israel administers on behalf of the entire Jewish People and future generations.
Cancelling the Kotel Compromise is the least Jewish and least Zionist choice that Israel could make. The State of Israel was created in order tostrengthen the Jewish People. This decision is likely to weaken the Jewish People, and distance Diaspora Jews from Israel and the Zionist project. When the State of Israel does not recognize the right of the largest Jewish denominations in the world to pray according to their custom at the Kotel, it weakens not only their connection to Israel, but also their ability to maintain Jewish identity in the Diaspora. The time has come for Israel to ask itself: What does it mean to be the nation state of the entire Jewish People? What are the obligations that this role entails? How can Israel strengthen and protect the cohesion of the entire Jewish People?

See our research paper for more details:

‘And thou shalt command the children of Israel, that they bring thee pure oil olive beaten for the light, to cause the lamp to burn always. In the tabernacle of the congregation without the vail which is before the testimony, Aaron and his sons shall order it from evening to morning before the Lord: it shall be a statute forever unto their generations on the behalf of the children of Israel.’

Exodus 27:20-21.

The ner tamid – the eternal flame in our lives, the solitary light illuminated in the Temple in Jerusalem – symbolizes the spiritual journey of the children of Israel, kept alive through the long, twisted road of Jewish history. I fear the flame is in danger of being extinguished. Today, at the height of Jewish stability and strength, when half our people are living in Israel, and the other half living in accepting environments, the ner tamid is in serious danger. Look below the surface, and cracks are threatening our Jewish world. The brightness of the ner tamid is inextricably tied to Jewish unity, but the partnership between Israel and the Jewish world is in danger. The State of Israel was built on the assumption it was to be a collective home for the Jewish People, not just in Israel but also for those in the Diaspora. But Israel and the Jewish world have undergone significant changes challenging that partnership (most recently, the Gaza war in summer).

Over the last few months, Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has tried to decrease the gap, repeatedly declaring that Israel is the national home of the Jewish people. But do Jewish people in the Diaspora identify Israel’s polices?

The Jewish People’s greatest startup success story is in danger of losing its way (some might argue it already has). Israel is facing enormous challenges across the board, challenges that are testing Jewish heritage and values. Every third Israeli baby is born into poverty. Every fifth pensioner in Israel dies in poverty. Religious life is monopolized by the Orthodox, affecting marriage, divorce and conversion, and hindering the recognition of Reform and Conservative streams in Israel. As hope for peace fades, so too does the possibility of a twostate solution, and that presents a massive challenge. Israel is facing an eruption of violence between Jewish and Arab citizens, underlined in part by an acute sense of inequality between the Jewish majority and the Arab minority. For thousands of years, the Jews have been strangers in other nations’ lands. Now that the tables are turned, how will we react?

The task we now face is how to keep Israel safe, thriving and free in a way that the vast majority of Jews in the Diaspora can identify with. It is time to put the issue of an ongoing Jewish–Israeli partnership firmly on the agenda. This partnership – symbolized by the ner tamid – is essential to Israel’s future as the nation state of the Jewish people, and requires the combined efforts of the government of Israel, relevant decision-makers in the Diaspora and every single Jew in between. Time is of the essence. The issue must be broached wherever and whenever the Jewish family meets – around the Shabbat dinner table, at the JCCs, in temple, the federations, Jewish organizations, Hillel, youth movements, NGOs, the public arena, the media, blogs. In Canada and around the Jewish world.

We have to raise the temperature of debate. And with that in mind, the Reut Institute intends to appoint a special team to analyze the complexity of Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people and examine how Israel might best represent central Jewish values. Our goal is to generate a series of recommendations to strengthen the link between Israel and the Jewish world. Our findings will be presented to the government of Israel and decision makers in the Diaspora.

In the meantime, the latest surveys of North American Jewry depict a general disengagement from organized Judaism as well as a lack of interest and identification with the State of Israel for many young Jews. We are faced head on with the question: Is our 3,000-year-old ner tamid withering?