CommUNITY in the Face of Difficult Challenges — An Update

Posted on: August 1st, 2017 by tgregory

By Mark S. Freedman

Executive Director

Mark S. Freedman

As you can see by reading our Nashville Jewish community letter to Prime Minister Netanyahu in response to the ongoing controversy surrounding the Kotel and conversion matters, we are standing strong together across all denominations of Judaism here in Nashville. Many other Jewish communities across the United States and throughout the Diaspora have made similar appeals to the prime minister.

Already there has been some minor progress. The prime minister’s office is proceeding with plans to enhance the egalitarian prayer space at the Western Wall. The sticking point remains who shall administer the section where men and women can pray together and more negotiations loom between the Orthodox religious authorities who control the Kotel and the Israeli Reform and Conservative movements. The conversion bill, which would grant an absolute monopoly to the Chief Rabbinate on conversions recognized in Israel, has been shelved for six months and a special Knesset committee is in the process of being created that will seek a compromise policy. 

None of this will be easy but our voice is being heard on these critical matters that impact all Jews. In fact, our interests are being supported by you when you support the Federation Annual Campaign. Our major Israel beneficiary, the Jewish Agency for Israel, working in close partnership with the our Federation’s umbrella organization Jewish Federations of North America, has been at the forefront in galvanizing efforts to pressure the prime minister to reverse the ill-advised actions taken in late June.  

People worship at the egalitarian prayer section of the Kotel during the Jewish Federations of North America’s 2013 General Assembly in Israel. The section is currently in use and situated away from the Kotel’s main plaza, with a separate entrance about 30 feet below the main prayer areas. Photograph by MARK FREEDMAN

The chairman of the Jewish Agency, Natan Sharansky, who brokered the original compromise to create the egalitarian prayer space at the Kotel, continues to press the Israeli government, backed by collective advocacy of the board of governors of the Jewish Agency. Our own Fred Zimmerman, recently named as the chair of the Jewish Federation 2018 Annual Campaign, sits on the Jewish Agency board, and he is representing the interests and positions of not only Nashville Jewry, but the many hundreds of thousands of American Jews who value Jewish pluralism and believe that all Jewish religious traditions and practices should be respected and welcomed at Judaism’s holiest site.

Your support of the Federation Annual Campaign plays a vital role in promoting religious pluralism in Israel. Through our core grant to the Jewish Agency there is significant support to the religious streams. In the coming year the Jewish Agency will provide more than $3 million to organizations and programs affiliated with Israel’s Reform, Conservative and Modern Orthodox movements. This support bolsters these movements’ presence in Israel and strengthens their impact. The programs offer Israelis a diversity of opportunities for religious expression, and it provides them with a greater understanding of Jewish expression outside Israel. These organizations also help Jews worldwide feel that their styles of religious expression have a home in Israel.

This last point is particularly important. To promote greater religious equality in Israel will require the collective action of American Jews and Israeli Jews working together in common cause. We were thrilled to see that our Israeli friends in our Partnership2Gether region in Hadera-Eiron have joined us in voicing concern directly to the prime minister over the Kotel and conversion issues. This occurred, and not in some small measure, as a result of our Federation’s campaign support for the Partnership2Gether program. 

The bottom line really is if we want to help other Jews, we have to begin by helping ourselves. Now, more than ever, we need your voice and your financial support in our efforts to build and sustain Jewish unity. Thanks to all of you for being a part of the family. 

We will continue to keep you updated as the issues over the Kotel and conversion unfold. Please feel free at any time to contact me directly if you have questions or concerns. My email is and my direct phone number is (615) 354-1660. I answer my own phone and I’m ready to chat with you. •