June 27, 2017
3 Tammuz 5777
The Honorable Benyamin Netanyahu
Office of the Prime Minister of the State of Israel
3 Kaplan Street
Jerusalem, Israel 91919
Dear Mr. Prime Minister Netanyahu:
We write to you on behalf of the Jewish Federation and Jewish Foundation of Nashville and Middle Tennessee and Nashville’s local congregations representing all of Judaism’s religious streams. We write with heavy hearts and diminished spirits, profoundly anguished by the recent decisions of your government to suspend the implementation of the Kotel agreement and by the advancement of a bill in the Knesset that would yield all authority for conversions to the Chief Rabbinate.
Our collective history informs us that thousands of years ago the Jewish people stood at Sinai and we joined together in a covenant that endures to this very day. Through the millennia that have since passed, we learned through horrific tragedies and enormous triumphs that the survival of the Jewish people rests on our unity and commitment to one another. Sadly, that unity will be severely tested by this affront to religious pluralism that will have a deleterious impact on all of world Jewry.
Mr. Prime Minister, we are acutely aware of the political dynamics that you must deal with to maintain a governing coalition. We have no intention of suggesting an alteration to the political calculus–that is yours alone to determine. What we do wish to respectfully suggest is that the critical issues before us today must rise above coalition politics. While you were elected to serve by the people of Israel—you have another role, as Prime Minister of our sacred and eternal homeland you are the chief ambassador for world Jewry. It is a special role that has its own unique political dimensions. Your historical legacy will be linked not only to what you achieve for the people of Israel, it will also be defined by how you serve all of world Jewry.
We hope and trust that you believe the agreement forged in early 2016 regarding the Kotel was done in good faith. It was a proud moment for the Jewish people and it energized many Jews in our community and across our nation with the knowledge that Israel welcomes all Jews no matter their religious beliefs and practices. As far as the conversion issue is concerned, while it is certainly not a perfect arrangement the current status quo, which allows for some flexibility in conversion practices, offers a more inclusionary approach than ceding a monopoly to the Chief Rabbinate which will have the effect of excluding hundreds of thousands of Israelis from being a part of the Jewish people.
We cannot tell you what to do or demand that you take actions to satisfy our position. You must come to the conclusion that the regrets we have expressed are those you share with us. Nashville is a strongly Zionistic community. Zionism was the framework that emerged as the house built for the modern State of Israel. Now it is in your hands to ensure that this house, so painfully and carefully constructed at such perilous and often desperate cost through many generations, will forever remain a home for all of the Jewish people. We ask that you grasp upon your role as ambassador to all the Jewish people and reinstate the Kotel agreement and seek the withdrawal or defeat of the conversion bill currently under consideration by the Knesset.
Lisa Perlen, President, Jewish Federation and Jewish Foundation of Nashville and Middle Tennessee
Mark S. Freedman, Executive Director, Jewish Federation and Jewish Foundation of Nashville and Middle Tennessee
Rabbi Laurie Rice, Congregation Micah
Rabbi Philip Rice, Congregation Micah
Lynn Heady, President, Congregation Micah
Rabbi Saul Strosberg, Congregation Sherith Israel
Yuri Livshitz, President, Congregation Sherith Israel
Rabbi Mark Schiftan, Senior Rabbi, The Temple-Congregation Ohabai Sholom
Rabbi Shana Mackler, The Temple-Congregation Ohabai Sholom
Martin Sir, President, The Temple-Congregation Ohabai Sholom
Rabbi Joshua Kullock, West End Synagogue
Steve Hirsch, President, West End Synagogue
Ron Galbraith, Chair, Community Relations Committee of the Jewish Federation and Jewish Foundation of Nashville and Middle Tennessee
Abbie Wolf, Director of Community Relations of the Jewish Federation and Jewish Foundation of Nashville and Middle Tennessee
Fred Zimmerman, Nashville Member of the Board of Trustees of the Jewish Federations of North America, Member of the Board of Governors of the Jewish Agency for Israel and Vice Chairman of the United Israel Appeal