Foxman: Draft Israeli Arabs, haredim to defend their neighborhoods

Israel should consider drafting its Arab and Haredi population to defend their neighborhoods, according to a prominent American Jewish leader.

Abraham Foxman, director of the Anti-Defamation League, told the Times of Israel that the proposal would undercut ideological arguments since draftees would take care of their own neighborhoods.

“You’re going to be protecting your own community, your own home, your own family. There will be some Arabs and some Haredim who will say `no,’ I understand that,” Foxman told the Times of Israel. “But if you don’t care about your family, about your street, then what are you doing there in the first place?”

In February, the Israeli Supreme Court nullified the Tal Law that exempted haredi Orthodox Israelis from military service. Since the expiration of the law on August 1, the Israeli Defense Force said that it has yet to encounter any significant problems in putting haredi men through the draft process.

Israeli Arabs are not required to do military service.

Foxman said that his plan would allow a more equal share in the national burden and provide the needed manpower to upgrade the Home Front Command so it can be better prepared for emergency situations.

“The beauty of that is that Israeli Arabs would begin with their own community,” he reportedly said. “They would take responsibility for the shelters, the communications networks, for the medical preparations, God forbid, of the home front. After that, they would expand to other parts of Israel.”

He added, “The same would be true for the Haredim: they would start with Bnei Brak and Mea Shearim but eventually would work in Petach Tikva and wherever.”

7 Days in The Arts

Saturday, September 17

Jews of the LBC rejoice as they finally get a film fest all their own. The first Long Beach Jewish Film Festival will be held today and tomorrow, thanks to the support of the Alpert JCC and the Cal State Long Beach Jewish studies program. The lineup features “Gloomy Sunday,” about a love triangle set in 1930s Budapest; “Solomon and Gaenor,” a British love story set in 1911 Wales; “Time of Favor,” an Israeli tale about the clashes between Orthodox nationalists and the military; and “Bonjour Monsieur Shlomi,” a French comedy about a young boy with unique culinary talents.

$10 (each), $36 (festival pass). University Theater, CSULB campus, Long Beach. (562) 426-7601.


Sunday, September 18

This afternoon, it’s all about sabra women at the first Israel Women’s Festival. Actress Shirley Brener hosts the luncheon that features a fashion show by American-based Israeli designers, boutiques and live entertainment by Maya Haddi, Duende, and DJ Eyal. Proceeds benefit women’s organizations in Israel.

Noon. $65. Eretz-Siamak Cultural Center, 6170 Wilbur Ave., Tarzana. Tickets must be purchased in advance: (818) 980-9848, (818) 702-9272 or (323) 951-0111.

Monday, September 19

The Museum of the Holocaust challenges viewers to compare images of two genocides side-by-side in their new exhibition, “Encountering the Cambodian Genocide,” on display through Nov. 15. Pictures of Pol Pot’s killing fields and camps taken by Chantal Prunier-Grindon make up most of the display, however, a special collage of photographs depicting images from the Shoah and the Cambodian genocide is also hung, forcing the viewer to consider the similarities.

6435 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 303, Los Angeles. (323) 651-3704.

Tuesday, September 20

The Simon Wiesenthal’s film division, Moriah, premiers its latest documentary this evening. Titled “Ever Again,” the film examines the resurgence of violent anti-Semitism and terrorism, and is narrated by former baseball movie go-to-guy Kevin Costner.

7:30 p.m. Director’s Guild Theater, 7920 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 553-9036.

Wednesday, September 21

Nicknamed after the Ouija board, photojournalist Weegee literally made a name for himself in the Depression era, and in the process, became as famous as the mobsters and detectives he aimed his camera at. More than 60 make up the Getty’s latest exhibit, “Scene of the Crime: Photo by Weegee,” which runs through Jan. 22.

1200 Getty Center Drive, Los Angeles. ” width=”15″ height=”1″ alt=””>

Thursday, September 22

The epic story of one Jewish family’s struggles through the last days of the Czarist Russian regime through the Holocaust became the subject of director-producer Dan Spigel’s indie film, “House of the Generals.” It premieres tonight at the Skirball, with a Q-and-A with Spigel to follow.

6 p.m. and 8 p.m. $8-$12. 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. (877) 700-7133.

Friday, September 23

Snaps for the Skirball’s new exhibition, “Semina,” which features and takes its name from the Beat art and poetry of the underground magazine created by Wallace Berman. Contributors to the publication included William S. Burroughs, Robert Duncan, Allen Ginsberg, John Alton and Charles Brittin. Its content reflected Berman’s varied interests, including visual and literary art, Jewish mysticism, pop culture and current events.

2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 440-4500.

Your Letters

Hamilton High

Regarding the situation at Hamilton High School (“Hamilton High’s Sour Note,” Sept. 20), where one of our children is a student, let’s get clear about several facts that were omitted from your article. First, this is not a Jewish issue. There are Jews and non-Jews on both sides of the dispute. Framing it as a Jewish concern is a good organizing technique, but it is a false and inflammatory characterization.

Second, magnet programs undoubtedly persuade some educated, middle-class parents to keep their kids in the LAUSD beyond elementary school, but a magnet program is not the only way to do that. Our other child attends University High School, which has no magnet programs. Nevertheless, it is a diverse and excellent school with a higher proportion of white students than Hamilton.

Finally, if there is a Jewish principle at stake, it is tzedek (justice). Rather than wring our hands over a personnel decision, the Jewish community should be supporting efforts to build more and better facilities for the thousands of immigrant children entering the public schools each year. Let’s help these children benefit from public education just as our immigrant parents and grandparents did in the past.

Susan Bartholomew and Sandy Jacoby , Los Angeles

Your article about the Hamilton High School Music Academy almost got it right. Your reporter suggested that the passionate support of Jeff Kaufman and the magnet school by the parents, students and faculty of the high school was matched by detractors in that same community. Wrong. There was absolutely no demonstrable support for Jeff’s transfer other than from the administration that showed no respect for parent or student concerns or input. The administration was not interested in how the school’s stakeholders felt. What a wonderful civics lesson for our children.

Edward Friedman, Los Angeles

Withholding Our Funds

We read Steve Berman’s article “Withholding Our Funds From Territories” (Aug. 30) with great dismay. Berman asserts that the historical policy of United Jewish Communities (UJC) to discriminate against Jews who live across the Green Line “creates avenues for Jewish unity and minimized division.” How does withholding social service assistance from Israelis who live in the Old City — and were injured in the same terrorist attack as other Israelis who live a few meters away — create Jewish unity?

Berman argues that we should not play a role in forming Israeli policy with regard to the territories and that withholding funds to the residents of the territories satisfies this goal. This argument is spurious. Denying Israelis who live across the Green Line access to charitable funds is major interference in Israeli policy. It is both a policy statement and discrimination. The UJC’s role should be to give charitable assistance to all Jews in need and not to discriminate against a segment of the Israeli population on the basis of the political views of some of the UJC’s donors.

The UJC’s changed policy is a significant part of the reason that our synagogue chose to replace an internal fundraiser on Shavuot with one for the Jews in Crisis Campaign. We hope that funds raised to help all Israelis are not held hostage while Berman and others like him seek to create their version of Jewish unity through insisting on divisive distinctions and discrimination.

Howard and Elayne Levkowitz, Los Angeles


I was very moved by Amy Klein’s insight into the holiday of Yom Kippur in her recent article (“Sin,” Sept. 13). I was raised in a Reform Jewish family but became Orthodox in my early 20s. I also struggled with the issue of sin, begging God to forgive me every Yom Kippur. I would call on Him for forgiveness after every mikvah before the Sabbath with no success. I wondered what I was missing. Where was the God of Israel that spoke as a friend to our forefathers I wondered?

In my search for answers, I discovered that our God is alive and well and has provided a way for all of us to experience real forgiveness and peace.

Cyril Gordon, Los Angeles

Strange BRU

Kudos to Mike Levy for bringing the shenanigans of Eric Mann and the Bus Riders Union (BRU) to light (“Strange BRU,” Aug. 9). As a recent visitor to Los Angeles, I read his article and was shocked and dismayed that Mann, a Jew, would stoop to a level so low as to accept money for one cause and direct to another that is so detrimental to his people.

Who are his people anyway? The transit-dependent working individuals who has the notion that the BRU would represent their interest to improve bus service in Los Angeles? Or the Palestinians?

Abbie G. Rosenberg , Watsonville

Makom Ohr Shalom

I am so pleased that you published a profile of Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi (“Standup, Sit-down, See the Light,” Sept. 13). There were a few misstatements in the article that I would like to correct: First, Makom Ohr Shalom Congregation meets in Tarzana. We rent a community ballroom in the catering facility of St. Mary’s Church, 5955 Lindley Ave., where we hold services every Friday evening and on the Holidays. Second, our Yom Kippur Healing Service has absolutely nothing to do with massage. Massage would be wholly inappropriate and has never been practiced at Makom Ohr Shalom. Finally, Makom Ohr Shalom was described as “the XX synagogue” — apparently a word was dropped. True, Makom Ohr Shalom is not easily categorized. Its rabbis over the last 25 years have had Reform, Conservative, Jewish Renewal and Lubavitch training. To fill in the blank, Makom Ohr Shalom is, I hope, a welcoming synagogue and a joyous one.

Rabbi Debra Orenstein , Makom Ohr Shalom


In the Sept. 20 Circuit, Young Judaea was spelled incorrectly.

The Community Brief, “Birthright Israel Plans to Send 1,000 to Israel” (Sept. 20), should have read:

Headline: “Birthright Israel Plans to Send 11,000 to Israel”

“Birthright Israel hopes to send 11,000 participants to Israel this year, despite violence in the Middle East. The program has sent over 30,000 students to Israel in the past 2 1¼2 years.”

Oscar buzz for ‘Beaufort’ builds

Oscar nominees of the Tribe

By Jay Firestone

Best Film
Ethan and Joel Coen – “No Country for Old Men”

Best Actor
Daniel Day-Lewis – “There Will Be Blood”

Best Director
Joel Coen and Ethan Coen, “No Country for Old Men”
Jason Reitman – “Juno.”
Julian Schnabel – “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly”

Best Adapted Screenplay
Ronald Harwood – “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly”
Joel Coen and Ethan Coen – “No Country for Old Men”

Best Foreign Language Film
“Beaufort” – Israel
“The Counterfeiters” – Austria

Best Original Song
“So Close” – Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz
“That’s How You Know” – Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz
“Happy Working Song” – Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz

Produced by
Gil Cates

Hosted by
Jon Stewart

Joseph Cedar, director of the Oscar-nominated Israeli film, “Beaufort,” and an Orthodox Jew, has resolved a thorny Shabbat dilemma.

Traditionally, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences holds a high-profile public symposium for the five finalists vying for the best foreign-language film Oscar on the day before the award ceremony.

This year, the symposium will be on Saturday morning, Feb. 23, and Cedar was uncertain whether he could participate on a Shabbat.

“I had a long talk with my rabbi in Israel,” said Cedar, 39, who is in Los Angeles with his family. “He decided that I could attend as long as I didn’t use a microphone and walked to the event at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater.

Cedar figures he can cover the two-mile distance in about an hour, an almost unheard of feat for pedestrian-phobic Angelenos, but no big deal for Israelis.

Even for an Israeli who was born in New York, but whose parents made aliyah when he was 5.

Meanwhile, the excitement in Israel about its film industry’s first Oscar nomination since 1984 is building up.

Gilad Millo, the resident Israeli consul for public affairs, said that more than a dozen of the main Israel media outlets will send television and print reporters to cover the Oscar ceremonies.

In addition, some 30 cast members and financial backers of “Beaufort” will arrive in Los Angeles on Feb. 20.

The social component of the Oscar award season kicked off for “Beaufort” Tuesday evening (Feb. 12) with a screening and reception sponsored by the Israeli consulate and the entertainment division of The Jewish Federation.

Topping the parties will be an Oscar night bash for Israeli and Hollywood filmmakers in one of the city’s poshest private homes.

Cedar, who is not given to hyperbole, said that he and his family were very happy about the nomination, but his main satisfaction was that the film could now be assured a bigger exposure and longer life.

He described his reactions in a phone call last week, after spending the day on the obligatory Disneyland tour with his wife, journalist Vered Kelner, 6-year old daughter, Amelia, and 3-year old son, Levi.

A paratrooper during the first Lebanon War, Cedar has infused “Beaufort” with gritty realism in depicting that conflict, not in the glory of victory but in its indecisive, exhausted end.

The movie is based on the novel, “Im Yesh Gan Eden” (If There Is a Paradise), by Ron Leshem, who co-wrote the screenplay with Cedar.

Cedar’s first two films, “Time of Favor” and “Campfire,” were both voted Israel’s top films and Oscar entries in 2001 and 2004, respectively.

Millo termed the Oscar nomination a “landmark event” and an auspicious beginning of Israel’s 60th anniversary celebrations.

Taken together with the successes of other current Israeli entries at prestigious European film festivals, optimists are foreseeing a breakthrough for the country’s film industry, akin to the golden ages of French and Italian films in the 1950s and ’60s.

So far, no Israeli has ever won an Academy Award, but Millo believes this is about to change.

Asked what kind of celebration he has planned if “Beaufort’s” title is pulled out of the envelope on Feb. 24, Millo answered, “It’s not a question of ‘if,’ but of ‘when.'”

The trailer

Jewish Journal Contributing Writer Orit Arfa ran into the ‘Beaufort’ gang at Ben Gurion Airport as they prepared to fly to Hollywood. Orit’s report is here.

Reform Leader Angers Orthodox

U.S. Orthodox Jewish leaders are outraged by an Israeli Reform leader’s comments drawing comparisons between fervently Orthodox Jews and the Islamic fundamentalists who attacked the World Trade Center and Pentagon.

But Rabbi Uri Regev, the outspoken director of the Israel Religious Action Center — an organization that promotes religious pluralism in Israel — is standing by a speech he gave recently at Anshe Chesed Fairmount Temple in suburban Cleveland.

In the speech, which was reported in the local Jewish newspaper, Regev spoke about the dangers of Islamic terrorism.

“In Israel we have our own religious extremists who feel they have the right to rule other people’s lives, spreading the venom of religious fundamentalism,” Regev said.

Regev asserted that some fervently Orthodox Jewish leaders in Israel have used hate-filled and violent language to describe liberal and secular Jews and their institutions.

He also said fervently Orthodox Jewish individuals are believed to be behind recent acts of vandalism and arson against liberal Jewish institutions.

“We need to band together to fight religious zealots on both the Palestinian and Israeli sides,” Regev was reported as saying. “If we don’t learn from the Sept. 11 loss of human lives, we haven’t learned anything.”

Orthodox leaders, who quickly circulated the article by e-mail, bristled at the comparison with Muslim terrorists.

“How can you even think about comparing a Jew of any sort to the Arabs who flew into the World Trade Center and killed 5,000 innocent people?” asked Rabbi Pesach Lerner, executive vice president of the National Council of Young Israel.

Lerner, who is calling for Regev’s resignation, said no fervently Orthodox Jews have been proven guilty of vandalism against liberal Jewish institutions.

Rabbi Avi Shafran, director of public affairs for Agudath Israel of America, described accusations that fervently Orthodox Jews had vandalized institutions as “apocryphal.”

Regev is “comparing murderers, hateful murderers, with people who simply want to maintain the standards of the Jewish religion with regard to things like conversion and Shabbat,” Shafran said.

Regev is “co-opting the horror the whole world is feeling against Islamic terrorists in his fight against religious Jews,” Shafran said.

Comparing fervently Orthodox Jews to “these evil people who murdered thousands is beyond the realm of comprehension,” said Rabbi Dovid Eliezrie, a Chabad rabbi in Yorba Linda.

“Regev has crossed all boundaries in modern Jewish life,” Eliezrie said. “He is sowing the seeds of hatred and division when we need unity and understanding. Instead of participating in a meaningful theological debate about real issues, he lowers himself to the playground, using name- calling.”

Reached by telephone in Jerusalem, Regev clarified that he was not criticizing all of Orthodoxy or even all the fervently Orthodox, as the Cleveland article implied. Still, he said, he stands by his speech.

“The point that I made is that we are waking up too late when we express our concern and outrage when the actual assault takes place,” he said. “What we need to understand is that it’s the religious fundamentalist hate speech that precedes those outbursts that we should be more conscious of, concerned about addressing.”

Regev said he was particularly concerned about a Sept. 7 article in the Israeli edition of the fervently Orthodox newspaper, Yated Ne’eman, which described Reform and Conservative Jews as “destroyers of religion,” “criminals” and “enemies of God.”

He also pointed to a sermon one of Israel’s chief rabbis, Eliyahu Bakshi-Doron, gave in 1996, in which he defended the violence of the biblical zealot Pinchas, and suggested that bloodshed in defense of Judaism is “like a doctor who spreads blood with his scalpel, but saves the patient.”

Rabbi Daniel Allen, president of the Conservative movement’s Masorti Foundation, another advocate for Jewish pluralism in Israel, said he is “not into Orthodox-bashing,” but shared Regev’s concerns about the language and tactics used by some fervently Orthodox Jews in Israel.

“Jews killing other Jews or using terror is an aberration,” Allen said. “They’re smart enough to use the terror of the Knesset Finance Committee,” he said, referring to fervently Orthodox political leaders who recently blocked public financing for a joint conversion institute that would have been operated under the auspices of Reform, Conservative and Orthodox rabbis.

A Cinematic Look at Israel

The Israeli Film Festival, now in it’s 15th year, has, in many ways, come of age — in subject matter, directorial style and sensibility. Some offerings are powerful, lyrical, unflinching. Others are self-conscious, slight, even silly.

Film festivals, after all, by their very definition, are eclectic, uneven affairs, and this one is no exception. But, taken as a whole, it’s a welcome and provocative cultural import from a country that doesn’t lack for complexity and contradictions.

As in years past, the festival highlights are those films that dig deepest into the identity conflicts and cultural quirks that define the country itself. Whether it be a look at how the rigid social mores of a tightly knit Orthodox community affect one of it’s female members, or the dilemma faced by a middle-aged Palestinian man who must decide whether to sell his last family plot of land in order to make way for Israeli developers, the movies that hold our attention most closely are those which allow us into specific, evocative places we may otherwise not be able to go. Once we’re there, we often recognize parts of ourselves in the bargain.

By contrast, the formulaic thrillers and generic romantic comedies that are included here seem derivative and, ultimately, forgettable. We’ve seen this stuff at our local multiplex before, and with far better production values.

Along with the features, there are documentaries presented here that plunge directly into the prickly stuff of contemporary Israeli society. An emerging Sephardic feminism, the tension between religiosity and secularism as played out inside one family, and the final public and private moments of Yitzhak Rabin are all topics given a serious look on the documentary slate.

Some feature highlights from this year’s festival:

* “Mr. Baum” (80 minutes) The third film in a trilogy directed by Assi Dayan, a well-known actor in Israel and the son of the late Moshe Dayan. Through its title character, Mr. Baum poses the age old-question: If you had only a brief time left to live, what would you do? In this case, Mr. Baum has but a mere 92 minutes, which provoke his banal journey through this uneven but macabre comedy. Winner of the 1997 Israeli Academy Award for Best Picture.


The government is now trying to pass an updated version of the conversion law, which, it claims, gives consideration to Conservative and Reform Jewry. Yet Rabbi Ehud Bandel, leader of the Israeli Conservative movement, says the new proposal “is merely the old conversion law dressed up in new clothes. If it passes, it will strengthen the Orthodox monopoly on conversion and put a stopper in the effort to introduce religious pluralism in Israel.”

Conversion Conflict, Continued

By trying to pass an updated law, Netanyahu’s government is once again on a collision course with the non-Orthodox movements

By Larry Derfner, Tel Aviv Correspondent

Just when everybody thought the conversion law crisis had somehow miraculously faded away, it burst back into the limelight. The Netanyahu government is once again on a collision course with the Conservative and Reform movements — and, by extension, with American Jewry — over the issue.

The government is now trying to pass an updated version of the conversion law, which, it claims, gives consideration to Conservative and Reform Jewry. Yet Rabbi Ehud Bandel, leader of the Israeli Conservative movement, says the new proposal “is merely the old conversion law dressed up in new clothes. If it passes, it will strengthen the Orthodox monopoly on conversion and put a stopper in the effort to introduce religious pluralism in Israel.”

The initial Knesset hearings on the government’s proposal are scheduled for June 22.

In brief, what happened was this: After the Conservative and Reform accepted the Neeman Commission compromise on conversion last January but the Orthodox chief rabbinate rejected it, the Conservative movement’s legal battle was reactivated. On June 4, the Supreme Court ordered the government to declare its intentions: to let the court decide the matter (which could well result in recognition for Conservative and Reform conversions), or to take the matter out of the court’s hands by trying to pass a law in the Knesset.

The government, under pressure from the religious parties, announced that it would go for the law.

But the Netanyahu government sees it cannot pass the original conversion law, because three of its coalition partners — the right-wing Tsomet (Crossroads), centrist The Third Way, and Natan Sharansky’s Yisrael Ba’Aliyah — oppose it. So the government has come up with a new rendering of the conversion law, which, it claims, includes the conciliatory Neeman recommendations.

Under the new proposal, the chief rabbinate would retain sole conversion authority (which it has always enjoyed, but by agreement, which is open to court challenge, and never by law, which is final). However, a new “Jewish studies institute,” set up by the Jewish Agency and administered jointly by the Orthodox, Conservative and Reform, would be open to conversion candidates.

Nothing in the proposed new law, however, requires the chief rabbinate to convert candidates who learn Judaism at this institute, and here is where the Conservative and Reform balk.

They note that the chief rabbinate rejected the Neeman recommendations precisely because they were unwilling to have anything to do with an institute where Conservative and Reform authorities could teach Judaism. The law now being proposed by the government leaves it up to the rabbinate whether to convert candidates who pass through the institute — and the rabbinate has already made its position absolutely clear.

Yet Finance Minister Yaakov Neeman is blaming the Conservative and Reform movements for rejecting the compromise attempts and throwing the issue back onto the confrontation path. Bandel, who sat on the Neeman Commission, and other Conservative and Reform leaders accuse Neeman of deliberately misrepresenting their position.

And now, with the government selling its new proposal as having something for everyone — the Orthodox, Conservative and Reform — opponents are having a hard time fighting it in the Knesset.

“It’s a difficult informational challenge because people ask us, ‘How can you oppose a law that includes the Neeman recommendations, when you already accepted the Neeman recommendations?’ And we have to explain to them that the Neeman recommendations called for the chief rabbinate’s agreement, while this law does no such thing. The chief rabbis cannot be forced to recognize us; they can only do so voluntarily. You can’t legislate goodwill.

“I’m very scared. I’m scared that the government is going to succeed in deceiving the Knesset and the Israeli public and the Jewish Diaspora.”

Bandel said that he, too, would prefer that the dispute be settled out of court and out of the Knesset — by agreement between the two sides. But with the failure of the Neeman commission, he says, a new way must be found.

Power, Politics And People

Israeli lawmaker Alex Lubotsky was having a bad day on Jan. 29. Hehad come to Jerusalem’s Ramada hotel to address a visiting group ofOrthodox Jews from America, to plead for their support of thecompromise conversion plan authored by Finance Minister YaakovNeeman.

He didn’t have much luck. The visitors, leaders of the Union ofOrthodox Jewish Congregations of America, displayed more skepticismthan an Arkansas grand jury. Most, witnesses said, looked as thoughthey would rather be anywhere but in that room, being asked to standup and do the right thing. Rabbi Beryl Wein, a transplanted NewYorker sharing the dais with Lubotsky, reportedly captured the moodwhen he said that he was glad he wasn’t the one who had to make thedecision.

The decision — whether the Neeman plan will become reality –rests with Israel’s Orthodox chief rabbis. The plan requires them tolet Conservative and Reform rabbis help train would-be converts toJudaism. Orthodox rabbis would still perform the actual conversionritual. Non-Orthodox rabbis would be junior partners — less thanthey wanted, but much more than the Orthodox rabbinate wanted to givethem. The non-Orthodox movements have accepted. The chief rabbishaven’t decided, but all signs are negative.

Lubotsky, an ally of Neeman, was hoping that the Orthodox Unionwould help nudge the chief rabbis toward compromise. As the mainAmerican voice of centrist, or “modern” Orthodoxy, the OU has longfavored keeping lines open to the non-Orthodox world. That’s also thephilosophy of Modern Orthodox Israelis such as Neeman and Lubotsky.It’s supposed to be the view of the chief rabbinate too.

Modernity is not what it used to be, however. Nowadays, thedecisive force in Orthodoxy is the relentless gravitational pull ofthe right-wing or “ultra-Orthodox” rabbinate, which rejects allcompromise with sinners. Fearing the purists’ wrath, nobody wants tocross them. Not the Orthodox Union in America, not the chief rabbisin Israel. In contemporary Orthodoxy, bridge-building is out.Fence-building is in.

Three days earlier and 7,000 miles west, the top leaders of Reformand Conservative Judaism held a press conference in New York on Jan.26 to give their own view of the Neeman plan, which had gone to theprime minister the day before.

They planned to lament the chief rabbis’ anticipated rejection ofNeeman. This, they figured, would prove who is ready to makesacrifices for Jewish unity and who isn’t. To their surprise, theliberal rabbis woke up that Monday to find themselves outflanked bytheir own troops. While they slept, their negotiators in Israel weremeeting with a representative of the chief rabbinate, at the home ofJewish Agency chairman Avraham Burg, to concoct a competingcompromise. It was the only way, Burg explained, to avoid a blowupwhen the chief rabbis reject Neeman.

The Burg plan lets the chief rabbis off the hook. Instead of aunified conversion process, each movement would continue its ownconversions. All converts would be registered as Jews by Israel’sstate population registry, with a notation of the date they becameJewish. But only Orthodox converts would be recognized by the chiefrabbinate, which still controls marriage, divorce, adoption andburial. This way, the non-Orthodox movements get governmentrecognition, just as they wanted, while the Orthodox retain the powerto ensure it doesn’t do them any good.

Gone is the immediate danger of conversions causing a governmentcollapse or an Israel-Diaspora explosion. Instead, look for anexplosion next year over marriages, as a growing army of non-Orthodoxconverts battles discrimination.

Both the Neeman and Burg plans could defuse, at least for now, theincendiary tensions fracturing the Jewish world. Community leadersare hailing them as nearly interchangeable, the Burg plan merely anarrower, more “technical” fix than Neeman.

In fact, as some top rabbis admit privately, the two plans arepolar opposites. Neeman, by creating one intermovement conversionprocedure, would strengthen the role of the Israeli government as acentral, unifying voice in Jewish life. Its champions see it as astep — albeit a baby step — toward healing the historic breachesdividing Judaism’s streams.

The Burg plan does the reverse. By getting the Israeli governmentout of the business of deciding whose conversions are legitimate, itis a decisive first step toward separation of synagogue and state.The rest — removing marriage, divorce and burial from Orthodoxrabbinic control — is just a matter of time. Each movement would befree to go its own way, without regard to others’ standards.

Already, the two proposals have begun to redraw the map of thereligious pluralism debate. Up to now, the struggle has dividedOrthodox Jews from non-Orthodox. With the arrival of the Burg plan,the debate is between the center and the edges.

On one side are the Conservative and Modern Orthodox movements,which enthusiastically favor Neeman. They view it as a historic steptoward recreating a common code of Jewish law, modified formodernity, which all Jews could begin to accept. That’s exactly whatthey stand for.

On the other side are the Reform and ultra-Orthodox movements,which are happiest with Burg. Both groups would just as soon get theJewish state out of the business of determining Jewish law — theReform, because they don’t believe in the idea of a binding Jewishlaw; the ultra-Orthodox, because they don’t fully accept the Jewishstate.

Reform and Conservative leaders alike insist that there is nochance of a near-term breakup in their strategic alliance. Bothmovements are still denied any recognition in Israel. They’ll fighttogether until they get it. For now, both have endorsed both Neemanand Burg, with varying enthusiasm.

Both sides admit, however, that the latest twist has brought theirdifferences to the surface quite sharply. It’s no longer hard toimagine the two allies on opposite sides in the not-too-distantfuture.

Which side will come out on top — centrism or fragmentation? IfAlex Lubotsky’s experience last week means anything, don’t bet moneyon the center.

J.J. Goldberg is author of “Jewish Power: Inside the AmericanJewish Establishment.” He writes regularly for The JewishJournal.

All rights reserved by author.


Paying Tribute to Israeli Films

By Tom Tugend,

Contributing Editor

Yoram Ben Ze’ev, consul general of Israel in Los Angeles, left,and Meir Fenigstein, festival founder/director.

The 14th annual Israel Film Festival formally raised the curtainlast week on its two-week program of 50 feature movies,documentaries, TV films and golden oldies with an opening-night galaat the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

With American-Israeli actor Mike Burstyn as master of ceremonies,a roster of dignitaries ascended to the podium to laud the artisticstrides made by the Israeli film industry over the last 50 years andto pay tribute to the festival’s founder-director, Meir Fenigstein.

Plaques of appreciation were presented to Naftalie Alter, generalmanager of the Fund for the Promotion of Israeli Quality Films, andto indestructible producer Menahem Golan.

Noting the many Israelis who have made their names in Hollywood,Golan called on the expatriates to follow his example and return hometo contribute their talents to the growth of the Israeli filmindustry.

Director Yossi Sommer was on hand to introduce his “The Dybbuk ofthe Holy Apple Field,” a powerful film that transports the classictale of faith and star-crossed love to the present-day ferventlyOrthodox enclave of Mea Shearim in Jerusalem.

Sommer dedicated his film to “my Jewish passion and Israeliheritage.”

For ticket information and a confirmed screening schedule, callLaemmle’s Music Hall at (310) 274-6869 or Israfest at (213)966-4166.