A fundraising letter about founding an Israeli equivalent to the SPLC

I belong to the Reform Judaism movement, "Reform" being the name of a denomination. It's the largest Jewish denomination in the US and is now headquartered here though it originated in 19th century Germany.

One of its functions is something called the RAC, or Religious Action Committee. This is really more of a Social Action Committee, organizing around various liberal causes. The Reform movement is liberal for religious reasons. (Not that conservative members aren't accepted, just that the movement engages in liberal causes. By the way, another denomination is called the Conservative movement, but in actuality it is politically mostly liberal.)

There is an Israeli branch of the RAC, called the Israel Religious Action Committee, or IRAC, headed by a woman named Anat Hoffman. This fundraising letter is from her. I've never met Ms. Hoffman. Reform Judaism isn't that big a world, so I know people who know her, including a Reform rabbi in Jerusalem whose younger sister is the comedian Sarah Silverman.

Judaism in Israel is mostly a very different deal than Judaism here. The Jewish population there is mainly bifurcated between Orthodox/ultra-Orthodox Jews and secular Jews who are mainly of the opinion that if you're going to be religious you might as well go whole hog (so to speak). Liberal (non-Orthodox) denominations are fairly minor there but the Reform movement is growing rapidly.

Gains by the Reform movement are important for political reasons. Because most Israelis are secular, they leave religious matters to the Orthodox, many of whom have grown draconian and intolerant. There are liberal aspects to religious Judaism, actually a lot of liberal aspects, but too many of these aspects get ignored by the Israeli orthodox. This is a serious problem because the Orthodox are extremely influential in government, the result being such things as government support for the West Bank settlements.

As the Reform movement grows, they've been reducing the stranglehold the Orthodox have on Israeli religious life. As secular Jews learn that the draconian political aspects of Orthodoxy are not inherent in religious Judaism, more of them will question the craziness. So, in Israel, a lot of current liberalism comes from a religious movement rather than from the secular Jews.

I just got this letter in my email. I thought you might find what the IRAC is doing now interesting.



Dear [Kosh],

Hineni (Here I am) appears 177 times in the Bible. It famously appears as a response to a divine calling. Leonard Cohen (z"l) [zikhrono livrakha - may his memory be a blessing - indicating that Cohen is deceased]crowned his final song "You Want it Darker" with the cantor and choir singing "I'm ready my Lord. Hineni, Hineni."

I believe this is our "Hineni" week. IRAC launched the first Racism Crisis Center in Israel last Tuesday.

The Racism Crisis Center is modeled after the Southern Poverty Law Center, based in Montgomery, Alabama. Like the SPLC, IRAC will use litigation to protect the rights of minorities in Israel by elevating the voices of victims of racism and discrimination.

The Racism Crisis Center will provide support in cases of discrimination, hate speech, and hate crimes against minority populations, and collect data on the growing phenomenon of racism in Israel. The center provides support to victims of all backgrounds: Arab, Ethiopian Jews, Russian Jews, Mizrahi Jews, asylum seekers and migrant workers, and provides services in Hebrew, Arabic, Russian, Amharic and English.

We believe that many of Israel's leaders are inundated with extreme ideology that is centered around a deep sense of victimhood. Ghosts from the past blind their eyes from seeing that anyone else could suffer from discrimination in our modern state. In fact, the definition of "traitor" nowadays is "peacenik" or even leftist. The Jewish values that inspired Israel's Declaration of Independence are too often less relevant to government policy than the dead sea scrolls.

Israel's moral challenges do not exist in a bubble, and we are feeling the rise of pollution and nationalism just like in the United States, Europe, and elsewhere. Our Racism Crisis Center is IRAC's attempt to push back against the tide of bigotry and create facts on the ground for tolerance.

Now is the time for every person with a moral backbone to stand up and be counted. This is the moment to cry out "Hineni!"

Say Hineni by supporting us in our work to fight racism in Israel.

Yours,

Anat

Views: 304

Comment by MV Neland on August 23, 2017 at 2:46am

@koshersalaami - thank you for sharing this letter and your explanation.  What an amazing and succinct description of Netanyahu's or Sharon's thinking!  My sentiments exactly and i'm merely a concerned observer.  When the oppressed become oppressors despite their history of tolerance and charity, it is confusing and seemingly impossible to approach as an outsider.  But, a part of me has always had faith that many Jews would continue to rise up and act against this growing repression.  I had hoped that after the tragic assassination of Rabin (remembering him and what he stood for, hoped for Israel and the Palestinians, is always a blessing [hope i got the spirit of your custom there]) that someone of his equal would miraculously come forth. Never happens right away, does it?

As a not too far off aside, i was pleased to read recently that it was Kushner who dissuaded Trump from moving the US embassy to Jerusalem.  You hear any differently?

Comment by Jonathan Wolfman on August 23, 2017 at 6:55am

What has been the org's response to inevitable criticism that it may tend to aid/comfort those who want Israel gone?

Comment by koshersalaami on August 23, 2017 at 7:56am

MV,

I haven't heard about Kushner. Personally, I find the Jerusalem as capital issue to be kind of odd. The Knesset and Prime Minister's residence are in West Jerusalem, which has been part of Israel since independence in 1948. 

Jon,

I don't know. I just know what my reaction would be. What Hoffman is doing will help Israeli survival, in addition to which she regards it - as do I - as religious Jewish obligation, making it especially appropriate in this setting. 

Comment by Ron Powell on August 23, 2017 at 9:00am

"The Racism Crisis Center is modeled after the Southern Poverty Law Center, based in Montgomery, Alabama. Like the SPLC, IRAC will use litigation to protect the rights of minorities in Israel by elevating the voices of victims of racism and discrimination."

Why does a non-racist country need a Racism Crisis Center?

 

Comment by koshersalaami on August 23, 2017 at 9:21am

Name me a non-racist country. Or quote me that racism doesn't exist in Israel. 

Comment by Jonathan Wolfman on August 23, 2017 at 9:23am

THANKS.  :)

Comment by Jonathan Wolfman on August 23, 2017 at 9:33am

Anyone here who suggests Kosh has ever, here, white-washed Israel as to racism (or other social ills)  either is not reading, writing in a cynical, tendentious manner, and/or is playing the classic anti-Semitic infantile game that alleges that Israel/Jews must be purer than any other nation. It is not unlike those who demand that Black people must be beyond all reproach or be labelled negatively. 

It's beneath contempt.

Comment by Ron Powell on August 23, 2017 at 10:04am

Don't you guys recognize a rhetorical question when you see one?

Isreal came into existence in 1948 swathed in the principles of egalitarianism and social justice. Yet in the course and span of a single lifetime there is a recognized need for a Racism Crisis Center.

The United States came into existence steeped in racism and bigotry and after more than 240 years a significant portion of the population and the current President see no real need to maintain institutional vigilance against the racism that has been part of the poltical, social, and cultural fabric of this country since day one....

Don't excoriate and chastise me for bringing the question up. Use it to teach and expound... 

What I'm doing here is asking you to run with it....Get as much mileage as you can out of this teaching moment....

Comment by alsoknownas on August 23, 2017 at 10:15am

MLK gave his "I Have a Dream" speech 54 years ago today.

Comment by Ron Powell on August 23, 2017 at 10:19am

@AKA; Great reminder.... Thanks.

 

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