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KC SuperStar finalists include Jewish contestant

KC SuperStar finalists include Jewish contestant

Paris Naster is one of 10 finalists vying to become the next KC SuperStar. This year marked the first time 17-year-old Paris Naster auditioned for KC SuperStar, the Jewish Community Center’s “American... Read more...

Bestselling author, Israeli columnist Ari Shavit to speak at Federation Annual Meeting

Bestselling author, Israeli columnist Ari Shavit to speak at Federation Annual Meeting

Ari Shavit Provocative Israeli columnist and New York Times bestselling author Ari Shavit will bring his views on Israel and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to the Jewish Community Campus on Wednesday,... Read more...

Listening Post

THE SINGING RABBI — Rabbi Larry Karol recently mounted a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds to record a third album. The Kansas City native surpassed his initial fundraising goal last week and hopes... Read more...

HBHA expands Jewish studies program, names Rabbi Rockoff Matmidim director

Last year’s first grade Matmidim participants at HBHA — Mendel Tiechtel (from left), Chaya Morgenstern, Zachary Granoff, Rayli Kopelman, Baruch Chaim Mazel, Livia Noorollah and Ari Green — posed... Read more...

Israeli terror survivor to tell courageous story here next week

Kay Wilson Some people may find the difference between a terror victim and a terror survivor to be very subtle. In the case of Kay Wilson, the difference is not subtle. Wilson, who will speak here on... Read more...

Emissaries serve Israel here in K.C. while friends serve on the front lines

Barney Goodman Campers gathered around Israeli shlichim (emissaries) Sapir Davidov (top row, second from left) and Noy Tiram (top row, second from right). Now that camp is over, they will travel a little... Read more...

Balloon Festival features new venue, entertainment and cooking competitions

The Great Midwest Balloon Festival, founded by Robbie and Steve Small, has changed venues for this year’s event. It happens this weekend, Aug. 8-10 at the Kansas Speedway in Kansas City, Kan. Festival... Read more...

Two Israeli books: one serious, one for fun

“Living Beyond Terrorism,” Zieva Dauber Konvisser, Gefen Publishing, May 2014 It was Aug. 9, 2001. I was in Jerusalem after a 19-year absence to attend a Hadassah national convention and do research... Read more...

Listening Post

L’SHALOM, L’SALAAM, TO PEACE — Sheila Sonnenschein is now involved in Mothers on the Side of Peace, a new grassroots movement for people — you don’t have to be a mother — who side with peace.... Read more...

Soldier tells rally crowd there is no Plan B, Israel must win the fight

Photo by Alyssa Dinberg/Jewish Federation Supporters of Israel filled the Kehilath Israel Synagogue to capacity Monday night for the Community Solidarity Gathering. “The only option is to fight back... Read more...

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Israel is the victim I can’t help but find a correlation between Muslim migration into Europe and other non-Muslim countries and the rising clamor of anti-Semitism in those countries. Hamas instigated... Read more...

The spiritual journey of a lifetime

The spiritual journey of a lifetime

Ten local women participated in the 2014 Jewish Women’s Renaissance Project trip to Israel last month. Posing for this photo at the Decks in Tiberious are Stacy Wright (back row, from left), Patricia... Read more...

Letters to the Editor

We need to combat hate Anti-Semitism is a worldwide problem that is getting worse, especially overseas. Our best protection is education, making living conditions better for others and swift eradication... Read more...

The underlying war: Islamism versus democracy

Are Jews the canary in Western Civilization’s cultural mine? Read more...

Turning 80

During my journey through life, as the years have rolled on, I have discovered that time flies even when you’re not having fun — and suddenly even a watershed event can sneak up on one, as it did me.... Read more...

Letters to the Editor

Why can’t Jews speak Hebrew? How come so few Jews in North America know how to speak Hebrew? Sure a lot of them know how to read Hebrew from Bar and Bat Mitzvahs and there is a flowery English translation... Read more...

Why we’re letting our daughter stay in Israel in wartime

Let’s just say that missiles and bomb shelters were not on the itinerary of our 16-year-old daughter’s pilgrimage trip to Israel this summer. I spoke to her this morning. Yeah, the alarms are unnerving,... Read more...

Letter to the Editor

Half-truths and anti-Semitism I was irate after watching the late CNN news on July 10. Anderson Cooper pretended to deliver a factual report about Israel’s bombing of Arab residences, with a slight... Read more...

Amidst turmoil, life in Israel continues to be meaningful

My mother wants me to come home. I’ve been calling her every day, and she wants me on a plane immediately. She has been watching the news and following events as they unfold here in Israel and she is... Read more...

Letter to the Editor

Conference gives families hope My husband Harold and I were fortunate to attend the Mucolipidosis Type 4 (ML4) Foundation Family & Research Conference last month in Atlanta. ML4, a relatively unknown... Read more...

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Buchbinder Birth

Buchbinder Birth

Baree Nottberg and Scott Buchbinder of Overland Park announce the birth June 27 of a son, Theo Everett Read more...

Zwick-Pohlman Engagement

Zwick-Pohlman Engagement

Arvin and Tammy Zwick of Overland Park announce the engagement of their daughter, Heather Ashley Zwick, to Andrew David Pohlman, son of Jeff and Robin Pohlman of Memphis, Tenn. Read more...

Nerman Wedding Anniversary

Margaret and Jerome Nerman will celebrate their 73rd wedding anniversary on Friday, Aug. 8. They are lifelong residents of Kansas City and have lived in Leawood since 1990. Read more...

Krashin Birth

Daniel and Jacki Krashin of Wilmete, Ill., announce the birth May 20 of a son, Drake Evan. They are also the parents of Madilyn Paige. Read more...

Unowsky Bat Mitzvah

Keri and Daniel Unowsky announce the Bat Mitzvah of their daughter, Sarah Beatrice, on Saturday, Aug. 9, at Beth Sholom Synagogue in Memphis, Tenn. Read more...

Weiner-Conley Engagement

Barbara and Jeff Weiner of Prairie Village announce the engagement of their daughter, Rebecca Brooke Weiner, to Jason Robert Conley, son of Randi and Larry Haith and Kim and Bob Conley. Read more...

Bock-Lewis Engagement

Lynne and David Bock announce the engagement of their daughter, Hannah Rose Bock, to Joshua Aaron Lewis, son of Sheryl and Jim Lewis of Deerfield, Ill. Read more...

Chase Bat Mitzvah

Debbie and Jeff Chase announce the Bat Mitzvah of their daughter, Talia Faye, at 10:30 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 2, at Congregation Beth Torah. Read more...

Passer-Wolkofsky Engagement

Sandy and Steve Passer announce the engagement of their daughter, Emily Passer, to Peter Wolkofsky, son of Michael and Vicky Wolkofsky of Queens, N.Y. Read more...

Zwillenberg 50th Anniversary

Morris and Linda (Fein) Zwillenberg will celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary on Saturday, July 26. They were married at Beth Shalom Synagogue in Hartford, Conn., on July 26, 1964. Read more...

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Rosenberg, Abraham B.

Abraham B. Rosenberg, 93, of Overland Park, passed away Saturday, Aug. 9, 2014, at Village Shalom. Read more...

Spiegel, Robert Alan

Spiegel, Robert Alan

Robert Allan Spiegel, 76, of Ra’anana, Israel, passed away on Monday, July 28, 2014. Read more...

Wurzburger, Irene

Irene Wurzburger, 94, of Overland Park, passed away on Sunday, Aug 10, 2014. Read more...

Beiman, Melvyn

Melvyn Beiman, 82, of Lee’s Summit, died on Wednesday, July 24, 2014, at the Village House on the campus of John Knox Village. Read more...

Jacobson, Herbert Roy

Herbert Roy Jacobson passed away Friday, Aug. 1, 2014, in Rancho Mirage, Calif. Read more...

Kaplan, Seymour

Seymour Kaplan, 88, of Overland Park passed away on Monday, Aug. 4, 2014, after a long battle with cancer. Read more...

Pfau, Gladys Levine

Gladys Levine Pfau, age 86, of Overland Park, passed away on Saturday, Aug. 2, 2014. Read more...

Sandhaus, Frances Zurovsky

Frances Zurovsky Sandhaus, 98, passed away on Tuesday, July 22, 2014, at Kansas City Hospice House. Read more...

Beiman, Melvyn

Melvyn Beiman, 82, of Lee’s Summit, Mo., died on Wednesday, July 24, 2014, at the Village House on the campus of John Knox Village. Read more...

Elyachar, Daniel

Daniel Elyachar, 87, loving father, grandfather, great-grandfather, brother, uncle and friend, passed away peacefully on Monday, July 21, 2014, at his home in New York City. Read more...

Many local rabbis advocate religious pluralism in Israel

By Barbara Bayer

Editor

 

Religious pluralism is a phrase that’s being tossed around a lot these days. What exactly does it mean and why does the local rabbinical community, or the Jewish community at large, even care? These are some of the questions we asked several local rabbis recently, following a recent visit to Kansas City from Jewish Federations of North America President and CEO Jerry Silverman.

Silverman came to Kansas City in response to a letter sent to the Jewish Federation of Greater Kansas City urging the agency to advocate a variety of religious pluralism issues in Israel. The letter was signed by 14 local members of the Rabbinical Association of Greater Kansas City, most of whom represent the Conservative, Reform or Reconstructionist movements. 

What is religious pluralism, specifically when it comes to the State of Israel? A simple explanation would be equality for all Jewish viewpoints. The rabbis’ letter explained it this way:

“We pursue our most deeply held Jewish values in the spirit of Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook — the chief rabbi of Israel pre-dating the declaration of our Jewish democratic homeland. It was Rav Kook who, interpreting the words of our Sages in the Talmud, defined true peace not as a sharing of common viewpoints wherein all Jews think the same, but rather when we accommodate all views. Rav Kook articulated the need for the Shaleim of completeness — a pluralistic vision of Judaism and our Jewish homeland that will lead us to the shalom of peace.”

This issue has been brought to the attention of our Jewish community several times during the past year. Women of the Wall Chair Anat Hoffman, who is also executive director of the Israel Religious Action Center, was here last May at the invitation of The New Reform Temple. In early January Ronit Peskin, founder of Women For the Wall, spoke at the invitation of Congregation Beth Israel, Abraham and Voliner. (Women of the Wall supports the rights of women to pray at the Wall. Women for the Wall focuses on preserving Jewish tradition at the Wall.) 

Why has this issue suddenly come to the front burner? Rabbi Scott White, president of the Rabbinical Association and rabbi of Conservative Congregation Ohev Sholom, said one reason is because recent developments — including the issues of who can pray at the Wall, who should be drafted to serve in the Israeli army and who can have a religious wedding ceremony in Israel — have focused the light on the issue.

Following the letter, and Silverman’s visit, the rabbis hope to keep the issue of religious pluralism in Israel on the front burner. One way of doing this is by meeting with several representatives from the Jewish Federation on a regular basis to discuss them.

“We’re getting ready to plan our first meeting, which we hope will happen relatively soon,” Rabbi White said. “It’s not an emergency situation but it’s a pretty urgent one.”

Why is this important to KC Jews?

“You cannot say to people we want the support of the entire Jewish community, and oh by the way you are not Jewish,” said Congregation Beth Torah’s Rabbi Mark Levin when asked why this issue is important. 

“By the ultra-Orthodox definition of who is a Jew, the majority of young people in Kansas City cannot marry in the State of Israel. I think that’s a very important fact,” said the Reform rabbi, who supported the Rabbinical Association’s letter to the Jewish Federation.

Just one of the reasons this is true, he explained, is because many conversions performed in the United States are not accepted by the Orthodox rabbis in Israel.

“I cannot prove to you that it’s a majority but I will bet you it’s upwards of 50 percent, even as high as two-thirds,” Rabbi Levin said.

Rabbi Beryl Padorr says it’s also about feeling welcome when we visit the Jewish state, comparing it to not wanting to visit a relative’s home if it’s uncomfortable and unwelcoming.

“You don’t want to feel because you practice Judaism one way and somebody else practices Judaism another way that you aren’t welcome there,” said Rabbi Padorr, a Conservative rabbi who was ordained by the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies from American Jewish University in 2006. She is a full-time chaplain resident at Research Medical Center, works part-time at Children’s Mercy Hospital and teaches Melton classes.

As a rabbinical student, Rabbi Padorr lived in Israel for 10 months. In addition to feeling welcome, she said pluralism is about safety as well.

“What’s going to happen to me if I go to the wall and I put on my tallit and my tefillin and pray in a way that I would normally pray?” she asked. 

Rabbi Levin believes the argument over The Wall is really a symbolic one of inclusion.

“It’s not the idolatry of The Wall as one person said to me, rather it is the symbol of God’s connection to the Jewish people and has been for 3,000 years,” he said. 

As Rabbi Padorr simply states, in Genesis, God created everybody, and to her that is why pluralism is important.

“God didn’t just create you, me, a group; it doesn’t even say Jewish. God created people. God created humanity. I think it’s an obligation to respect each other as godly beings, made in God’s image, all of us,” she continued.

Israel is our homeland

Rabbi Daniel Rockoff, as the rabbi of Orthodox Congregation Beth Israel Abraham and Voliner, said as Kansas City Jews we are interested in the issue of pluralism because Israel is our homeland.

“In my community, many of our members and children and grandchildren value moving to Israel. Aliyah is a very important value for ourselves and if we’re not in Israel, than we value not just visiting but the relatives that we have there and the fact that it is our Jewish homeland. Not only do we value its existence and strength, but we also each interact with it on a regular basis.”

To some degree, Rabbi Rockoff said he faces the issues of marriage and conversion that his other colleagues face. 

“I think there is a recognition, I think on the Israeli front also, that there does need to be some development, specifically with the Chief Rabbinate, to be more open and welcoming and reaching out to Jews as opposed to closing them off. I don’t know how that’s going to work. I’m not sure that the solutions that have been proposed to this point have been satisfactory and I don’t have the answer right now, nor do I think anything has been proposed that’s perfect.”

It is here that Rabbi Rockoff points out that while Israel is a democracy, it is still a relatively young nation and it is most definitely not the same democracy as the United States.

“Israel’s mandate is to be the homeland for the Jews and has always done that for immigrants from every land, from every stream. It has not discriminated in that. At the same time, Israel is still a developing society, and developing in every which way,” Rabbi Rockoff said.

“Certain things that were set up at the beginning of the state have changed in ways that Israel’s founders could not have anticipated. So for example the exemption of yeshiva students from the army was something that the founders of the state couldn’t see becoming a major societal issue because it wasn’t (an issue) when there were just a couple of hundred or a couple of thousand students.”

With all these issues, Rabbi Rockoff believes American Jews will have to understand that Israel works very differently than democracy works in the United States.

“Hopefully we can come to a productive resolution where Israel and the Diaspora communities can function with ever increasing harmony,” said Rabbi Rockoff, who did not sign the letter from the rabbis to the Jewish Federation but hopes to be a member of the joint committee established between the two to discuss these issues.

He believes American Jews definitely need to have faith in Israel, and support the Jewish state no matter what.

“It’s not our job to say we’re only going to support an Israel that does X or Y. We support Israel. They have to make their own decisions and we support them no matter what. Now we want to have influence and we want things that we believe strongly in and we’d like to share. There’s a lot that I think Israel can learn from American communities. However just as we need to have faith in them, Israel does need to look to us for guidance on certain issues. Certainly to the ones that relate to the Diaspora. Israel can’t start deciding how everything is going to work in America, too. There is going to need to be autonomy of Diaspora communities. And, by the way, there is an increasing recognition of that in some of the newer legislation and practices that are coming to the fore right now,” Rabbi Rockoff added.

Working together

Rabbi Rockoff points to the Kansas City Jewish community as a wonderful example of a community that has succeeded in working together with the various streams of Judaism.

“I hope that it can indeed be a shining example for other communities and for Israel as well,” he said. 

Rabbi Levin said he believes, as do the “vast majority of the rabbis in this city,” that the Jewish Federation, its Israel and Overseas committee, and the Jewish Community Relations Bureau|American Jewish Committee need to work toward an inclusive Israel.

“Now many people, like Peter Beinert, are saying if we don’t do that, the next generation is lost. I don’t want to go there. I want to say the State of Israel was founded for worldwide Jewry. We absolutely must be included in the definition, not just of who is a Jew civilly, but be able to marry, be able to be buried. But the big thing right now is marriage. And to be able to live Jewish lives in the Jewish state,” Rabbi Levin said.

He wants to credit the Jewish Federation and its Executive Director and CEO Todd Stettner and JFNA’s Silverman for understanding the issue is an important one.

“But having said that, we are not yet anywhere near the goal and Israel needs to understand that if it expects the support of North American Jewry, then they have to include North American Jewry in Jewish expression in the Jewish state. So we will marry as Jews in Israel if we choose,” Rabbi Levin said.