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Thursday, June 23, 2011

Liveblog - Interview with Natan Sharansky

I'm sitting in a bloggers' session with Natan Sharansky. Sharansky is currently the chairman of the Jewish Agency. It's all questions. First question has Sharansky saying that without Jewish education we have no Jewish identity and no olim (immigrants).

He says he has nothing to do with who is a Jew. Jewish Agency deals with who is a citizen and not who is a Jew. As of two weeks ago, the Jewish Agency reached an accommodation with the Chief Rabbinate regarding conversions in the US where if the Rabbinate has a question, the Jewish Agency will check and will have the final say over whether there's a real community structure that did the conversion.

Sharansky is asked by an LA Jewish Journal reporter about his statement that postwar Germany fastest growing community and will be the fastest (other than the Holocaust) to disappear. He says that this community is very spread out and they have little Jewish identity. He said that the German government gave them financial incentives to spread out and that this is bad for their Jewish identity. This is a major challenge for Israel how to avoid the catastrophe of having them disappear in 10-20 years. The way to do this is to bring as many as possible to Israel.

I asked him about the democratization. He says that in 2003 he said that just as it happened in Japan and Eastern Europe it will happen in the Arab world. He says that the people are doing it without reading his book. They want to speak their minds freely. They don't want to live in fear. What will the direction be? Will they become an organized force? Which way will they go? No one knows. But the desire not to live in fear is what unites the Middle East.

Joe Hyams of Honest Reporting asks what we can do as front line elements against the delegitimization campaign - what can the Jewish Agency do to help us? Sharansky says that the Jewish Agency is trying to build a physical and spiritual connection for every Jew with the State of Israel. That's more than just the internet - it means bringing people to Israel. He gives a shout-out to Yelena Bonner who passed away over the weekend and talks about how he gave press conferences with her and Andrei Sakharov in his Moscow apartment, but today we bloggers reach many more people. He says that we have to excite people about the encounter between Israel and the Jewish people. It's good to fight the delegitimization of Israel through the media. He mentions a story where the New York Times refused to publish something and it was published by blogs instead. Using blogs lets us get a message through that might not make it through the mainstream media.

He's asked how to communicate that we are a people, a religion and a place. How do we make that more acceptable because it's unlike any other nation. He says there's no elevator speech to get this message across. He says that his own situation was unique and in 1967 he discovered both his identity and his religion together. He says that you have to have values that make your life worth more than physical survival. He says that the Arabs have both religion and identity but want freedom. In Europe, they have erased their identity. They are trying to recover it. We have something the rest of the world wants - we have religion, identity and freedom.

Mark Rosenberg of Nefesh b'Nefesh asks how to answer Peter Beinart. Sharansky says that the fact that it caused such a big debate is positive. But he thinks it's wrong to say that the more connected you are with Israel, the more likely you will abandon your Jewishness because it contradicts being liberal (as Beinart argues). Most of the Jews who have come to Israel on Israel experience (Birthright) programs have been liberal Jews. Hundreds of Jews have been influenced by these programs and they show how wrong Beinart is. The key is how to make them excited about being Jewish. That's the challenge and it's being partially filled by the Jewish Agency. But it has to be sold by people who are at least 30 years younger than he is.

He underestimates himself. For people of my generation, he's a hero.

The lady who asked about conversions before asks about Eli Yishai's proposal to put religion back on Israeli identity cards. It turns out she also blogs for HuffPo. 'Nuff said. Sharansky says that when he came to Israel, he was proud to have Jew on his identity card (in Russia, people paid to have it taken off), but he understood why it had to be taken off because it was the only compromise the government could reach on the issue. He thinks that Eli Yishai's proposal only makes sense if they are ready to accept what the Supreme Court said about conversions that's one thing. But otherwise the proposal is a non-starter (I don't believe it will happen and I think Yishai is playing populist for his voters by doing it). Sharansky would like it to be brought back but doesn't think it will happen because of the realities.

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3 Comments:

At 5:47 PM, Blogger Sunlight said...

The Jewish Agency is doing a better job at PR than pretty much anybody... here's what it is that is making a huge difference:

https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Summer-Shlichim-Program/101876886571362

The Shlichim live with families while they are here and work in some Jewish camps and some with lots of non-Jewish kids in them. They stay in touch with a bunch of the kids as they grow into college kids and then adults, through Facebook. It is absolutely fantastic and Israel will get a bunch of people doing aliya, going back and forth, advocating for Israel in business, etc.... all because of these fabulous kids and the chance for people all over the U.S. to make friends with real live Israelis. Keep up the good work, Mr. Sharansky!

 
At 3:51 PM, Blogger Religion and State in Israel said...

Re: "As of two weeks ago, the Jewish Agency reached an accommodation with the Chief Rabbinate regarding conversions in the US where if the Rabbinate has a question, the Jewish Agency will check and will have the final say over whether there's a real community structure that did the conversion."

Please there are errors in your summary of the issue.

Below are the key sections from the Interior Ministry letter regarding the issue (Amnon Ben-Ami, director of the Population, Immigration and Border Authority):

[original article: Jpost.com http://ht.ly/5ptFy]

“In the vast majority of conversions in which the rabbis are [known figures], the Jewish Agency’s recommendation will be relayed to the Israeli consul abroad... and if the convert meets the other conditions for granting the status... the aliya permit will be supplied,” Ben-Ami wrote.

“In isolated cases in which there arises a doubt regarding the identity of the converting rabbi and his status, the request will be transferred for consultation with the chief rabbi, who will provide a recommendation based on whether he acknowledges the conversion or not,” Ben-Ami wrote.

If the chief rabbi will not recognize the conversion, the letter continues, “the Jewish Agency will then be requested to provide clarifications regarding the community and its institutions.” This will take place “before the Population Authority, which has authority on this issue, makes its decision.”

Joel Katz
Religion and State in Israel
@religion_state

 
At 3:51 PM, Blogger Religion and State in Israel said...

Re: "As of two weeks ago, the Jewish Agency reached an accommodation with the Chief Rabbinate regarding conversions in the US where if the Rabbinate has a question, the Jewish Agency will check and will have the final say over whether there's a real community structure that did the conversion."

Please there are errors in your summary of the issue.

Below are the key sections from the Interior Ministry letter regarding the issue (Amnon Ben-Ami, director of the Population, Immigration and Border Authority):

[original article: Jpost.com http://ht.ly/5ptFy]

“In the vast majority of conversions in which the rabbis are [known figures], the Jewish Agency’s recommendation will be relayed to the Israeli consul abroad... and if the convert meets the other conditions for granting the status... the aliya permit will be supplied,” Ben-Ami wrote.

“In isolated cases in which there arises a doubt regarding the identity of the converting rabbi and his status, the request will be transferred for consultation with the chief rabbi, who will provide a recommendation based on whether he acknowledges the conversion or not,” Ben-Ami wrote.

If the chief rabbi will not recognize the conversion, the letter continues, “the Jewish Agency will then be requested to provide clarifications regarding the community and its institutions.” This will take place “before the Population Authority, which has authority on this issue, makes its decision.”

Joel Katz
Religion and State in Israel
@religion_state

 

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