Facts You Might Not Know About Masorti

There is a great deal to know about our movement in Israel, according to RABBI ALAN SILVERSTEIN

by Rabbi Alan Silverstein

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  • Masorti is the name of the Conservative movement in Israel. It stands for religious pluralism and democratic values in an egalitarian Judaism.
  • Masorti is dominated at its grassroots by sabras as well as by olim – immigrants – from Latin America, the former Soviet Union, and Muslim lands, unified via the Hebrew language.
  • Masorti of 2012 is young and getting younger all the time. Its kehillot abound with kindergartens and nurseries filled to capacity, with 600 bnai mitzvah ceremonies annually, with almost 2,000 members of Noam, the nationwide youth movement, and with 500 summer campers at Ramah/Noam.
  • Over the last few years, Masorti has grown from less than 50 to 63 kehillot, springing to life in such towns as Tzur Yitzhak, Holon, and Petach Tikvah.
  • Israelis are becoming increasingly aware of Masorti. An Avi Chai/Guttman Institute survey released in January shows that 30 percent of Israelis have attended services at a Conservative or Reform congregation. Yizhar Hess, the movement’s chief executive, frequently is invited to write op-eds in the Israeli press and is interviewed on radio and television. The movement and its leaders are gaining influence within the Knesset, as well.
  • The rabbis in Masorti communities are dynamos. Veterans such as Mauricio Balter and Roberto Arbib have been joined by a new generation of young and passionate colleagues including Elisha Wolfin, Tamar Elad-Appelbaum, Chaya Rowen Baker, Gustavo Surazki, Yoav Ende, Dubi Hayun, and Jeff Cymet.
  • Once you leave Jerusalem, openness to Masorti increases dramatically. For example, in Kfar Vradim, a new building for our Masorti kehilla came into being because of strong support from the secular mayor and his colleagues. In Beersheva, the municipality has designated land for a second Masorti kindergarten in a developing part of the city.
  • Masorti’s kehillot include thousands of dues-paying members. Under rabbinic guidance, the members of these kehillot reach out to the community at large through nurseries and kindergartens, Noam, life-cycle ceremonies, absorption of olim, assistance to those below the poverty line, advocacy of ecological concerns, outreach to Israeli Arab communities, and the provision of special needs bar/bat mitzvah training and ceremonies. Masorti touches more than 75,000 Israelis annually. Impressively, the Avi Chai/Guttman Institute survey reveals that nearly 500,000 Israelis self-identify as Masorti or Reform.
  • Vaani T’fillati, the Masorti Shabbat and weekday siddur, which is published by Israel’s largest publishing house, has been a best-seller. A Masorti machzor is being prepared. These egalitarian liturgical reflections of Israeli life offer prayers for Yom Ha’Atzmaut, Yom HaZikaron, entering the IDF, and other life-cycle events.
  • Masorti is central to the spectrum of Israeli Judaism, offering the only regular egalitarian Shabbat morning minyanim. Masorti also offers a halachic approach that is both flexible and traditional, addressing issues such as the religious permissibility of visiting the Temple Mount, of trading land for peace, of women serving in the IDF, and so on.
  • The Israeli public is ever more receptive to our message. In the most recent poll, 63 percent support official recognition for both Masorti and Reform. A growing number of secular Israelis indicate that they are “open to” encountering aspects of the Jewish tradition within their lives in a “noncoercive” manner. These are code words for Masorti, Reform, and the liberal elements of modern Orthodoxy.

As the evaluators of the Avi Chai/Guttman Institute poll conclude: “The results of the survey are evidence that Israeli Jews are committed to two significant values: preserving Jewish tradition on the one hand, and upholding individual freedom of choice on the other.” In sum, the fact is that Masorti Judaism.

Rabbi Alan Silverstein, PhD, is the chair of the board of the Masorti Foundation for Conservative Judaism in Israel and the spiritual leader of Congregation Agudath Israel in Caldwell, New Jersey.