An Open Letter About the Conversion Bill
by Lynn Schusterman
It is with both great respect and grave concern that I write today, as the six-month moratorium on the conversion legislation proposed by MK David Rotem draws to a close.
I was among the Jews in North America who welcomed the call for a freeze on this proposed legislation and supported the appointment of Jewish Agency Chair Natan Sharansky to lead the efforts in finding an acceptable solution to this issue, one that is of critical importance to the unity of the Jewish people. (Read The Perils of the Israeli Conversion Bill.)
Should the proposed conversion law go into effect, I fear it would send a dangerous, exclusionary and wholly unacceptable message to many: that there is only one “official” brand of Judaism. Most of North American Jews – 85 percent – belong to, or identify with, the Conservative and Reform movements, which would be directly – and negatively – affected by this proposal.
Now that the Chief rabbinate has called into question the legitimacy of the conversions of immigrant soldiers in the IDF, I am even more alarmed about the possibility that the conversion issue will cause irreparable damage to our worldwide Jewish community and open a deep rift between world Jewry and Israel.
At a time when Jews around the world are working diligently to defend Israel against the various boycott, divestment and sanction efforts sprouting up seemingly every day, a bill that would be understood or perceived to delegitimize the religious streams and conversions that represent the majority of Diaspora Jews, as well as those who want to be included as members of our people, would be catastrophic should it become law in the Jewish State.
In my work seeking to strengthen the identity of young Jews around the world, I am privileged to witness the power of a fully inclusive Jewish community that embraces every Jew as “b’tzelem elohim,” made in God’s image. On this occasion, I am reminded of the recent encounter I had with a Jewish corps member in Teach For America, who came to Israel for her first time on a program sponsored by our foundation.
After a lifetime of seeking something spiritual but feeling judged and belittled for her ignorance of Judaism, this young woman was literally moved to tears upon discovering that she could indeed be welcomed as part of our global Jewish community and connected to our Jewish homeland. It would be a shame to see young Jews like this stop coming to and connecting with Israel as a result of the passage of this law, which I strongly believe would happen.
I write this letter in honor of all of the young people who have had similar experiences to this Teach For America corps member. I can only hope that JAFI Chair Sharansky will be granted the time he needs to complete the process of finding a just solution.
We are living in very difficult times and need strong leadership to guide us through them. Only then can we ensure Israel remains true to its goals and aspirations – to be a Jewish homeland for all of the Jewish people.
Lynn Schusterman is Chair of the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation.