More than 1,000 people from around the world attending the 2018 AJC Global Forum gathered yesterday at Jerusalem’s Davidson Center in a public display of love of Israel, devotion to Jerusalem, and solidarity with diaspora and Israeli Jews seeking religious equality.

Among the speakers were former ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro and member of Knesset Rachel Azaria (Kulanu).

The Davidson Center lies adjacent to the Azarat Yisrael, a section of the Western Wall set aside for pluralistic prayer services.

Harriet Schleifer, Chair of AJC’s Board of Governors and the former president of her Conservative synagogue, addressed the issue head-on in her opening remarks. “The controversy over pluralistic prayers at the Western Wall symbolizes unresolved tensions within Israeli society over what kind of state Israel will be,” she said.

Schleifer pointed out that these tensions not only affect Israel, but also play a significant role in Israel’s relations with diaspora Jewry. “American Jews, 85% of whom identify themselves as conservative or reform, often feel alienated by statements emanating from Israel’s Jewish establishment,” Schleifer said. “[Lack of] full equality and pluralism in Israel over time may weaken American Jewish support for Israel.”

MK Azaria, who describes herself as an Orthodox Jew, echoed Schleifer’s concerns from an Israeli point of view. “We recognize that the organization responsible for the tear between the Israeli and American Jewish community is the Rabbinate,” she said. “We have to break the monopoly of the Rabbinate,” she continued, to applause. However, Azaria also added that this could take 10-15 years, given political realities.

Shapiro, who also stressed the need for a greater sense of Jewish unity and mutual understanding, addressed the results of a recent survey conducted by AJC. It shows a wide gap between the views of American and Israeli Jews on a number of issues, including attitudes toward the peace process, views of President Donald Trump, and the role of American Jews in Israel.

“Let those of us living in the diaspora reinvigorate our commitment to Israel in the face of threats, of terror, of unconscionable calls for its destruction. Let those in Israel express with open minds and open hearts that Jews based in communities not in the Jewish homeland are fully part of the Jewish people,” Shapiro said.

Kim Pimley, an AJC officer and also a former president of a Conservative synagogue, concluded with her own call for Jewish unity. “We’re not here to judge each other, but to work together, pull it together and be a light unto the nations,” she said.

The overriding importance of the relationship between American and Israeli Jews has been one of the core themes of this year’s AJC Global Forum. It is the first time in AJC’s 112-year history that the global Jewish advocacy organization’s signature annual event has been held in Jerusalem or anywhere outside the United States. Earlier in the week, AJC leaders met with lawmakers at the Knesset and expressed concern over the growing rift between Diaspora Jews and Israel, especially about younger Jews potentially distancing themselves from Israel.

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