A recent meeting between Prime Minister Netanyahu and Conservative rabbis from the Rabbinical Assembly touched on a number of vital issues, including negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program and the future of the Kotel. But, as has become sadly typical of American Jewish dialogue with Israel, one key topic was missing.
Despite the fact that Israel and the Palestinians are negotiating for the first time in years—encouraged by the tireless engagement of Secretary of State John Kerry, who has personally appealed to our community to support his efforts—the Conservative leadership that claims to represent over one million Jews worldwide chose not to mention it to the Israeli prime minister. For some reason they decided that peace was not a cause worthy of our efforts.
This was a glaring omission after Kerry specifically called on American Jews in June to rally a “great constituency for peace” behind the negotiations. “No one has a stronger voice in this than the American Jewish community,” he said. Kerry, like countless American and Israeli leaders, recognized the critical role that our community has played in helping to build and protect the Jewish state. Like family, we have a tradition of celebrating our opinions and differences in constructive dialogue.
Our friends in Israel need to hear from us now more than ever. As the negotiations progress, Prime Minister Netanyahu will face historic choices and painful compromises. But when that moment arrives, he must know that a two-state peace is Israel’s only viable avenue, and we will support him in its pursuit. Otherwise the very character of the state that we love will be in danger—Israel cannot remain both a democracy and Jewish homeland in the territory currently under its control.
So given the stakes, the silence of our movement worries me. More troubling is that it runs strikingly contrary to the message that we have promoted in synagogues for over a generation. Early in Siddur Sim Shalom, the Conservative prayerbook, there is a prayer unique to our movement:
May it be your will, Lord our God and God of our ancestors, to grant our portion in Your Torah. May we be disciples of Aaron the kohen, loving peace and pursuing peace, loving our fellow creatures and bringing them closer to the Torah.
Invoking Moses’ brother Aaron, who is considered peacemaker par excellence, the prayer follows a series of rabbinic texts on charity and compassion, meant to guide Conservative Jews in our daily lives and inspire us to action. The Conservative rabbis who designed the siddur broke with tradition and added this prayer because they saw the pursuit of peace as a core tenet of our faith.
Yet faced with the opportunity to put those innovative words into practice, my colleagues elected to keep their mouths shut. And I am left wondering, when the Conservative leadership prays, what siddur do they use? Because if they read our siddur but ignore its call for peace, then the book’s words are meaningless. And if those words are without meaning, then what is their purpose, or the purpose of our movement?
I believe that the Conservative voice is vital to a vibrant American Jewish community and a healthy relationship with Israel. I urge my colleagues to pick up the siddur and heed its words as disciples of Aaron the kohen. Silence only betrays Israel as well as ourselves.