Masorti Movement In Israel Speaks Out To President Rivlin
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Masorti Movement In Israel Speaks Out To President Rivlin

Gabrielle Kaplan-Mayer directs Jewish Learning Venture’s Whole Community Inclusion which fosters inclusion of people with disabilities through the Philadelphia Jewish community. She loves writing/editing for “The New Normal” and for WHYY’s newsworks. Her latest book The Little Gate Crasher is a memoir of her Great-Uncle Mace Bugen, a self-made millionaire and celebrity selfie-artist who was 43 inches tall and was chosen for this year’s Jewish Disability Awareness & Inclusion Month Book Selections. She’s recently shared an ELI Talk on Standing With Families Raising Kids With Disabilities and has released a journal designed for special needs parents.

Yesterday, the Masorti Movement for Conservative Judaism in Israel sent a letter to Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin, signed by the leaders of every major Conservative Jewish organization, urging him to reconsider the cancellation of a bar and bat mitzvah ceremony for children with disabilities.

The mayor of Rehovot, Israel had cancelled the bar mitzvah last month because it was taking place in a Conservative, not Orthodox, synagogue. That move sparked outrage on social media from the progressive Jewish community in Israel and around the world. In response, representatives of the Masorti Movement for Conservative Judaism and officials from the Ministry of Diaspora Affairs worked on a compromise with members of the President of Israel's office. The parents and children were happy with the outcome and it seemed like the ceremony was set to take place.

The compromise: Masorti representative agreed to co-officiate the Bar Mitzvah service with an Orthodox rabbi, Benny Lau, in the chapel of the President of Israel's official residence. The Masorti movement has welcomed almost 4,000 children with disabilities as B'nai Mitzvah into the Jewish people over the past 20 years, and this is the first time that a city mayor has banned children with special needs from becoming b'nai mitzvah in Israel. The movement was willing to co-officiate in this instance so that they children and their families would not have to wait any longer.

“We overlooked the implication that we are somehow incapable of officiating at our own bar mitzvah service," the movement said in a letter.

But Rivlin reneged and instead ordered that the children could only become b'nai mitzvah under the auspices of an Orthodox rabbi whom they didn't know. Masorti Rabbi Mikie Goldstein would be excluded from the ceremony and only allowed to speak at the reception.

The Masorti Foundation rejected this offer because “it does not recognize Conservative Jews as full and equal.”

The President's office then counter-offered with two more compromises: to hold the ceremony at the President's home with a handshake but without any rabbi, or to hold it outdoors at Azrat Yisrael, the egalitarian section of the Kotel, also known as Robinson's Arch. The Masorti Foundation explained that with its ambient noise and high activity level, the Arch is totally unsuitable for children with autism, who can be especially sensitive to noise and crowds.

The Masorti movement asks that anyone outraged by this situation send a letter to the Israeli government.

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