Urgent Letter to President Rivlin

Dear President Rivlin,

With great sadness and with deep sorrow, we have no choice but to write this letter to you.

About one month ago, the Mayor of Rehovot ordered the cancellation of the Bar Mitzvah ceremony for children with disabilities on 48 hours notice, following six months of the children’s preparation, simply because it was to take place within the city’s Masorti (Conservative) synagogue. The Bar/Bat Mitzvah program is unique in Israel, adapted to the needs of children with disabilities, and has successfully operated for over 20 years.

The Mayor ordered that the ceremony be held in an Orthodox synagogue, and led by an Orthodox Rabbi and required the parents to sign a consent form confirming that the children would have to relearn the ceremony in its new version.

The Office of Diaspora Affairs, initiated a compromise two weeks ago whereby the ceremony would be held in your residence and jointly officiated by Rabbi Mikie Goldstein and Rabbi Dr. Benny Lau. In a meeting at the President’s Residence, with your staff and a representative of the Office of Diaspora Affairs, every detail of the planned ceremony was finalized. At that stage, the parents were informed, to their joy and relief that their children would be able to have this unique program, designed to help children great difficulties in verbal communication.

We were then utterly shocked to receive the ceremony program sent last week by the Executive Director of the President’s Residence to the Executive Director of the Diaspora Affairs Office, eliminating the plan to conduct the ceremony according to this special program, but rather to be officiated exclusively by an Orthodox rabbi. The President’s Residence adopted the very same stance as that of the Mayor of Rehovot.

Mr. President, you are denying a specialized program for severely disabled children that has a 20 year record, acknowledged by top professionals in the fields that serve them, of helping children with their core life and learning challenges. It is painful to say it, but this is an act of cruelty in which disabled children and their parents are being denied a service that would help them and the sole reason for this denial is the contempt of Israel’s leaders for the sponsors of this program, the worldwide Conservative/Masorti movement. This is taking place in Rehovot, that is promoted under the name of the “City of Science” and in the residence of the President of the State of Israel.

Indeed, the worldwide Conservative Movement, whose members lead most of the Jewish organizations in North America (Jewish Federations, AIPAC, Hillel and more) promote the democratic nature of Israel, and the modern, humanitarian and scientific outlook of the Jewish state. We lead the struggle against those who seek to defame or even to boycott Israel. Our love for the State of Israel is unconditional. But Israel must live up to her claims about herself. A modern, scientific, humanitarian, democratic state cannot deny a program to disabled children simply because of your loathing for our Jewish philosophy and practice, not in the “City of Science” and not in the President’s residence.

For my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples (Isaiah 56:7). Is it fathomable that the Official Residence of the President of the State of Israel cannot be considered a house of prayer for all Jews?

Rabbi Julie Schonfeld
Executive VP, RA

Rabbi Steven Wernick

Rabbi Mauricio Balter
Co-President, RA Israel

Rabbi Robert Slosberg
Chair, Masorti Foundation

Rabbi William Gershon
President, RA

Margo Gold President, USCJ

Rabbi Dubi Hayun
Co-President., RA Israel

Dr. David Breakstone
Int. VP, Mercaz Olami

Laura Lewis
CEO, Masorti Foundation

Arnold M. Eisen
Chancellor, JTS

Rabbi Bradley S. Artson
Dean, Ziegler School, AJU

Gillian Caplin
President, Masorti Olami

Shueli Fast
Chair, Masorti Movement

Yizhar Hess
CEO, Masorti Movement

Dr. Stephen Wolnek
President, MERCAZ Olami

Rabbi Tzvi Graetz
CEO, Mercaz & Masorti Olami

Sarrae Crane
Executive Director, WLCJ

Carol Simon
President, WLCJ

Rabbi Prof. David Golinkin
President, Schechter Institute

Saul Sanders
Chair, Schechter Institutes, Inc.

Rabbi Charles E. Simon

Myles Simpson
President, FJMC

Janet Tobin
President, Mercaz USA

Rabbi Robert R. Golub
Executive Director, Mercaz USA