Grass-roots plan aims to boost progressive Jews
By Daphna Berman
Fri., May 27, 2005
A grass-roots initiative aimed at forging personal connections between Diaspora Jews and Israelis active in Reform and Conservative synagogues here has been launched in recent weeks.
The brainchild of retired high-tech entrepreneur, Jeff Macklis, the Kehilot B’Yahad (KBY-Congregations Together) campaign is currently contacting thousands of people throughout North America, in the hope of creating a network of financial support for some of the smaller Reform and Conservative communities across Israel, which have not enjoyed the same amount of overseas support as better-funded synagogues in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv.
The project also aims to raise awareness regarding the Israeli government’s discrimination against progressive Judaism.
“I am an active progressive Jew and I am personally offended by the way Israel treats different streams of Judaism,” said Macklis, who is personally funding and spearheading the campaign. “I love being here but I have a great amount of difficulty dealing with what goes on.”
As part of the campaign (www.KBYonline.org), Macklis has scanned Web sites of 1,500 progressive synagogues throughout the U.S. and Canada, in an attempt to personally target communities’ religious and lay leadership. He sends out hundreds of personal appeals for support – financial and otherwise – every day and says his immediate short-term goal, at this point, is “for people not to hit the unsubscribe button.”
As part of the campaign, donors request the movement of the synagogue they want to support, and are then added to the congregation’s mailing list “so that there is a personal connection.” A few thousand dollars have been raised so far.
“It is in our own best interests to assure that we, our children and our congregational communities and leaders are recognized by the State of Israel and the Israeli people as legitimate parts of Judaism and the Jewish people,” he writes in his appeal. “The people committed to Reform and Conservative synagogues in Israel are amazing in their dedication, tireless in their efforts and inspirational to anyone who meets them. They are nothing less than pioneers who work with few resources and limited support. It is time for us to support their efforts in earnest.”
According to Macklis’ estimates, only 15 percent of progressive congregations have buildings of their own, with the remainder “in bomb shelters or community centers.”
“The largest congregations don’t necessarily need my help, but there are 70 others that don’t have overseas affiliates,” he added.
Macklis, who divides his time between New York City and his vacation apartment in Jerusalem, is affiliated with both Conservative and Reform synagogues. But he says that a large number of his fellow congregants do not fully understand the religious system here.
“The fact that a Reform or Conservative rabbi cannot marry a couple here is not well known,” he said. “Among knowledgeable people, it is, but the average congregant doesn’t always realize the extent of the discrimination.”
Macklis has not enlisted the support of the Reform and Conservative movements, though he says they are “aware” of his project. “The movements have limited resources and their own priorities,” he said.
KBY, meanwhile, recently received tax-exempt status and with the first few donations, has even distributed a few grants to local progressive synagogues.
“We’re not massive; at this point, you’re looking at our entire organization,” he admitted. “But I’m like Chabad and I want to share Judaism. But I want to share it in a progressive way, so that it continues to matter to people here and abroad.”