ITIM: Jewish Advocacy Center, Leveling the Field: Achieving an Actionable Consensus that Solves Personal Status Issues for the Jewish People, Jerusalem, Israel
This project seeks to confront head-on the linchpin problem of solving the personal status challenges that plague the Jewish people. The project is in its early stages, and ITIM plans to convene a series of meetings among Jewish leadership in order to develop a widely acceptable, halachic definition of who is a Jew that may be instrumental in resolving the peoplehood crisis. These meetings and the writing of a strategic/business plan for implementing the program will take place in Israel and the United States. For more than sixty years, world Jewry has suffered under divisive and unreconciled standards for who is a Jew. The conflict has implications for virtually all aspects of life, but none are more serious than the facts that some Jews cannot marry each other and some Jews cannot even become citizens of the Jewish State. This project aims to create a framework and a timeline for achieving a consensus on the central question of peoplehood. It may conclude that an innovative conversion project is necessary and, if so, it will outline the details of such a program and the steps for implementing it. ITIM was founded in 2002 by Rabbi Seth Farber with the mission of enabling and empowering people to live Jewish lives in Israel. ITIM seeks to secure basic rights of civil society for all residents and qualified prospective residents of the Jewish state, particularly in matters pertaining to life cycle events controlled by Israel’s regulatory and rabbinic establishment.
Nettiot, Rakee’a – Educational Research and Development Initiative, Israel
Rakee’a – Educational Research and Development Initiative is developing a unique curriculum for haredi students in grades K–12 in Israel that integrates math and science into Torah study. This initiative began in 2010 in response to the fact that there is almost no science education in Israeli haredi schools, and very little math. The curriculum is based in large part on discrete math, and the topics and exercises originate from the Chumash text. The result is an integration of secular and religious text. These lessons have been developed to cover nearly all of the topics required by Israel’s ministry of education, as well as additional topics uniquely suited to Torah study, such as algorithmic thinking, pattern and symmetry recognition, and the aesthetic side of mathematics. The curriculum is currently implemented in five schools and is expected to be offered commercially in the near future. Orthodox schools in Israel are faced with a growing demand for math and science education that does not conflict with Orthodox teachings. At the same time, Israel’s economy is more dependent than ever on a highly skilled workforce with a strong math and science background. “We know well that the entry point to the future elite job market is high quality and versatile education. With children at haredi schools comprising up to thirty percent of all students in Israel in first grade, this initiative not only addresses the prevention of future individual poverty but helps preserve Israel’s economy as a vibrant and growing one. Rakee’a’s high quality science and math education interwoven with Torah education provides students with a versatile foundation,” says Aharon Ariel Lavi, strategic planning director of Nettiot. Rakee’a is one of several initiatives under the umbrella of the Israeli organization Nettiot (Plantings), a network of communities of Ba’aley Teshuvah (returnees, or people who became religious later in life) and dozens of social projects.
Playmount Production, Above and Beyond: The Birth of the Israeli Air Force, documentary film
Targum Shlishi continues its support of this documentary film, which focuses on foreign airmen in Israel’s War of Independence. In 1948, a group of Second World War pilots, primarily American, volunteered to fight for Israel. These members of Machal (volunteers from abroad) were pivotal in Israel’s victory and in establishing the groundwork for the Israeli Air Force. This is the first major feature-length documentary about these men and includes interviews with several of the pilots and many others. The film, produced by Nancy Spielberg, will be shown at film festivals beginning in fall 2014. The film’s publicity materials are eloquent as to the personal service of these men: “At a time when much of the world stood by, unwilling to help a fledgling nation under attack, a tiny band of airmen answered the call for help. They risked their citizenship, their futures and even their lives.”
American Jewish Committee, Conversion Reform in Israel
The American Jewish Committee (AJC), is the leading global Jewish advocacy organization, and is engaged in an ongoing initiative to push for conversion reform in Israel. This year, AJC is supporting the conversion bill introduced by MK Elazar Stern of the Hatnua Party. The goal is to loosen the Chief Rabbinate’s monopoly on conversion by creating alternatives. The bill would permit local rabbis to set up conversion courts and allow conversion candidates to go through the process in the court of their choice. AJC’s position is that the Chief Rabbinate’s monopoly over personal status issues such as conversion pose a threat to the democratic nature of Israel.
Eretz Acheret, Webzine, Jerusalem, Israel
Eretz Acheret (A Different Land) is a website that continues the important work of the Israeli print magazine of the same name, established by leading Israeli journalist and thinker Bambi Sheleg and published bimonthly from 2000 to 2012. The web magazine, which launched in early 2014, publishes content designed to foster understanding of Israeli society’s many different sectors. The content includes both in-depth journalism and critical and philosophical articles. Portions of the Hebrew website have been translated into an English-version site. Among the primary concerns that Eretz Acheret responds to are the lack of leadership in Israeli society, the existential challenges currently facing the country, and the need for a major journalistic platform, free from external interests, that fosters in-depth discourse.