Denominational bickering begins road to exclusion

All of us here in the DFW area pledge our allegiance to Israel. We do it with our prayers, our money, our voices as we sing Hatikvah in addition to The Star-Spangled Banner at virtually every public event sponsored by our Jewish community’s many organizations.
Orthodox, Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist, “cultural”— we are all Jews, together in support of our ancestral and present homeland.
So what can we make of the recent action by Rehovot’s mayor, who cancelled a b’nai mitzvah ceremony for special needs children because it was going to be held in a Masorti (Conservative) synagogue? Or the follow-up action of Israel’s president who, after that ceremony had been rescheduled for an Orthodox shul, refused to allow the Masorti rabbi who’d prepared those kids for their special moment to be on the bimah?
Here in Jewish America, ”inclusion” has become a buzzword, often used to assure that “differently abled” (some think the word “disability” itself is counter-inclusive!) children and adults find new doors of participation open to them.
Some are literal: doors that open automatically for those unable to push or pull. Some are figurative: large-print prayerbooks … assisted hearing devices … transportation offered to those who can’t provide their own … Internet-streamed services for those who are unable to attend even when transportation is available.
But before today: What Jew has ever denied any Jewish child his or her right to enter religious adulthood?
I remember an occasion far back in my own youth, when a child survivor of the Holocaust (Orthodox), who could barely speak English, received far more than just wine and kichel at the shul to mark his bar mitzvah; there was a joyous gathering in the home of his foster parents, attended by all the neighbors. I remember my friends’ profoundly deaf daughter (Reform), who gave her bat mitzvah speech in sign language after passing out printed copies so that everyone in the congregation could read along as she “spoke.”
I remember a childhood schizophrenic (no affiliation), son of my parents’ friends, who became a bar mitzvah in the mental institution that was his lifelong home, and the boy (Conservative) who made it onto his synagogue’s bimah — and into the collective heart of his congregation — despite crippling cerebral palsy.
So why is exclusion going on in Israel?
I guess I know already: Denominationalism still rules everything and everyone in our Jewish homeland. Conservative/Masorti leaders, both here and there, have spoken out loudly against this newest evidence of religious discrimination.
The official letter to Israeli President Reuven Rivlin reads, in part: “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 … whose members promote the democratic nature of Israel and the modern, humanist and scientific outlook of the Jewish state …
“Our love for the State of Israel is unconditional,” the letter continues. “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 … ‘For my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples’ (Isaiah 56:7). We ask, Mr. President, are these children, are their parents, are we, welcome in your home, or are we not?”
As a Conservative Jew myself, I’m proud of this strong stand our movement has taken, with both anger and sadness, against such devaluation of the worthiness of our Jewish practice. And I‘m especially proud that the first signature under this letter — over those of 21 other recognized leaders — is that of William Gershon, senior rabbi of Dallas’ own venerable Congregation Shearith Israel, who is current president of the Rabbinical Assembly of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism.
Thank you, Rabbi Gershon, from the very bottom of this very Jewish heart.

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