Yes, indeed! He writes that:
[n]ext Monday, February 27th, the Jewish Agency’s Board of Governors will begin a conversation in its Unity of the Jewish People Committee about the challenges facing the Jewish State due to the politicization of Judaism. It is this committee that deals with issues of tolerance and religious pluralism in Israel, and especially the challenges surrounding conversion and its implications for Jewish unity around the world.
Some have told me it is silly to imagine that this committee will be able to work with the Government of Israel to update the current religious status-quo. I would beg to differ, particularly because as the Jewish Agency has strengthened its focus on enhancing the identity of Jews around the world, recognizing that without identity Jews will not come or feel connected to Israel. And if the Jewish Agency would like to successfully complete its mission, it cannot ignore the fact that many Jews around the world are comfortable with their identity as (Reform, Conservative, Modern Orthodox) Jews, but are growing increasingly hostile towards the State of Israel due to the State’s official stance on pluralism and women’s issues.
Yessiree, Beery is pretty optimistic. First, he assumes that an organization that has been around for 80 years that has done little to substantively change what it does (focusing now on aliyah-by-choice (a blockbuster trend indeed!) instead of aliyah-under-duress) will suddenly shift its agenda to addressing the issue of “identity” – a mercurial and amorphous goal and thing if there ever was. Sure, a new direction has been bandied about by Natan Sharansky since February 2011, but as President Obama will tell you – big ships take a long time to turn. So much time that some folks might not even feel the course change. So much time that one might wonder whether a course change has been applied at all… but I digress…
Second, he assumes that the Jewish Agency will suddenly become relevant to North American Jews when many local federations are struggling to articulate their relevance as well. Who in North America could say what the Jewish Agency is and what it does? Do they do the blue boxes or the trees or the billboards up and down Bathurst Street? As Beery pointed out, every philanthropic dollar could be drained from their coffers and they would still command a handsome budget from property-earnings… but just because JAFI can survive, should it?
And lastly, to hang North American Jewish hostility toward the State of Israel solely on the hook of Israel’s “official stance on pluralism and women’s issues” is, to say it bluntly, missing the point altogether.
But let us not ruin this moment of looking ahead to a brighter future, to better days ahead. I wish Ariel (and the Jewish Agency) all the best and b’sha’ah tovah.