Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Orthodox Leadership Forum - A Meeting at the Knesset

A few months ago, I received an email inviting me to join the initial meeting of the "Orthodox Leadership Forum", the initial meeting of a group hoping to find leadership voices among Olim that had moved to Israel from across the globe. The thinking is that there are many people who have served in leadership positions in their former communities who could bring those qualities to the Orthodox community in Israel. Is there a way to harness their talents to improve the role of Orthodoxy in Israel? It's an important idea, and I was flattered to be invited.
Moreover, the meeting was to be hosted by MK Zevulun Orlev, was to take place in the Knesset, which I thought was fairly cool. So I went. You can find a writeup of the meeting in Hebrew here.
At the meeting, MK Orlev gave an introduction where he spoke about the need for a "Second Orthodox Zionist Revolution". What did he mean? He didn't say specifically, but I'll take a guess.
In Israel the Religious Zionist community, although in numbers a very, very large community, rarely takes a leadership position in the public arena, allowing the national agenda to be driven by others, usually from the secular or Chareidi communities. And, when Religious Zionists do find themselves in the news, it's often because of their "extreme" positions, most notably the recent and ongoing brouhaha regarding Rav Melamed and the Har Brachah yeshiva, and their expulsion from the Hesder movement.
The fact of the matter is, Religious Zionists play a very strong role in the IDF today, but for whatever reason, when the roles of leadership come about, we haven't taken the reigns - politically, rabbinically or communally. Leaders who come from the more "moderate" community have a great deal to say that will resonate in the broader community. We have the ability to speak with a strong voice and articulate religious values in a way that resonates with the public instead of alienating them.
This, I think, is the point of this forum.
I think.
I'm not sure, because the meeting, while interesting (and long), didn't really set out a clear agenda. It gave people the opportunity to express their views, but did not really establish a clear path forward. It was in the end, I guess, a forum.
Among the participants:
(there were some others there - I don't remember all of them. And we didn't get a complete list.)

How was the meeting? Long. Also, many of the speakers spoke about the slights - mostly real, but some imagined - that our community has suffered at the hands of the Chareidi community. Our relationship with, reaction to, interaction with the Chareidim seemed to take a prominent role among many of the speakers.
There were a number of "younger" leaders, and I was impressed by their energy and passion. The need for this forum clearly touched a nerve with them, and they have a sense of excitement about what the forum could possibly be.
Uncharacteristically for me, I hadn't planned on saying anything. I really just listened to what people had to say. Except, right before the end Rabbi Waxman asked me whether I have contact with my former members back home (I do with a good number), and what I thought about the forum. So I said,
"Truth be told, I'm not sure yet what to think, because I don't yet know what the forum is supposed to achieve and how that's supposed to happen. I've been listening to the speakers, and in all honestly, I've mostly heard a great deal of negativity. I'm not interested in what the Chareidim are doing. I'm much more interested in what we are and should be doing. I'm less interested in reacting, and much more interested in leading and promoting our agenda."
I'm pretty sure my point was well-taken. At least I hope it was.
After the meeting, someone asked me, "So, are you going to go back?" Despite the length of the meeting (more than two hours), I will, for a number of reasons:
  1. I was invited to participate in a forum in Knesset. It was quite cool.
  2. These things take time to develop. Even though it's a slow process and everyone wants to have his say, it's difficult to tell how the Forum will coalesce and whether it can make a difference. Sometimes you have to sit through a lot of boring meetings to make a real accomplishment.
  3. Finally, it was an honor to be included in a group of such prominent and accomplished people. I relish the opportunity just to spend a little more time with them, learn from them, and hopefully get to know some of them better.
Final nuggets:
  • The meeting was around a huge wooden table in the official meeting room for the Committee for Culture and Education. That was neat.
  • It was energizing to meet Rabbi Mendelevich in person. I remember growing up that there was an empty seat reserved for him in the front of the shul as Prisoner of Zion. Now, seeing him as a recognized teacher in Israel gave me chills
  • The meeting broke for minchah, and ended with Ma'ariv. The best part was when the guard came to lead us out of the building after the meeting (it was late), he pointed the direction to daven in towards Har Habayit and joined us for Ma'ariv. Only in Israel.