The Beit Midrash for Judaism and Society, a consortium of heads of social justice and philanthropic organizations, has recently completed its first year of joint study and discussion aimed at translating fundamentals of social justice rooted in Jewish values into tangible results in Israeli society.
This group was originally convened in preparation for the Institute’s second annual Conference for a Jewish-Democratic Israel in early 2012, which focused on the theme of social justice. At the initial meeting preceding the conference, Shalom Hartman Institute President Rabbi Dr. Donniel Hartman and SHI scholar and educational director of the Be’eri program Dr. Ariel Picard began a dialogue on fostering cooperation in the implementation of Jewish values.
Various participating organizations took the initiative in organizing the next three sessions, inviting speakers to address the group on particular timely themes. In April 2012, the Hartman Institute worked with Rabbi Uri Ayalon, CEO of the Yerushalmim Movement and rabbi of the Yotzer Or congregation in Jerusalem, to convene a forum dedicated to tackling the question of how to create a shared public space in Israeli society.
At the third meeting, which took place in September 2012, Yizhar Hess, CEO of the Masorti Movement in Israel, moderated a conversation on the theme From the Beit Knesset (synagogue) to the Knesset: Seeking an Answer to Jewish Renewal in the Synagogue and in Politics. Speakers at the event were all affiliated with parties across the political spectrum yet all belonged to a nucleus of up and coming politicians that have Jewish pluralism on their agenda. Panelists included Mickey Gitzin, Executive Director at Be Free Israel (affiliated with the Meretz Party); President of the Centre for Public Diplomacy and HASBARA Davidi Hermelin (affiliated with the Likud party); SHI scholar and Jerusalem council member Rachel Azaria of the Yerushalmim Movement; Ruth Calderon, founder and Executive Director of Alma College in Tel Aviv (and a member of the Yesh Atid party list); and Rabbi Gilad Kariv, Executive Director of the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism (affiliated with the Labor party).
The latst meeting of 2012, held December on 2 and moderated by Institute for Zionist Strategies Project Manager Adi Arbel, featured MK Zeev Elkin (Likud), Shahar Ilan, head of the Hiddush for religious freedom and equality, and Dr. Aliza Lavie, lecturer in communications at Bar-Ilan University and a potential MK candidate of the newly founded Yesh Atid party headed by Yair Lapid. The four discussed the possibility of forming a Zionist coalition in the upcoming Israeli elections.
Two meetings have been held so far in 2013. In February, a special session was held prior to the third annual Hartman Conference for a Jewish-Democratic Israel. This session was planned in partnership with the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) on the topic The Distant Tribe: World Jewry and Israeli Society. The session featured speakers Rabbi Dr. Donniel Hartman, Executive Director of JFNA’s Israel Office Becky Caspi, Director of the Ruderman Family Foundation Shira Ruderman, journalist and Jewish People Policy Institute Senior Fellow Shmuel Rosner, and SHI Fellow Stuart Schoffman.
In early May 2013, the group met to discuss community models for managing religious services in Israel. The program was organized in partnership with Ne’emanei Torah Va’Avodah, a movement that seeks to return Religious Zionism to its roots. SHI’s Renana Ravitsky-Pilzer, Head of the Beit Midrash at Hartman’s Midrashiya High School for Girls, opened the session, and Rabbi Ilai Ofran of Kibbutz Yavneh presented the Torah Va’Avodah model. Speakers on the panel, moderated by Ne’emanei Torah Va’Avodah Chair Tehilah Nahalon, included Rabbi Tamar Elad-Appelbaum of the Masorti Movement; Rabbi Yehuda Gilad, Rosh Yeshiva of Maale Gilboa; and Itamar Lapid, founder of the Network of Jewish Renewal Communities.