The Union for Reform Judaism is “encouraged” by the composition of Israel’s incoming governing coalition, URJ President Rabbi Richard Jacobs told The Jerusalem Post in a telephone interview on Monday. The URJ describes itself as the largest Jewish movement in North America, representing around one and half million constituents belonging to more than 900 affiliated congregations. Jacobs said that as the “largest movement in Jewish life” in the United States, the URJ is “very encouraged by the prominence of freedom of religion in the [Israeli political] debate.
“We are hopeful that the new coalition will stand for the Jewish people and make sure that Israel is a country that provides the widest Jewish set of opportunities for engagement and for the important moments in the life cycle, including marriage, divorce [and] conversion,” he said.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is expected to present his new coalition to President Shimon Peres either on Tuesday or Wednesday, with ministers being sworn in before the end of the week.
The absence of haredim (ultra-Orthodox) from the incoming coalition, which is expected to be composed of Likud Beytenu, Bayit Yehudi, Yesh Atid, Hatnua and Kadima, has shocked the haredi community in Israel and abroad.
Representatives of Agudath Israel of America, an organization representing American ultra-Orthodoxy, did not respond to requests for comment.
Jacobs said he believes “this could be a critical moment to strengthen the ties of the Diaspora, North America in particular, to the State of Israel” and to “provide Israelis, particularly secular and non-Orthodox Israelis, which is of course the majority of Israelis, with the greater Jewish freedom that we enjoy throughout the Diaspora.”
The average American Jew, he said, is aware of the lack of freedom at one of the holiest sites in Jewish life, including the Women of the Wall’s struggle for pluralistic prayer at the Western Wall.
While “not naive,” he said, American Jews “are very hopeful that there is a growing voice within the Israeli public and that voice was heard in these elections, make no mistake about it, across the political spectrum.”
Of great import, he said, was the possibility of bringing civil marriage to Israel and ending the Orthodox rabbinate’s monopoly on the institution.
Other American Jewish organizations weighed in on the new coalition as well, with the Jewish Federations of North America’s Senior Vice President for Global Operations Rebecca Caspi telling the Post that the JFNA “welcome[s] the new, democratically- elected Israeli government that is currently being formed.
“We are encouraged by many of the comments that have been made by some of the new coalition partners and the renewed focus on social issues that are so critical to Israel’s future,” she said.
“We are hopeful that impending changes will see an even closer relationship between Israel and North American Jewry, and a fairer, more equitable society in the Jewish state.”
Reacting to the news of the new government makeup and the ultra-Orthodox parties’ move to the opposition, Stanley Gold, the immediate past president of the Jewish Federation of Los Angeles and the current chair of the American branch of the Israeli religious rights NGO Hiddush, said the new coalition is great news for Israel and world Jewry.
The new coalition, he said, “enables Israel to rise from many years of political abuse which came from the haredi parties serving as a political swing vote.”
Gold said the new government presents a “rare opportunity to ring in a new political age in which Israel will pursue a civil agenda based on democracy, religious freedom, equality, and the rule of law” and that he is “cautiously optimistic.”
Farley Weiss, President of National Council of Young Israel, noted that while he “hopes that the coalition will make improvements in Israeli society,” such sweeping changes were not made during the last coalition in which haredim were not members.
At the end of the day, the biggest winners of reforms involving the role of the ultra-Orthodox may just be the haredim themselves, he said.
“To a great extent the haredim could be the big beneficiaries of the changes because the view of them in Israeli society could improve with more interaction,” he said, referring to efforts by presumptive coalition members to integrate the haredim into the military and the workforce.
“The images of haredim in Israeli society could be dramatically improved by the changes in the law.”