In a clear effort to mend relations with the non-Orthodox streams of Judaism, Reuven Rivlin met a high-level delegation of Conservative Jewish leaders on Wednesday – his first such encounter since assuming the position of president of Israel.
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“If my family had ended up in the United States and not in Israel, who knows what kind of synagogue I would have joined,” he told the delegation. “But I was born in Jerusalem and was educated as a Jerusalemite. We are all one family, however, and I respect and recognize, lovingly and genuinely, people who have chosen a different Jewish identity than my own.”
Leaders of the non-Orthodox movements had expressed deep concern about Rivlin’s appointment, after it had emerged that in a statement made 15 years ago, he had referred to Reform Judaism as “idol worship and not Judaism.” Rivlin himself is not observant.
A longstanding member of the Likud Party and a former speaker of the Knesset, Rivlin took over the presidency in late July. He has not yet met with leaders of the Reform movement, nor does he have specific plans to.
The Conservative movement delegation was headed by Richard Skolnik, the international president of The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism.
Following the meeting, Steven Wernick, the executive vice president of USCJ, issued the following statement: “We’re pleased to have met with President Rivlin and to discuss what we believe to be Israel’s second largest problem – religious pluralism and the recognition and support of the diverse streams of Judaism.”
During the meeting, Rivlin thanked the leaders of the Conservative movement for their support of Israel during the recent war in Gaza. “Your visit to Israel is a statement and shows the true commitment of the Conservative movement to confront the challenges facing Israel and the world Jewish community, which include preserving Jewish tradition in the Diaspora and fighting anti-Semitism and hatred of Israel.”
Skolnik noted that during the war, the Conservative movement had not canceled any of its delegation visits to Israel, not had any representatives of the movement cut short their trips in Israel. “It’s important to us and to you that our people feel at home here,” he said, “ and that Israel respect them like they respect her.”
Yizhar Hess, the executive director of the movement in Israel, issued the following response to the meeting: “The warm and jovial meeting with President Rivlin did not surprise me. As a true democrat, a Jew with deep roots and a leader who was always committed to human and civil rights, the president understands well that in his current role he functions also at the president of the entire Jewish people, and there is, obviously, more than one way to be a Jew.”