An organization that brings Jewish mothers on heavily subsidized trips to Israel said on Sunday that it would no longer bar non-Orthodox rabbis from participating. The announcement came several days after Haaretz reported on the policy.
In a statement, Momentum, which likes to refer to itself as “Birthright for Moms,” said its policy regarding the participation of clergy on its trips had hitherto been “unclear” and that it has now been “revised.” The group has no affiliation with Birthright-Taglit.
The statement was issued in response to questions from Haaretz regarding the recent case of a prominent Conservative rabbi from South Florida who had planned to lead a group of women from her husband’s congregation on a Momentum trip to Israel this coming fall, only to learn that her application had been rejected. When she demanded an explanation, representatives of the organization said that a decision had been made years ago not to allow female clergy to lead trips.
The rabbi in question, Cheryl Jacobs, made the prestigious Forward list of North America’s most inspirational rabbis several years ago. She heads an organization that provides mentorship and guidance to non-affiliated Jews during life cycle events.
Both Cheryl Jacobs and her husband Rabbi Andrew Jacobs had notified friends, congregants and followers of the initial decision to bar her from the trip in posts they published on Facebook, which drew dozens of angry responses. Rabbi Andrew Jacobs is the spiritual leader of Ramat Shalom, a progressive congregation in Plantation, Florida.
In its statement, Momentum said that its representatives had met with Rabbi Cheryl Jacobs over the weekend and “made clear that she is welcome to lead her group.”
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“We apologize to any upset caused to Rabbi Jacobs,” it said.
Sources in Momentum told Haaretz that Rabbi Cheryl Jacobs had not yet responded to their newly extended invitation to join the group. If she does, they said, she would be the first female rabbi to lead a Momentum trip.
Asked for comment, Rabbi Cheryl Jacobs said: "Ramat Shalom has now learned of Momentum’s change in position and is considering how it will proceed."
Founded 10 years ago, Momentum is led by a woman active in the Orthodox outreach movement. It has long denied allegations of a hidden agenda of Orthodox indoctrination, insisting that its motto is “unity without uniformity.”
Yet, as the Haaretz report revealed, this was not the first time that a non-Orthodox rabbi was barred from a Momentum trip. In response, the organization said in its statement: “The other cases mentioned are not known to us and, to our knowledge, did not happen.”
Since it was founded, Momentum has brought more than 17,000 women on trips to Israel from 28 countries, according to its website. It recently instituted trips for fathers as well.
Momentum is one of the fastest growing providers of educational trips to Israel in the Jewish world. Like Birthright, which targets young Jewish singles, Momentum receives a large share of its funding from the Israeli government. Participants in Momentum trips are required to pay only for their airfare to Israel, with all other expenses on the nine-day trip covered.
Momentum partners with more than 200 organizations, many of them affiliated with Chabad and Aish Hatorah – both of which are active in Orthodox outreach. As a matter of policy, the organization does not accept observant Jews as participants. Momentum enjoys considerable support from local Jewish federations in North America.