Nearly two dozen residents from the greater Riverdale area penned an open letter last month asking the Riverdale Jewish community leadership to guide their congregants regarding the controversial judiciary reform proposal being floated in Israel.
In the three weeks since, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has paused its enactment until a consensus can be reached with Israel’s parliament, the Knesset. This followed a one-day general strike and protests by thousands opposing the reform plan — an opposition that includes Israeli president Isaac Herzog.
It calls for a series of initiatives that would include the following:
• An “override clause” designed to curtail judicial review of legislation.
• Changes to the makeup of the judicial selection committee designed to ensure the government controls appointments to the bench.
• Cancellation of the “standard of extreme unreasonableness” utilized by the supreme court to intervene in executive orders.
• The transformation of ministerial legal advisors into political appointees.
Through the cooperation of The Riverdale Y’s chief operating officer Matt Abrams Gerber, The Riverdale Press received some response from Riverdale’s Jewish rabbinical leadership. The Y is a convener of the Riverdale Jewish Community Partnership.
The Hebrew Institute of Riverdale hosted an Israeli constitutional law expert to speak on the judicial reform. That person talked about it and the situation in Israel in many written and spoken communications to the synagogue, and some clergy attended — and one even spoke — at a recent New York City gathering in support of a democratic Israel.
Rabbi Shmuel Hain of Young Israel Ohab Zedek of North Riverdale & Yonkers will devote his Shabbat HaGadol Discourse to the topic of division and unity as expressed through Yachatz at the Passover Seder. This year’s talk will consist of in-depth scholarship and lessons to be derived for the divides in Israel, and in our own community.
The Conservative Synagogue Adath Israel of Riverdale issued a message to its community March 22:
“Many of us are following the unfolding political crisis in Israel and are experiencing a range of emotions, including deep concern and anxiety. As much of the American Jewish community — including the conservative movement — has expressed, we believe that major reforms to government structure should only come through negotiations which reflect a consensus of Israeli society, and preserve Israel’s unique character as both a democratic and Jewish state.”
Rabbi Linda Shriner-Cahn of Congregation Tehillah called for action in her mitzvah of the week on March 17.
“Israel is on my mind and in my heart this week,” she wrote. “With that in mind, I invite you to be a listening ear to those you know who live there and are subject to the current stressful situation. Seemingly small actions can make a difference.
What we have learned over the last three years is that we feel better when we know those out there are concerned about us.
“The mitzvah that I invite you us to take part in this week is to reach out — not for a political conversation, unless that’s where they lead you — but rather to find out how those you know are coping with yet another stressful situation.”
We applaud these rabbis and organizations for addressing this issue that could damage Israel’s democracy. We call for more rabbis to either share their guidance, or take some kind of action to lead their congregants in this time of need.