A few weeks ago, a rabbinic court in Petach Tikvah, Israel refused recognition to one of KJ's converts. The Rabbinic court claimed that they did not "know" Rabbi Lookstein, and therefore could not validate his conversions. His convert was unable to get this ruling reversed, and she had to repeat the conversion ceremony before the rabbinate would issue her a marriage license.
We know that many of you are now concerned and have many questions: will this case affect my conversion? Will I be accepted as Jewish by potential spouses? Will my children be accepted by their peers? And some of you have said you feel humiliated as if you are not true Jews.
Nothing could be further from the truth. It bears repeating a fundamental Jewish teaching: converts are beloved members of the Jewish people. The great Rabbinic sage Maimonides writes in his Letter to Obadiah the Convert that "no difference exists between you and us." Not only that, Maimonides recognizes the enormous sacrifices converts make to join the Jewish people, and says "While we (i.e., naturally born Jews) are the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, you (converts) derive (your Jewish identity directly) from Him through whose word the world was created." The spiritual journey you have taken is inspiring and heroic; no one can impugn your Jewish identity in the eyes of God. Indeed, anyone who insults you insults God, who cherishes the convert. And at KJ, our Rabbis, leadership and congregants are here to support you unconditionally.
Sadly, this convert's situation is due to the bureaucratic pettiness and religious fanaticism in one Rabbinic Court. However, several organizations are now working to change the way the Rabbinate in Israel treats sincere converts. In fact, in the wake of this case, both of Israel's Chief Rabbis announced that they accept Rabbi Lookstein's conversions.
Most importantly, any convert who intends to move to Israel should please consult with the Rabbis at KJ, to ensure that they present their credentials to a rabbinic court that is familiar with Rabbi Lookstein and our standards for conversion. We believe that we can prevent this from happening again.
We know this is a troubling issue for everyone. Please let us know if you would like to speak further about this.
May God bless you and support you in all of your endeavors.
Haskel Lookstein Chaim Steinmetz Elie Weinstock Daniel and Rachel Kraus
Friday, July 15, 2016
Thursday, July 14, 2016
(originally appeared in the Canadian Jewish News)
It was a daring rescue in hostile territory, where even the smallest mistake could have doomed over a hundred lives. Yet this remarkable military operation succeeded; and forty years ago, on July 4th 1976, Operation Entebbe became the stuff of legends, with multiple movies and books recounting this dramatic military mission.
What is overlooked is that Operation Entebbe is much more than a heroic military rescue. Former Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi has said that Entebbe was not the most difficult or dangerous operation he was a part of in during his military career. So what made the Entebbe raid special? To Ashkenazi, it was the look on the faces of hostages. As the Israeli commandos burst into the terminal, the hostages initially reacted with fear, thinking the commandos were Ugandan soldiers coming to execute them. A few seconds later, when the hostages saw the Israeli insignia on the commandos’ uniforms, the look on the hostages faces suddenly changed to pure relief; they knew their brothers had come to the rescue. Ashkenazi says that is when he learned what it means to be an Israeli and a Jew: that each one of us must take care of each other no matter what. To be a Jew, you need to be loyal to your people.
Loyalty is a difficult virtue to understand. Ethical obligations are generally understood as categorical and universal. Ethics teaches that you cannot murder all people, and you must be respectful of all people. But loyalty is different, because it means we give special treatment to those closest to us. So why do we consider it a virtue to act with loyalty towards our family and friends?
Loyalty may be a troublesome concept for philosophers, but it has never been a question for Jews. To be a Jew means to be loyal to a community and to a tradition. We understand that we have to go above and beyond for those close to us, because this is critical in creating families and communities. Without loyalty, the Jewish community would have crumbled a long time ago. The Biblical character who is the paradigm of loyalty is Ruth. Despite being encouraged to return to a comfortable life in Moab, she insists on going with her mother in law Naomi and says: “Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God...nothing but death will separate you from me”. This is the most eloquent statement of loyalty ever spoken, as Ruth declares that her dedication to Naomi and her people knows no bounds.
What happened at Entebbe 40 years ago is an exceptional example of Jewish loyalty. Yiftach Atir, one of the soldiers on the mission, told me that in the days of preparation before the raid, the commanding officers sat everyone down and explained how risky the operation would be. They asked the soldiers if they wanted to go; immediately every soldier raised their hand. Like Ruth, they were saying “where you go I will go”.
The lessons of loyalty are not just for IDF; they are for all of us. I thought about this recently when our son Eitan made plans to join the IDF. Our friends have asked us whether we would try to stop him from enlisting. Well, we certainly hadn’t planned on Eitan enlisting in the IDF. And we are both quite nervous about him enlisting; so is every Israeli parent. But there is no escaping that loyalty to our brothers and sisters in Israel meant we had to answer yes. So with a mix of nervousness and pride, we gave Eitan our blessing. After all, Ruth taught us to be a Jew is to say “where you go I will go”. The IDF follows Ruth’s path; how could we do any less?