First Israeli Congress on Judaism and Democracy

First Israeli Congress on Judaism and DemocracyThe First Israeli Congress on Judaism and Democracy meetings, which took place in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv on February 11 -12 2018, with participating public figures and experts from Israel and around the world.

The First Israeli Congress on Judaism and Democracy is the first attempt of its kind to bridge the tension between Israel’s Jewish and democratic identity. Israel is a young country, which managed in the few years since its establishment, to contribute greatly to the world in the fields of science, technology and art. However, as we prepare to celebrate its 70th anniversary, it appears Israeli society is in a dangerous place.

Israel is dealing with tension between religion and state, and is torn between different opinions, rivalries between different tribes and conflicting worldviews: right wingers and leftists, religious and secular, Arabs and Jews, wealthy and poor. Above all these, hovers the tension between Israel’s Jewish and democratic identity,which has reached a disquieting crisis point.

In an attempt to bridge the widening gaps between the different tribes, we, a group of people from businessmen and women, academics and intellectuals, in cooperation with the Bar Ilan University’s center for Jewish Law and Democracy, have established the first Israeli Congress on Judaism and Democracy. We believe that through conversation, open discussion, and mediation, Israel’s image can be reshaped in way that will benefit us all.

The principles of democracy are rooted in Judaism. There’s no reason there shouldn’t be a Jewish based democracy (OR: There’s no reason there shouldn’t a democracy that’s Jewish at its core). However, in order to achieve that, there must be public discourse not only among lawyers and jurists, but also among academics, yeshiva students, high school students, rabbis, social activists and the public at large. The discussion shouldn’t be confined to the state of Israel alone, but should also be discussed among the Jewish diaspora.

Our vision is identical to that of the founders of the state. Israel was founded on Jewish and democratic principles and is in a unique stance in which it struggles to adhere to the vision of the prophets on one hand, and the vision of the Scroll of Independence on the other. Our vision is to outline a forward-moving path for the state of Israel, which will encompass, emphasized and embody both its Jewish and Democratic facets.

On February 11th-12th, 2018 (the 26 th -27th of the month of Shvat), the first Israeli Congress on Judaism and Democracy will meet in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv with participating public figures and experts from Israel and around the world in which we’ll started to deliberate and overcome our challenges. When the differences of opinion are at their height, the pluralistic discussion itself – which includes voicing the entire spectrum of opinions – is fundamental for any Jew who cares about the future of the state of Israel. Professional negotiations over our differences are the central tools with which we strive to reach an agreement regarding the identity of
us all.

The existence of the congress is important news for Jews in Israel and all over the world: forming the identity of Israel is important for our futures and this future is in our hands.

* The assembly of the congress

The congress will be carried out in the format of a national discussion that’s based on a comprehensive mediation process and open dialogue, in order to advance overarching reconciliation between the different Israeli populations. The congress will be devoted to charged present-day matters: who is considered a Jew; marriage
and divorce; Sabbath in the public sphere; the status of minorities, the separation genders; women’s rights; who is considered a Jew in relation to the Jewish diaspora.

Alongside the theoretical discussions, we’ll launch our community mediation program on the topic of religion and state in small discussion groups led by professional community mediators.

Our festive gala for our invited guests will take place on February 11 th (26 th of Shvat), – an evening that will represent the congress’ leaders quality discussion and thought process. It will focus on renewing the bond between “Judaism” and “Democracy” and demonstrating the importance of a deliberated process. It will present the congress’ obligation to commence a deep and thought-out move in which a diverse range of groups will deliberate on selected topics, and present the result of their deliberations a year later, at the following congress. The keynote speaker will be Jewish American Senator, Joseph (Joe) Lieberman.

The following morning, February 12 th (27 th of Shvat) will take place in Tel Aviv and will deal with presenting solutions that have come up within Israeli society thus far, and the central stances and disagreements on seven select topics: Who is considered a Jew, Sabbath in the public sphere, equal distribution of responsibility, the
treatment of minorities, gender, marriage and divorce, who is considered a Jew in relation to the Jewish diaspora. The rest of the day will take place in small discussion groups on the presented topics and joint learning and opening up to towards a process of constructing social agreements.

The process of mediation and constructing social agreements are long term processes, and we suggest that the congress discussion groups form a sort of starting off point, in which some of the groups will continue working together all year long and report back to the congress the following year and present the progress they’ve made. The work within each discussion group will take place in three parts: opening lecture, joint learning and discussion regarding the point of departure and interests.

Opening discussion: The goal is to level out the basic facts regarding the discussion. It will be conducted by an expert of the topic, and will strive to be as objective as possible.

Joint learning: The goal of learning in a group setting is to voice the different viewpoints directly, while creating a personal acquaintance between the participants and breaking the ice.

Discussion regarding interests: The goal of the conversation is to create the initial step towards building an agreement. This requires moving from a discussion regarding ones stances to discussing ones interests. What are we really trying to achieve? What scares us? What guides us to participate in this process? The discussion will be lead by a certified mediator, accompanied by content administers.

– Each group will consist of 14 participants that will be selected from different identity groups within Israeli society. They will represent the scope of Israeli society: the participants will be invited to continue the process after the
completion of the first congress.

– Discussion structure: an opening discussion by a leading expert, a shared round of opinions of the participants around the discussion table, a summary of thoughts about the process and joining the social experiment.

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