This June, NIF Australia is bringing Mickey Gitzin from grantee Israel Hofshit (Be Free Israel) to talk about religious freedom in Israel. Mickey is being brought to Australia in conjunction with Limmud Oz Sydney, and will also be speaking at Yom Limmud Melbourne.
Who are Mickey Gitzin and Israel Hofshit?
Israel Hofshit ("Be Free Israel") is a Zionist nonpartisan movement which cleaves to the spirit of Israel’s Declaration of Independence. At its core is the belief that all individuals have the right to live freely, as he or she chooses, and we extend that view towards all Israeli citizens regardless of their religion, gender, racial or ethnic identity. We also demand Israeli recognition of the various streams of Judaism, beyond Orthodox, in Israel and around the world Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist, Liberal, Progressive, and Secular.
Israel Hofshit promotes an Israel that:
- Abides by the rule of law as determined by the democratic institutions of the state, and provides equally for all citizens, Jewish, and non-Jewish, practicing, and non-practicing.
- Prioritizes a comprehensive, well-rounded education for all Israelis such that they can become contributing members of society including the study of the rights and responsibilities of citizenship.
- Adheres to the highest ethical standards, actively opposes racism, sexism and all bigotry.
Mickey Gitzin is the Executive director of "Israel Hofshit" (Be Free Israel), a grassroots organization that aims to influence public opinion and policy making on the issues of religion and state in Israel. You can read a profile of Mickey in Tablet Magazine.
Previously, Mickey was the Spokesperson of MK Ilan Gilon (Meretz). Prior to his work with Gilon, Mickey was a Project Director at European Friends of Israel (EFI), a Brussels based organization which aims to improve relationships between the European Parliament and Israel. Additionally, Mickey worked as the Associate Director of "Festival Beshekel" an Israeli non-profit, which works to develop avenues for cultural and artistic expression in the periphery of Israel.
After completing his military service as an Intelligence Officer at the IDF, Mickey served as an Emissary (Shaliach) for the Jewish Agency for Israel under the auspice of the Jewish Federation of South Band, Indiana. Mickey holds an MSc in Public policy from the University College London, as a Chevening scholarship awarded by the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the British Council.
Why is religious freedom in Israel an issue?
To fulfil the vision of its founders, Israel must always be a country for all its citizens, including all its Jews, whatever their beliefs, background and practices. NIF in Israel works to promote religious freedom in Israel, to foster a more tolerant society that embraces the rich diversity of Jewish identity, and that creates a sphere of non-religious, civil law for all Israeli citizens.
However, the currently reality in Israel does not reflect that. The Ultra-Orthodox control over life-cycle events like birth, marriage, divorce and burial in Israel creates a restrictive environment. For example, in Israel, there is only one way for Jews to get married -- by an Ultra-Orthodox rabbi. This means progressive rabbis are not recognised by the state, gay marriage is impossible.
This manifests itself in other ways, too. Until recent judicial intervention sparked by NIF grantees, some bus lines in Israel enforced separate seating, with women forced to sit at the back of the bus. Issues still exist for women and non-Orthodox Jews wishing to pray as they want at the Kotel, with restrictions on singing, wearing tallitot and saying Kaddish in place.
The current Ultra-Orthodox hegemony and domination of religious aspects for Jews in Israel is in direct conflict with democratic values -- it restricts religious freedom and encourages extreme nationalism (the kind you see with Price Tag incidents, and in race-related tensions during some soccer games) -- and isn't reflective of the culture the majority of Jews would like for Israel.
If Israel is to be a state where all Jews are treated equally it is important for changes to be made -- this is the type of work being supported by New Israel Fund grantees in Israel.