It’s important that despite an individual’s beliefs or religion they are treated equally in society and afforded the same opportunities. Embracing a tolerant and inclusive religious sphere, and ensuring the unacceptability of public spaces being divided on the basis of gender are integral elements of all democratic societies.
Despite Israel’s status as the homeland of the Jewish people, struggles still exist to live up to the founders’ vision of a country for all Jews, regardless of their stream or denomination. The Ultra-Orthodox Rabbinate’s hegemony over personal status issues makes civil and gay marriage impossible and limits the rights of other spheres.
In Israel today Jews of all types are connecting or reconnecting to their Judaism, in programs supported by the New Israel Fund. Immigrants from the former Soviet Union are setting up vibrant spiritual communities and discovering their Jewish heritage. Liberal Orthodox women are finding ways to increase their role and involvement in Jewish religious ritual within the framework of halacha (religious law). Young secular Jews are flocking to new schools combining study of Jewish texts with social action inspired by Jewish values. But much remains to be done.
Although non-Orthodox Jews comprise 70% of Israel's population, a tiny percentage of the budget for Jewish culture and education is allocated to non-Orthodox expressions of Judaism. Many Israelis feel disconnected from Orthodox Judaism and develop a profound resentment of religious coercion, leading some to reject their Jewish identity in favour of a solely national affiliation. Moreover, religious extremism too often joins forces with extreme nationalism, to the detriment of democracy and to the pursuit of peace.
The New Israel Fund believes that a tolerant Israel will be a more socially cohesive Israel – within Israel itself, in its connection to Jews in the Diaspora, and in its relationships with non-Jewish citizens and neighbours.