Troubling decisions on conversion, Kotel call for urgent action

Harvey Wallace

By Harvey Wallace, Andrew Rehfeld & Heschel Raskas

We live at a time when the Jewish People in Israel and throughout the world face deep and abiding challenges, from rising global anti-Semitism to efforts to delegitimize the democratic Jewish State. These times require us to find paths to unify and bring our people together, and resist the efforts to divide. 

This is why, as the Board of Directors of the Jewish Federation of St. Louis, we were saddened and upset by two significant decisions taken last Sunday by the Cabinet of the current Government of Israel.

The first decision was to suspend the landmark Kotel/Western Wall agreement to provide proper and dignified space for Jews of every denomination to pray at Judaism’s holiest site, the Western Wall in Jerusalem.  The second decision was to advance legislation that would concentrate the authority of conversions to Judaism to the official Israeli Chief Rabbinate. This legislation would delegitimize conversions performed by Conservative and Reform rabbis, as well as the many hundreds of conversions performed by Orthodox rabbinic courts outside the official Chief Rabbinate system.

 We object to these decisions in the strongest terms because they create an unnecessary division between the State of Israel and our Jewish community. In an address to the Board of Governors of the Jewish Agency for Israel, Rabbi David Stav, an Orthodox rabbi who is Chairman of Tzohar, (an organization defined by its loyalty to halacha (Jewish law), described the Conversion decision this way: “We cannot let a minority here in Israel create a catastrophe for the Jewish People.”  


As leaders of the Jewish Federation of St. Louis we believe that these issues should not be subject to partisan politics, a position that is shared by many mainstream organizations.

In a remarkable show of unity the following organizations have objected to these actions: the Jewish Agency for Israel; the Jewish Federations of North America, and many local Federations; AIPAC; AJC; the Union for Reform Judaism; and the United Synagogue of the Conservative Movement. In a recent article Michael Oren, the former Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. from the Netanyahu Administration, said he would vote against the legislation and risk getting fired from his position as deputy minister if the legislation was not defeated.  

Jewish Federation of St. Louis has supported a range of programs to strengthen the flourishing of pluralistic Judaism in Israel. We have supported Seth Farber and ITIM, an organization that advocates for the decentralization of Conversions in Israel. We have supported programs in our partnership communities of Yokne’am and Megiddo. Indeed, the leadership of both communities has condemned the legislation, viewing it as a threat to the pluralism that they believe is critical to the state.  

Visit to view a statement of solidarity from Itzik Holavsky, the head of Megiddo regional council on Facebook.

 For the sake of unity, as the Leadership of the Jewish Federation of St. Louis, we urge the Government of Israel to reinstate the Kotel agreement immediately, and to desist from proceeding with the conversion bill. We also call upon our community to actively engage with Israeli officials, lawmakers, civic and religious leaders, to raise our voices and our concerns. 

You can help by taking the following action steps:

1.  Share this message with friends who care about Israel.

2.  Post this on Facebook.

3. Contact our Israeli Consul General in Atlanta to express your disappointment in these actions:

Ambassador Judith Varnai Shorer

Israeli Consul General to the Southeastern United States

1100 Spring St. N.W. Suite 440, Atlanta, Ga. 30309

Or via email: [email protected]

4. Continue to follow the Jewish Light ( for more information about these issues.

Follow more developments through our blog, Community Conversations. [] 

Jewish Federation of St. Louis stands unified with the People of Israel and the core values upon which the democratic Jewish State was founded. We have been here before it was established, and will continue to support its existence by fighting efforts to delegitimize its existence as a democratic Jewish State. It is more important now than ever that we not let our disagreement with a policy decision undermine this support. Read more at 

Thank you for your continued commitment and support to a vibrant Jewish community in St. Louis and the Jewish people around the world. 

Harvey Wallace is Board Chair of Jewish Federation of St. Louis. Andrew Rehfeld is President and CEO of Jewish Federation. Heschel Raskas serves on the Board of Governors of the Jewish Agency for Israel and is a past board chair of the Jewish Federation of St. Louis.