The founder of Limmud FSU, Chaim Chesler, issued a sharp challenge this week to Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky about the role of Israel’s Reform and Conservative Jews.
Sharansky was speaking at one of the last of more than 80 sessions of a Limmud conference for Jews from the Former Soviet Union (FSU) in San Francisco.
At a panel examining the “untold story of Soviet Jewry”, Sharansky, arguably the world’s most famous refusenik, paid tribute to the diaspora Jewish activists who had demonstrated and visited and agitated for Soviet Jews, making it clear “we were all one family and the Jewish world cared about us”, contrary to what the KGB repeatedly told refusniks.
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When asked about the many different groups that worked for Soviet Jewry, Sharansky said: “If the students and housewives wouldn’t have started pushing, the establishment wouldn’t have done anything… We can learn a lot from the Soviet Jewry struggle, how the diaspora strengthened each other and strengthened Israel.”
Chesler, himself a former director of the Israel Public Council for Soviet Jewry, pointed out that in America the bulk of the campaigners are of Reform and Conservative backgrounds.
“They did their job,” he told the Jewish Agency chairman, “and now they are treated as second-class citizens in Israel. How can you live with it?”