Bolster efforts to nourish pluralism

The relationship between Israeli and diaspora Jewry is undergoing profound re-examination — politically, ideologically, financially.

Just how should American Jews relate to Israel? Should they unhesitatingly support it, politically and financially, no matter what?

That question has surfaced with increasing frequency the longer Israel has existed as a modern state. When Israel was in its infancy nearly 50 years ago, the answer was simple: Help the Zionist enterprise, which will not survive otherwise.

Now that Israel is a strong nation with an emerging financial market, the question of U.S. Jewish financial support is a far more complicated one.

While we want to support our family and friends in Israel, the relationship we have with many of them is getting strained because of religious intolerance on their part. Too often the Judaism that we know and practice in the diaspora seems foreign from the Jewish rituals being followed in Israel. Carry these discrepancies far enough and you not only wonder who is a "better" Jew but who is a Jew, period.

The debate is not only about Israel's Jewish nature, it's about the nature of world Jewry.

Now the Jewish Federation of the Greater East Bay has stepped in, pledging to raise money specifically for Jewish pluralism projects in Israel.

The campaign echoes other Bay Area efforts, and will likely rebound as far as Jerusalem. And it should.

Israeli ultra-religious Jews should have every right to protect and nourish halachah, or Jewish law. Likewise any Jew who comes to Israel should be free to not follow halachah, or to practice Judaism as Reform or Conservative Jews.

For if Israel is to survive as a modern democracy and not a theocracy, we need to bolster efforts to build its diversity. The East Bay federation's initiative, which in word and deed follows that path, is a promising reminder that we can, and should, play a role in shaping the Jewish state.