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4,000 Bay Area Jews Protest Israeli Bill

January 17, 1998|From Times wire reports

Nearly 4,000 Jews in the San Francisco Bay Area have signed a petition opposing a bill in Israel that would limit the definition of a Jew to someone who practices the religion's Orthodox form.

The Jewish Community Federation in San Francisco mailed the petitions to 17,000 of its donors to give American Jews, most of whom practice more liberal versions of the religion, a symbolic voice in the debate taking place in Israel's governing body, the Knesset.

The group plans to send the signatures to a government-sponsored committee in Israel that is trying to work out a compromise to allow non-Orthodox converts to be registered as Jews in Israel.

"We look to you to find a solution which will maintain Jewish unity and build an Israel where all Jews feel at home," the petition says. "Your decisions will influence the destiny of the Jewish people."

While Orthodox Jews have long dominated religious affairs in Israel, the bill would codify their control by barring recognition of non-Orthodox conversions.

"We are deeply hurt," said Wayne Feinstein, the federation's executive vice president. "We have been so supportive over the years of the people of Israel, and now they're saying I'm not Jewish, and my daughter who married a non-Jewish man is not Jewish, and my grandchildren born of that marriage are not Jewish. It's become a gut-level source of alienation for many American Jews."

The federation also is assuring donors that the $19.8 million they gave last year did not go to the Israeli government, but to charities that helped Jews from the former Soviet Union settle in Israel and to groups that promote coexistence, religious freedom, peace and tolerance.

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