"Welcome. I am happy to see you in the Knesset, because I think that regarding all sorts of issues, there is tremendous importance to the community. It seems that there is nothing that is self-evident about Diaspora Jewry – in every sense of the matter. I am glad you are here because I hope that in this event, and in the future, you will meet with Knesset members and present them with your situation and approach to various issues. It is of great importance.
I do not have much to say about the Western Wall Compromise Agreement, which is one of the most burning issues for all of us. I hope that at some point there will be a change in the government's position. I hold the unpopular opinion that I do not see it as a religious matter but rather a political one and therefore it can be easily gotten rid of. You cannot easily solve halakhic matters, but in regard to this issue I think it is merely a question of technical arrangements without anyone changing his or her beliefs or being persuaded to do something that is against his or her will. I do not know what the chances are, in my opinion not very high, because it is easier to resolve these issues close to the beginning of the term and the closer we get to the elections, the harder it is. I hope there will be a change, I still do not understand how we dragged this issue on for so long.
The coalition is relatively stable after many weeks of turmoil. There was a lot of legislation. I hope and believe it is over. Right now, the finance minister is in an argument regarding the budget, which will be submitted for the Knesset's approval this month. If the budget passes in the current session then I think we may expect the elections only in 2019. This gives us an opportunity (although there are more emotions close to the elections) to explore the relationship between Israel and the Diaspora. It's not that I have an easy solution to the issue, but I would say that I have the feeling that we need to look deeper at all kinds of issues that are on the surface, for which we are offering easy solutions. We hear all the time that the Jewish youth in the United States, but also in Europe, is moving away from Israel, and cannot identify with it. Why? Is it because of the government's policy? Lack of public relations? There are all kinds of explanations. I think it is very shallow to say this. What bothers me is in my position I frequently travel throughout the world and I also receive guests here, and Israel is currently very popular in the world. I know that it is actually popular to say that Israel is isolated, but sometimes I say that maybe Israel should be more isolated because I do not have time to make myself available to all those that wish to come and visit here. The day after Vice President Pence’s speech, I flew to Brussels, which is not the most supportive country of Israel, and we had disagreements about various issues, however as to the general attitude and the desire to meet and talk – I'm not sure that there was ever a time when Israel enjoyed such popularity.
When I hear about youth on campuses that do not identify with Israel – I was witness to it myself. I received an email before I came to Penn University, that asked why I came to speak in the first place, because the that Jewish student identifies with India to the same extent as with Israel. I see Birthright's research among its participants – and the picture is the opposite. People who never before identified with Israel come here for 10 days and change their minds completely. Things go deeper than they seem. The change begins in the family, in the Jewish schools, in the synagogues, with rabbis from all movements who do not mention Israel because they do not see it as of great importance. And if we want to be sure that in another fifty years we will be able to meet and it will be relevant to both sides, it is important that we remove the slogans from the agendas and try to think together "what could I have done differently to improve the relationship", so that the younger generation in Israel will become better acquainted with the Diaspora. It would be a good way to start the change and move in the right direction.
In response to this statement, Rabbi Gordon Tucker, the Rabbi of the New York congregation, replied: "Of course we educate the congregations and youth to love Israel, but there is a strong feeling that Israel does not love us back. Our real concern is that we lose the youth who feel that they do not identify with Israel and who move away from their Judaism.”
MK Edelstein: "If everything is okay on one side and the other side is holding the ball, then all I can say is that you have to talk to the Israelis. I do not speak specifically about the Masorti Movement, but if all the rabbis educate the younger generation with a Zionist approach and they and you would teach your children to love Israel, how is that there a young generation that does not identify with Israel? I am talking about a generation from a city that come from families which themselves feel alienated from Israel. If I do not start looking into what's wrong with Israel, and it's not nice to criticize the prime minister and the decision about the Western Wall, but many people did. But if all is well on your side then I do not know how to help. It is very common to criticize the government from the opposition, they always know how to say what is wrong. In my position if you criticize the party for not implementing its promise it's not a nice experience. I'm not asking for applause, I did not do it for that. I did it because I worry about the undesirable gap between Israel and the Diaspora. We are looking for deeper problems – twenty years ago did you have any egalitarian prayers or mikvaot? Change takes too long, but it's not that the situation is getting worse in Israel.
I personally dealt with the situation of an Orthodox convert whose conversion was not approved. I tell you there are problems and we are trying to do something about it, but as long as the other side says everything is perfect with them, then we have nothing more to talk about. I apologize, I'll do my homework – that's not the dialogue I'm talking about. This does not explain how it is possible that so many Taglit-Birthright participants can change their positions by 180 degrees after seeing this "terrible" State.
Marriage in Israel is one of the most difficult tasks in the field of religion and state. It's not that I can talk about such significant progress, but we started to deal with this issue many years ago. It very much depends on who is the chief rabbi and how much he is open to the subject. I can say – it is very common in the media to read articles about young citizens who are killed in the army or in a terrorist attack and who cannot be buried. Over the last 20 years we have not heard of such cases – it was not easy to reach this situation but it was without declaring our request to open the cemeteries for this type of burial. After our agreements were accepted by the Chief Rabbi of Israel we received letters from local rabbis who opposed the burial of non-Jews. In the current coalition I cannot report progress on this issue. I hope we can make progress soon. Of course, we will not reach a comprehensive solution immediately, but we are at least talking about the possibility of beginning to promote the registration of marriages of couples, one of whom is not Jewish. My good friends in the ultra-Orthodox parties say that we want to start something and reach a very negative direction at the end. I'll say once more – it takes a lot of hard work, and I think you play an important role in assisting the process, talking with Knesset members and bringing them the data. Slowly, we hope that the situation will change. The most important thing is for each of us to consider what each of us can do without blaming the other side, because that does not help us make any progress.”