Pres. Rivlin at the 13th annual Bar/Bat Mitzvah ceremony at the President’s Residence for boys and girls who were either injured themselves or who lost a parent or whose parents were permanently injured in a terrorist incident.. (photo credit:Courtesy)
A rancorous dispute has broken out between the Masorati Movement and President Reuven Rivlin over a Bar Mitzvah ceremony for autistic children, originally scheduled to take place in the children’s school in Rehovot.
In April, Rehovot mayor Rahamim Malul called off the Bar Mitzva ceremony for four autistic boys at a special-needs school in Rehovot because he objected to it being conducted in a Masorati (Conservative) synagogue by a Masorati rabbi.
The Ministry of Diaspora Affairs became involved in order to find a suitable solution and began discussions with the president’s office to conduct the ceremony at the President’s official residence in Jerusalem.
According to the Masorati movement, it was proposed that the ceremony would be jointly officiated by Masorati Rabbi Mikie Goldstein and Orthodox Rabbi Dr. Benny Lau at the President’s residence and that this was the plan agreed upon.
The Masorati movement says that the program subsequently sent out by the President’s office did not include the participation of Goldstein and would have been led by an Orthodox rabbi alone.
Senior rabbis from the Masorati movement have now written to Rivlin to protest the decision calling it “an act of cruelty,” and saying that it was based on the “contempt of Israel’s leaders for the sponsors of this program, the worldwide Conservative/Masorti movement.”
The movement believes that the Rivlin personally intervened and “reneged” on the agreement that had been drawn up.
“A modern, scientific, humanitarian, democratic state cannot deny a program to disabled children simply because of your loathing for our Jewish philosophy and practice,” the rabbis said in their letter to Rivlin, including Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, the executive vice president of the Masorati Movement’s Rabbinical Assembly and Rabbi Steven Wernick, CEO of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism.
The President’s office said in response that several compromise proposals were put forward but that the Masorati Movement rejected them, including staging the ceremony outside of the President’s residence and then having the children join Rivlin at the residence afterwards for a celebratory party.
“Unfortunately, religious figures seeking to advance their agenda through the cynical use of children, refused to respond to every framework proposed by the President's Office, and we are saddened by this approach,” the President’s Office said in response to the incident.
“In recent days, frantic efforts were made by the Director General of the President's Office, the Director of the Ministry of Diaspora Affairs, and others, to find an agreed upon solution to hold the event in a way that would not perpetuate the dispute; including holding the religious service at a different location, before the children come to the President's Residence to celebrate, or holding the event at the President's Residence without any rabbinical involvement at all from any denomination.
But these too failed due to the obstinacy of the Masorati Movement to stick with the original plan to run the event themselves.The President's Office once again invites the children to a festive reception in a way that will place them and only them at the center of the event.”