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As religious affairs minister, Matan Kahana tried to bring Israelis closer to Judaism — by reducing religious laws

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Matan Kahana was an F-16 fighter pilot in the Israeli Air Force, so he’s not one to back down from a difficult mission. When he entered politics and served as Israel’s minister of religious services in Naftali Bennett’s coalition government, Kahana gave himself a politically perilous assignment: to loosen the grip of haredi Orthodox rabbis on Israeli religious life. He pushed for significant reforms within Israel’s religious institutions and kashrut certifications and appointed women to religious councils. The Israeli press called his actions “revolutionary.” Now a Knesset member for Benny Gantz’s National Unity party, Kahana said he will fight to temper the far right and keep his reforms intact.

In our interview, Kahana talks about his own religious background, why he chose to take on a mission of reform, and how Israelis and the diaspora can find common ground.

The perception that the Orthodox have a hold on Israeli life is one of the most significant points of contention between Israel and Diaspora Jews. Is that starting to change?

Most of the Jews in Israel are Orthodox. Even the secular Jews in Israel are Orthodox. As we say here, “The synagogues that we are not going to are Orthodox synagogues.” Take me, for example. I never met a Reform Jew until I joined politics, and the first time I met a Conservative was after I was released from the army at the age of 46. All this influences the relationship between Israel and the Diaspora. We have to work together with the Jews in the Diaspora to find solutions to this to this issue. The hardest thing is the conversion issue because we don’t accept non-Orthodox conversions. Even when I was the minister of religious affairs, and I was a very revolutionary one, I made a lot of reforms in these religion-and-state issues. But we have to find a solution so we will not tear the relationship between Jews in Israel and Jews in the Diaspora. It’s very important that we continue to be am echad — one people.

The Times of Israel called you an Orthodox revolutionary. It sounds like that’s a term you embrace. What is it about your background or your personality that makes you want to take these established institutions and reform them?

That’s a very good question. The thing is, I have two legs. Of course, my right leg is an observant Jew that observes halacha and the living God and tries to do all the mitzvot. But my other leg is where I spent all of my adult life with the most secular people in Israel — the pilots in the Israeli Air Force. So, I thought that a person like me could bring a solution to these rifts. You can’t force anyone to believe in God. And you can’t force anyone to be a religious Jew. And I believe that if we do as much as we can to reduce forcing people, they will come by themselves. This is what I tried to do, to reduce religious laws, and hopefully, they will try to be more and more close to Judaism.

You’re a relative newcomer to politics. As you know, Israeli politics is a rough business. What have you learned so far?

I learned that it’s totally different from what I knew in the air force and in the army, where there is competition, but everyone wants you to succeed. In politics, everyone wants you to fail, and they will be happy to see you fail. Everything in politics comes with a price. If you and I want the same thing, but you want it a bit more than me, it will cost you.

What are your priorities now as a member of the Knesset?

I will fight to preserve some of the changes that I made. And I hope that they will not erase everything. I’m very afraid about what they are going to do when the opposition is very weak, and the coalition is very strong. I will have to make sure that things are going in the right direction. In every field that they will deal with — in security, the law, religion and state, economics, everything — we should watch them and see that they’re going the right way. Even in the field of connection to the Diaspora Jews, I am very afraid that it’s not going to be very simple.

The Z3 conference is focused on fostering a sense of Jewish unity. What do you think are the biggest obstacles to unity between Israel and the diaspora?

I will start with the relationship between the Orthodox Jews in Israel and Reform and Conservative Jews in the Diaspora. In my days as the minister of religious affairs, at least I had some conversations with non-Orthodox Jews in the Diaspora. When I was visiting the United States, I visited Reform synagogues. Maybe I didn’t deliver all that they wanted, but they knew that I would always listen to them. I am not so sure that the next minister of religious affairs will want to meet them at all. 

Let’s say we put you in charge tomorrow. What is the ideal relationship between synagogue and state? How would you set things up?

What’s happening is that extremists from both sides have been influencing what’s happening in Israel. The ultra-Orthodox are telling us how we should act and, on the other side, there are also secular extremists that will not accept any kind of agreement. So, if the normal people in the middle of this political mess gather together and say, “We want some agreements,” everyone will give a little bit. Each side will compromise a little bit—not fulfill all our dreams, but we will be able to live together in harmony.


The post As religious affairs minister, Matan Kahana tried to bring Israelis closer to Judaism — by reducing religious laws appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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Obituaries

PHYLLIS POLLOCK

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Phyllis Pollock died at home Sunday September 3, 2023 in Winnipeg, after a courageous lifetime battle with cancer.
Phyllis was a mother of four: Gary (Laura), daughter Randi, Steven (deceased in 2010) (Karen), and Robert. Phyllis also had two grandchildren: Lauren and Quinn.
Born in Fort Frances, Ontario on February 7, 1939, Phyllis was an only child to Ruby and Alex Lerman. After graduating high school, Phyllis moved to Winnipeg where she married and later divorced Danny Pollock, the father of her children. She moved to Beverly Hills in 1971, where she raised her children.
Phyllis had a busy social life and lucrative real estate career that spanned over 50 years, including new home sales with CoastCo. Phyllis was the original sales agent for three buildings in Santa Monica, oceanfront: Sea Colony I, Sea Colony II, and Sea Colony. She was known as the Sea Colony Queen. She worked side by side with her daughter Randi for about 25 years – handling over 600 transactions, including sales and leases within the three phases of Sea Colony alone.
Phyllis had more energy than most people half her age. She loved entertaining, working in the real estate field, meeting new and interesting people everyday no matter where she went, and thrived on making new lifelong friends. Phyllis eventually moved to the Sea Colony in Santa Monica where she lived for many years before moving to Palm Desert, then Winnipeg.
After battling breast cancer four times in approximately 20 years, she developed metastatic Stage 4 lung cancer. Her long-time domestic partner of 27 years, Joseph Wilder, K.C., was the love of her life. They were never far apart. They traveled the world and went on many adventures during their relationship. During her treatment, Phyllis would say how much she missed work and seeing her clients. Joey demonstrated amazing strength, love, care, and compassion for Phyllis as her condition progressed. He was her rock and was by her side 24/7, making sure she had the best possible care. Joey’s son David was always there to support Phyllis and to make her smile. Joey’s other children, Sheri, Kenny, Joshua and wife Davina, were also a part of her life. His kids would Facetime Phyllis and include her during any of their important functions. Phyllis loved Joey’s children as if they were her own.
Thank you to all of her friends and family who were there to support her during these difficult times. Phyllis is now, finally, pain free and in a better place. She was loved dearly and will be greatly missed. Interment took place in Los Angeles.

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Gwen Centre Creative Living Centre celebrates 35th anniversary

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By BERNIE BELLAN Over 100 individuals gathered at the Gwen Secter Centre on Tuesday evening, July 18 – under the big top that serves as the venue for the summer series of outdoor concerts that is now in its third year at the centre.
The occasion was the celebration of the Gwen Secter Centre’s 35th anniversary. It was also an opportunity to honour the memory of Sophie Shinewald, who passed away at the age of 106 in 2019, but who, as recently as 2018, was still a regular attendee at the Gwen Secter Centre.
As Gwen Secter Executive Director Becky Chisick noted in her remarks to the audience, Sophie had been volunteering at the Gwen Secter Centre for years – answering the phone among other duties. Becky remarked that Sophie’s son, Ed Shinewald, had the phone number for the Gwen Secter Centre stored in his phone as “Mum’s work.”

Raquel Dancho (left), Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St.Paul, and Nikki Spigelman, President, Gwen Secter Centre


Remarks were also delivered by Raquel Dancho, Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St. Paul, who was the only representative of any level of government in attendance. (How times have changed: I remember well the steadfast support the former Member of the Legislature for St. John’s, Gord Mackintosh, showed the Gwen Secter Centre when it was perilously close to being closed down. And, of course, for years, the area in which the Gwen Secter Centre is situated was represented by the late Saul Cherniack.)
Sophie Shinewald’s granddaughter, Alix (who flew in from Chicago), represented the Shinewald family at the event. (Her brother, Benjamin, who lives in Ottawa, wasn’t able to attend, but he sent a pre-recorded audio message that was played for the audience.)
Musical entertainment for the evening was provided by a group of talented singers, led by Julia Kroft. Following the concert, attendees headed inside to partake of a sumptuous assortment of pastries, all prepared by the Gwen Secter culinary staff. (And, despite my asking whether I could take a doggy bag home, I was turned down.)

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Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station

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This is a developing story.

(JTA) — Palestinian gunmen killed four people and wounded four in a terror attack at a gas station near the West Bank settlement of Eli, the Israeli army reported.

An Israeli civilian returning fire at the scene of the attack on Tuesday killed one of the attackers, who emerged from a vehicle, and two others fled.

Kan, Israel’s public broadcaster, said one of those wounded was in serious condition. The gunmen, while in the vehicle, shot at a guard post at the entry to the settlement, and then continued to the gas station which is also the site of a snack bar. A nearby yeshiva went into lockdown.

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant announced plans to convene a briefing with top security officials within hours of the attack. Kan reported that there were celebrations of the killing in major West Bank cities and in the Gaza Strip, initiated by terrorist groups Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Hamas said the shooting attack Tuesday was triggered by the Jenin raid.

The shooting comes as tensions intensify in the West Bank. A day earlier, Israeli troops raiding the city of Jenin to arrest accused terrorists killed five people.

The Biden administration spoke out over the weekend against Israel’s plans to build 4,000 new housing units for Jewish settlers in the West Bank. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also finalized plans to  transfer West Bank building decisions to Bezalel Smotrich, the extremist who is the finance minister. Smotrich has said he wants to limit Palestinian building and expand settlement building.

Kan reported that the dead terrorist was a resident of a village, Urif, close to Huwara, the Palestinian town where terrorists killed two Israeli brothers driving through in February. Settlers retaliated by raiding the village and burning cars and buildings.


The post Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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