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US leaders talk Jewish identity politics

    Thousands of North American community leaders met Israeli politicians, entrepreneurs and social activists to debate contemporary Jewish identity at the Jewish Federations of North America General Assembly conference in Jerusalem this week.

    Assimilation, women’s rights at the Western Wall and the surprising amount of poverty in Israel were among the topics discussed.

    One of the subjects mostly hotly debated was how best to connect the next Jewish generations to Israel.

    “We love you and respect you and welcome your children, we don’t blame you for not living here,” said one MK, stressing that the exchange between Israel and diaspora communities are critical to its development.

    The annual event, held every five years in Israel, also shed light on the role foreign Jews play in religious politics. Speakers said that with religious pluralism thriving outside Israel, those foreigners should be heard on halachic issues. “Strictly-Orthodox Judaism is a legitimate choice, but it must no longer be the default position of the Jewish state,” said Rabbi Richard Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism.

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