OU Resolves to Help Gush Katif & Differ w/ Gov´t (if Necessary)

The Orthodox Union (OU) convention in Jerusalem last week passed at least two significant resolutions - including one enabling the taking of public positions contrary to those of the Israeli gov't.

Hillel Fendel , | updated: 11:38 AM

Close to 1,000 North American Jews gathered in Jerusalem last week for the OU's 108th Anniversary Biennial Convention. The delegates discussed such issues as military and religious perspectives on Israel’s security challenges; rifts within the Religious-Zionist community; the proper role for Diaspora Jewry in Israel’s decision making; the debate over enacting a constitution for Israel; and more. The convention was addressed by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Opposition Leader Binyamin Netanyahu, and others.

Learning from Errors
Among the resolutions passed was one that appeared to provide a sterling example of learning from mistakes and rectifying them.

In its convention two years ago, the OU did not take a strong stand against the Disengagement plan, to the consternation of many of its constituents in Israel and the U.S. Instead, the OU sufficed with a statement that it is "deeply aware that questions of Israeli foreign policy and domestic security are best left to the citizens of Israel and the State of Israel’s democratically elected institutions."

The OU resolved at the time only "to continue to mobilize public and communal support for a secure State of Israel, while sharing, sensitively and with due discretion, the full range of our constituents’ views on divisive issues with appropriate representatives of the Israeli and American governments."

This, despite what the OU called "the profound identification that so many in our community feel with the plight of Jews who face removal from their homes in areas that resonate in Jewish history, and where their presence was encouraged and supported by the State of Israel."

(It is of interest to note that several months later, in the summer of 2005, the OU did take a stand in demanding that Attorney General Menachem Mazuz protect citizens' right to protest against the expulsion plan.)

At last week's convention, however, the tone was very different than that of two years ago. Many speakers spoke of the "tragedy" and "fiasco" of the Disengagement plan, and of the OU's failure in not speaking out against it. As such, the following resolution was passed: "The Orthodox Union, in exceptional circumstances, may take public positions contrary to those of the Government of Israel. Such action shall be taken upon approval by the Board of Directors of the Executive Committee."

The resolution, though accompanied by intense debate, was passed by what participants called a "very healthy" margin.

One leading delegate, Rabbi Yehoshua S. Hecht, the President of the Rabbinical Council of Connecticut, told Arutz-7, "This is a radical departure from previous OU policy. One speaker even compared our silence two years ago to that of Stephen Wise before the Holocaust. But there is now a different generation - people who are media-savvy, who read Arutz-7 and know what is going on and can come to their own decisions. The rank-and-file want to see a leadership that is more independent."

"The OU has very good relationships with and access to Israeli government officials," another delegate said, "but it was felt that this must not come at the expense of our constituents in Israel."

Standing With the Expellees
Another resolution passed by the OU - this one unanimously - called for continuing aid to the evacuees from Gush Katif and northern Shomron. It is a call "not to 'stand by your brother's blood,'" one delegate said.

The resolution calls upon the OU's constituent communities to provide financial aid for a host of programs and causes designed to help the evacuees. In addition, "the OU shall continue to advocate, in the Jewish umbrella organizations in which we sit, to raise awareness regarding [the evacuees'] plight and seek necessary support for them."

Regarding the Israeli government, the OU resolved to "advocate in its meetings with Israeli government officials for the full compensation and rehabilitation of the Gaza and Northern Shomron evacuees, requesting that the [government declare this] a national mission of appropriate priority."

The OU specified that the government should "allow for appropriate flexibility in the Compensation Law to provide the necessary compensation for property, housing, farms and businesses... [and] encourage the preservation of communal ties and [provide] support to rejuvenate their once-rich communal lives, and work to addresses the alienation [felt] by the youth... and continue to provide services until they have sufficiently settled in permanent dwellings."

As a sign of the enthusiasm with which this resolution was accepted, one delegate pledged a sum of several thousand dollars towards the work that the OU is already carrying out in Nitzan. Several hundred former Gush Katif families live in temporary dwellings in Nitzan, just north of Ashkelon, rendering it the largest concentration of such families in the country.

Rafi Ibn-Denan of Jerusalem, who coordinates the OU's youth work in Nitzan, explained to Arutz-7, "We have a variety of programs in Nitzan, most of which deal with youth at risk - a problem that was barely known in Gush Katif, but has now become more prevalent among that population. There is a problem of school drop-outs and youths simply not showing up to class - what we called 'camouflaged drop-outs.' We have been operating a mo'adon [club, meeting group] for about a year already..."

" When we talk of youth at risk," Ibn-Denan said, "there are several levels of risk, and we first try to deal with those in the most immediate danger. With more resources, we can offer help to those on the next levels, etc."