Globe Briefs March 17

Globe Briefs March 17

Bill restricting non-Orthodox mikvah use in Israel advances

A bill that would bar Conservative and Reform conversions from taking place at public ritual baths in Israel passed an initial Cabinet committee vote, but only three of the committee’s 12 members were on hand for the vote.

The members of the Ministerial Committee on Legislation who did vote Sunday unanimously passed the measure. The remaining nine members chose to be absent, according to reports.

Israel’s governing coalition is now obligated to support the bill when it reaches the Knesset floor, though subsequent votes will be delayed until the coalition agrees on its wording.

The bill was proposed by the haredi Orthodox United Torah Judaism faction and supported by the haredi Shas party, as well as by some members of the Religious Zionist Jewish Home party.

Those who voted reportedly were Yariv Levin of Likud, David Azoulay of Shas and Yaakov Litzman of United Torah Judaism.

The bill aims to override a Supreme Court decision in February mandating that the ritual baths, or mikvahs, be open to Conservative and Reform conversions. Along with prohibiting that practice, the measure also may require that women immerse under the supervision of a mikvah attendant to ensure it is conducted according to Orthodox Jewish law.

Members of Jewish Home, along with the center-right Kulanu party, objected to the wording of the mikvah attendant provision, according to Israeli reports. The bill will not be passed until the factions reach a consensus wording.

Religious pluralism activists and non-Orthodox leaders objected to the Cabinet vote. The head of Israel’s Conservative movement, Yizhar Hess, said the bill was “a law opposing the Jewish people,” and the leader of Israel’s Reform movement, Rabbi Gilad Kariv, wrote on Facebook Sunday that the bill hurts modern Orthodox Jews as well as the Conservative and Reform movements.

“Integrity, fairness and pleasantness are apparently not part of their 613 commandments,” Kariv wrote, referring to the haredi parties. “Gradually, there’s an ever-sharper recognition that the divide is not between Orthodox and Reform, but between those who believe in a Jewish and democratic state and those who want a theocracy and halachic state according to Shas and United Torah Judaism.”

Jewish trans woman of color named senior White House LGBT liaison

Less than a year after becoming the first openly transgender person to serve in the White House, a Jewish woman of color has been promoted to serve as its senior liaison to the LGBT community.

Raffi Freedman-Gurspan, a Honduras native who was raised in Brookline, Mass., by Jewish parents, will serve as the White House’s “lead point of contact” for LGBT groups, BuzzFeed News reported Monday.

Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, Freedman-Gurspan’s former employer, praised the appointment.

“Raffi’s skills and personality make her the exact right person for this important job,” Keislin told BuzzFeed.

Freedman-Gurspan, who is in her late 20s, was “a powerful leader for trans inclusion” in her Brookline synagogue, Temple Beth Zion, according to the Jewish LGBT advocacy group Keshet. She also was active in the Jewish Student Union as an undergraduate at St. Olaf College in Minneapolis.

Although Freedman-Gurspan was the first transgender White House staffer, another Jewish woman, Amanda Simpson, was the first transgender individual to hold a position in the U.S. executive branch. President Barack Obama appointed Simpson in 2010 to senior technical adviser in the Bureau of Industry and Security at the Department of Commerce.

Israeli tourist killed in Peru extreme adventure accident

An Israeli backpacker has died in an extreme sporting accident in the Peruvian city of Cusco.

Orel Guetta, 24, of Kfar Saba, fell to his death after a cable malfunctioned on the Tarzan pendulum attraction, which swings riders along a canyon from a harness more than 300 feet in the air. His body was taken to the SOS clinic, where two friends identified him.

After having completed his Israeli military service, Guetta like many young Israelis was celebrating his entry into civilian life by backpacking on a months-long trip to South America. He and his two friends had already visited Argentina and Brazil; they had intended to head back home in July.

Guetta had contacted his family on Sunday and said, “Cusco is the most beautiful place on Earth.” Israel’s Foreign Ministry is working with the Israeli Embassy in Lima to repatriate the body back to Israel.

Last April, a 24-year-old Israeli, Max Sela from Shoham, died in a similar accident in the South American country. Sela, a former commander in the IDF’s Engineering Corps, died when he fell from a zip-line ramp in the popular tourist destination Machu Picchu.