Progressive Israeli Jews Under Attack



A letter from Anat Hoffman and Gilad Kariv

Yesterday, Israel’s newly installed minister of religious affairs, David Azoulay, called the Reform movement “a disaster for the nation of Israel.” A disaster. With one word, the person chosen to be in charge of the religious affairs of all Israeli Jews denigrated an entire Jewish Movement. A movement with millions of constituents in Israel and around the world, and with a proud history of contributing to Judaism’s colorful tapestry.

Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu issued a statement last night saying that he “strongly disagrees” with Azoulay’s comments. He pledged to “ensure that Israel remains a place where all Jews can feel at home.”

This is a good start, and we commend the Prime Minister for not wasting any time in recognizing the gravity of the situation. But it is not enough. Actions speak louder than words.

This was not an isolated incident. The Orthodox establishment in Israel has a long history of slinging mud, discriminating and inciting senseless hatred against progressive Jews. Women who dare to wear a tallit and read from a Torah at the Kotel are called “provocateurs.” Conservative Rabbis are forbidden to officiate at community-organized bar/bat mitzvah ceremonies for local children with special needs because…they and their synagogues are not Orthodox. The list goes on.

It’s time for a proactive and comprehensive plan that will put this issue to bed once and for all. We have written the government to denounce this latest attacks against the Reform and Masorti/Conservative Movements in Israel, and to demand that the government initiate a strategic negotiation process with the movements to extend full rights and equality to progressive Jews.

Please share this email with your family, friends and colleagues so that they are informed about these latest developments. Stay tuned for an update from us, as we push to fulfill the Prime Minister’s pledge that Israel be a place that every Jew–Reform, Conservative, Orthodox, Ultra-Orthodox, and secular alike–can call home.

Yours,

Anat Hoffman, Executive Director, Israel Religious Action Center

Rabbi Gilad Kariv, Executive Director, Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism

Are Reform Jews a Disaster for the Jewish People?



Shalom Haverim,

Today the world awoke to yet another disparaging statement against Reform Judaism, this time by the Minister of Religious Affairs, MK (Shas) David Azoulay. Azoulay met with Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked to discuss Women of the Wall, as tomorrow is Rosh Hodesh Tamuz. During the discussion – about looking for ways to curb the group’s activity, Azoulay declared, “Reform Jews are a disaster for the people of Israel.”

The letter below was sent to PM Netanyahu on behalf of the Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism. Please contact the Prime Minister’s Office ASAP using this link about this matter, either using our language or crafting your own.

Thank you and Hodesh Tov,

Rabbi Josh Weinberg

_______________________________

Dear Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu,

As a member of the Reform Movement in North America, I strongly urge you to condemn MK Azoulay’s recent remarks, which included the statement, “Reform Jews are a disaster to the nation of Israel.”

These words are gravely upsetting to millions of Jews both in Israel and the Diaspora, and they seriously endanger the already tenuous relationship between Diaspora Jews and the State of Israel.

This type of disparaging statement from a member of the Knesset – someone who represents all denominations of Jews – is inappropriate. The statement made by MK Azoulay should be condemned, as would any similar statement that sought to offend a particular sector or group within Israeli society or the greater Jewish world. The fact that this statement was made by the Minister of Religious Affairs – the person in charge of the provision of religious services to all Jewish Israeli citizens – makes it all the more severe, and brings into question whether he is fit to serve this position in a way that gives proper respect to the basic democratic values of the State of Israel, the national homeland for Jewish people of all movements, communities, and streams. In addition, this statement seriously damages the solidarity that many Jewish communities around the world feel with the State of Israel, which is especially hurtful during a time when this crucial sense of connection is often already lacking.

In light of the severity of this statement and knowing that you are personally committed to nurturing Israel’s relationship with Diaspora Jewry, I ask that you make a public condemnation of MK Azoulay’s statement and demonstrate your government’s commitment to productive, empowering, and respectful dialogue with all circles of the Jewish world.

Sincerely,

Name
Congregation
City, State

And the envelope, please…



Shalom Haverim,

The results of the World Zionist Congress elections are in, and we are proud to report that ARZA was the clear winner. We secured 56 seats out of a possible 145 – almost 40% of the U.S. delegation, and as many seats as the next two slates combined. Thank you for your passion, your commitment, and your work.

This is a great victory for Progressive Judaism in Israel, and for all those who care about this important cause. We are now able to join with others who share our vision and continue to work for the causes and issues about which we care so deeply.

We campaigned on important issues such as religious freedom, gender equality, and a two state solution. Now we can proudly say that our delegation—the largest of the U.S.—will come together in October in Jerusalem to express our passion and involvement as well as our concern for the future. Our success in these elections comes at a critical moment for current events in Israel.

Brief Analysis:
We, the Reform and Reconstructionist movements, received almost 40% of the votes which means that liberal Judaism will hold a solid majority in the World Zionist Congress this October.

At the Congress, American Jews will have the opportunity to express their strong feelings about the issues close to our hearts, and then work to affect change in those areas. We will be one step closer to making Israel the Jewish state that we know it can and should be.

As a reminder, the results of this election help determine our influence in Israel’s national institutions, the World Zionist Organization, the Jewish Agency for Israel and the Jewish National Fund. Our team, led by the leadership of ARZENU (ARZA’s umbrella organization of worldwide Reform Zionists), will now begin the process of negotiating with Israeli political parties and determining our positions based on the power that you, our voters, provided.

Acknowledgements:
We would like to extend our heartfelt gratitude to all those who voted and who worked to get out the vote. We would like to also thank the superb lay and staff team led by Michael Laufer, Philip Meltzer and Rabbi Karen Fox as well as our campaign manager, Ilana Kaplan. Our sincere appreciation goes out to the ARZA staff, and the lay leaders who demonstrated dedication and perseverance through this long and often arduous campaign.

This campaign would not have been successful without the leadership of the Reform Movement, led by Rabbis Rick Jacobs, Aaron Panken, Steve Fox, Danny Freelander, Jonah Pesner and Rabbi Deborah Waxman of the Reconstructionist Movement. Our leaders in Israel—Rabbi Gilad Kariv, Anat Hoffman, Rabbi Noa Sattat, Yaron Shavit and Reuven Marko, as well as Rabbi Larry Englander and Dalya Levy of ARZENU—worked tirelessly to bring messages of importance to our movement stateside.

Of course, we would not be anywhere without our congregational leadership. We cannot thank enough the hundreds of rabbis, cantors, educators, youth directors, executive directors, administrators, and congregational election teams for all that you did to galvanize your members, families, and friends to come together at this important moment. Every vote made a difference, and we were honored and humbled by your efforts.

This campaign was indeed an investment in Israel’s future, and we offer our deepest thanks to the hundreds of investors and donors who saw with us the need to run a robust and well-funded campaign. We met our goal and were able to maintain fiscal responsibility, and are happy to report that your efforts and investments paid off. Below you will find the breakdown of votes, and we will be posting on our website further analysis of what this means and how it has changed since the last election.

As the results have now come in, let us rejoice by proclaiming, “This year in Jerusalem!”

Shalom and Todah,

Rabbi Josh Weinberg and Rabbi Bennett Miller

 

Election of American Delegates to the 37th World Zionist Congress:

chart

No Justice, No Peace; No Peace, No Justice



By Rabbi James Gibson

IMG_2236He sat on a stool in the Jerusalem restaurant, reflecting on how hard his message was to take. He was addressing American ministers and rabbis, fired with idealism and hope, eager to take away a message that they could transmit with enthusiasm to their congregations back home. He knew it in his marrow; after all, he was born in America, too.

He knew what they wanted; a beautiful picture of the next White House lawn signing ceremony that would usher in a period of security, justice and well-being for Palestinians and Israelis alike. And in our lifetime, to boot! And he sighed. Because he realized he just couldn’t do it.

Yossi Klein Halevi, internationally renowned journalist and author, looked at the bright faces, set his gaze and said, “Americans want balloons. They want ribbons and streamers and smiles to go with the handshakes after the peace agreement is signed. You know what I’m going to do when a peace agreement is signed? I’m going to go into mourning, a deep mourning.”

Someone asked if that meant that he was against a two-state solution, meaning that peace would never come. And he continued, “As a religious Jew, I am connected to the city of Hevron, a city in which Jews have lived for thousands of years without interruption. It is the second holiest city in Judaism, after Jerusalem, with Tiberias coming in third. Peace and a Palestinian state will mean that I will have to give back this city that is so much a part of my Jewish religious heritage and history. How could I do anything but mourn?”

“But,” he said, “I know that I’m not the only one who will be in mourning. You see, I know Palestinians who have longed to return to Jaffa since the establishment of the state of Israel. I have interviewed Palestinians all of the territories and Gaza. And I know that they ache with a longing for their former homes with the same passion that I have for Hevron. And the day a peace agreement is signed, my Palestinian friends are going to go into mourning, too. For they will have given up, once and for all, any hope of returning to their homes in Jaffa and Haifa and Lydda and so many other places.”

“You see, my friends,” he said, looking right into our astonished faces, “peace, if it comes, will enshrine a profound injustice as a permanent part of our landscape. And yet, it may well be worth it. Peace is worthy many compromises, even risks. But please don’t ask me to celebrate it, especially when it can only come with such harsh injustice to the causes of both sides.

As he paused to take questions, I tried to take in what he was saying. As an American, a child of the civil rights era, I had been fed on the mantra of “No Justice, No Peace; No Peace, No Justice.” How many times have you and I heard this chant from the streets of Selma, Birmingham and, more recently, Ferguson, Baltimore and Manhattan?

But what if these two ideals were fundamentally incompatible? What if the price of insisting on justice for both sides was a never-ending continuation of the conflict? What if ideologues on both sides, who clung to their extreme positions to right old injustices, were themselves the primary obstacle to peace in the region? The new thought filled my mind and disturbed my heart.

Yossi Klein Halevi is a friend of mine. I was inclined to accept his message, even if I didn’t want to, as he is an astute observer of Israel and the entire region. But accepting his message required a re-focusing of head and heart.

If he was right, the work was not in redressing old wrongs, whether they be the massacre of Palestinians at Lydda, Deir Yassin or of Jews in Hevron, Gush Etzion and Jerusalem. No, the work would be to prepare people to accept what had been unacceptable, to promote peace despite injustice, peace despite unhealed wounds, peace despite freezing in place the harms of years gone by. This peace might not ever be called friendship or amity, but it might well stop the cycle of violence that has riven the land for more than 100 years.

If Yossi Klein Halevi was the only person I heard this from, I could respectfully disagree with him and call him an outlier, a pessimist who refused to affirm the necessary linkage between peace and justice.

But two days later I, along with other rabbis and ministers from the Interfaith Partnership for Peace, met a Palestinian farmer named Ali Abu Awad from the West Bank, in the area known as the Gush, short for Gush Etzion. Ali Abu Awad is, frankly, one of the most remarkable men I’ve ever met. He was speaking to us from a tent of reconciliation pitched on disputed territory that was named Heaven’s Field Farm.

His partner in presenting to us was a settler, an Orthodox Jew named Shaul Yudelman, who had made aliyah from Seattle with the express intention of settling in the West Bank, the supposed future home of a nation called Palestine.

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Ali Abu Awad’s story was breathtaking, at least to me. He was raised in a politically aware family, one that supported Fatah, the nationalist Palestinian movement. His mother was arrested and went to jail in the first Intifada in 1987. When the second Intifada broke out, he and his mother both were involved in acts of violence and both went to jail. At the same time, he discovered that his brother had been killed by the Israeli security forces.

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He was riven with hatred and the desire for revenge. The desire for justice burned inside him. He said that in prison, you have a chance for a university level education, that’s the intellectual level of those imprisoned there. He could have easily been tutored into a life of hatred and revenge. Instead, he discovered Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Instead of plotting revenge for his brother’s death, he helped lead a 17 day hunger strike that forced the Israelis to at least listen to him and his group’s demands.

When he got out of jail, he made the choice to learn about Jews and Israelis and see if he could bridge the yawning gap between them. Through an intermediary, he asked a settler if he wanted to get together and talk. He started with Chanan Schlesinger, a committed Zionist rabbi settler who wants to consummate Judaism and Zionism in the land where our history began.

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In the current climate, meeting seemed impossible, much less talking meaningfully to each other. Rabbi Schlesinger said that Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs live 99% completely different lives even though they live right next to each other, where they are either invisible to each other or merely nuisances.

What unfolded between them was a remarkable sharing which caused Rabbi Schlesinger to realize the extent of the human experience of suffering of Palestinians under Israeli occupation. He was surprised just how much the narrative meshed with his understanding of Jewish history, when Jews were oppressed in countless places over countless years. And although he didn’t change his mind about the rightness of the settlement project, for the first time it dawned on him that someone else just might be as attached to the land as he was.

And it seemed to Ali, who now counted Chanan as a friend, that their friendship should be in service of a mutually beneficial goal. It was not the marriage of two peoples in peace. But there could be an amicable divorce, with the recognition of the humanity and standing of the other on the same land. Ali Abu Awad said that any solution must affirm both groups’ connection to the land.

Ali Abu Awad was asked if there was end game to all of this. Was he going to fight for a nation of Palestine to come into being? We, ministers and rabbis, were shocked to hear him say, no, he was going to fight for understanding and co-existence, even if that meant there would not be a nation of Palestine for the foreseeable future. He said that their cause was, indeed, just. It was simply not worth the precious lives of God’s human family.

When someone, echoing Yossi Klein Halevi, suggested that this might be a terrible injustice, Ali Abu Awad agreed. “Yes, it would be an injustice, but I choose peace,” he said. “Can’t there be both?” someone else asked.

He answered by saying that even nation-states were artificial constructs that might or might not be permanent. What is enduring, he declared, “is the people who live on this land, and we must find a way to get along and respect each other’s person and property.”

Peace without justice. Justice making peace impossible. Not what we are comfortable hearing in our country, where we have interwoven the notions together so tightly we can’t imagine one without the other.

Yet there is an inkling of this understanding in one of our earliest rabbinic texts. When deciding on creating humanity, God asks the angels of heaven what they think should be done.

In Genesis Rabbah, an early midrash, we read,

Rabbi Shimon said, “When the Holy One, blessed be God, came to create Adam, the ministering angels formed themselves into groups and parties, some of them saying, “Let him be created,’ while others urged, “Let him not be created…Love said, “Let him be created because he will dispense acts of love. Truth said, “Let him not be created because he is compounded of falsehood.” Righteousness said, “Let him be created because he will perform righteous deeds.” Peace said, “Let him not be created because he is full of strife.” What did God do? God took truth (justice) and cast it to the ground.

By a vote of 2-1, the angels supported God’s creation of us. But they did so at the price of truth. Why? Maybe peace only has a chance when our truth is not around to inflame us, making it impossible to compromise. Maybe peace is only possible if we understand that truth is not indivisible. It is made of countless strands of event and narrative meaning and memory.

Here and in Israel, we often only hear narratives of those who are loudest and most strident.

We hear the right-wing Zionist narrative that sees the Bible as the first and last arbiter of political borders. After all, they say, just read Genesis – the land is ours by right and forever.

This very sentiment was offered this week by Tzipi Hotovely, the Deputy Foreign Minister of Israel. Speaking to the Israeli diplomatic corps, the Times of Israel reported that she said:

Of course the world understands Israel’s security needs, but arguments of ethics and justice will trump security arguments.

“It’s important to say — this country is all ours. We didn’t come here to apologize for that.”

Citing Rashi, the 11th-century Bible commentator, Hotovely affirmed his view that,

“…the Bible’s focus on the story of the Jewish people’s origins in the Land of Israel and its exodus from Egypt to the Promised Land was meant to shore up the Jewish claim to the land in subsequent generations.”

According to the account,

Diplomats were shocked at the speech, the Haaretz daily reported, and many “raised an eyebrow” over the reference to a Jewish Biblical right to the land.”

I’ll bet they raised their eyebrows. Such politicians and ideologues speak from a certainty that can ignore both reality and possibility. But most diplomats can’t simply quote sacred text to support land claims. If it is all right for Jews to do so, why can’t others quote their sacred text to support their political positions? Then we can really get medieval and dispute each other over whose theology is more correct.

The same thing happens on the other side, the hard left that refuses to acknowledge Israel’s legitimacy, much less its legitimate claims as a nation repeatedly attacked by neighbors. Those who loudly claim that Boycott, Divestment and Sanction (BDS) is the only way to confront Israel are prisoners of their ideology as well.

But this ideology isn’t more true or righteous just because their advocates repeat it louder. BDS represents a fundamental rejection of Israel as a Jewish, democratic state and as such we must fundamentally reject it and combat it wherever it is advocated. The right of Jewish sovereignty in Israel is not subject to international plebiscite and it is morally unacceptable to claim that it is.

On the ground, in Ramallah and Gush Etzion, divestment is not being championed by Palestinians I met with. Nabil Sha’ath, a negotiator for the Palestinian Authority for years, said it had limited effectiveness if any, because it entrenched Israeli fears of isolation.

Ali Abu Awad declared that the best way to embarrass the Occupation is more investment and involvement, not less. He went to say that BDS is an outside movement. In response to a question, he said, okay, maybe BDS was better than suicide bombing, but it would not materially improve the lot and life of Palestinians. Like Nabil Sha’ath, he said that the more Israeli Jews are pressed, the more the right wing is strengthened. And so Ali Abu Awad opposes divestment.

So, how might we and others invest more in peacemaking, the ultimate ideal of our little band of ministers and rabbis of the Interfaith Partners for Peace?

We might start be looking beyond the headlines, beyond the set pieces and speeches that politicians and hard-liners on both sides declare for the public. If we look closely enough, we might find:

Rachel Hadari and Souha of the Peres Peace Center in Jaffa. They work tirelessly to bring Gazan children to Israeli hospitals for much needed treatment. They have perfected their system to the point that they can get a Palestinian child with his or her parents legally into Israel for treatment in less than four hours.

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Once there, the Palestinian families sit in waiting rooms with Israeli parents worried about their children. Inevitably, they begin to talk and share their worries. In many cases, they not only start up friendships, but the Israeli family will work to make passage for the Palestinian family easier for follow up visits. We need to invest in this program of the Peres Peace Center.

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We might also find Meredith Rothbart and Muhammed Joulany, who head the Kids4Peace initiative in Jerusalem. They find young people, Israeli Jews and Palestinians from East Jerusalem and, starting at age 12, and teach them how interact and get along with other. They work with these young people for 6 years until they finish high school. They must commit to an intensive schedule of meetings, outings and retreats and are dismissed if they don’t fulfill their commitment.

After 6 years, these kids from all over Jerusalem have not just learned to talk together, they know their way to each other’s houses in neighborhoods that were prohibited or invisible to them before. They are prepared to look at the world differently the previous generation. They are prepared to maintain friendships instead of create enemies. We need to invest in Kids4Peace.

We would find my new friends, Ali and Chanan and Shaul of the Shorashim project, deep in the heart of Gush Etzion, winning friends painstakingly, one at a time. Their goal is to eventually bring 70 Jewish leaders into this work and match them with Palestinians, creating such a sense of shared humanity that the murderous stereotypes each side has of the other will finally disappear. This is the beginning of the sulha, the reconciliation both sides so desperately need to move forward with their lives.

We need to support Ali Abu Awad, who said to us, “Don’t be pro-Israel or pro-Palestinian. Be pro-solution.” We need to invest in their project, called Shorashim, or Roots and hope that the roots of their efforts take hold and outlast the brutal winds of hatred in the region.

We might find two sparkling individuals, whose names I am not even supposed to share, who spearhead the Shades Negotiation Project. This is “an innovative program bringing key Israeli and Palestinian young leaders together for a year-long leadership and negotiation skills program with the Harvard Law School Program on Negotiation.”

Using books like William Ury and Roger Fisher’s Getting To Yes, they spend their time in Israel and abroad, in the homes of ambassadors and on campus, learning how to present and listen, how to expand one’s horizons to include the concerns of the other. We need to invest in the Shades Negotiation Project.

Peace is found in caring, committed relationships. The great secret here is that this is where justice can be found as well. Not justice for the past, but insuring justice in a shared future. Remedying the injustices of Deir Yassin and Hevron will not be found in unearthing the pain and tragedy of the dead. It will be in sowing plants that have roots deep into the human heart.

Obviously none of this is easy or assured. Sovereignty is thorny, ideologues are relentless and unblinking certainty is plentiful. We are in a wilderness, like our ancestors in the Torah entered this week. The wilderness is brutal and without mercy. We can only tolerate it by knowing that it is but a stage of our people’s life, as they finally make their way to the Land of Promise. There are scorpions and wild animals, there is heat and drought, there is every reason to despair.

But we are not the people of despair. We are the people of hope. Beyond the wilderness of the Torah portion, there is the poignant verse from the Haftara, from the prophet Hosea:

And in that day will I make a covenant for them with the beasts of the field, and with the fowls of heaven, and with the creeping things of the ground; and I will break the bow and the sword and the battle out of the land, and will make them to lie down safely.

And I will betroth thee unto Me for ever; yea, I will betroth thee unto Me in righteousness, and in justice, and in loving-kindness, and in compassion.

And I will betroth thee unto Me in faithfulness; and thou shall know the Lord.

And it shall come to pass in that day, I will respond, says God, I will respond to the heavens, and they shall respond to the earth;

And the earth shall respond to the corn, and the wine, and the oil; and they shall respond to Jezreel. 

And I will sow her unto Me in the land; and I will have compassion upon her that had not obtained compassion; and I will say to them that were not My people: ‘Thou art My people'; and they shall say: ‘Thou art my God.’

In the end, I believe that Palestinians and Israelis are children of the same God. The God who desires relationship. The God who insists on compassion. The God who wants us to love each other as God loves each of us.   This God seeks peace, even at the cost of justice. For without peace, to whom will anyone be just? To whom will anyone be just?

Me and Rev. Liddy Barlow, Executive Director of Christian Associates of Southwestern Pennsylvania

Rabbi Gibson and Rev. Liddy Barlow, Executive Director of Christian Associates of Southwestern Pennsylvania

Rabbi James Gibson is the rabbi at Temple Sinai in Pittsburgh, PA. This post originally appeared on templesinaipgh.org.

Birthright: Day 1



By Miriam Haimowitz

On Monday morning, I arrived at Ben Gurion Airport with a group of 40 young people from all over North America. They are here to experience Israel so that they can conceptualize and activate their Jewish identity.

As is the way with Taglit Birthright trips, we hit the ground running and within two hours of landing, we made our first stop in Tzippori.

Located in the north of Israel, Tzippori is an ancient city that served as an example of Roman-Jewish coexistence from 1 CE through 10 CE. Our excellent guide, Ronen, walked us through the ruins, ending in the theater space, which allowed us to begin a conversation about the differences between the two cultures. This raised questions such as: What does it mean to be a Jew in a Roman city? Should a Jew live in a city featuring a Roman theater, where many disenfranchised populations, including Jews, were slaughtered? How can a person live a life of mitzvot when the neighbors are praying to idols and otherwise behaving contrary to Jewish values? What exactly are those values? How does a Jew define him or herself? Is there room for an influence of different cultures? Does the Jewish experience in Tzippori provide insight as to how a majority population should behave towards religious and cultural minorities? With this in mind, how should Israel behave not only towards Arab minorities, but towards its own Jewish people living in Israel? Needless to say, these are big questions to ask after only two hours on Israeli soil.

My costaff, Jesse Paikin, and I were challenged to address these questions while keeping everybody awake (and partially cognizant) through the afternoon. Our question was, how do we discuss these heavy ideas about identity when each person is still a mystery to each other? We had everybody pair off, answering questions that reflect their own individual identities. When we discussed the different conversations as a group, the most striking item of note was that each participant noticed similarities with their partners before noticing the differences. The goal was not necessarily to search for common ground, yet each group consistently highlighted their similarities. We then related how these types of personal and cultural identifiers might have translated for the Jews and Romans living in Tzippori over two millennia earlier. In many ways, North American Jews can relate, as we are constantly seeking common ground with our neighbors so that we can balance our Jewish identity with our local culture. In contrast, Israel’s challenge is to consider how to govern Jews and minority populations while observing the mitzvot and living according to Jewish values. Jews, with experience as a minority, are in a unique position to understand both sides. We have the responsibility to protect and govern our citizens while respecting the rights of others. In many ways, Israel as a Jewish state has been successful (which is why it is so awesome), and in other ways it needs some work.

This morning, we toured the security barrier in Jerusalem and stood in a spot in front of an apartment building where, in 2002, snipers from the Arab quarter targeted residents. Ronen did a great job of presenting various perspectives, highlighting the complexity of life in the region. The participants absorbed this new information and engaged in lively conversation that was honest, intelligent, and conveyed a sensitivity that is admirable in such a varied group. It was during this point that Jesse mentioned Tzippori, and the responsibility that we have as a Jewish state. This sparked some “Aha!” moments for quite a few participants.

Each day, the participants engage in more informed conversations with each other, and I am confident that upon their return to North America, there will be more young Jews comfortable with their Jewish identity and maybe even the Z- word.. Zionist.

 

Miriam Haimowitz is ARZA’s Administrative Assistant/Office Coordinator.

The Ides of Iyyar



By Josh Weinberg

Iyyar, so far, has been a tumultuous month. On Rosh Hodesh Iyyar, just 11 days ago, the world witnessed something that could only happen in Israel. After 26 years of holding month minyanim at the Kotel, the Women of the Wall were finally able to recite that day’s reading from an actual Torah scroll. This is something that the rest of the world takes completely taken for granted, yet it caused those who claim to uphold the Torah to react violently.

Alden Solovy, who helped pass the Torah from the men’s section to the women’s, recounted his assault:

“I was stomped on in the stomach for helping to provide a Sefer Torah to women at the Kotel and for stepping in as a line of defense against physical violence directed at the women. The violence was instigated by “sadranim” – ushers at the Kotel – who attempted to enter the women’s section of the Kotel to take the Torah. One of those men gave [my friend] Charlie Kalesh a head injury…

Although a policeman witnessed the assault on me, the man was not charged. The man who assaulted Charlie was not charged. Charlie was charged with disturbing the public order. As far as we know, no one else – neither the sadranim, the man who assaulted me nor the mob – have been charged.”

Let’s pause for a minute and zoom out to look at the absurdity of this situation. What happens in everyday non-Orthodox life – one person passes the Torah to another – results in violence and arrests of those passing the Torah, not of those who attacked them. I guess those who claim to uphold the Torah might benefit from a refresher course.

A few days later we mourned for our fallen, and then celebrated independence. Israel has been a state for 67 years, which lends a great deal to celebrate. The miraculous story about everything that Israel has accomplished is nothing short of that, yet we are quickly reminded that many view the 67 years since ’48 through the lens of the 48 years since ’67 – as the fires of Israeli Independence Day barbeques were smoldering, the government is still building settlements.

This month of Iyyar will also see the completion of Netanyahu’s coalition with a likely 22 person cabinet and shockingly few women. United Torah Judaism’s Moshe Gafni will be chairman of the Knesset Finance Committee, and UTJ’s Meir Porush will be deputy education minister. The champion of today’s settler movement, Naftali Bennett, will likely control the shaping of young minds in the Ministry of Education.

Does all this worry you as a Diaspora Jew? If it does, then what are you going to do about it? You could make aliyah, form your own political party and jump in to the ring. You could invest a boat-load of money and buy your own newspaper to influence public opinion. But if neither of those solutions fit you, then you could, at the very least, simply exercise your democratic right and vote in the World Zionist Congress elections.

It will take you just 3 minutes and $10 and your vote will help influence policy and budgets, but it is about so much more. Today is the last day!

As we near the Ides of Iyyar, many in Israel celebrated Yom Herzl on the 10th of Iyyar, just two days ago. 118 years since Herzl convened the first World Zionist Congress, his voice and vision are needed now more than ever. It was Herzl who, in envisioning the future Jewish State, very clearly articulated:

“Shall we end by having a theocracy? No, indeed. Faith unites us, knowledge gives us freedom. We shall therefore prevent any theocratic tendencies from coming to the fore on the part of our priesthood. We shall keep our priests within the confines of their temples in the same way as we shall keep our professional army within the confines of their barracks. Army and priesthood shall receive honors high as their valuable functions deserve. But they must not interfere in the administration of the State which confers distinction upon them, else they will conjure up difficulties without and within. 

Every man will be as free and undisturbed in his faith or his disbelief as he is in his nationality. And if it should occur that men of other creeds and different nationalities come to live amongst us, we should accord them honorable protection and equality before the law.”

Now, let’s make this happen.

Vote for the party that champions Herzl’s vision of freedom and equality, tolerance, and democracy, and let’s change Israeli society and the Jewish World.

Happy Iyyar.

 

Rabbi Josh Weinberg is the President of ARZA.

Israel at 67: Two Challenges



By Rabbi Josh Weinberg

Approaching Yom HaZikaron and Yom Haatzmaut, I mark my second cycle of these Iyyar holidays living in New York. Last year went by with the curiosity of what happens in the Diaspora – events, celebrations, cocktail parties and lectures. All nice and impressive, but still lacking. There is no comparison to being in Israel on these days as the entire country kneels down in mourning only to then rise up out of the depths in celebration of what many still do not take for granted – that the dream of an independent sovereign Jewish state is indeed a reality. During this seemingly bipolar 48-hours, it is impossible to avoid the mood that sets in throughout the country. It is impossible not to be enveloped into the national discussion of what it is that those many thousands gave their lives for, and what we wish for Israel’s future on her birthday.

Peering from abroad as we commemorate and celebrate, we are engaged in two existential debates on the future of the Jewish state, both testing the strength of Israel as both Jewish and Democratic. 67 years later, there are too many in Israel for whom democracy is increasingly interpreted as being antithetical to Judaism. Let me be clear – this is both wrong and potentially disastrous for the future of Israel. It is Israel’s democratic nature that allows it to continue as Jewish, and this will require a sense of maturity and a willingness to compromise in order to maintain. The Jewish state can only remain as such if it remains committed to the principles of democracy as clearly outlined in the Declaration of Independence.

On December 21, 1947, Rabbi Yitzhak HaLevi Herzog – then Chief Rabbi of the Yishuv (Jewish community living in mandated Palestine) and grandfather of contemporary Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog – wrote to the Zionist leader Shlomo Zalman Shragai: “Blessed be He that we have reached this stage, even though it is still only the beginning of the beginning.” If we perceive the establishment of the State of Israel to be “Reishit Tzmihat Geulateinu – the first flowering of our redemption,” it is upon us to be the pruners and harvesters of the early blossoms that were opened on that fateful day in the month of Iyyar 67 years ago.

Nurturing a blossom often requires food, water and sunlight, while other times pruning is required to remove a sideward growing branch, knowing that amputation will foster the survival and thriving of the body. It was this notion of compromise that led one of our greatest sages, Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai, to plead, “Grant me Yavne and its sages,” as he recognized that the only way that both Am Yisrael and Judaism could survive would be to compromise and to focus on the future.

Today, our situation is not dissimilar in that we must make a fateful decision to compromise. The fact is that most of Israeli society has done this already, and has chosen the path of a Jewish and Democratic state over that of holding on to land that, like the sideward growing branch of a plant, needs to be cut in order for us to survive.

The second challenge facing our Jewish democracy today is working to determine which Jewish values we want our state to exemplify and which we don’t. This must be the imperative for the next seven decades, and we have a lot to offer. Many Israelis are waking up to the reality that having a Jewish State does not necessarily mean that they automatically have a Jewish community. When I came on Aliyah to Israel, I thought that I had fulfilled my own personal Zionist quest. Shortly thereafter I realized that there was still a tremendous amount of work to be done. I realized that for so many, the values that I learned growing up in the Reform movement of welcoming the stranger, tolerance, and accepting a multiplicity of observance and Jewish practice, ecology and egalitarianism, could be perceived as a threat to the Jewishness of the State. These values are what makes the largest and most diverse Jewish society on the planet Jewish, and we must not accept any dissension from that notion.

What I love about Israel is how intrinsically Jewish it is., how much thought and creativity come out of Israeli society. What I also love is that it is malleable, impressionable, and very much growing. I love that Israeli Jews are constantly flocking to create new kehilot and that our movement is at the forefront of creating an Israeli nusah, an Israeli style of Judaism that is authentic, inclusive and is evolving what Judaism is when it comes to social justice, how we relate to the other, and what prayer should be just to name a few.

The story of Israel’s first 67 years is one for the movies. It is full of drama, successes, mishaps and experimentation. What we need now is to foster that flowering, to recognize and be fully aware that we as passionate and involved American Jews can be involved in this process. We can have a voice that will resonate. This year on Yom Haatzmaut I urge you to think about Israel not as a far off place, known often for its conflicts, but as an opportunity.   An opportunity to join together in writing history and helping to set the direction for Judaism for the foreseeable future. As we the blossoms of that first flowering you can join too simply voting in the elections for the World Zionist Congress and ensuring that your voice is heard. (www.reformjews4Israel.org/vote)

חג עצמאות שמח!

Please see this “Al HaNissim” prayer for Yom Haatzmaut and feel free to share with your congregations.

עַל הַנִּסִּים וְעַל הַפֻּרְקָן וְעַל הַגְּבוּרוֹת וְעַל הַתְּשוּעוֹת וְעַל הַנֶּחָמוֹת וְעַל הַמִּלְחָמוֹת שֶׁעָשִׂיתָ לָנוּ בַּזְּמַן הַזֶּה.
ביום ה’ באייר חמשת אלפים תש”ח למניין שאנו מונים לבריאת העולם, בעת ההכרזה על הקמת מדינת ישראל, זכה עם ישראל לריבונות על אדמתם ולשליטה על גורלם. על נס הקמת מדינה יהודית באשר היא ראשית צמיחת גאולתינו. מדינה זו באה מתוך קשר היסטורי ומסורתי זה חתרו היהודים בכל דור לשוב ולהאחז במולדתם העתיקה. ובדורות האחרונים שבו לארצם בהמונים, וחלוצים, מעפילים ומגינים הפריחו נשמות, החיו שפתם העברית, בנו כפרים וערים, והקימו ישוב גדל והולך השליט על משקו ותרבותו, שוחר שלום ומגן על עצמו, מביא ברכת הקידמה לכל תושבי הארץ ונושא נפשו לעצמאות ממלכתית. זה יום עשה יהוה נגילה ונשמחה בו כשנאמר: “וְלָקַחְתִּי אֶתְכֶם מִן הַגּוֹיִם וְקִבַּצְתִּי אֶתְכֶם מִכָּל הָאֲרָצוֹת וְהֵבֵאתִי אֶתְכֶם אֶל אַדְמַתְכֶם” (יחזקאל לו, כד( וּלְעַמְּךָ יִשְׂרָאֵל עָשִׂיתָ תְּשוּעָה גְּדוֹלָה וּפֻרְקָן כְּהַיּוֹם הַזֶּה, הִדְבַּרְתָּ עַמִּים תַּחְתֵּנוּ וּלְאֻמִּים תַּחַת רַגְלֵנוּ, וְנָתַתָּ לָנוּ אֶת נַחֲלָתֵנוּ אשר תיקרא “מדינת ישראל”. ולפי כך מדינה זו תהא פתוחה לעליה יהודית ולקיבוץ גלויות; תשקוד על פיתוח הארץ לטובת כל תושביה; תהא מושתתה על יסודות החירות, הצדק והשלום לאור חזונם של נביאי ישראל; תקיים שויון זכויות חברתי ומדיני גמור לכל אזרחיה בלי הבדל דת, גזע ומין;  תבטיח חופש דת, מצפון, לשון, חינוך ותרבות; תשמור על המקומות הקדושים של כל הדתות. יְהִי-שָׁלוֹם בְּחֵילֵךְ שַׁלְוָה בְּאַרְמְנוֹתָיִךְ.
~ יהושע ויינברג –

 Rabbi Josh Weinberg is the President of ARZA.

A Call from Israel



By Gilad Kariv

Dear friends,

This message is being sent to you during Israel’s most sensitive hours – the time in between Memorial Day for fallen IDF soldiers and victims of terror, and Yom Ha’atzmaut – Israeli Independence Day. Many of us visited military cemeteries this morning to remember fallen family members and friends. The two minute siren which sounded at 11am silenced any disagreements or arguments between people, and brought us all together to pray that our lives will be fitting to the lives and deaths of those who have passed.

Our hearts are filled with joy and thanksgiving for our right to live in Israel and to raise our children and grandchildren here. We are proud of the State of Israel and its accomplishments, and we feel great happiness on Israel’s birthday. As progressive Jews who view Jewish renewal as a guiding principle, we see in the establishment of the State a strong foundation for the future of Judaism and its people, alongside our hope for the prosperity of Jewish life all over the world.

Our happiness and pride does not make us blind to the great challenges we face on the long road to fulfilling the vision of Israel’s declaration of independence and the establishment of an exemplary Israeli society. Narrowing the social gaps and ensuring equal opportunities to every Israeli boy and girl; strengthening Israeli democracy; striving for peace and reconciliation between the two peoples who share this land; advancing religious and cultural pluralism; absorption of Olim who arrive from the four corners of the world; the prevention of language, religious and gender-based discrimination; the inclusion of Arabic-speaking Israelis in Israeli public life and the advancement of a shared society; the battle against racism; and the advancement of social, community and national responsibility of each and every Israeli citizen – all of these are part of our religious principles and we view them as a commandment in our time.

These great challenges remind us that even 67 years after Israel declared its independence, we are still called upon to dream, to believe, and to dare. For as the great Zionist visionary, Theodor Hertzl, taught us – if we will it, it is no dream, and the book of Psalms reads: “When God brought back those that returned to Zion, we were like unto them that dream.” These challenges stand first and foremost in front of Israeli citizens. Our success in overcoming them is dependent upon each and every one of us. But just like any other exciting and complex task, we will not accomplish it without a brave partnership. For us, Reform Jews in Israel, you – our friends in North America – are necessary partners. On the eve of Israel’s 67th year of independence, we invite you to dream with us and continue turning the dream into reality.

In these sensitive and moving hours which dig deep inside our Israeli souls, we pray that we know not to take our sovereign lives for granted, that we remember to shed a tear when we sow and rejoice when we reap, and that we remember that in order to be free people in our land, we must accept that we are not free from idling from the task of striving for this freedom.

At this time, as we pull the flag back up to the top of the pole, we bless with both a tear and laughter:

 

Blessed are you, Lord our God, who created miracles for our father, mothers and us in the past and present.

Blessed are you, Lord our God, ruler of the universe, who has granted us life, sustained us and enabled us to reach this occasion.

 

Rabbi Gilad Kariv is the Executive Director of the Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism (IMPJ).

Thoughts on Yom HaShoah 5775



By Josh Weinberg

There is no Hebrew word for “history.” Yes, some often use the Greek translation Historia while speaking modern Hebrew, but that word has no textual linguistic significance as a Jewish concept. Fortunately for us, the Bible offers us three such terms to help capture what we mean when referring to the past.

The first is the term Toldot (תולדות), or “lineage.” This gives us a reflection of who came after who, providing a genealogical accounting of historical progression.

The next term is Divrei HaYamim (דברי הימים), or “chronicles.” As the last book of our Bible, this is simply a chronicling of the transpired events and tells a story – factual or otherwise – of what happened, which some view as a historical record.

The third, and most powerful, is Zikaron (זכרון), or “memory.” The book of Exodus reminds us to memorialize transpired events or memories by writing them in a book. This then leads to the necessity of erasing a memory.

וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָה אֶל-מֹשֶׁה, כְּתֹב זֹאת זִכָּרוֹן בַּסֵּפֶר, וְשִׂים, בְּאָזְנֵי יְהוֹשֻׁעַ:  כִּי-מָחֹה אֶמְחֶה אֶת-זֵכֶר עֲמָלֵק, מִתַּחַת הַשָּׁמָיִם

And the LORD said unto Moses: ‘Write this for a memorial in the book, and rehearse it in the ears of Joshua: for I will utterly blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven.” (Exodus 17:14)

As we mark today as a day of remembrance of the Holocaust and of the heroism that took place during it, we embark on a week-long journey through the greatest polar extremes of modern Jewish history – from total destruction to a rebirth with the establishment of the State of Israel.

Israeli Reform Rabbi Mordechai Rotem teaches us that the seven days between Holocaust Remembrance Day and Israeli Memorial Day and Independence Day should serve a similar purpose to the ten days of awe between Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur. He calls these days, “Shivat Yemai Teudah,” which roughly translates as, “The Seven Days of Bearing Witness.” He explains their meaning in the following way:

“During the Seven Days of Bearing Witness… the nation of Israel needs to, as a community, examine themselves, check from year to year how much they have succeeded in fulfilling the destiny that has fallen upon them, their mission, the legacy of death of the Holocaust, and the legacy of life of Independence Day.

Essentially, during this coming week we must undergo a process of national introspection similar to the personal introspection during the month of Elul and the Ten Days of Awe. Now, we must evaluate ourselves on a collective scale to see, as Rotem suggests, how we are measuring up to our two biblical commandments to remember.

On Yom HaShoah we must grapple with the implications for two possibly contrasting themes.

We must remember what Amalek did to us and that, as we just read on Pesah, in every generation there arises an enemy to obliterate us.

In addition, we must also remember that we were slaves in Egypt, and because of that we must not oppress the stranger in our midst.

Today, we must remember that there was a distinct and deliberate force which systematically embarked on an effort to completely rid the world of the Jewish people, and thus we must take very seriously any inkling of a threat to our safety and security. We must take all threats seriously and must not rest until we are assured that those existential threats are deposed.

So, too, must we not forget. So, too, must we constantly challenge ourselves as a society and push for constant self-reflection and be reminded that we, as Jews, are commanded to remember and to act. Despite moving further away from the actual events and transitioning to a time period when primary witnesses will be only a remnant available through documented accounts, the Holocaust still plays a major role in the consciousness of many Israelis on both an individual level and a national scale.

Our story tells us that out of the ashes of the Holocaust, we were able to overcome all odds and create a vibrant and thriving Jewish and democratic state. We know that the work is not over, that Israel is working to overcome the evils of racism and intolerance, and that our challenge is for the memory of our past which must serve as a guiding force in directing our future.

 

Rabbi Joshua Weinberg is the President of ARZA.

A Message From Our President for Pesah



In every generation we must see ourselves as if we left Egypt. This, in my humble opinion, is the crux of the seder experience and the essential message of Pesah. Much has been written about what it might mean to actually see yourself as having left Egypt. For some, it means actually helping those who have left Egypt in this time and in our days and seek asylum at Israel’s gates. And for others it means looking at important social justice issues of modern day slavery –which sadly still exists.

For me, it is not enough to see ourselves as only having left Egypt, as that generation was the generation of desert wanderers. I want us to see ourselves also as the generation of Israelites that first entered the Land. To see ourselves in each generation as those who carry the responsibility of forging ahead and pioneering the uncharted territory. We must see ourselves – each year – as those who can continue to shape, mold, and build our Jewish society and continue in this holy work. This year on Pesah, as we read this central message I will ask you to see yourself as the generation that left Egypt and entered the Promised Land. I ask you to cast your vote for ARZA in the elections for the World Zionist Congress, and by doing so, helping us to create an Israel that we can all be proud of.

חג שמח,

Josh

Rabbi Joshua Weinberg is the President of ARZA.