ARZA’s Statement on Netanyahu’s Speech to Congress



The Association of Reform Zionists of America supported the content of the Prime Minister Netanyahu’s address to Congress yesterday. He made every effort to clarify that his intentions were far from political and that he recognizes the current administration as a staunch and unyielding supporter, friend and ally of the State of Israel – exemplified by a healthy listed track record.

We know that the United States and Israel stand firmly together on many different fronts and have echoed the strong statements of President Obama clearly stating that the U.S. will not tolerate a nuclear Iran.

We are watching very closely the negotiations of the next few weeks as the deadline approaches and encourage the administration to take Netanyahu’s heeding to heart. We also encourage our members and members of our movement to listen to what our Israeli partners are saying and to hear what concerns them most.

We are all aware that in addition to the overwhelming and potentially existential threat that looms with the Iranian nuclear race, Israel faces a number of challenges – physically and spiritually – that we are engaged with on a day to day basis working to overcome.

Hag Purim Sameah.

FotoFlexer_Photo

 

 

 

Josh and Bennett

 

Rabbi Joshua Weinberg is the President of ARZA, and Rabbi Bennett Miller is ARZA’s Chairman.

Tu BiShvat – A Reform Zionist Perspective



By Marla Gamoran

The origin of Tu Bishvat marks the emergence of spring. The holiday was an agricultural festival. The fruits that grew from Tu Bisvhat on were counted for the following year regarding Ma’aser (tithes-מעשר).

During the Middle Ages, this day was celebrated with a minor ceremony of eating fruits, since the Mishnah called it ‘Rosh Hashanah’ (New Year ).

In the 17th century, Kabbalists created a ritual for Tu BiShvat similar to a Passover seder and evoked themes of strengthening and restoring the Tree of Life – loosely using the framework of the Four Worlds of the Spiritual realm ** and metaphorically mapping them onto the physical image of a tree – roots, trunk, branches and leaves.

We have integrated the meaning of TuBishvat into contemporary Jewish life and practice by associating it with tree planting in Israel, and linking Tu Bishvat to ecological sustainability. I immediately connect Tu Bishvat to Kibbutz Lotan, where Reform Jews in Israel have built an ecologically sustainable community- what a powerful expression of contemporary Reform Zionism.

How can we relate to TuBishvat into a modern context and use the themes of this holiday to inspire Reform Zionism and our work with ARZA?

I suggest we use also the Tree of Life as our framework.

Eretz Yisrael represents the roots of our Tree. As Reform Zionists, we understand the depth of connection and rootedness that we Jews have to the land of Israel.  At a January ARZA study session, we studied a bit of Rav Kook who said: “It is the air of the land of Israel that makes one wise, that illuminates the soul to enlighten….” We are indeed inspired and enlightened by and through the land.

If Eretz Yisrael is the roots, Torah is our trunk. The words of our tradition ground us and bind us, holding us together as a people and holding us to our tradition as the trunk holds up the tree.

The branches of the tree are us – the Jewish people, in our differences and in our similarities – grounded to Israel and to Torah, but different none the less. As different species of trees have different shapes and sized branches, thrive in different climates and eco-systems, so we Jews are diverse and varied, expressing and living our lives as Jews differently to enrich the Jewish collective.

As leaders of Reform Zionism in the United States, we have the opportunity, the privilege…indeed, the obligation to define what Reform Zionism means in the 21st century; what our role is in educating, nurturing and building Reform Jewish Zionists here in the US and in collaboration with our movement in Israel and worldwide.

The leaves of our Tree can represent the many ways we bring life to our work. As leaves are an annual expression of the tree’s life, we can think about the many programs, institutions, practices that we create and nurture as the representation of our “life force” – some return year after year; others serve their purpose and make room for new and different.

The work that I do with Skilled Volunteers for Israel is an example of sprouting new leaves on our metaphoric Zionist Tree of Life – expressing contemporary Zionism in fresh ways. Placing North American Jewish professionals and retirees as skilled volunteers in Israeli nonprofit organizations that utilize their skills and experience is a powerful means of living Zionism –

How else can you view the impact of a journalist volunteering at Yedid , the Association for Community Empowerment , who is using her journalism experience to craft stories for English readership and disseminate them via blogs and other social media in order to illuminate the light of Yedid’s work to fight poverty and strengthen the very essence of social justice and democracy in Israel.

“It is a Tree of Life to them that hold fast to it….” Let us commit ourselves and our movement to growing Reform Zionism.

_______________________________________________________________________

(4 spiritual realms from Kabbalah)

Their names are read out from Isaiah 43:7, “Every one that is called by My name and for My glory (Atzilut “Emanation/Close”), I have created (Beriah “Creation”), I have formed (Yetzirah “Formation”), even I have made (Asiyah “Action”)

 

Marla Gamoran is an ARZA Board Member.

Today Matters: Make It Count



“This is the day that the Lord has made – let us exult and rejoice on it.”
-Psalms 118:24

During the years I taught Jewish history on our Movement’s NFTY-EIE high school semester abroad program, at the end of each semester I would ask my students this question: “What are the top five most important moments or dates in Jewish history?” With great consistency they would cite similar moments―the giving of the Torah on Mt. Sinai, the unification of Jerusalem as our fledgling nation’s capital under King David, the destruction of the Second Temple on the 9th of Av 70 CE, and, in a jump to modernity, the outbreak of WWII and the establishment of the State of Israel. Those 10th–12th graders were always eager to “pass the test” and prove that they had a solid grasp on the 4,000 years of history we’d covered in a relatively short period.

While their answers and dates were important and of great significance to our people and our collective narrative, mine was a trick question. The answer is simple: today. Today is the most important day in Jewish history because the important dates in our past are exactly that–in our past. We cannot control or change them. Today is about seeing the unfolding trajectory of our people’s past and using it to impact our future. Today is about taking the triumphs and tribulations, all of our collective suffering, and our remarkable contributions to the world, and making them count.

Today we have a tangible opportunity to make it count. Today, the voting is open for the World Zionist Congress, and today we have a chance to join with every Jew in the United States to make our voices heard. Today, by voting, we as Reform Jews will be able to stand up and be counted and tell the world that we are a strong and vibrant movement, and that we care deeply about shaping the State of Israel to become one that exemplifies our values.

By voting today you are exercising your only democratic opportunity to have a say in what happens in Israel, and you are helping to ensure that our movement is strong and continues to grow. The whole Jewish world is involved in elections this season and that means that the whole world is watching. A tremendous amount is at stake, including political influence, essential funding, and a chance to renew the vision and purpose of our Zionist institutions.

The Talmud cites the following passage: “This is the generation and those who seek its welfare.” (Psalms 24:6). Rabbi Judah the Patriarch and the sages differed in this matter. One opinion was that the character of the generation is determined by its leader. According to the other opinion, the character of the leader is determined by the generation. -Talmud, Arachin 17a

Our generation has tremendous power to affect change. We are responsible for standing up as a community and as a Movement to vote in the leadership of the Jewish Agency for Israel, the World Zionist Organization, and the Jewish National Fund. These national institutions provide the essential funding for our Movement and influence policies in Israel. They fund the initiatives that are most important to Reform Jews, Jewish identity and education, and our work towards gender and religious equality. We desperately need to reinvent and re-imagine what Zionism means in today’s reality. This election is our chance to say that it’s possible to both love Israel and be critical of it; to both live in the U.S. and take an active role in shaping and molding the character of the Jewish State. While we are always concerned for the well-being of Israel’s body, this is a vote for her soul.

What we do, or don’t do, from today on will define the character of the Jewish State and will show the world what it means to stand together as a Movement. That is why each individual vote is so important, and each person we reach out to share this important message will help us impact the future.

Today matters: make us count. Vote – www.reformjews4israel.org

 

Joshua Weinberg is the President of the Association of Reform Zionists of America (ARZA).

This post originally appeared on the rj.org blog as part of their Ten Minutes of Torah series.

Torateinu ARZA: Unto Zion Shall Go Torah



Moses received the Torah from Sinai and gave it over to Joshua. Joshua gave it over to the Elders, the Elders to the Prophets, and the Prophets gave it over to the Men of the Great Assembly.
Pirkei Avot 1:1

Dan, the official in customs, told me to have a seat with my Torah and wait. Well accustomed to Israeli bureaucracy, I immediately knew I should have canceled my plans for the rest of the day. When Dan returned, offering me a cup of coffee, I knew I was in for it. Surprisingly, within 10 minutes, having signed the necessary paperwork and paid the required fees, Torateinu ARZA (Our Torah to the Land) and I were cleared to leave.

As I headed into the arrivals hall, cradling the Torah, Dan asked, “So, is that a real Torah?”

“Absolutely,” I responded.

“A great mitzvah…” he called out with a wink. Even the customs official understood the importance of our work to bring the gift of Torah to Kehilat Sha’ar HaNegev, a fledgling Israeli Reform community.

In the back of the hall, near the vending machines, I took the scroll from its box, passing it carefully to Yael Karrie, Kehilat Sha’ar HaNegev’s student rabbi. Amidst swarms of Orthodox Jews, we weren’t sure how a woman holding a sefer Torah would fare, but we needn’t have worried. No sooner did Yael take the scroll than an elderly woman, her head covered in a scarf ran up to us, asking if she could kiss the Torah, exclaiming, “May it bring good things for the people of Israel!”

Traditionally, when we take the Torah from the ark during services we chant these words from the Book of Isaiah: “From out of Zion comes Torah.” With the arrival of this particular sefer Torah, we can modify Isaiah’s words to these: “Unto Zion shall go Torah.”

Generously donated by Congregation Beth Israel of San Diego, Torateinu ARZA, an initiative of the Association of Reform Zionists of America (ARZA), had traveled throughout North America for nearly six months – from west to east, from San Diego to the Negev – visiting dozens of congregations and events on its way to Israel. Recently, I was honored to walk with Torateinu ARZA on Shabbat morning at the joint URJ-HUC-CCAR board meeting in Cincinnati and to be granted an even greater honor: to receive the Torah upon its arrival home – at Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport. It has since arrived at Kehilat Sha’ar HaNegev, the congregation that will be its permanent home in Israel.

As we celebrate the last day of the Festival of Lights, may this Torah be a symbol of much needed light, unity, and good will in Israel. Let it show the world that the Reform Movement is building a strong and growing presence in Israel, that we are committed to making Torah accessible to all Jews, and that our congregations place Torah at the center of their existence.

This spring’s World Zionist Organization elections have the potential to enhance recognition of the Reform Movement in Israel, help our communities to thrive, and demonstrate that there are many ways to be religious in Medinat Yisrael. If you haven’t already done so, please pledge to vote in the upcoming WZO elections.

Joshua Weinberg is the President of the Association of Reform Zionists of America (ARZA).

This post originally appeared on the rj.org blog as part of their Ten Minutes of Torah series.

What’s Jewish About These Laws?



May it be Thy will, my God and the God of my fathers, to protect me against the impudent and against impudence, from bad men and bad companions, from severe sentences and severe plaintiffs, whether a son of the covenant or not.
- The personal prayer of Rabbi Y’hudah HaNasi, BT B’rachot 16

I. Non-Orthodox Weddings in Israel

Last June, I officiated at a wedding in Israel for close friends, who were subsequently married in a civil union abroad in order to have their marriage recognized in Israel. A pending bill now in the Knesset calls for hundreds of rabbis and officiants like me to be jailed for such offenses. Jewish Home Member of Knesset Eli Ben-Dahan, the bill’s original author, rationalizes this unnerving legislation by explaining its purpose as ‘acting to aid those women who have been refused a get (certificate of divorce) by their husbands and for whom the rabbinate is unable to assist’. The stated goal is also to assist victims of other precarious matrimonial predicaments resulting specifically from outside-the-Rabbinate marriage authorities. (Currently, only the Orthodox Israeli Rabbinate can marry Jewish couples.) Many of us believe that this bill is an attempt to level a blow to the growing phenomenon of young Israeli couples who seek their own Jewish religious wedding ceremonies – Reform, Conservative and Orthodox, and the rabbis who accommodate them – threatening the Rabbinate’s control. While this bill is unlikely to pass in the Knesset, it joins a growing list of bills that are of grave concern.

II. The Jewish Nation-State Bill

This much-discussed bill, delayed in the Knesset, seeks to define the identity of the State of Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people. This is not only superfluous, but seeks to place values of democracy and equality as secondary to those of Jewish nationality. The bill also attempts to establish Jewish law as a source of inspiration for the Knesset-which, in many instances, it already is in the Israeli Supreme Court. As the bill morphs from one version to another, we must watch closely.

III. Rounding up infiltrators or persecuting the strangers in our midst?

The original intent of the 1954 Prevention of Infiltration Law was to prevent the entry of Palestinian terrorists. The law was never lifted. The third amendment to this law, passed on January 10, 2012, and implemented in June 2013 expanded the definition of “infiltrator” to include Africans entering Israel through the border with Egypt. According to this amendment, infiltrators could be detained up to three years, and those from any country considered a “hostile enemy state” (including those fleeing genocide or oppressive regimes) could be detained indefinitely. A group of asylum seekers and human rights organizations brought charges against the state to the High Court of Justice in response to this amendment. In September 2013 the High Court of Justice voided Amendment 3, stating that the law “disproportionately limits the constitutional right to liberty determined in Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty” (High Court of Justice [Israel], 2013).

The volley between the Parliament and human rights organizations did not stop there. Parliament passed Amendment 4 in December 2013, which determined that “infiltrators” entering Israel after this date could be detained without trial for up to one year. After one year they would be transferred to Holot, an open-detention camp, and held until they could be deported-either as the result of an improvement in the political situation in their country of origin, or until they signed a ‘voluntary’ return agreement. The distinction between full detention and open camps is that those in open camps may leave the premises, but must return three times a day for roll call and must stay overnight in the facility, which is closed from 10 p.m. until 6 a.m. In effect, this prevents detainees from working, since the punishment for failing to attend roll call is to be sent back to a full-detention camp. In addition to picking up asylum seekers at the border, the government began to round up asylum seekers who had entered before December 2013, and placing them in Holot, causing panic among the asylum-seeking community.

In September 2014 Amendment 4 was struck down by the High Court of Justice, ordering the closure of Holot and voiding the one-year mandatory detention period for new entrants. In the decision, Justice Fogelman stated:

Every person, by virtue of being a person, has the right to human dignity…and infiltrators are people. And that needs explanation, let’s say it explicitly: infiltrators do not lose one ounce of their right to human dignity just because they reached the country in this way or another.

The 5th Amendment-passed two days ago-reinstates Holot as an open-detention center, reduces confinement to 20 months (with an evening roll call), and prohibits detainees from working. There is evidence that Likud’s Interior Minister Gilad Erdan, and Knesset Interior Committee Chairwoman Miri Regev are working together to push the amendment through the Knesset before its impending dissolution. On October 26, 2014, the Ministerial Committee for Legislation voted to approve a bill that would allow the Knesset to override rulings by the High Court of Justice. This is seen as a direct response to the High Court of Justice rulings on Amendments to the Prevention of Infiltration Bill. A day later, the Hotline for Refugees and Migrants submitted a petition to the High Court of Justice on behalf of 138 Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers who have been held in Holot for over two years, prior to the High Court’s rejection of the 3rd Amendment, which ordered the release of all detainees.

Earlier this week, outgoing Finance Minister Yair Lapid said, “We have to treat refugees from Darfur as Holocaust survivors.” In that case, let’s not lock them up. The bill, hastily put together before impending Knesset dissolution, passed a key Knesset committee on Monday, paving the way to be voted into law.

While attention will focus on the upcoming Israeli elections of March 17th, we must not ignore what is happening now. These issues touch on the foundation of what it means to have a Jewish State and a Jewish society. Of course we will have our own opportunity to vote and have our voices heard in Israel. This matters, and we must stand up and be counted.

 

Joshua Weinberg is the President of the Association of Reform Zionists of America (ARZA).

This post originally appeared on the rj.org blog as part of their Ten Minutes of Torah series.

Against the Nation-State Bill



Highly recommended read: Against the Nation-State Bill, a blog post from Rabbi Andy Bachman about the bill that threatens Israel’s status as a true democracy, “taking a dangerous step toward unraveling the founding vision of the country as encoded in the Declaration of Independence.”

ARZA Mourns the Loss of Innocents at Prayer



A statement from ARZA President, Rabbi Josh Weinberg, on the recent terrorist attack in West Jerusalem:

ARZA expresses its deepest condolences to the families of those who perished at the hands of terrorists today. An attack on innocents, and especially against innocent people at prayer in a house of worship can only be viewed as a purposeful act of violence with the intention of causing pain and death. All those who care about humanity and all who care about the integrity of all beings should decry such behavior and see it exactly for what it is – intentional and brutal murder.

We join with all who care about decency and who are pursuers of peace. We join with all Israel in our deep sense of sadness and mourning, and we hope and pray that all those of good will shall raise their voices high and drown out the forces of violence and terror.

The Real Hannah Senesh



By Josh Weinberg

It was 70 years ago this week, according to the Hebrew calendar, that a young Jewish girl named Hannah Senesh was executed by firing squad by the Hungarian-Nazi police force. She had been captured after parachuting into Europe with a group of Jewish paratroopers of the Haganah who were sent to rescue Jews from the Nazi war machine.

At the age of 23, Hannah Senesh became an epic and heroic figure largely due to the letters, poems, and diary entries she left behind, exposing to the world her deepest thoughts and feelings. Not long after her death, one poem that she had composed during a walk from her kibbutz, Sdot Yam, to the ancient Roman ruins of the port city of Caesarea (1 km to the north) became her most famous. Known to most as Eli, Eli, the poem Halikha LeKesariya (A Walk to Caesarea) was set to music by David Zehavi and proceeded to be prominently featured at virtually every memorial ceremony for the Holocaust and for Israel’s fallen – deliberately linking the two to forge a linear narrative in the young Israeli psyche.

While the classical Zionist narrative claimed Senesh as one of its own – total assimilation only to find redemption in her aliyah to the Land of Israel (Palestine at the time) – we now know that there is much more to her story than previously understood.

Just as the great Zionist visionary Theodor Herzl’s own upbringing (in the same city as Senesh) begs a deeper inquiry into the struggles of living a both Jewish and modern life, and that the Dreyfus trial was for him a tipping point rather than a great awakening, so too must we dig a bit deeper into Senesh’s own spiritual and evolving Jewish identity.

On September 18, 1936, a teenaged Hannah Senesh wrote:

I’m not quite clear just how I stand: synagogue, religion, the question of God. About the last and most difficult question I am the least disturbed. I believe in God – even if I can’t express just how. Actually I’m relatively clear on the subject of religion, too, because Judaism fits in best with my way of thinking. But the trouble with the synagogue is that I don’t find it at all important, and I don’t feel it to be a spiritual necessity; I can pray equally at home.

Later on November 2, 1940, she continued this sentiment by saying:

I was never able to pray in the usual manner, by rote, and even now neither can nor want to. But the dialogue man holds with his Creator…is what I, too, have found. I see the sincere, inner link, even if it comes through struggle within myself and through some doubt.

From reading her diary, we learn that her Jewish identity was much more complicated than often presented. Her struggle with belief, faith, prayer, and observance lead us to appreciate a deeper and more complex outlook on her life, challenging the classic Zionist narrative. Senesh reflected in her life on what many of us may be searching for today. Her worldview and outlook on Israel and Judaism is one that can resonate with those struggling to find the balance between our national, ethnic, and religious identities. For many Israelis, the discovery that she was not definitively secular, and that she struggled deeply with personal religiosity, may come as a shock. But it is also a welcome call to say that it’s okay to question, to have a grey area, and that there are many ways to be religious. Our Reform movement in Israel is ready right now to engage such seekers; to offer meaning to those for whom the polarizing dichotomy between “secular” and “religious” no longer answers their needs. Based on Senesh’s example, this struggle has been occupying the minds of Zionists and young people for many decades.

While many of Senesh’s writings were published and now feature prominently in Israeli and Diaspora ceremonies and liturgy, one amazing discovery came to light only two years ago. Sixty-eight years after it was written, the poem Hora L’Bat Golah (Hora to a Daughter of the Exile) was discovered in a drawer. Senesh wrote the poem in 1943 while she was being trained for her mission to parachute behind enemy lines.

Hora to a Daughter of the Exile (Translation by Elie Leshem)

A hora, roaring, tempestuous, blazes around me With the mystery of rhythm, gladdening and forging, It tugs at my body and heart The foot marches, the back quivers, the song is ignited, a searing chorus Dance and song, a wordless prayer, Hail to the future, hail to creation

But then a figure flutters before my eyes My arm has escaped my friends’ embrace My heart spurns the tempestuous singing, Far and near it consumes me whole

Blue eyes Such a bewildered glance A sad silence and a stubborn mouth The stillness grows in me I remain standing Alone, in a crowd of a hundred, her and I

Click here to listen to the song composed for this poem.

On this 70th anniversary of her death, communities across Israel and throughout our Israeli Reform movement will be marking her life and contributions. I encourage our North American movement’s congregations to do the same. Let’s dedicate time to highlight the person she was and the legacy and challenges she left for all of us. This Shabbat, sing Eli, Eli not in a somber, mournful tenor, but in a celebratory and upbeat tone, since this is a prayer offering thanks and praise for life’s natural wonders that should never cease. On the 70th anniversary of this important hero, let us re-examine her life, her hashkafa (outlook and personal philosophy), and her contribution to Jewish life.

 

Joshua Weinberg is the President of the Association of Reform Zionists of America (ARZA).

 

This post originally appeared on the rj.org blog as part of their Ten Minutes of Torah series.

I am a Liberal Zionist and this is NOT the End.



By Rabbi Josh Weinberg

A recent NYT op-ed by Anthony Lerman left me both puzzled and insulted. As a liberal Zionist, I am not at a crossroads, as Lerman directly accused in his sweeping and generalizing editorial, “The End of Liberal Zionism,” wherein he has unfairly categorized many of us in a camp to which we do not belong.

I would like to offer a different picture than that of Lerman’s portrayal of liberal Diaspora Jews getting fed up with Israel’s conduct. On the contrary, this summer’s war has been a wake-up call for many liberal Zionists. So many have come to the realization that now, more than ever, is the time to be involved. Liberal Zionists realize that they have the opportunity and ability to help foster Israel’s Zionist core, which dates back to its “romantic” foundation. Our own Reform movement has worked to provide critical support for a variety of projects since the beginning of the current escalation of violence and rioting this summer. This support has led to the enhancement of co-existence projects between Jewish communities and their Palestinian-Israeli neighbors, and more.

As a liberal Zionist, I take pride in the fact that we openly express sympathy for the loss of Palestinian life in Gaza, question the necessity of ground incursions and targeted strikes, and actively support Israel’s ongoing – but lesser known – humanitarian aid to the Palestinians. Further, I take pride in the notion that we do not turn our back on Israel, even though we may be at times critical. We do not view our connection to or support for the Jewish State as conditional, and we recognize that as Diaspora Jews we do have the luxury to choose how to support Israel. Israelis, however, do not have the luxury to ignore constant attacks on their fellow citizens, and Lerman, in his accusation of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s failure to establish an independent Palestinian state, fails to see that there are, in fact, other parties involved. Does being a liberal mean that the Palestinians must be absolved of all culpability for determining their own destiny? Even if Israel has the upper hand, which it clearly does militarily, should the international community give Hamas a carte blanche?

Furthermore, why does Lerman accuse liberal Zionists of being torn during times of war? The liberals that are my friends and colleagues have become more united in affirming Israel’s right to defend herself while staunchly believing in the need for a negotiated two-state arrangement. Let us remember how many reservists heeded their summons and went in to fight despite their own political opinions.

Also, to which rising trend in Israeli politics is Lerman referring? To the trend that turned out in Rabin Square last Saturday night? To the thoughtful discussion between famed left-wing laureate David Grossman and modern Orthodox Rabbi Yuval Cherlow? There has always been vitriol and intolerance from certain Israeli politicians. We are a people who take words seriously and cannot ignore threats or blatant illegal racism. Today, sadly, the examples of these are plentiful. Is this a trend worse than ’95-’96, where the Oslo process passed by a 51% majority?

Liberal Zionism does not lack agency. It is working hard to help its educators, rabbis, youth advisors and affiliates find a voice in the storm. It is mobilizing its constituency to support Israel, as Zionists and as liberals, and to deplore dangerous and demagogic voices coming from the right to far-right. While Lerman does not supply us with the vast research conducted and on whose behalf he writes, I can say personally that being a Zionist means to work to improve Israeli society and hold Israel up to high standards, in addition to wanting Israel to reflect our values. Most importantly, being a Zionist means that Israel is our family with whom we will always be connected, despite how each of us might chose to act were we in the Prime Minister’s chair. As a liberal Zionist I would encourage the government to look towards important diplomatic steps to end the current war – which would result in more than just another abbreviated ceasefire. We must look to the international community (including the Arab states) to help ensure that Hamas will stop firing rockets and mortars so that we can open the strip and aid in the rebuilding of Gaza.

Lerman does, however, make an important point with which I agree wholeheartedly – that now is the time to embrace the challenge of reclaiming Zionism and working to change Israel’s perceived image from its grassroots. Many years ago, I, like Lerman, fell in love with the romantic Zionist ideal. Now, as an adult, I am well aware that Israel is not perfect and has made its fair share of mistakes. I also know that Israel has had to deal with more strife, threat and unfair judgment than most, and that today’s Zionism of consequence must be an enlightened and thoughtful Zionism that admonishes racist and intolerant rhetoric while being cautious regarding those who wish to cause us harm. We liberal Zionists, therefore, continue to pray for peace and work to do what we can to improve the lives of those affected by the throes of war.

Rabbi Josh Weinberg is the President of the Association of Reform Zionists of America, and a Res. Lt. in the IDF Spokespersons unit.

 

Unexpected Discoveries



By Lynnley Rothenberg

During these difficult times it is very important to talk about what we can do to help our friends and family in Israel. Going on a solidarity mission, contributing to “stop the sirens”; are both very impactful ways to contribute to the ongoing struggles of those directly affected by the operation. Sometimes showing support can be as simple as going about business as usual and NOT canceling your planned trip to Israel. This is what 40 young adults did when they decided to take a risk and participate on Birthright, in the middle of Operation Protective Edge.

I had the privilege of leading this exceptional group on their first journey to Israel. During the 10 day trip, we saw all of the traditional sights and heard the history that our homeland is known for. There were extremely high points, like seeing the sunrise at Masada and floating in the Dead Sea, and the solemnity of Yad Vashem . This particular trip experienced something very different than most Birthright groups. They had a little less than a minute to run to a bomb shelter when a code red siren went off. Naturally, the whole conflict sparked some very heated and intense discussions about current events.

One of the biggest challenges as a staff member was finding the balance between letting the participants air their feelings about the current conflict, and not letting it completely consume all of our discussions. The main question that we were faced with was, how do we still talk about other issues during this time?

As the representative of ARZA, I steered the conversation towards the issues of pluralism and democracy and worked with the participants to recognize their connection to the Reform Jewish community in Israel. Upon her return, one of our group members, Olivia, shared her reflections on her experience.

Throughout my life I’ve often wondered about my own connection to Israel. I have always considered the country a “religious homeland” but as a Reform Jew, actively practicing my religion has never been a particularly large part of my life. Thus my own connection to Israel felt shallow – I viewed the nation as a homeland, but not a home. However, establishing relationships with our Israeli participants made the experience that much more personal and powerful.

 Olivia is just one example of many participants that have come back from their trip feeling empowered to have their positive Israel stories heard. Ours, was a very special group that is now inspired to become active members in the Jewish community both here and in Israel. I look forward to continue to be a part of their individual journeys.

Kesher Bus 841 is now back in the states and already has a reunion planned for the end of the month!