Reform Jewish Movement Response to the Iran Deal

Reform Jewish Movement Response to the Iran Deal: Address Important Concerns, Focus On the Day After

Whether the JCPOA is approved or defeated, there will be a day after. It is essential that this debate not be allowed to create a lasting rift between Israel and the U.S., between North American Jews and Israelis, or among American Jews.


NEW YORK, NY, August 19, 2015 – Our tradition teaches us never to wage war without first seeking vigorously the possibility of peace (Deut. 20:10). In that spirit, we applaud the diplomatic efforts of the Obama Administration to keep Iran from acquiring or developing nuclear weapons. We thank President Obama for his commitment to diplomacy, and we express our gratitude to Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu for keeping the world focused on the danger posed by Iran.

The end product of the Administration’s diplomatic efforts – the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) – is challenging to analyze. Some argue that it offers the most promising path forward to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear state. Others argue that while the agreement has serious flaws, the consequences of rejecting it create far more perils and damage than implementing it would. Still others argue that it does not do enough to prevent and/or contain the danger that a nuclear Iran would pose. We recognize that these arguments have merit: The JCPOA does present a way forward, there are real dangers to rejecting it, and it does not foreclose Iran’s ability to become a nuclear weapons threshold state.

The Reform Movement is large and diverse. Within the Movement, reasonable people – patriotic Americans and passionate Zionists – have expressed different and valid positions on this agreement, articulating the many arguments made by others as well.

Our focus must be on two questions: First, how is it possible to address our concerns about the JCPOA? Second, if the agreement is finalized, what happens the day after? Specifically, how can we work to support the strongest possible U.S.-Israel relationship going forward?

At this time, there is no unity of opinion among the Reform Movement leadership – lay and rabbinic alike – just as there is not unity among our membership as to the JCPOA itself; but there is unity as to the important questions and concerns we pose in this statement.  Thus, there is simply no clarity that would support taking a position “for” or “against” the JCPOA itself.

The Vital Strategic Importance of the U.S.-Israel Alliance

The U.S.-Israel relationship is of historic and strategic importance. It is based on shared values and common concerns. The health of that relationship must never be jeopardized or allowed to become a partisan political issue. Now, more than ever, it is critical to solidify the unique relationship between the U.S. and Israel. The words of Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin ring in our ears: “There are three tenets to Israeli foreign policy, which are the strategic alliance with the United States, the strategic alliance with the United States, and the strategic alliance with the United States.”

We are deeply concerned about the tension, and the harsh rhetoric, in the discourse between President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu. We fervently hope that both President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu will take concrete steps, transcending politics, to repair the rifts that impede this relationship between longstanding and essential allies. We say this sincerely believing that President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu are fully committed to the unique U.S.-Israel relationship and with appreciation for the President’s many efforts to support Israel.

It is important to emphasize that as American Jews, we are concerned about this agreement not only as Jews, but also as Americans. Iran’s regime poses a serious security threat to the people and nations of the region who continue to suffer from Iran’s support for violence and terror, including the State of Israel.

Our Concerns

We have had numerous conversations with and briefings from experts on global security and diplomacy, military experts from the U.S. and Israel, Republican and Democratic elected officials, and Israeli political leaders from the left, center, and right.  Those extensive consultations leave us with five principal areas of concern: deterrence, Iran’s support of terror, inspections, human rights and religious freedom, and the United States’ standing in the world.

Deterrence : We call on President Obama to issue an unequivocal statement that at no point will the U.S. accept a nuclear-armed Iran. The Administration must state clearly that in the short term, and more importantly, 15 years from now when key provisions of the JCPOA expire, the U.S. will take no option off the table when it comes to preventing Iran from attaining nuclear weapons capability. We also call on the U.S. to provide Israel with the support necessary, including advanced weaponry and the means to deliver it, to further deter Iran, protect Israel’s security, and maintain Israel’s qualitative military edge. This could take the form of a new defense alliance between the U.S. and Israel similar to NATO.  These steps are necessary both because of the prospect of Iran developing or obtaining nuclear weapons, and the possibility of increased military activity in the region, which is an inherent and likely consequence of the inevitable lifting of sanctions that any agreement containing Iran’s development of nuclear weapons would entail.

Iran’s Support of Terror: Iran’s longstanding and persistent threats against Israel, the U.S. and others, as well as its record of support for international terror organizations including Hamas and Hezbollah, are not addressed by this agreement. We urge the Administration to work with our European allies to ensure that harsh international sanctions will be adopted if Iran leverages its newfound resources to further fund terror activity. The U.S. should also commit to leading a broader international effort designed to eliminate Iran’s support of international terror.

Inspections: We share those grave concerns that arise out of the fact that Iran’s nuclear sites are currently closed to international inspection and that, even if approved, Iran may violate key provisions of the agreement thwarting inspections. Thus we call upon the Administration to commit to imposing significant additional consequences if Iran challenges the inspections regime, in addition to the “snap back” sanctions that will be imposed on Iran should it violate key provisions of the JCPOA. Doing so will ensure that Iran recognizes that there will be penalties for any violations of the agreement, even if claimed to be “minor.”

Human Rights and Religious Freedom: Iran remains one of the world’s great violators of human rights and religious freedom. The Administration has committed to keeping the sanctions related to human rights fully intact after this agreement and must further commit to marshaling international pressure on Iran to make improvements in expanding human rights, religious freedom and the development of democratic structures.

The United States’ Standing in the World: After years leading negotiations between the P5+1 and Iran, U.S. credibility on the world stage and/or in the Middle East has been weakened in recent months as the American political process has unfolded. It is critical that the U.S. maintain leverage to address future international challenges in a manner that protects and advances national interests and especially promotes peace in the Middle East. We recognize that the broad international sanctions currently imposed on Iran, and which played a key role bringing Iran to the negotiating table, are in the process of collapsing with the U.N. Security Council, the Russians, Chinese, and certain Europeans moving to lift their sanctions even as we speak today. The U.S. influence and support of Israel is crucial to maintain peace in the Middle East and a safe Israel.

The Day After

Whether the JCPOA is approved or defeated, there will be a day after.

It is essential that this debate not be allowed to create a lasting rift between Israel and the U.S., between North American Jews and Israelis, or among American Jews. We are concerned, as well, with the possibility that some will use the debate as fuel for anti-Semitic views.

We call upon the Israeli leadership, the U.S. Administration and members of Congress, and those on all sides of this debate to tamp down their rhetoric. If the debate is allowed to weaken the U.S.-Israel alliance, or further sharpen partisan divides over what it means to be “pro-Israel,” Israel will be less secure. And on the day after the vote, as on the day before, Israel will need the United States’ continued military and political support, bilaterally, in the United Nations, and more broadly on the world stage.

The Need for Civility and Open Debate

Our Movement believes in vigorous debate. But that discourse must be civil and constructive, which has too often not been the case. There must be an open and welcoming tent as we continue to debate not only the future of this agreement, but also the very nature of what it means to be pro-Israel. Our Movement is deeply pro-Israel, though we express that core conviction in many different ways. No one should be compelled to defend his or her Zionism or support for Israel as we express legitimate views, both pro and con, about this most difficult issue.

When our people gather in a little less than a month for the High Holy Days, members who support the deal will pray alongside those who do not. If the harsh judgments and rhetoric continue between Washington and Jerusalem – and within our American Jewish community – we will be deprived of a deep commonality that binds our people together. Calling those who oppose the deal “war mongers” shuts shown constructive debate; calling those who support the deal “enablers of a second Holocaust” ends thoughtful discourse.

With such significant stakes, thoughtful debate is not only warranted but also essential. That is what our tradition calls a machloket l’shem shamayim, “a debate for the sake of heaven.”


We offer these thoughts with the words of the prophet Isaiah (2:4) echoing in our hearts and in our minds: “They will beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.”

These coming weeks provide the Administration with an opportunity to address the JCPOA’s serious limitations, and for all parties to this discussion – the Administration, members of Congress and the opponents of the deal in the United States and Israel – to establish a tone of civility and respect on these critical matters.

As always, we pray for peace. We pray that 5776 and the years to follow are a time of peace for all people.

Creating Israel/Diaspora Partnerships: Nurturing All Our Jewish Communities

By Rabbi Josh Weinberg

“The relation of Diaspora Judaism to that of Israel is like the relation of heat to the flame that produces it. Without the flame, there could be no heat. If we wish to enjoy the heat of Jewish creativity in the Diaspora, we must, through our personal participation in the Zionist cause, keep feeding the flame of Jewish life in the State of Israel.” –Rabbi Mordechai Kaplan

The basic Zionist premise on Jewish life is that there are two places in the world: Israel and outside-of-Israel (known in Hebrew as Hutz La’aretz, often abbreviated as Hu”l). This truism came into being when, according to our commonly accepted narrative, the people of Israel were exiled first to Babylon in 586 BCE and subsequently re-exiled after the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE.

For approximately 2,000 years, the term golah (exile) referred to all Jews living outside Israel, including those who had been forcibly removed from their homeland and were living elsewhere. After the State of Israel was established and the Law of Return was enacted, mainstream Jewry came to understand that there were, in fact, a great number of Jews willingly living outside the Land of Israel. This revelation altered the notion that all Jews living outside Israel – whether in Amsterdam, Boston, or Hong Kong – were somehow in exile.

To say that the Israel/Diaspora relationship is changing is a vast understatement. In his new book Ally, Michael Oren, Israel’s former ambassador to the U.S., offers a seething ex post facto assessment of the political and official state-to-state relationship between Israel and the U.S. Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president emeritus of the Union for Reform Judaism, writes in Haaretz:

[Although Oren] “professes to have written it in order to enlist American Jews to fight the Iran deal,… it is likely to do exactly the opposite. If he wanted to influence the American Jewish community, he needed to show some understanding and sympathy for that community. Instead, he gave us a book that, in its own way, is dripping with contempt.”

The fundamental question here is this: Do today’s Diaspora Jews see themselves as living in a Diaspora? And if not, how do we define our relationship to the Jewish State and the Zionist enterprise?

Rabbi Larry Englander, chair of ARZENU, the International Federation of Reform and Progressive Religious Zionists, believes we can view the relationship in two distinct ways:

“According to the first, Israel is the center of world Jewry, the sun that sends its rays to communities in the Diaspora. In countries where the Jewish light becomes dimmed and life becomes inhospitable, Israel must draw the light back and bring Jewish people into the sun.

According to the second narrative, however, there are many flames of Jewish life throughout the world, each kindling and sustaining each other. Israel is the brightest flame but it, too, is sustained by the others. In this tale, the Diaspora plays a vital role in making Jewish values and Jewish culture a global phenomenon, thus making the world itself a better place.”

A third way to view this relationship – reflecting the changing times – is as an open exchange of ideas that ebb and flow in a constant back and forth motion, addressing how best to create a vibrant, meaningful, and sustainable Jewish society in every place that Jews live. This view acknowledges Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan’s premise that the Diaspora must continue to feed the flame. It also poses a radical reframe of Israel vis-à-vis the Diaspora that abruptly overturns the accepted understanding of the heat-to-flame correlation and leads some to reject the very term used to describe Jews living outside Israel. Indeed, those who view all Jewish communities as equal to one another are uncomfortable with the term “Diaspora” and call for significantly modified terminology.

While I do not advocate the rejection of the term “Diaspora,” which does, in fact, reflect our people’s long-ago dispersion from a central homeland, I am also a proponent of the evolving relationship between the Jewish communities in Israel and those outside-of-Israel.

Moving forward, this relationship must be based on partnerships. Creating strong partnerships that embody the ebb and flow of ideas and joint ventures is essential if we are to provide Jewish communities worldwide with both the heat and the flame.

Indeed, it is time to create a new reality, moving past the one-sided notion of support that has framed the Israel/Diaspora relationship for more than half a century. Toward that end, the Israeli Reform Movement is working in full cooperation with the Government of Israel (Israel’s Ministry of Diaspora Affairs) to build and sustain meaningful partnerships. Domim-aLike is one such alliance. Spearheaded by Nir Barkin, a former community rabbi and educator at Congregation YOZMA in Modi’in and now the director of the Israel-Diaspora department at the IMPJ, Israel, in collaboration with ARZA, Domim -aLike will connect various Jewish “flames” around the world through meaningful study, work, and collaboration. Each flame, in turn, will burn brighter, helping to foster ideological, creative, and practical exchanges among all the world’s Jewish communities.

This post is the first of three about Israel/Diaspora partnerships within the Reform Movement. Keep an eye on for additional posts on this important topic.


Rabbi Josh Weinberg is the President of ARZA.

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

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.


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.


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.

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:


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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

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. (

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).