Birthright: Day 1



By Miriam Haimowitz

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

The Ides of Iyyar



By Josh Weinberg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now, let’s make this happen.

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

Happy Iyyar.

 

Rabbi Josh Weinberg is the President of ARZA.

Israel at 67: Two Challenges



By Rabbi Josh Weinberg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

חג עצמאות שמח!

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

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

 Rabbi Josh Weinberg is the President of ARZA.

A Call from Israel



By Gilad Kariv

Dear friends,

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

Thoughts on Yom HaShoah 5775



By Josh Weinberg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Rabbi Joshua Weinberg is the President of ARZA.

A Message From Our President for Pesah



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

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

חג שמח,

Josh

Rabbi Joshua Weinberg is the President of ARZA.

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.