By Resa Davids
Lynn Magid-Lazar, president of WRJ, and Rabbi Marla Feldman, executive director of WRJ, joined me in Israel for a 6-day whirlwind tour of WRJ-Israel and the IMPJ (Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism).
We began in the moshava (almost a town) of Even Yehuda at the new congregation, Kehilat HaShachar. The community is renting space in a 2-room facility which is serving as their gan (nursery school) and becomes a Synagogue on Friday evenings. It takes about 20 minutes to move the mattresses and toys out and to set up chairs facing the ark with its Torah, which was a gift of the World Union for Progressive Judaism.
We enjoyed lunch and a discussion about the role of women in Israel at the home of Anna Kislanski, the IMPJ professional who is responsible for community outreach, which includes taking responsibility for work with WRJ-Israel. Anna invited two of the women who are hoping to activate the WRJ-Israel women’s group in this new initiative community. Their volunteer cantor, Benny, also joined us. Three of their members are involved in the pilot women’s leadership program sponsored by WRJ-Israel and Beit Berl Foundation. The program meets on a regular basis with more than 20 women leaders from the greater Jerusalem area.
Rabbi Meir Azari, leader of Israel’s largest Reform communities, Tel Aviv’s Daniel Centers, met with us at Mishkenot Ruth, the site of their newest satellite congregation in Jaffa. We discussed the challenges and opportunities for the growth of Reform Judaism in Israel and its impact on the development of Israeli society. One challenge is reaching Israeli secular Jews with the message that their identity as “Israeli” can include identifying as a practicing Jew without compromising either.
A visit with a dozen girls participating in the Mechina program in Jaffa was fantastic. Part of a group of 56 young people studying, volunteering and living together during the year between high school graduation and beginning their military service, these young women were impressive as they talked about their volunteer work and their studies. They live together as an urban kibbutz, without adult supervision. Instead they have the support of their madrichim (counselors) or morim (teachers) when they ask for specific input. Madrichim and morim do not live with the young people, instead they they are on their own to handle their shopping for food and supplies, their cooking, and, of course, attempting to keep their home clean – at least in the public spaces!
The young people form committees that determine everything from religious practice and celebration to initiating new volunteer programs in the Jaffa area, to the difficult job of budgets and economy. There are 5 young people among the 56 who are from the diaspora – mainly North America, but also one Italian young woman. Together, they are tackling the moral and ethical issues involved with military service while they discover the world of Reform Judaism for the first time or strengthen their knowledge and sense of personal religious identity apart from their families.
Resa Davids is a member of the Board of Directors of Women for Reform Judaism, and a former ARZA Board Member. She and her husband, Rabbi Stanley Davids (ARZA’s most recent Past President) made aliyah in 2004 and currently reside part-time in Jerusalem, and part-time in California. This is the first in a three-part series.