By Rabbi Miri Gold
People are asking me how I feel after the landmark decision to have the Ministry of Culture and Sport pay salaries to non-Orthodox rabbis who serve communities in Israel. I’ll always remember this momentous date, because it is my youngest son’s 23rd birthday today. I’ll also remember it as the day that my daughter posted proudly on Facebook that her mom, Rabbi Marilyn Miri Gold, won her court case. This is a measure of victory, because when she was in the army, over ten years ago, she never told the other soldiers that her mother is a rabbi. It was too hard to explain to Israeli kids that there are women rabbis in Israel, too difficult to define Reform Judaism. Today, “Hareformim” is no longer a disdainful word to the growing numbers of Israeli Jews who have been exposed favorably to Reform communities in Israel and abroad. Rather, it describes a group of socially active Jews who believe that there is more than one way to practice Judaism, that Judaism is to be celebrated, that Judaism is meaningful in their modern lives, and that Reform communities are inviting and welcoming and enriching.
It’s been a long six and a half years since our case first went to the Israel Supreme Court. I remember the front page of The Detroit Jewish News, showing the scales of justice, with me on one side and numerous ultra-Orthodox rabbis gesturing angrily at me on the other side. I imagine that they are really angry today, but I’ve learned to concentrate on the positive news and the tremendous love and support from friends, family, colleagues, and the thousands of people who have been rooting for the cause all these years. All of them, all of you, deserve a thank you and a round of applause.
I can’t say that I feel unmitigated joy. Israel is still not the bastion of religious freedom nor the stalwart promoter of religious pluralism. We still have many hurdles ahead, but I believe that we’ll all have renewed energy and determination to push forward, so that our Reform rabbis will also serve as neighborhood rabbis, and that we’ll be able to legally perform marriages. I look forward to a time when there are mikvaot for our converts, and funding for buildings for all of our congregations.
Israel does not have separation of church and state, and while this is a cardinal principle in the United States, it is unlikely that Israel will adopt this in the foreseeable future. Since all Israelis pay a “religious” tax, it is fitting that a proportionate amount help to strengthen our Reform Movement in Israel, which is already in a tremendous growth spurt. Just this year, four new congregations were established in Israel! This landmark decision will not lighten the financial situation of my congregation, but eventually (when all the details are worked out and any hurdles overcome) it will free up funds for the Reform Movement in Israel to make its mark on Israeli society.
I never once imagined that I personally would reap the benefits of this case. I always hoped to be the “Alice Miller” who would move things forward. Alice Miller was a commercial pilot before she went into the Israeli army. She applied to be an Air Force pilot and was told that women are not accepted. She won a Supreme Court case which allowed her to try out. She didn’t get accepted, but today there are women fighter pilots and navigators, thanks to Alice Miller. If we have not yet achieved all of our goals, we will succeed in the future. We will continue to pursue justice.
While I long for the day when we’ll all look back and wonder what all the fuss was about, I don’t see that happening for a long time to come. And we have new challenges to face. Birkat Shalom, my congregation at Kibbutz Gezer, is being allocated a pre-fab building. Now we will need to raise the funds to finish and install it. Other congregations are facing similar hurdles. In the meantime, I remind myself that hope is a mitzvah, a commandment, and one which sustains me when times get rough. In the meantime, let’s say “L’Hayim” and continue to choose life, to reach for the heavens and beyond the seas, day after day.
Rabbi Miri Gold is the rabbi of Kehilat Birkat Shalom on Kibbutz Gezer in the Gezer region of Israel. Rabbi Gold made aliyah in 1977, and in 1999, she was the third woman to be ordained as a rabbi by the Hebrew Union College. In 2005, Rabbi Gold petitioned the Supreme Court of Israel to recognize her as the official rabbi of her community and to receive a salary, as do the Orthodox rabbis serving communities in the Gezer Regional Council. She has been represented by the Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC), founded and supported by ARZA member dues.