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. Continue reading

Ki Teitzei, Ethics, and Israel

I think that Parashat Ki Teitzei is one of those Torah portions that particularly resonates with Progressive Jews.  It is fittingly placed in Elul, the month before the High Holidays.  The portion is filled with the basic ethics of how we treat our fellow human beings, such as:

  • Do not withhold wages even to those who are lowly and defenseless, even if they are strangers
  • Do not pervert justice for converts or orphans or take things from widows
  • Do not use all of the food you produce for yourselves, but leave some for the poor and defenseless in your community
  • Holding trials to find out who is innocent and who guilty and to hand down judgments

The portion ends with:

  • Remember the injustice that was done to us as we fled Egypt by Amalek

What makes the Torah and Judaism special is that they are more than just a belief in a higher power— they are about what we do and how we treat each other.  During the month of Elul, we are supposed to think about how we have acted in the past year.  If we have wronged others, we are to take steps to right them—to make t’shuvah—and to return to the path that God laid out for us.

Similarly, Reform Zionism is not only about being in the land that God gave us, but about how we live out our relations in the land and to the people.  Many of us support Israel, but as Reform Jews is that enough?  If we really care about ethics and how we treat people, shouldn’t we also get involved in the ethics of Israel, of how Israel treats its citizens and how the citizens treat each other?  Elul is a good time for each of us to think about whether we are doing what we can to promote an ethical Israel.

ARZA is our pathway for having an impact in Israel.  We are all able to be members of ARZA, either through our congregations or directly through ARZA.  With the help of its members, ARZA is the single largest supporter of the Reform Movement in Israel (IMPJ).  IMPJ is actively involved in social service projects that feed the poor and provide them with the tools to not need assistance.  Our movement in Israel actively promotes positive relations with Arabs in Israel, Christians, and Muslims.  Through IMPJ’s social action arm, the Israel Religious Action Center, they oppose racism, sexism, and other behaviors we would consider unethical.  They promote equality by educating people, and by providing opportunities for practices like b’not mitzvah for girls and women.  Membership in ARZA supports these positive ethical acts.

As a Zionist membership organization, ARZA is a member of the World Zionist Organization and has seats on the Jewish Agency Board.  Through those relationships, we are able to help support, in addition to IMPJ, our movement in Israel—to Hebrew Union College, the World Union, and the worldwide Reform Youth Movement, and to promote good government policies towards Bedouins, non-orthodox congregations, and more.

ARZA’s membership campaign this year, which in many congregations is in full gear in Elul, promotes an underlying sense of ethics, and our role in it.  We call on people to “Picture Israel, a Pluralistic and Democratic State.” Our second annual wall calendar, which comes out this month, is “We are Family.” This calendar features pictures of URJ and IMPJ twinned congregations, to help us put ourselves in the picture.  While you reflect on this week’s parashah, and when you look at your actions during the month of Elul, please think about your relationship to the State of Israel and life there.  Are you doing all you can to be part of ethical relations there?  Are you a member of ARZA?

Barbara Kavadias is the Acting Executive Director of ARZA, the Reform Israel Fund.

Another Victory

by Anat Hoffman

Talk radio is very popular in Israel. Animated debates on every topic under the sun fill the airwaves every day. One station, Kol BaRama, a station with a large Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) listenership, has the practice of not allowing women to speak on air. They say this is to respect the feelings of all who tune in to hear them. We, at IRAC, have been saying for two years that it is simply illegal and immoral to silence a woman’s voice on publically funded airwaves. After months of debate, it seems Israel’s politicians are starting to agree with us, and not just about this one case, but also about gender segregation in general.

Our struggle against gender segregation and the exclusion of women has taken many forms. We have fought this phenomenon in the courts, and thanks to our Supreme Court victory, coercing women to sit in the back of public buses was declared illegal. We have fought segregation in the streets, in public transportation, public services, and in shared spaces, such as cemeteries and health clinics. Through our Freedom Rider program, our volunteer riders have helped desegregate thousands of individual bus rides. Finally, we fight segregation by lobbying the Knesset and government ministries. Continue reading

Prayer For All

The past year has seen an increase in tension – and even violence – at the Kotel or Western Wall, one of Judaism’s holiest sites. Last Friday, progressive Jews worldwide were disturbed to learn of protests and near-rioting as the Women of the Wall came to pray for Rosh Chodesh at the Kotel.

On one hand, it is encouraging that the municipal and district court in Israel both recently ruled that nothing should bar women from praying out loud and wearing a tallit (prayer shawl) or tefillin (phylacteries) at the wall. On the other hand, it was deeply disturbing to see some ultra-Orthodox Jews so distraught about this ruling that they felt compelled to scream, spit, blow whistles, and throw rocks at other Jews as they prayed. We progressive Jews may have won a battle, but at what cost? Continue reading

Coverage Round-Up: Anat Hoffman Arrest

Last week, Anat Hoffman, leader of Women of the Wall and Executive Director of the Israel Religious Action Center was arrested at the Western Wall. Anat was praying with more than 200 women when she was taken into custody for wearing a tallit and disturbing public order by praying out loud. Her arrest and the reaction of the Reform Jewish community has been widely covered in the press. See below for a roundup of coverage from a variety of media sources. Subscribe to the ARZA Blog to stay up to date on this important issue, and be sure to sign ARZA’s petition to the Israeli government!

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Message to an Israeli Diplomat

This letter was written by an ARZA member in response to the arrest of Anat Hoffman on Tuesday. It was sent to a member of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Amid all of the wonderful things for which we celebrate Israel, the appalling, and disgraceful treatment of Jewish women in Jerusalem and elsewhere is a shanda of the highest order.  As someone who loves Israel deeply and who has a reasonable grasp of the situation, I will tell you there is no issue which contributes more painfully to the breakdown of affinity between Jews abroad and the State of Israel.  Please read the statement here.

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Anat Hoffman Arrested at Western Wall

On Tuesday night, Anat Hoffman, leader of Women of the Wall and Executive Director of the Israel Religious Action Center, was arrested for praying at the Western Wall. Anat was reciting the Shema with members of the women’s Zionist organization, Hadassah, who are in Israel for their centennial conference. She was detained and held overnight in police custody for disturbing the peace.

Barbara Kavadias, ARZA’s Acting Executive Director, had this to say about Anat’s arrest:

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A Missing Voice

Since last summer’s tent city protests in Israel, there has been a great deal of public debate about the public subsidy for Yeshiva studies, coupled with its exemption from Israel’s Universal Draft, used almost entirely by Haredi Jews.  This topic was taken up by the Israel Courts, who found the current system unacceptable.  It was a major driving force behind the formation and downfall of the Coalition Government with Kadima.  President Emeritus of the URJ, Rabbi Eric Yoffie, wrote on this topic for The Jerusalem Post. He shares some important history and asks about a missing voice in the public conversation.

Rejoicing with Miri

The following is a letter of congratulations written to Rabbi Miri Gold by Rabbi Robert Leib of Old York Road Temple-Beth Am in Abington, PA. Feel free to share your own messages to Miri in the comments below,  or on ARZA’s Facebook page!

Dear Miri,

On behalf of our entire congregation, most especially those who have met and heard you, personally, we extend our sincere CONGRATULATIONS to you on your long-awaited victory!!

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For the first time in history, the State of Israel will fund the salaries of Reform Rabbis

This is the official statement from the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism. It was released on May 29, 2012.

This precedent-setting declaration comes from the Attorney General, but only after the Supreme Court ordered him to reconsider his original position.

For years, the state has financed the salaries of thousands of rabbis throughout the country. These rabbis serve as municipal rabbis, communal rabbis, regional rabbis and neighborhood rabbis. Until today, all of these rabbis have been Orthodox men.

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