Making Aliyah and Finding a Home
by Micha’el and Nechama Namal
“Reform Jews don’t make aliyah.” We have heard that from people in Israel – surprisingly, many Americans. “Well, we did!” We proudly respond, and deep within our souls, we hope that more Reform Jews from all over the world will make the same choice and participate in the growth of the Reform Movement in Israel.
We left Phoenix in December 2009 and became citizens of Modi’in, Israel. Michael had worked for an aerospace company for 23 years, and I was the executive director of Temple Emanuel of Tempe. We loved our jobs and the community we had created during our 13 years in Phoenix, yet because we have always been ardent Zionists, we yearned to be productive citizens of Israeli society, to live a Reform Jewish life in the home of our ancestors. As the chalutzim (pioneers) of the Second Aliyah said, “We have come to build this land and to be rebuilt.”
We have become active members of Kehillat YOZMA in Modi’in. The two terrific rabbis, Rabbi Kinneret Shiryon and Rabbi Nir Barkin, knew we were anxious to get involved, and soon we found ourselves volunteering on the Fundraising Committee, writing grants, editing newsletters, and hosting visiting congregations on Shabbat. These activities helped us to integrate into our new culture and to promote Reform Judaism and affect change.
People in Israel do not belong to a synagogue to be a part of a Jewish community as they do in the US; instead, the reason for belonging is spiritual. Israelis join Reform synagogues, for example, to worship communally in an environment of liberal, egalitarian Judaism. The members purposely seek out an alternative to the all-or-nothing Judaism that is prevalent in Israel. It is both a challenge and an accomplishment of the Reform Movement in Israel to attract otherwise secular Jews. It is important to note that without Reform Judaism, some of these people might place limited value on the traditions of Judaism because of the difficulty of separating them from the pervasive, stringent religious undertones in this country.
We are so happy with our choice to make aliyah. We face each challenge with a smile because we know that we will learn something from it. We proudly act as ambassadors for the Reform Movement whenever the opportunity arises because we know that the gifts that liberal congregations have brought to Israeli society are so valuable and full of merit to those directly affected but also to the entire country.
Yes, Reform Jews make aliyah. “B’Simcha,” as we say in Hebrew, “Happily.”
Micha’el and Nechama (formerly Michael and Nanci) Namal live in Modi’in, Israel and are congregants at Kehillat YOZMA, the Reform congregation.