Being a Reform Jew in Israel
by Sharon Mann
I am Israeli, a Reform Jew, and still a little American after 20 years of living in Israel. I feel that I can be me as a member of Emet VeShalom, a progressive, multi-cultural, warm and welcoming congregation in Nahariya.
I joined Emet VeShalom when my son, now 18, received his Torah during a special celebration in one of the many Orthodox neighborhood synagogues – he was to begin studying Bible in the local public elementary school in second grade. At that moment, I realized that it would be important to me to raise my children as part of an egalitarian congregation where both my daughters could become a bat mitzvah, be called to the Torah and participate in all aspects of the service. Why shouldn’t my daughters have that opportunity here in Israel?
As there was only one Progressive congregation in the area, it was clear that Reform Judaism was not the most popular way to practice Judaism here. I slowly began to treasure being part of our congregation – a multi-layered fabric of people, cultures and languages who join together in a vibrant Reform community. Services are spirited and filled with song; there are community activities and programs as well as tikkun olam, social action and contributions to Nahariya life.
As a smaller congregation in a peripheral Israeli city, we often fly under the radar of both the national movement in Jerusalem and Reform congregations overseas. We are going against the tide, and have to struggle to maintain our community in a country dominated by the Orthodox – where there is only financing of Orthodox institutions as there is no ‘separation of church and state.’
We therefore must try harder. We are active members of the Nahariya community; the Nahariya Municipality counts us as a major pillar of support for community programs. We make sure that the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism in Jerusalem is aware of our programs, our membership, social justice activities and our positive effect on the Nahariya and Western Galilee community. We are also active in Partnership 2Gether (P2G) (formerly Partnership 2000) a wonderful program linking our community to cities in the United States. We have received visiting groups, families and individuals, and have been able to host them in our synagogue and in our homes. We have been able to establish valuable relationships with individuals and congregations that enrich our lives in Israel and theirs as well. Many of our overseas visitors have become overseas friends, and have been able to tell their friends about the friendly congregation they visited in Nahariya.
Life in Israel is often challenging. Being a Reform Jew in Israel is often challenging. At Emet VeShalom I can practice Judaism as I desire, contribute to my community and receive spiritual inspiration as part of an Israeli congregation that is connected with Reform Jews worldwide. It is a special congregation that provides a channel for the various cultures in the Western Galilee to acquire Jewish and Israeli values and to socialize in a relaxed and enjoyable framework. Even after the Bar and Bat Mitzvahs of all of my children, I continue to value being a member of Emet VeShalom.
Sharon Mann made aliyah 20 years ago and lives in Nahariya, Israel. She is an active member of Emet VeShalom.