Announcing an Exciting New Israel Engagement Initiative for Congregations
The late Rabbi David Hartman, z”l, was honored posthumously tonight at the URJ Biennial Convention in San Diego, CA., by receiving the Reform Movement’s highest honor, the Alexander M. Schindler Award for Service to World Jewry.
Named for Rabbi Alexander M. Schindler, the second president of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations from 1973-1996, this award honors an individual who has shown a passion, leadership and commitment to World Jewry. Rabbi Schindler was a remarkably compassionate humanitarian, devoted to social justice and religious action, always seeking to better the human condition, to gain rights for the disenfranchised, and sustenance for the destitute and the downtrodden. A true Ohev Yisrael, lover of Israel, Schindler prodded the Reform Movement to participate fully in the Zionist world and was a prime mover in the creation of ARZA and ARZA Canada.
Rabbi Hartman, the founder and spiritual leader of the Jerusalem-based Shalom Hartman Institute, was a leading thinker among philosophers of contemporary Judaism and an internationally renowned Jewish author. He passed away this year on Feb. 10, 2013. He was honored by the URJ for his dedication to the Jewish people and to religious pluralism.
URJ President Rabbi Rick Jacobs says,
I would not be a rabbi if I had not studied with Rabbi David Hartman. Back in 1975, I walked into a class he was teaching at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Learning with David was as if someone turned on the lights in a dark room. He shattered forever my narrow conception of traditional Judaism.
His brand of Judaism was fearless, always evolving, brutally honest, defying all labels and yet profoundly authentic. Each day I try to live and teach the Torah that I learned from Rabbi Hartman, a Torah that is desperately needed in the fractured Jewish communities where we live, especially in Israel. Our Jewish communities must expand the circle of our concern to include both the Jews with whom we agree and those with whom we disagree. This was David’s Torah of pluralism, which he taught with passion and persuasiveness. May we have even a fraction of his insight and backbone as we help shape a more compelling Judaism for the next generations.”
Rabbi Dr. Donniel Hartman, President of the Shalom Hartman Institute and the Director of the Engaging Israel Project, accepted the Schindler award on his father’s behalf, saying,
My father had a deep and profound love for the Reform Movement, in particular for Reform Rabbis. The mission of his life was to create a Judaism of excellence – a Judaism always open to rethinking itself. For my father, pluralism was not only a moral imperative but an intellectual one. For only a Judaism open and respectful of different voices, would be a Judaism capable of maximizing its intellectual potential. What captured his heart and indeed his soul was the intellectual and spiritual courage, openness, and hunger that he experienced in the Reform Movement of the last few decades. A movement willing to both learn from its past and be critical of its past as it reexplored and reconnected with Torah in new ways. On behalf of my father, I want to thank you for this profound honor, which would have moved him very deeply.
After accepting the award, Rabbi Hartman and Rabbi Jacobs announced a new partnership between the Shalom Hartman Institute (SHI) and the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ)- an Israel Engagement Initiative for Reform congregations across North America. In 2014, the URJ will select 30 congregations to participate in the first stage of this initiative, which will be based on the SHI iEngage curriculum.
Dr. Yehuda Kurtzer, President of Shalom Hartman Institute of North America, said,
The goal of this joint initiative with the URJ is to support and enhance Israel engagement work throughout the Reform Movement by creating a new narrative regarding the significance of Israel in Jewish life.
Probing beyond the political controversies of the day, the iEngage curriculum helps to reframe the relationship between the State of Israel and Jews worldwide. We are pleased and honored to partner with the URJ to help bring a quintessentially Jewish values-based vocabulary with which to articulate why Israel can and should be fundamental to their Jewish identities and lives.
The Israel Engagement Initiative will enable participants to bring a more sophisticated discourse and enriched content into their communities, allowing them to experiment with new concepts, language, and skills for revolutionizing personal and institutional engagement with Israel.
Participants will have access to resources and experts from SHI and the URJ through a series of webinars, consultations and regional gatherings, where they will network with one another, sharing best principles, experiences, and ideas.
Rabbi Rick Jacobs said,
There is a great opportunity for congregations to create a positive and ethical communal discourse on Israel and to expand the presence of Israel into new areas of communal life, such as early childhood engagement, youth engagement, social justice initiatives, adult learning, and so on. This initiative invites the participation of professional and lay leaders to work together and expand the conversation about Israel across the Reform Movement and beyond.
For more information about the Israel engagement initiative, please contact URJ’s Director for Israel Engagement Rabbi Yehudit Werchow.