Shalom from Israel! URJ Board Trip is Underway
Shalom from Eretz Yisrael! I’m thrilled to be here in Jerusalem as part of the first URJ Board of Trustees Mission to Israel, led by Rabbi Rick Jacobs. This is a critical, working trip to advance the goals of our movement. We just arrived Tuesday night, but here’s a rundown of some of the highlights so far.
We met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his cabinet secretary Avichai Mandelblit at the Prime Minister’s office. The PM was visibly moved by Rabbi Jacobs’ introduction and reiterated his support of the Reform Movement in Israel and throughout the world. Rabbi Jacobs has developed a strong, working relationship with his office, and it was an honor for our board to continue to further that relationship through an in-person visit.
Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro briefed us on the latest issues relating to the peace process, which is, of course, very challenging at the moment. We were thrilled that he described the impact of his time at URJ Olin-Sang-Ruby Union Institute (OSRUI), our summer camp in Oconomowoc, WI, and in Israel with the Reform Movement’s now-defunct I. M. Wise Inside Israel study-abroad program, in shaping his Jewish identity.
I was particularly inspired by President Shimon Peres, a true Israeli hero who has been at the forefront of Israeli politics since the state’s establishment. President Peres shared with us that in his opinion, the task of the Jewish people is to continue to adapt and “reform”! He urged us never to tire in our struggles for peace or justice, saying one should never tire of a noble cause.
We met with the Chairman of the Jewish Agency Natan Sharansky, on whose behalf so many Reform Jews marched and protested for Soviet Jewry. During our visit, he pledged to work with us to build Jewish identity in the Diaspora and a strong Reform movement in Israel.
Throughout our visit, we have seen the growth and influence of the Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism (IMPJ). In every meeting, we have heard Israeli leadership speak of the influence of the Reform Movement and the growth and strength of the IMPJ under the leadership of Rabbi Gilad Kariv. We joined our Israeli sisters and brothers at Rosh Chodesh services with the Women of the Wall and then visited the new “Ezrat Yisrael” area of the Kotel, the egalitarian section of the Western Wall. It is a work in progress, and rabbis Jacobs and Kariv, along with the amazing Anat Hoffman, continue to work for a day when men and women can come together to sing and pray at the Wall with equality. Both Kariv and Hoffman addressed our North American leaders with passion and eloquence.
In Tel Aviv, Mission Chair Carole Sterling welcomed us and Mayor Ron Huldai, who spoke of the impact of our Reform Movement in his city, as well as the larger impact of Tel Aviv on the world. We had a little time for culture, too, including a stop at the acclaimed Batsheva Dance Company for a conversation with choreographer Ohad Naharin and a concert by popular Israeli musician Kobi Oz.
As I write this post, we are traveling to Ramallah, and tomorrow morning to Gush Etzion to make sure that our trip covers a full spectrum of opinions and ideas. It has truly been an amazing two days to start our URJ Board Mission Trip, and it is an honor to share this time in Israel with this group of 45 lay leaders. Everywhere we go, we are welcomed with open arms, but more importantly welcomed with respect for our Movement, our values, and our deep commitment to Israel.