Rabbi Rick Jacobs

Rabbi Rick Jacobs’ Open Letter to President-Elect Reuven Rivlin

[Editor’s Note: This letter from Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform, Judaism, to Reuven Rivlin, Israel’s president-elect, originally ran in Haaretz.]

Dear President-elect Rivlin,

I want to offer my warm congratulations to you upon your election as the 10th president of Israel. What a tremendous opportunity you have to serve our beloved Jewish State at this critical time! In your acceptance speech, you immediately signaled that you are resigning from the Likud party to become the president of all Israelis: “Jews, Arabs, Druze, rich, poor, those who are more observant and those who are less.” I was very pleased to read these words which herald a new breadth and depth to your leadership.

I would be less than candid, however, if I did not admit to some concern about your ability and willingness to work with the largest denomination in North American Jewish life, the Reform Movement, and our Israeli counterpart, the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism. In 1989, you visited Temple Emanu-El, a Reform synagogue in New Jersey. In an interview after your visit you told a reporter from Yedioth Aharonot about your experience, where you disparaged, with stunning insensitivity, the dominant religiosity of North American Jewry, our Reform Movement.

I’m hoping that you’re ready to update your harsh and rather unenlightened views of our dynamic, serious and inspiring expression of Judaism that animates almost 900 congregations representing over a million and a half North American Jews.

Mr. President elect, we are strong, we are proud and we love the Jewish people and the State of Israel. We honor and respect the many different expressions of Judaism – from the ultra-Orthodox to secular Jews. You may not agree with everything we do or how we express our deep Jewish commitment, but please know it is no less than yours, or any of the chief rabbis. The world has too many people who have disdain or antipathy toward our people and our beloved homeland, so please do all you can to model ahavat yisrael, love of your fellow Jews.

Just a few weeks ago, I led a mission of our Union for Reform Judaism leadership. Our 50 lay leaders observed Yom Hazikaron (Memorial Day) at Mt. Herzl and spent Shabbat with our burgeoning Israeli Reform Movement in thriving congregations in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Mevasseret Zion and Gedera. We met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres, both of whom addressed our rabbis by the title “Rabbi” that they deserve (as do most Israeli leaders).

We spoke with Israel’s leaders about the many challenges facing Israel and the Jewish people. We renewed our deep commitment to Israel.

We continue to speak out for Israel no matter where we are. In fact, next week I will be addressing the Presbyterian Church’s large general assembly gathering in Detroit, Michigan, as they consider harsh boycott, divestment and sanction resolutions. I am going there to engage with them and to argue against the delegitimization of the State of Israel.

Then, I will travel from Detroit back to Israel just in time to observe Shabbat Korach in the Jerusalem neighborhood where my wife and I purchased a home during the second Intifada. We wanted a place in the holiest of cities to bring our children to and we wanted to express our commitment to Israel especially in the darkest of days.

This summer, thousands of our Reform Movement’s young people and families will be arriving to study, to take part in tikkun olam service programs, for touring, and for Birthright and NFTY (our North American Youth Movement, the North American Federation of Temple Youth) trips. Upon their return they will become some of Israel’s best ambassadors as they spread knowledge, appreciation and support for the Jewish State. I hope they do not hear harsh or delegitimizing words about their Jewish lives from Israeli politicians in the Knesset or in the president’s residence that would have an adverse impact on their growing love for an Israel where they can see their own identity fully realized.

I, and our entire Movement, stand ready to work with you to strengthen our people and our Jewish State. I also hope you will accept my invitation to visit our thriving congregations, our academies of higher Jewish learning, our 14 overnight summer camps, the largest Jewish camp system in the world, teeming with young Jews living exuberant and committed Jewish lives.

President Elect Rivlin, yours is an awesome responsibility to represent the State of Israel to supporters and detractors alike. May the Holy One who blessed and sustained our ancestors bless you, and may you find new room in your heart for our extraordinary Movement which stands ready to partner with you to help Israel be a beacon of tolerance and light to all people.


Rabbi Rick Jacobs

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From the URJ

7 Responses to “Rabbi Rick Jacobs’ Open Letter to President-Elect Reuven Rivlin”

  1. avatar

    Thank you Rabbi Jacobs for your clear message. As president of a non-denomination and determinedly pluralistic NPO in Israel,
    Bridgesforhope.net, I share your deep concern that President Rivlin may fractionate our Peoplehood, delegitimize all who do not practice what he is familiar with, and instead of building bridges he might God forbid weaken them. Good for you that you extend your hand in partnership- I hope to partner with you and the URJ too!

  2. avatar
    Rabbi Aaron Rosenberg Reply June 13, 2014 at 9:52 am

    I look forward to seeing his reply.

  3. avatar

    Dear Rabbi Jacobs,
    What an inspirational letter. Thank you so much. I am the Cantorial Soloist and Director of Education at Temple Beit HaYam in Stuart, FL. I will be joining the Partnership group from the Jewish Federation of Palm Beach County in a Conference in Tzfat from the 25th to the 27th of June. Our students and teachers are partners with a school in Hatzor and we try to meet them every summer. Then, I will travel to Tel Aviv where 150 Cantors and Musicans from the ACC and the GTM will have their annual conference from July 1 through the 8th. So, besides the incredible students who will be representing the USA Reform Movement, there will also be a large group of Adults supporting Israel as well. Have a wonderful, safe trip.
    Beth Pennamacoor

  4. avatar

    Dear Rabbi Jacobs;
    Please convey to President Rivlin our sincere congratulations and a genuine invitation to return for a visit to Temple Emanu-El of Westfield New Jersey, a proud member of the URJ. I am sure he would enjoy the vibrant Shabbat worship as well as the myriad of study opportunities that take place every Shabbat in Westfield. Our clergy and lay leadership look forward to HaNasi Rivlin spending Shabbat with us.

  5. avatar

    Kol hakavod Rabbi Jacobs. So beautifully said to the new president. May he read and listen with an open heart and a love for all Jews.
    Rabbi Misha Zinkow

  6. avatar

    Rabbi Jacobs, because of the “social activism” of the Reform Judaism movement I withdrew membership from the Reform synagogue in my town. I wrote a response to your “Engaging the ‘Nones'” editorial which was not published nor answered, other than to advise me of limited space available in your magazine.

    “Enlightened” Jews such as yourself seem to be obsessed with turning Judaism into a social club for the morally indifferent and political left.

    As with most liberals (or progressives, or whatever the nom du jour) you exhibit no tolerance whatsoever for those who reject your own set of beliefs.

    As a U.S. citizen, you can believe/express anything you like because you have Constitutional protection, and because you are not surrounded by hostile neighbors hell-bent on destroying you, yet you support political and social policies which can and would eventually end your (and our) sense of such security.

    I don’t think Israelis have that luxury.

    Don’t like Israelis embracing “conservative” views, too bad. Liberal Jews in the U.S. seem quicker to condemn Israeli behavior than the behavior of their murderous neighbors.

  7. avatar

    Great letter. Did you receive a reply and, if so, what was it?

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