How We’re Creating Vibrant Jewish Life in Israel and Around the World
by Rabbi Nir Barkin
The Book of Deuteronomy, my favorite, begins with this passage as the Israelites prepare to enter the Promised Land:
These are the words that Moses addressed to all Israel on the other side of the Jordan. – Through the wilderness, in the Arabah (desert)…in accordance with the instructions that God had given him for them, Moses undertook to expound this Teaching…
What is it about this opening statement that allows me to connect to it as a 21st-century Reform Jew, for whom the fate of the Jewish people is crucially important?
It is significant – and beautiful – that these opening words were spoken to all of Israel. Each person, regardless of background, age, gender, or outlook, was an active partner in the moment. These words offer no exclusions, outliers, arrogant remarks, or private ownership. We understand that the people present were not all the same, and accordingly, we must view all tribes, shades, and nuances as a whole from which multiple approaches and viewpoints can grow, nurturing the social fabric of society.
The same is true today.
Several weeks ago, at the Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism’s annual summer conference, I led a session designed to help lay and professional leaders deal with the reality of a Jewish nation that is present both inside and outside the land of Israel.
I asked participants to imagine themselves standing on the brink of the Jordan River preparing to enter Canaan, and to describe their feelings as Jews living outside the Promised Land. The range of emotions was fascinating – from longing to tears, from anger to suspicion, from dreams to reality – and varied based on birthplace. Most of those born in the Diaspora were considerably more critical of their expectations; the sabras (those born in Israel) tended to justify their utopic vision of the country.
This exercise demonstrates liberal Jews’ dissonance around the paradigm of Israel as the Promised Land for all Jews, wherever they live. To help address this conflict, a new initiative, “Domim-aLike,” seeks to build a widespread network of relationships – all under one umbrella — among Reform and Progressive rabbis and congregational leaders in Israel and around the world. Through study sessions and online seminars focused on Jewish community and educational content, leaders will address issues of concern and develop new joint programming – all while forging new relationships and strengthening existing ones.
“I am not able to bear you myself alone,” says Moses, “[s]o I took the heads of your tribes, wise men, and full of knowledge, and made them heads over you…”
It may be these words that led Rabbi Dr. Donniel Hartman, president of the Shalom Hartman Institute, to conclude that,
…the division between religious and secular must be replaced by a new model. The Jewish population (in Israel) is made up of six continuous sub-cultures, each…has a narrative, an ideology and a lifestyle of its own. These six tribes can easily be counted as 12 or 18, for each and every one of them contains within it many possibilities for sub-divisions…
Indeed, the work of those who have set roots in Israel and those who continue their endeavors overseas has yet to cease. Their springs of creativity and renewal still flow, and those who are wise and full of knowledge remain among us, continuing to lead the Jewish people toward a covenant of shared purpose and destiny.
That shared future is in our hands – and it is the challenge of our lives: to balance progress on one hand with a connection to our ancient heritage on the other.
This moment connects Israeli Jews with our partners overseas, compelling us together to create a living, vibrant liberal Jewish reality in Israel and the Diaspora. As they have done for millennia, our biblical sources continue to inspire, serving as a blueprint for our actions: in order to ensure that “…the land which God gave You for an inheritance…” will be worthy of us and that we shall be worthy of it.
If we are wise, we will come together to turn the wilderness, the Arabah (desert), and our Jewish lives into a fruit-bearing grove and a flower-filled field.
Rabbi Nir Barkin is the director of the Israel-Diaspora department at the Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism (IMPJ) and heads the “Domim-aLike” initiative, strengthening ties and developing meaningful and mutual relationships among Israeli and Diaspora Reform leaders.