By Mark Swick, Former NFTY RCVP and NFTY-MAR member
This past week I read with an optimistic sense of progress – as did so many NFTYites – that the Israeli Supreme Court and Attorney General had ruled to recognize Miri Gold, of Congregation Birkat Shalom on Kibbutz Gezer, with the title that the majority of Diaspora Jews already knew she had earned: rabbi.
This unprecedented step –the first time the Israeli Government has recognized a non-Orthodox rabbi and agreed to fund his or her salary – also leaves me with tremendous pride. Pride in the Jewish state, and pride in the leadership of Israel’s Reform (Progressive) and Conservative (Masorti) movements, who for so long have endured injustice in their struggle for full recognition. Most of all, I am so proud of the NFTY community, who made this great effort our own in the form of the Who’s Your Rabbi campaign. Together we recognized the rabbis in our lives for the countless things they do, while also affirming our commitment to one of NFTY’s eight core values: Eretz v’Medinat Yisrael.
But my pride is not limitless. It is mixed with the recognition of how far Israel and her supporters have yet to go. Under the current agreement, Israel will recognize and provide financial support to fifteen non-Orthodox rabbis serving farming communities and regional councils. As URJ President Rabbi Rick Jacobs wrote in Haaretz last week, “Rabbis who are in cities need to be legalized by the state, too, and we won’t stop [working for equality] until that happens.” At present, Israeli Orthodox rabbis and institutions receive $400-600 million annually in state financing, while their Progressive and Masorti counterparts receive less than $200,000. There is work to be done.
I am reminded of the summer I spent at Kutz Camp six years ago, during my term as NFTY Religious and Cultural Vice President, when my board had a memorable meeting with Anat Hoffman, Executive Director of the Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC). What Anat told us then continues to resonate in my identity as a pro-Israel activist: that constructive criticism of Israel in the face of open discrimination is our right and responsibility. It was this charge that birthed the Who’s Your Rabbi campaign, as we added our voices to a global conversation demanding equal recognition for our, and Israel’s, religious and community leaders. Six years later, and seven years after Rabbi Gold first brought her case before the Israel Supreme Court, our collective sense of accomplishment is palpable. Above all, this outcome affirms the potential of the NFTY community when we are organized and determined. We – you – cannot be stopped.
My experience, and hopefully yours, was that NFTY is the ideal place to find yourself as an activist: for Israel, social justice concerns, or pluralism within the wider Jewish community. Whatever your cause, NFTY is a tremendous medium through which to learn, explore, grow and to enact change, all with your closest friends. Our tradition demands: “tzedek, tzedek tirdof” – justice, justice shall you pursue. Such is the case of Rabbi Miri Gold and those who fight for justice on her behalf. May she, and rabbis like her, continue to serve their communities with dignity and the full support of their government for years to come.
Mark Swick grew up in Maryland and was an active member of Temple Sinai and NFTY-MAR, serving as NFTY RCVP from 2006-2007. Mark attended Indiana University and recently completed the Education Fellowship at the Institute of Southern Jewish Life. He will soon begin work as Community Liaison to the Yaschik/Arnold Jewish Studies Program at the College of Charleston.