An Early Profile of Rabbi Miri Gold
The following is a profile of Rabbi Miri Gold that IRAC published back in July of 2006. We’re reposting it here at this time given yesterday’s landmark decision in Israel to actually provide funding for Rabbi Gold. Check out the coverage in the Washington Post or the New York Times. Or read Rabbi Rick Jacobs’ Ha’aretz article.
Obviously this victory was the result of a broad effort on the part of the Reform Jewish community around the world, and the responses poured in over the last 24 hours. Rabbi Rick Jacobs, President of the Union for Reform Judaism, and Rabbi Daniel Allen, Executive Director of ARZA: The Reform Israel Fund, released a statement welcoming the news as “historic.” You may have read Anat Hoffman’s statement we posted here yesterday, where she called on us to say a shecheyanu, and Rabbi Gilad Kariv, director of the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism said it “is a major breakthrough in the effort to promote freedom of religion in Israel.”
Read after the jump for the profile of Rabbi Gold from the early days of the struggle.
Battling in the Courts and Planting the Grassroots:
Rabbi Miri Gold speaks to the non-Orthodox Jewish experience in Israel
By Rebecca Cariati, IRAC Overseas Relations
“I didn’t fit the mold,” explains Rabbi Miri Gold of Kibbutz Gezer, “Lighting candles on Shabbat without the blessing was just too culturally Jewish for me—something was missing.” Gold recalls that Orthodox kibbutzim, “as liberal as they were in their own way,” weren’t Jewishly comfortable either. From this state of alienation, Gold went on to become a member of Kibbutz Gezer in 1977 and from there, slowly found her way to becoming an ordained Reform Rabbi.
Today, Gold is the main protagonist in IRAC’s dramatic petition to Israel’s Supreme Court demanding equal footing with the Orthodox for Reform and Conservative rabbis in Israel.
When Gold and her husband David Leichman made aliyah to Gezer, they were looking to create something new. Their previous American Jewish experiences, however, proved somewhat unhelpful: “We grew up in Reform and Conservative synagogues where a rabbi stood at the front of the room and spoke at us.” In building Kibbutz Gezer, the members were busy learning practical skills and “anything that had to do with Jewish expression fell by the wayside.”
Gold recounts the gradual genesis of Kibbutz Gezer’s synagogue which affiliated with the Reform Movement in 1997. “We started out using a small building designated as a synagogue in 1974. However, the space also came in quite handy for Jane Fonda workout sessions. One day, we got to the point where we said ‘This room is for spiritual purposes only.’” Spiritual purposes, however, don’t always exclude the occasional workout; “If someone wants to do yoga on Yom Kippur afternoon that’s OK!” she clarifies.
Standing amidst the natural beauty of Kibbutz Gezer’s outdoor sanctuary, Gold beams, “I’m proud to say that my husband built me a synagogue.” Gold was already a rabbinical student at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion’s Jerusalem campus when the project was undertaken. She explains one of her life principles, “We want to change Israelis’ relationship to ‘synagogue.’ Most Israelis who come to us have no prior knowledge of or firsthand experience in ‘synagogue’. They’re simply not comfortable with it.”
Gold explains that the natural, open surroundings of the synagogue allows, “For us to reach out, to get to Israelis who are searching for something, but they don’t know what it is.” Gold is by no means shy of her outreach approach which is commonly associated with the Hassidic movement of Chabad.
“We have to get the message out to Israelis that the majority of the Jews in the world are liberal, non-Orthodox Jews. A lot of Israelis think we’re weird, that we’re a cult.”
Gold stresses the importance of having the necessary facilities to be able to welcome formerly alienated Israeli Jews. The synagogue at Kibbutz Gezer is mainly supported by donations from American Jews, voluntary membership fees, and the Israel Movement for Progressive (Reform) Judaism—the synagogue does not receive any State funds.
“This is where the petition to the Supreme Court comes in. It’s not about the money, it’s about the principle,” Gold argues.
“Three or four years ago the secretary of the Gezer Regional Council listed me, in the spirit of protest, as the rabbi of Kibbutz Gezer. He insisted, saying, ‘You are the rabbi and I’m putting your name on the council’s website.’ At that point in time, we were very cautious and told him, ‘Write M. Gold, not Miri Gold,’ and he said, ‘No way!’”
This seemingly insignificant, symbolic protest became the impetus for the potentially groundbreaking petition that is pending in Israel’s Supreme Court.
The Israel Religious Action Center approached Gold, “Although the initiative came from outside the immediate Gezer community, I didn’t have to think twice—I accepted their proposal right away.”
The legal battle being waged in Israel’s highest court is ideological for Gold, “Israel has to be, has to exist, but not just in any old way. Israel has to exist as a democracy, as a place where Judaism can flourish in many different ways. A place that Jews around the world can consider a beacon, a State to be proud of.”
When asked about the negative attention she is subjected to, she responds positively, “There are really a lot of people who are very nasty, insulting, demeaning. It’s much easier to brush it off when I know that there’s a whole world of Jews out there who believe in what I’m doing. It gives me perspective. If I felt that I was doing this on my own, I couldn’t do it.”
While the petition is pending, Gold will continue to, “Offer Jewish alternatives so people won’t feel that Judaism is all or nothing. If they’re turned off by the Orthodox, they need to know that Reform Judaism is waiting with open arms.”
Upon being asked about a potential rejection of the petition, she responds, “No matter what happens in Court, we refuse to throw our hands up.”