We spend a lot of time talking about Israel’s security. For good reason. However, how can we take care of the body properly if we don’t commit ourselves just as seriously to its soul? We often hear from generals and security experts about the existential threats facing Israel. Iran is among the greatest threats Israel has ever faced, to be sure. But what about some of the internal struggles that Israel is facing?
Within Israel, we see an increasingly radicalized ultra-Orthodox (Haredi) community engaging in acts of religious coercion. This segment of Israeli society has challenged women’s presence in the public domain. The Chief Rabbinate’s Office is emerging more and more fundamentalist, challenging other Orthodox rabbis and their conversions (never mind their exclusion of Reform and Conservative rabbis and our important work). Hostility and even physical attacks are brewed in these anti-Zionist fringe communities. Yet, despite their minority status in Israel, their political power is great due to Israel’s challenging parliamentary system.
This fraction of Israeli society has held a monopoly of state-sponsored Jewish religious expression for decades. In more recent years, the High Court of Israel has mandated that the Government support Reform and Conservative institutions and programs. Those programs and opportunities presented to Israel’s Jewish citizens have been positively received with overwhelming success. But the playing field is still not level.
While I wrote this for our June newsletter, since we published it, dramatic news has come out…the Attorney General of Israel paved the way for the government to support Reform and Conservative rabbis. It isn’t the perfect solution, but it is on the right path for proper equality and recognition of Reform and Conservative rabbis and liberal Jewish practices in Israel. Read more here.
Israel needs us. Not just our support in Congress for things like the Iron Dome Missile System, but to be a partner with Israelis to make sure that Israel’s democracy and Jewish pluralism is sound and strong. Because of what many consider to be a fundamentalist stranglehold over Judaism, many Israelis feel pushed away from developing their own faith and seeing a Jewish tradition that is spiritually compelling and meaningful.
So here is my unabashed plea for support for the Reform movement in Israel. This Reform Jewish community is expanding in new communities to respond to a real need amongst Israelis. In the past ten years our congregations have doubled, our nursery schools have tripled and are full. Today the Israeli Reform movement, led by native born and Hebrew-speaking lay and rabbinic leaders, touches the lives of 250,000 Israelis. It is through the continued growth of our Movement that we are influencing Israeli society for the better. They want a Jewish voice that will give them a community of inspiration, hope, and a view at Jewish sources that is modern and relevant.
Every one of us at Temple Beth Tikvah can be a part of supporting this effort to strengthen Israel as a democratic, inclusive Jewish community by belonging to ARZA, the Reform Fund for Israel. ARZA strengthens the Reform Zionist movement in the U.S., helps to fund Reform congregations in Israel, and supports the Israel Religious Action Center.
As our Nadiv Lev materials go out to you, you will notice an optional (but encouraged) item for you to join ARZA. ARZA will use these funds to continue to educate America’s Jews about Israel, Zionism and Reform Judaism in Israel. It will fund emerging congregations in Israel and IRAC. Your $36 membership fee will go a long way if our community stands together and does its part. ARZA has committed itself to congregations like ours as it re-invests in our synagogue $2 out of the $36 to support Israel programming!
Your membership will enable ARZA to join with the Conservative Movement and the Jewish Federations of North America to continue the fight against religious exclusivity and coercion in Israel.
Zionism was always a big enough tent to include a spectrum of ideas, from Zeev Jabotinsky to Ahad Ha’Am, from David Ben-Gurion to Menachem Begin. While we join the common ground of supporting and showing our love for Israel, we are helping those share a voice reflecting our own, showing that there is more than one way to be Jewish.
So when you see your Nadiv Lev application this summer, I hope you check off the line to join ARZA and help Temple Beth Tikvah do its part as one community.
If you would like to lend your support to a new initiative, helping to provide scholarships to Israeli Rabbinical Students at the Reform movemen’ts rabbinical school, the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, contact me directly. I’d love to tell you more about how Atlanta’s Reform rabbis are coming together to strengthen a progressive Judaism in Israel by supporting an Israeli Reform rabbinical student!