The State of Israel is at once exhilarating and frustrating, inspiring and challenging.
Israel is both Middle Eastern and Mediterranean. As part of the Middle East, we continue to be in the throes of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as well as a military superpower in a highly dangerous “neighborhood.” We have made the dessert bloom, revived Hebrew and Hebrew culture from TV series to poetry, and become a high-tech first-world leader in many fields such as medicine, science, and communications.
We are a mixture of ethnic groups and an assortment of Jewish histories spanning the globe. We are increasingly divided in matters of Judaism and democracy. We struggle with making our own Arab citizens feel at home, and they struggle with us. The founding socialist-secular ethos is in retreat, while more religious and extremist views are accepted and embraced.
How do we reconcile these contrasts? Are these matters a conversation for Israelis only, or should we include Diaspora Jewry on all issues regarding the Jewish nature of Israel? How has the fledgling Israeli Reform Judaism emerged as a powerful middle ground and bridge among these contradictions and challenges?
I believe that our relationship is crucial for remaining one Jewish People, despite the distance and differences.
The great Rabbi Abba Hillel Silver promoted Zionism out of his passion for Reform Judaism and the Jewish People, but he neglected to advocate for Reform Judaism in Israel. That is the task at hand. We must fight together to assure a “passionate moderate” liberal Judaism for Israelis.
For too many decades secular Israelis allowed the Orthodox to determine too many aspects of their Jewish life. Increasingly, they are taking it back, although we have not reached the tipping point of it making a difference in the Knesset.
As the first woman to become a rabbi in Israel, and as a veteran American Olah of over 40 years, I have witnessed a sea change in Israel. As Dean of HUC-JIR in Jerusalem, I watch how our U.S. students and our Israeli students interact and build partnerships.
Let’s explore how the grassroots, underdog Israeli Reform Judaism is growing and changing the landscape and conversation of what it means to be a Jewish State. American Jewish participation is required!
– Rabbi Kelman