In Featured at HBT, israelengagement, splansky

By Rabbi Yael Splansky.

I recently received an email from a long-time, devoted congregant who is smart, accomplished, fair-minded.  He is a giver to the UJA and an investor in Israel Bonds.  The subject line of his email:  “Troubles in Israel.”  He writes:

Hello Rabbi. 

I just read three articles in the July 6 edition of the Canadian Jewish News about two troubling events that have recently occurred in Israel. One is the cancellation by the Israeli government of the pluralistic prayer deal at the Western Wall that has taken away that [expanded] facility for progressive Jews. The other is a bill supported by a government committee that would withdraw official recognition of conversions done in Israel, not conducted under the auspices of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel.

I note that Diaspora Jewry is in an uproar.

My problem is that I am very upset about these events, but I don’t know what to do… My first thought was to cancel my donations… but, on reflection, this money goes to many causes both here in Canada and Toronto, and to non- governmental causes is Israel. Other HBT members must be having similar thoughts. So I am asking you to give our congregation guidance on how we should respond to these developments.

…My love for the State of Israel is wavering. How can Reform Jews love the State of Israel when it displays such negative views towards Reform and other progressive Jews in Israel and worldwide?

Looking forward to your guidance,

A troubled congregant.

And here is an excerpt of my reply:

Thank you for your letter.  I admit it stopped me in my tracks.  

You are a committed Jew and a committed Zionist.  You don’t only walk through the world with a private Jewish identity, you act upon it, giving of your time and your hard-earned dollars.  If you are feeling this way — that you might take a step away from Israel — then how must others, who have a thinner bond to Israel and to Klal Yisrael (the totality of the Jewish People) feel?

Don’t boycott the UJA; they can be important partners in our efforts and do so much good for so many people in need both here and in Israel.  But we should redouble our giving to Reform organizations in Israel.  

You write:  “My love for the State of Israel is wavering. How can Reform Jews love the State of Israel when it displays such negative views towards Reform and other progressive Jews in Israel and worldwide?”  I know you speak for many when you write these words, which keep me up at night. It’s like any worthwhile relationship.  If someone you don’t really care about hurts you somehow, you can easily cut them out of your life.  Who needs ’em?  But if someone you love, someone who is your family, hurts you, you have to draw very close to that person, look them in the eye, speak your truth, and not leave the room until the relationship is restored.  It won’t be perfect after that — you may always be a little guarded, a memory of the sting will remain, but it will be put back into perspective against the backdrop of the full and lasting relationship.  It’s like that now with Israel.  

A recent poll by Hiddush shows that two-thirds of Israelis side with our cause and scorn Netanyahu’s recent alliance with the Ultra-Orthodox.  We have to join with the majority of Israelis — including the many modern Orthodox who are also shut out — to show Netanyahu that he picked the wrong partners for leading Israel forward.”

Here are some action items for us all.

  1. For $36 become a member of ARZA Canada. This entitles you to regular updates on matters of interest for Reform Zionists and gives us a larger voting block within the World Zionist Congress.  There is power in numbers.  Additional donations to ARZA Canada are funnelled into projects of priority within the Israeli Reform Movement and educational programs here in Canada.  You can join ARZA Canada by simply checking off the box on your Holy Blossom Membership Renewal or by clicking here and following this link.
  2. Support the Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC), the advocacy wing of the Reform Movement in Israel. There is a team of passionate and talented professionals working day and night on our behalf to bring Reform Jewish values to Israel.  IRAC maintains a hotline for any Israeli to call when religious freedoms are threatened.  Its lawyers have successfully brought cases through the system, sometimes as high as the Supreme Court.  To receive regular updates from IRAC click here and follow this link.
  3. Write to Israel’s Consul General, Galit Baram. Let her know how you feel.  She is a real friend to the Reform Movement and is our direct line to Prime Minister Netanyahu and the Foreign Ministry.  Make your voice heard by clicking here.
  4. Endorse the strong letter written by the Canadian Rabbinic Caucus. It’s a rare moment when more than sixty Reform, Orthodox, Conservative, and Reconstructionist Rabbis from across the country raise their voices in unison. Plurality of ideas and diversity of practice have always been sources of strength for world Jewry.  The Chief Rabbi of Israel is not the Pope of the Jews and Netanyahu is not the King.  Let your voice be heard by clicking here.
  5. Travel to Israel and visit our sister congregations. Let the small but growing Reform Movement in Israel know that while they may be a minority in Israel, they are a part of strong international movement that supports them. Next year Holy Blossom is taking three trips to Israel. Twenty-four of us are already signed up to travel with the UJA on its Centennial Mission this fall.  It’s a great itinerary which provides many speciality tracks for experienced travellers as well as a subsidized rate for first-time travellers.  We’ll spend Shabbat with Reform congregations and travel south to support our two Reform kibbutzim in the Arava.  I’d love to travel with you.  More information may be found here. Our Confirmation Class is travelling to Israel for Spring Break.  And Cantor Maissner is leading a congregational trip in the spring to celebrate Israel’s 70th birthday.  To learn more, click here.
  6. Come for our Tisha B’Av services, on Tuesday, August 1 to pray for Jerusalem.  This year, our Tisha B’Av commemorations will be enlivened by a visit from Rita Gvili, a leader of our sister Reform congregation in Even Yehuda.  She’ll draw from traditional sources and from her own experiences to teach about the high stakes for this moment in Jewish history. Click here for full details.

Yesterday was the 17th of Tammuz when in 587 BCE the Babylonians breached the walls of Jerusalem.  The Jewish calendar now places us in the three weeks of anxiety over the strength of Jerusalem.  Our Talmudic Sages ask:  “Why was Jerusalem destroyed?”  One of the answers comes:  “We did not rebuke one another.”  When we do not act as a family, calling each other out when one steps out of bounds in a way that it dangerous or hurtful to the whole, we are vulnerable.  When we speak to one another with clarity and conviction, with respect and responsibility one for the other, we are strengthened.

Now is the time to “lean in” to Israel.  One of the five pillars of Holy Blossom Temple’s Statement of Identity is Ahavat Yisrael, a Love of Israel.  We assert:

“We recognize and celebrate Israel as the centre of the Jewish world. The relationship between Israel and Diaspora Jewry is one of partnership and shared destiny. We feel close to Israel and its growing Reform movement. We share in Israel’s joys and sorrows; we are proud of her many accomplishments and worry for her security. We hold a wide range of views on her social, religious, and political issues and encourage the expression and respectful exchange of these views. We encourage our congregants to provide tangible support for Israel through investments and donations. We also encourage our congregants to travel to Israel for tourism, study, volunteerism, leadership, and aliyah.”

To be an Ohev/Ohevet Yisrael, a Lover of Israel, means more than admiring Israel from a distance in some romantic kind of way.  It means knowing Israel – with all her fantastic feats, her flaws and failures, too – loving her and helping her to find her fullest potential.  Canadians are known to be trustworthy and loyal Zionists.  When the Jewish character of the Jewish State is being tested we are duty-bound to make our voices heard.

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  • Arlene Roth

    Thank you for your helpful, constructive advice. After reading what you posted, I thought, “That’s common sense.” Before reading your comments, I was confused as well. Your direction is much appreciated.
    Arlene Roth

  • Kitra

    What I do not understand the most about this monopoly the orthodox have over the Israeli government and the disdain they have towards progressive Jews, if it wasn’t for progressive Jews there wouldn’t be an Israel today there would still be a Palestine. We would be all scattered across the world and waiting for the messiah to come bring us back home to Israel.

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