July 16, 2015 29
Friends and Colleagues,
Rabbi Dow Marmur, a distinguished leader and friend of the Reform Movement, wrote an article last week in response to the outrageous statements made by Minister of Religious Affairs, David Azoulay. We take this opportunity to comment on some of the points made by Rabbi Marmur and add the official view of the Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism.
We agree with Rabbi Marmur that Prime Minister Netanyahu should discipline Minister Azoulay and we, too, expect to see action, not only words. However, we did find some comfort in the fact the Prime Minister was quick to distance himself and his government from the Minister’s words. Add to that the unequivocal denouncements made by Ministers Bennett and Shaked of Bayit Yehudi, and Deputy Minister Hotoveli of Likud. Not only were these expressions of their understanding that the Government of the State of Israel must not alienate millions of liberal Jews around the globe, but also spoke volumes about our Movement’s achievements in Israel. IMPJ has positioned itself as a force to be reckoned with in Israel, with an ability to mobilize critical support when and as necessary. Just a couple of decades ago this would have been unthinkable.
Rabbi Marmur’s concern regarding the strength of the Reform Movement in Israel is valid and is something the IMPJ leadership pays close attention to. As he rightly points out, membership in congregations is important, in Israel and in the Diaspora, but what is equally important is commitment to the cause. The number of Reform congregations in Israel has doubled in less than six years – to 45 – with an additional 15 minyanim during last year’s High Holy Days. This in and of itself is testament enough to a vibrant Reform presence in Israeli life. Add to this the fact that many of those new congregations are in towns and cities with absolutely no previous Reform presence, led by young grassroots Sabra families who were searching for the type of liberal, pluralistic Judaism inherent in our Israeli Reform Movement. Poll findings of a couple of years ago indicated that some eight percent of Israelis (roughly half a million people) identify themselves as Conservative or Reform Jews; that five percent say they visit Reform and Conservative synagogues regularly; and that another 26 percent visit theses congregations occasionally. An even more recently published poll now puts these numbers at 6% Reform and 6% Conservative. Undeniable progress is being made!
Rabbi Marmur is also quite right on the issue of synagogue affiliation. This is a particular challenge in a country where the services of orthodox synagogues are mostly provided free of charge, courtesy of the state. Entitlement is therefore a related issue we are addressing, often successfully, through our wonderful advocacy arm, the Israel Religious Action Committee. Challenging the State and municipalities in the courts, we’ve been successful in having premises provided for our congregations and in getting more and more of our rabbis funded by the state, to name but a few of our successes in this realm. These accomplishments, and others, are already helping many Israelis forge personal affiliations with Reform communities around the country. We will continue facilitating such relationships and will do so in a way consistent with values we share with Reform Jews worldwide, working within Israeli society and its unique culture, which we feel we know quite well. In this regard we take particular pride in our mostly Israel born board, with three of its eleven members under 35 years of age, one openly gay, all freely elected, not nominated.
IRAC is at the national vanguard of a continuing struggle to make paradigm changes in the relationship between “Synagogue and State”. Its pioneering endeavors in this field and its identification as the work of the Israel Reform Movement, give the IMPJ even more important exposure within Israel. Accordingly our eloquent spokespersons in Israel and abroad are frequently sought after for radio and television interviews and in the social media. We know all this is not enough and that we can’t rest on our laurels. Much work is yet to be done. But we also know the IMPJ is positively and measurably affecting Israeli society.
Rabbi Marmur contends that the IMPJ’s leadership is concerned with our Movement’s image, alluding that we may not be giving our friends and supporters abroad an accurate depiction of our state of affairs. We find this insinuation unacceptable. Our movement and its congregations host hundreds of foreign groups, thousands of visitors each year and it’s unthinkable we would or could effectively hide the truths from those visitors or from our supporters. We’re proud of our Movement’s achievements but are cognizant of our shortcomings and the many challenges we face today and those we’ll continue to face in the future. As Rabbi Marmur so eloquently writes, those challenges must be addressed. They will be. We are committed to doing so. Just as we call on Prime Minister Netanyahu to take action for what he is responsible for, so too we see it as our task to lead in making necessary changes to better our Movement` to make it second to none. We call upon our friends and supporters to help us in these endeavors. Words are important; effective action a necessity.
As for the Kotel – the Western Wall – we have good reason to celebrate with many Reform Jews from Israel and around the world who come to the Kotel to celebrate their simchas with Israeli Reform rabbis. We oppose the present state of affairs at the Kotel and endeavor, together with our partners, to change that status quo, but in the meantime we’re pleased our rabbis can help make those simchas meaningful religious celebrations. Bringing true meaning to our Movement’s slogan which states “there is more than one way to be Jewish” we also respect the beliefs of other Jews praying at the Wall, and elsewhere, in their own traditions.
We certainly have challenges, but in Israel you’ll find a Reform Movement that is energetic, very much Israeli, knowledgeable, empowered, mobilized and effective. We believe in complete transparency – detailed budgets open to scrutiny, board meetings open to any and all, and methodical decision making processes. Yes, we want our Israeli Reform Movement to continue growing; to see more people in our synagogues. And yes, we need support from our friends abroad. Every Jew has a place in Israel and we encourage each and every one of you to come visit, come and make a difference, come and stay. Assist us in taking actions towards making Israel an even better place, the place you want it to be. At times when you are not physically here, we’re proud to be your voice in Israel and we’ll do all we can to ensure you share in our pride and we be worthy of your support.
We are fighting for a worthy cause, and are successful in doing so. Join us! We would love to hear from you. Even more so, to have the opportunity to host you here in Israel, to show you what has been done, and what still needs to be achieved; working with us towards our common goals and values.
Reuven Marko Yair Lootsteen Rabbi Gilad Kariv
Chairperson Deputy Chairperson Director General
Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism