A message to Diaspora Jews

The mere subject of Israel is out of bounds for Jews to discuss?

November 17, 2016 21:47
4 minute read.
Israeli flag.

Israeli flag.. (photo credit: REUTERS)

When the rabbi said it, we were pretty stunned.

While hosting a delegation of North American rabbis at the Knesset last week, a reform rabbi told us that her congregation asked to insert a clause in her contract stating she will not talk about Israel from the pulpit.

What??!? In meetings with hundreds of rabbis from around the world over the past few years, we had never heard – nor could we have imagined ever hearing – any rabbi say those words. We softly asked her to repeat what she said. But it was true: A Jewish congregation sought to forbid its spiritual leader from mentioning the Jewish state from the pulpit. In writing! A clause that would have meant a possible firing for breach of contract. (She courageously demanded that the clause be removed.)

What are we talking about here? The mere subject of Israel is out of bounds for Jews to discuss? Have we reached a point where elements of the American Jewish community are now saying they want a divorce? That there are two Jewish communities in the world, one that resides in the homeland of the Jewish people, and another on someone else’s territory in the Diaspora? Yes, the Israeli government has failed to create an atmosphere in which all Jews can feel completely at home in Israel. But is this what the Jewish people have come to after 2,000 years of longing to return home – two different flags, one for Israeli Jews and another for Jews living in the Diaspora? Is it really time to throw in the towel and wave the white flag after just 68 years of the modern- day miracle called the State of Israel, if Jews don’t want to even hear about Israel in synagogue?

We cannot let this happen.

Yes, WE.

We in Israel who are sensitive to seeing Israeli government policies lead to non-Orthodox Jews not feeling at home here will not accept this situation as a fait accompli. We will continue to serve as advocates for Diaspora Jewry in the Knesset, and in the Israeli public discourse.

But there are two plans of action that we believe should be taken up immediate by Diaspora Jewry: 1) Engage more, disengage less. As difficult as it may be you should not pull away from Israel but become even further involved.

The more Israelis see the critical role which you play for Israel as Diaspora Jews – an unstinting role of support since before the founding of the state – the more the message will spread that you are part of us, and must be made to feel at home in Israel.

A large percentage of Israelis are already uncomfortable with Israel depending on Diaspora Jews for lobbying, Israel advocacy, and funding, while closing them out of religious practice in Israel. Raising your visibility even further via increased pro-Israel activity will inevitably lead to stronger pressure on the government to change its policies.

2) Encourage aliya. Israel is a democracy, and right now within that framework there are ultra-Orthodox parties – elected by a few hundred thousand ultra-Orthodox citizens – who are using their political power to prevent non-Orthodox streams from developing in Israel. It’s a matter of politics, not religion. But if tens of thousands of Reform and Conservative Jews moved to Israel, the acceptance of these streams would suddenly become an electoral issue, and prime ministers would have no choice but to address the demands of these groups.

If you educate and inspire your children to understand the importance of Jews living in the Jewish state, and encourage all children to explore aliya upon reaching adulthood, it will undoubtedly lead to a massive shift in the Israeli electoral map, and significant changes in government policy. And remember that in Israel your vote really matters, and those who you vote for will provide you with representation in the Knesset and, with enough power, in the government.

Many may question our suggesting that non-Orthodox Jews immigrate to Israel en masse without pre-recognition from the state, and prior to Israel changing its policies.

We ask you to remember that Israel is a mere 68 years old, still a work in progress.

We’ve certainly accomplished more than anyone could have ever imagined in 68 short years, but we’re still young. Where was the United States in 1844? It too was still developing – and still is.

While we’d all like positive change to happen as quickly as possible, it doesn’t work that way. So we implore you to educate and inspire your congregants and children to take the plunge and join our vibrant democracy, and help us drive this change from the ground up.

Rabbis hesitating – or forbidden! – to speak about Israel from the pulpit is a wake-up call for all of us. We ask you to join our response to this sad development by working even harder to transform Israel into a state in which all Jews feel at home – and are proud to talk about it.

Aliza Lavie is an MK from Yesh Atid. Rabbi Dov Lipman is a former MK from Yesh Atid.

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