It’s time to show a little fairness

I wish that Israeli governments would make half of that journey when it comes to the State of Israel’s attitude and treatment of Judaism’s non-Orthodox streams.

December 21, 2017 22:19
American Jews marching in New York with Israeli flags. How can we bridge the divide between Israel a

American Jews marching in New York with Israeli flags. How can we bridge the divide between Israel and the Diaspora?. (photo credit: REUTERS)


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On the first day of Hanukka, Daniel Gordis published a strongly worded op-ed following the North American Reform movement’s statement expressing concern by the White House’s timing of its recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. The title of the article was “It’s time to show a little love,” but the truth is that there was no love or integrity in what he wrote.

The writer presented the movement’s statement in a biased and prejudiced manner, chose to ignore the clarifications that the movement made, and even worse, chose to present the overall attitude of North American Jewry to the Zionist enterprise in a simplistic and distorted manner.

The Reform movement’s statement on the eve of President Donald Trump’s declaration was challenged not only outside of the movement, but also within it. As would be expected of a pluralistic movement which encourages dialogue and deliberation, alternative voices were also sounded from within the American Reform movement itself.

Naturally, the leadership of the Israel Reform movement expressed a different stance, as did other leaders in Reform communities throughout the world. However, no one ever doubted the fact that the North American Reform movement’s statement reflected a deep commitment and passion for Israel along with concern for her future, and a completely opposite position from alienation and a lack of love.

It was enough to read the opening sentences of the movement’s press releases both before and after Trump’s declaration, which emphasized the recognition that Jerusalem is the eternal capital of the State of Israel and of the Jewish people, in order to understand how groundless Gordis’s determination was that these types of messages could have been put out by leaders of European countries.

If the North American Reform movement’s opening statements were not enough, the speech made by Rabbi Rick Jacobs, the president of the Union for Reform Judaism, just three days after the announcement, made clear the deep and profound commitment of American Reform Judaism to the State of Israel and the expectation that Israel would express that same commitment toward all communities and streams of Jews around the world.

In this speech, made before 6,500 community leaders and rabbis and devoted entirely to the importance of the connection between world Jewry and the State of Israel, Jacobs declared that the Reform movement stands in solidarity with Trump’s statement, while at the same time calling for a swift renewal of the peace process and the advancement of a two-state solution.

In addition, Jacobs called for a deepening of the ties between Reform congregations and the State of Israel, for the doubling of support for the work of the Israel Reform movement and for the creation of a wide variety of opportunities for engagement between Israelis and North American Jews.

This speech was the highlight of the Union for Reform Judaism Biennial. It is doubtful whether the URJ ever had a similar convention, where Israel, the Israel Reform movement and the issue of the relationship between Israel society and world Jewry were so central to the program. Not surprisingly, Gordis chose to completely ignore Jacob’s speech and his clear statements.

Anyone who heard or read them would understand perfectly how incorrect Gordis’s argument that the URJ’s complex position regarding Trump’s announcement (which one can disagree with), reflects a lack of love or support for the State of Israel.

The simplistic understanding that Gordis showed of the Reform movement’s position is also reflected in his conclusions regarding North American Jewry as a whole. Gordis argues that the position on Jerusalem further proves the distancing of American Jewry from support for the very idea of the Jewish state.

To prove this argument, Gordis draws a direct connection between the Reform movement’s statement at the end of 2017 and comments made by justice Louis Brandeis, one of the greatest American Zionist leaders, and Albert Einstein’s comments made before World War II. American Jewry’s enormous support for the State of Israel, the centrality of Israel in Jewish education in North America and the making of Zionism into a wide common denominator for the vast majority of Jewish religious and cultural streams in North America – none of these is included on this line.

If this is the way that Gordis reads and understands American Jewry’s attitude toward the idea of a Jewish state over the last 100 years, it is no wonder that he fails in his attempt to correctly analyze the URJ’s statement following Trump’s announcement.

This failure is not just an unfortunate mistake in reading comprehension. It is an unworthy attempt to compare between the despicable and hurtful behavior of the Israeli government over the last two years toward Diaspora Jewry in general and the non-Orthodox streams in particular and the actions of the Reform movement.

This comparison wishes to place equal responsibility for the deep crisis created in the relationship between the State of Israel and Diaspora Jewry on both the perpetrator and the victim, on the side that chose to adopt harsh language and policy and that which strives for compromise, on that which broke its promises and on that which has to wipe the spit off its face over and over again.

A number of years ago, I visited one of the oldest Reform congregations in the United States. When I arrived, the rabbi gave me a short tour of the sanctuary and the rest of the campus. I was happy to see an Israeli flag standing on the bima (as is the case in the vast majority of North American Reform congregations), the Israeli art exhibit in the gallery, and finally the new sandbox in the kindergarten’s playground, designed to look like the map of Israel.

When we sat down in his office, the rabbi began by saying that he was a little embarrassed to tell me that almost 70 years ago, the congregational leadership sent a letter to then president Harry Truman calling on him not to recognize the State of Israel. I answered the rabbi that there is no better way to tell the American Reform movement’s great Zionist story in the 20th century than to describe the long journey made from the letter to Truman to the sandbox shaped like Eretz Yisrael.

I wish that Israeli governments would make half of that journey when it comes to the State of Israel’s attitude and treatment of Judaism’s non-Orthodox streams. Anyone who wants to talk about love and mutual responsibility between Israel and world Jewry at the beginning of the 21st century should focus on that.

The writer is president and CEO of the Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism.

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