Woman rabbi flies to US to preach aliya

Modi'in mayor joins in effort to spur immigration of reform Jews to the town.

modiin aerial298 88 cour (photo credit: Modi'in Municipality (www.modiin.muni.il))
modiin aerial298 88 cour
(photo credit: Modi'in Municipality (www.modiin.muni.il))
It's not every day that you meet a rabbi wearing a sleeveless, green dress, especially in a state dominated by a strictly Orthodox establishment. But then again, Rabbi Kinneret Shiryon, spiritual leader of Kehillat Yozma, Modi'in's Reform congregation, is not your average Israeli rabbi. And now she is involved in a unique initiative, together with Modi'in's Mayor Moshe Spector, to encourage members of US Reform congregations to make aliya. On Saturday night, Shiryon will fly to the US with Spector to tour several Reform congregations with a decidedly Zionist message. "Living in Israel is the best way to fulfill a Jewish life," Shiryon told The Jerusalem Post in an interview in her office at Yozma's headquarters. "Here you speak the language of the Jewish people, you live the history and you enter into a special Jewish rhythm. I still get a rush of emotion when, before Rosh Hashana, my supermarket receipt wishes me a 'good verdict' on the day of judgment." The Reform Movement has its own Zionist arm, the Association of Reform Zionists of America, and since the establishment of the State of Israel, it has radically changed its historical stance, which rejected Jewish nationhood and emphasized Judaism's universal values. Nevertheless, over the past decades the Reform Movement has focused on cultivating communities in the Diaspora, teaching that a liberal Jew can fully realize his or her "Jewishness" without living in a Jewish state. In fact, Shiryon's trip to the US to encourage Reform Jews to perform the ultimate Zionist act and make aliya marks a break with the official Reform stance, which could be best described as "lukewarm." Now the Reform Movement is actively encouraging its members to consider immigration to Israel. "It has nothing to do with fears of intermarriage," said Shiryon. "The Reform Movement is very open to welcoming mixed couples. It has to do with living a full Jewish life." According to Shiryon, the move to actively encourage aliya was spearheaded by the Reform Movement's leadership, including its two principals, Rabbi Eric H. Yoffie, its president, and David Ellenson, president of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, both of whom are ardent Zionists. "The Reform Movement has evolved to the point where it can start encouraging aliya. Institutions such as Hebrew Union College, our youth groups, our pre-military academy, Reform congregations and our impact on the secular school system have all made the Reform Movement's standing in Israel more secure in a pro-Zionist stance," she said. During the short interview, Shiryon was interrupted countless times. There was a call from a mother who needed to set an appointment for her daughter's bat mitzva (Shiryon conducts one a week on average). There was a call from a couple being married by Shiryon later that evening (the official marriage was performed a few weeks ago by the Orthodox Israeli Rabbinate in a bureaucratic ceremony in the rabbinate's offices.) There was a call from the Jewish Agency, the organization funding the trip to the US. There was a Modi'in real estate agent who gave Shiryon a bunch of business cards to pass out at the US Reform congregations she was visiting. And there was a call from one of the rabbi's four children, who wanted to know her itinerary. Shiryon and Spector will be visiting congregations in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Long Island, Chicago, Skokie, Washington and Baltimore. Shiryon said these congregations were picked by Liran Gazit, the Reform Movement's aliya representative in the US, who said that some of the members were considering moving to Israel. "We are focusing primarily on young married couples who would find Modi'in attractive," said Shiryon. "Things like new housing, education and location. But I think there are also a lot of older couples who might be interested in retiring in Israel." Spector said he was pleased to be working with the Reform Movement in encouraging aliya. In response to a question from the Post, Spector said that he was not concerned with negative reactions from Modi'in's Orthodox community. "Infighting and hatred among Jews is what brought about the destruction of the Temple and exile. We have to learn to get along," she said. Rabbi David Lau, chief rabbi of Modi'in, declined to comment on the Reform Movement's initiative.