Last summer, on my way home from Israel and after dropping my daughter off at JNF’s High School in Israel program, I stopped for a few days in Rome with my wife and son. We visited the Jewish quarter and took an incredible tour of Jewish Rome.
We learned from our guide that many of Rome’s Jews considered themselves Orthodox but flexible. They do not necessarily keep Shabbat and holidays according to Jewish law, they eat in non-kosher restaurants and do not hold themselves to the standards of strict Orthodox halacha.
Yet, the synagogues they attend and the rabbis that minister to them are Orthodox and so they are called Orthodox. This makes them acceptable to the Chief Rabbinate in Israel because though many of them are not halachic they consider themselves part of the Orthodox world.
In the United States, the majority of Jews are members of and align with the Reform, Conservative and other liberal movements. They do so because they are most honest and reflect a clear authenticity about their practice.
American Reform and Conservative Jews love being Jewish, just like the Italian Jews. They care deeply about their commitment to the Jewish people, just like the Tel Avivians who fill the beaches, restaurants and nightclubs of their city on Shabbat.
Liberal Jews study Torah and read Jewish books and send their kids to religious schools just like Jews around the world. They support Israel with vast sums of money and huge swaths of their time and energy as much as any other Jewish community.
Yet, because they are honest about who they are, because they do not pretend to call themselves Orthodox when they are not, they have been vilified by the haredi community and persecuted by the Chief Rabbinate.
Liberal Jews feel the wrath of Israel's Orthodox establishment
AS ISRAEL’S most right-wing government in its history takes power, liberal Jews in America once again feel the wrath of the Orthodox establishment in Israel. We see Israel’s aliyah minister indicating that he only seeks new olim from Orthodox communities, there are calls to change the Law of Return and other mean-spirited attacks on millions of Jews from the coalition’s leaders and back benchers.
Nevertheless, despite the torrent of incitement from the haredi world, I was heartened to hear recently Israel’s Diaspora minister says that he is “not willing to write off three million Jews because they don’t think the way I do.”
I am a proud member of that three million. I descend from a great-grandfather who was ordained in the Old City of Jerusalem by Rav Kook, a grandfather who was ordained at the Jewish Theological Seminary, and I am a proud alum of the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion.
I spend my time with AIPAC, JNF, AJC, Magen David Adom and a host of other organizations that are committed to the Zionist dream of an eternal Jewish homeland in Eretz Yisrael, with its capital in the Holy City of Jerusalem, including our own Reform Movement’s Zionist work.
I travel to Washington time and time again to lobby Congress to support and protect Israel. I am one of the three million who support Israel with everything that I have. I have friends and family in Tel Aviv and in Jerusalem. Our congregation supports one the of the oldest and longest-running Reform congregations in Jerusalem and I even work with rabbis and their programs in places like Itamar and Gush Etzion.
I pray every day for Israel, her soldiers and her citizens. No matter how long you continue to bash our movement, I will still support Israel with all my strength.
I will never stop reaching out my hand to all Jews because they are my brothers and sisters. I yearn for the day when all of Israel’s spiritual leaders can say the same thing.
The writer is the senior rabbi of Temple Beth Am in Miami, FL.