No, Reform US Jews aren’t abandoning Israel - opinion

It is no secret that most American Jews mostly align to the Democratic Party. The Democratic Party is in no way anti-Israel.

 THE BIMAH at Temple Isaiah is adorned with both the US and Israeli flags. (photo credit: CHARLOTTE KRAUSZ)
THE BIMAH at Temple Isaiah is adorned with both the US and Israeli flags.
(photo credit: CHARLOTTE KRAUSZ)

The Israeli and American media have declared that the reform movement in America is becoming a lost cause for Israel, that reform and progressive Judaism, to which the vast majority of American Jews ascribe, has become indifferent to Israel at best and anti-Zionist at worst. These views are wrong. They exaggerate a minuscule fringe of anti-Israel progressive Jews (ignoring ultra-Orthodox anti-Zionism) and misrepresent American Jews’ criticisms of the Israeli government as infectious anti-Zionism.

I am a seventeen-year-old reform Jew from suburban Maryland. I am exactly the demographic accused of abandoning our ancestral homeland and failing to understand the importance of Israel. I speak for my community when I say we haven’t.

All the major reform Jewish organizations make Israel a top priority. Every synagogue I’ve been to proudly displays both American and Israeli flags on the bimah (the reader’s platform), and the local Jewish federation chapter has even hosted falafel-making classes with our shlicha (community emissary) from Israel.

In late February, I decided to take part in my synagogue’s annual youth social justice weekend on Capitol Hill. We went with the Religious Action Center, the lobbying arm of the Union for Reform Judaism. My group of high schoolers was joined by dozens of others from the country who advocated for the usual left-leaning issues as well as bipartisan support for Israel.

I was tasked with giving a speech to my local congressman’s office about what Reform Jews wanted for Israel. I followed the requests laid out by the organization: continued defensive aid, humanitarian aid for Palestinians and United States involvement in the international peace process. Also included was a warning about the current political instability and rising Jewish extremism.

American and Israeli Jews [Illustrative] (credit: REUTERS)
American and Israeli Jews [Illustrative] (credit: REUTERS)

The very day I was set to speak was the day after settlers stormed and burned the Palestinian village of Huwara. I still gave my speech that called for support based on shared democratic values and the Jewish right to national self-determination but the optimistic words I’d written previously didn’t feel the same.

It is no secret that most American Jews mostly align to the Democratic Party. The Democratic Party is in no way anti-Israel. Now, I understand how threatening far-Left anti-Israel sentiment feels (I’ve encountered plenty of it on my university search) but it’s only espoused by the farthest fringe of the Democratic Party and has been rebuffed by American Jews (most certainly including Reform) and by establishment Democrats.

How US Jews could be alienated from Israel

Were Israel to rely solely on Republican Party evangelical Christian support, it would severely alienate American Jews especially because of the Republican Party’s condoning of neo-Nazis and white supremacists. Having American Jews make aliyah is not the solution.

Aliyah, though I have great respect for the practice of immigrating to Israel, is not a substitute to making the wider world safe for Jews. All of these larger politics mixed with the Israeli [ultra-]Orthodox’s disregard for Reform Judaism, LGBT – lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender – rights, intermarriage and patrilineal descent, can be conflicting for American Jews.

But despite these grievances, we American Jews will still feel a special bond with Israel. Just a few weeks ago, my synagogue threw a Yom Ha’atzmaut celebration for the kids. To celebrate Israel’s 75th birthday, we stuffed ourselves with pita sandwiches and played Israel-themed trivia. I won. But the mostly much younger group was knowledgeable and eager to learn more.

At the end, our rabbi threw in one final question: “Okay, which war was fought on a Jewish holiday?” “The Yom Kippur War!” the group exclaimed. “Well, actually,” he replied, “it could be the Independence War because it was fought on Independence Day.” I don’t think I have ever seen so many eye-rolls.

I want to reaffirm that American Jews do and will support Israel – maybe not the current government – but the soul of the nation. Reform Jews are conflicted about Israel not because we shun it but because we care.

The writer is a 17-year-old recent American high school graduate and an active participant in Jewish life at Temple Isaiah, her local Reform synagogue in Fulton, Maryland.