My journey to Judaism

The State of Israel’s government cannot afford to continue with archaic ideologies of us and them.

Women light candles for Shabbat (photo credit: REUTERS)
Women light candles for Shabbat
(photo credit: REUTERS)
I am responding, positively, to two recent articles appearing in these pages: “Change the status quo on conversions” by Aliza Lavie and “Jews face a widening rift” by Douglas Bloomfield. More particularly, I am praising Lavie’s respective support for both the civil marriage bill and the Jewish Agency’s courage to extend its own process of conversions in unreachable communities outside of Israel. Lavie’s mission ties into Bloomfield’s concern about the widening gap between American Jews and the continued and unjustified denial by the ultra-Orthodox establishment of Reform and Conservative conversions in the State of Israel.
After reading that the Religious Services Minister David Azoulay called Reform Judaism “a disaster for the people of Israel,” I am more inspired to remain, and extremely proud to be, a converted Reform Jewish woman living in Israel. Azoulay’s discriminatory statement actually goes against the philosophies of Judaism and basic democratic principles of Israel.
Last August I made aliya with my son from the United States. I converted to Judaism via the Reform movement, and I have not regretted my decision as of yet. My journey to becoming, being and remaining a Jewish woman has been an interesting one – and at times, even challenging. So far, it has been a 20-year journey, and it has not ended yet. Many participants in the global community see Israel as the only democratic country in the region. Now that I am living in Israel, I would like to still believe that I am living in a democratic country and not a theocracy.
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One reason why I appreciate living in Israel is I humbly understand the struggles of the Jewish people. I admire the Jewish people for their culture, survival skills and their entrepreneurship. More importantly, I decided to live in Israel because I want to teach an important value to my son, one of the most important human values: the inalienable right to exist. As Jews, we all know what that means. I believe that this inalienable right to exist is also associated with, and directly linked to, all conversions, practices and movements of Judaism. The Chief Rabbinate should not state which practice of Judaism is better and which one is worse. The human race remains, and forever will be, diverse and complex; so too are the Jewish people.
Yes, I agree, in order to understand the Jewish people you have to embrace Judaism and all its layers. However, each person has a right to walk his or her own road of Judaism – to interpret and approach Judaism his or her own way, whether it is Reform, Conservative or Orthodox. There are no two people alike in this world. If there are no two people alike in this world, then there should be at least more than one way to practice Judaism.
To make each person practice only one form of Judaism is offensive and even degrading. It is especially degrading to those converted Jews in the Diaspora who have advanced university degrees with non-Orthodox conversion certificates and who donate funds to many of Israel’s causes.
It is even more degrading to me, a converted Reform Jewish woman who has brought her own son to live in Israel, who will eventually become an IDF soldier and sacrifice three years of his life to serve and protect the State of Israel. It also means my son will protect the ultra-Orthodox communities of Israel, including Minister Azoulay and his family and members of the Chief Rabbinate and their families, from bombs and terrorist attacks. Where is the reciprocity? Please tell me, now, what does it mean to be a Jew? It is time to make all conversions accepted in the State of Israel, and change the current rabbinate’s antiquated control over the laws governing birth, marriage and death. We are not a theocracy. I want to live in a democracy with Jewish values, but I want to decide for myself which Jewish values will work for me and my son. I do not want to hear Mr. Azoulay’s uncivilized remarks about any movement of Judaism. It is apparent that he clearly does not have the kind of intellect I am looking for in a leader of unbiased religious and governmental policies. His comments are racist.
If we want Israel to exist and progress in this compact global society, then we need to stop individuals like Azoulay from practicing discrimination against people who are probably more educated than he is. We, as a pluralistic Israeli society, need unbiased Jewish visionaries, who embrace all forms of Judaism, for the Religious Affairs Ministry and Chief Rabbinate.
The State of Israel’s government cannot afford to continue with archaic ideologies of us and them. Isolation is a loser’s game, and no one wins with discrimination. If individuals like Azoulay and members of the Chief Rabbinate continue to insult people, like the American Jewish Reform population, then the State of Israel will face continued political isolation and increased risk of losing key financial support from major American Jewish Reform donors for many of Israel’s social causes.
The author made aliya from Chicago in August 2014, and currently resides in Tel Aviv.