September 19, 2018

Israel’s Reform Movement Watershed Moment is Now!!!!

Rabbi Josh Weinberg (President of ARZA) and Rabbi John Rosove (National Board Chair of ARZA) hold a first edition of Theodor Herzl’s Der Judenstaat

When I was a first-year rabbinic student at the Hebrew Union College in Jerusalem (1973- 1974), I did not tell my Israeli family what I was doing there. I was studying to be a Reform Rabbi, and at that time the Reform movement in the Jewish state was seen as an American transplant and wasn’t at all understood. Some Israelis dismissed it, while others went so far as to accuse it of being a Christian-Jewish movement meant to destroy Judaism.

In those years, Israelis were either Orthodox, traditional (i.e. they weren’t necessarily observant themselves but believed that Orthodox Judaism was the only legitimate practice), or they were secular.

All that changed in 2017. According to the Dialogue Company, a leading public opinion research firm headed by respected researcher Professor Camil Fuchs, Israel has never been as open to Reform Judaism as it is today.

Dr. Fuchs conducted a comprehensive survey assessing the status of the Reform Movement and religious pluralism in the State of Israel. The survey found the following:

  • The rate of self-identification with Reform Judaism is at an historic high in Israel;
  • More than half (56%) of the secular Israeli public say they have attended a lifecycle ceremony officiated by a Reform or Conservative rabbi, up about 10% from 2010;
  • There is overwhelming support (81%) among the secular public for giving full equality to non-Orthodox religious streams;
  • There is wide support (49%) among the traditional public for Reform and Conservative Judaism;
  • A vast majority (90%) of all respondents recognized the importance of the relationship with Diaspora Jewry for the State of Israel;
  • The number of Israelis who identify as Reform Jews has doubled since 2011 (3.5%). Today it is 7%. When added to the 4% of the Jewish population of Israel that identifies with Conservative Judaism, there are now nearly 700,000 Israelis that identify with either Reform or Conservative Judaism in Israel. That number is equal to the number of Haredim (Ultra-Orthodox Jews).

The Israeli Reform movement has succeeded in establishing itself without any government financial support, substantial accomplishments including

  • 50 Reform congregations around the country;
  • A full Rabbinic seminary – Hebrew Union College in Jerusalem;
  • 100 ordained Israeli Reform Rabbis;
  • 2 Reform Kibbutzim (Lotan and Yahel in the south);
  • The Leo Baeck High School in Haifa;
  • A Reform public elementary school in Holon;
  • An active Reform youth movement, Noar Telem;
  • MASA pre-army programs for high school graduates;
  • An Israeli Religious Action Center (IRAC) that advocates against racism and misogyny, and on behalf of equal justice and religious pluralism before the Knesset and the courts;
  • Dozens of local social action projects conducted by Reform congregations fighting hunger and poverty, on behalf of women’s and LGBTQ rights, African refugee asylum, economic justice, and a shared society with Arab Israeli citizens;
  • Thousands of life-cycle events (baby namings and britot milah, bnai mitzvah, conversions, weddings, and funerals) all performed by Israeli Reform Rabbis.

The Israeli Reform movement is winning battle after battle in the courts, and it is winning the hearts and minds of large numbers of Israelis. Many are attracted to egalitarian prayer and holiday celebrations, Jewish liberal values, and a place to raise their children according to their own values.

The Israeli Reform movement does not receive funds from the Israeli government due to the stranglehold on the budget by the Ultra-Orthodox political parties that hold exclusive control over funds for religious activity. Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox rabbis, synagogues, and schools receive millions of Israeli shekels annually from the Israeli tax-payer.

While our movement fights for equal rights and religious pluralism, we continue to expand with the help of North American Jews and the international Reform movement called ARZENU.

The Association of Reform Zionists of America (ARZA) led President Rabbi Josh Weinberg, and me as the national Board Chair, is launching the Campaign for Religious Equality.

We do with the full support of the Union for Reform Judaism, representing the North American Reform movement. The campaign goal is to double down the investment of our movement in Israel in the coming year. Rabbi Rick Jacobs, President of the Union for Reform Judaism, made that announcement in his d’var Torah on Shabbat morning at the Biennial Convention of the URJ.

Our goal is for every American Reform congregation (i.e. about 900 Reform synagogues in North America) to contribute an average of $3600 in each of the next three years to the Campaign for Religious Equality. Money can be raised from individuals in our congregations, from our congregational budgets, from special campaigns, and from Rabbinic and Cantorial discretionary funds.

We ask that you make checks out to ARZA, with “Campaign for Religious Equality” in the memo line, and send them to the ARZA office at 633 3rd Avenue (7th Floor), NY, NY 10017. We will forward your contributions to the Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism (IMPJ).

This money will be used to build Israeli Reform congregations, support legal advocacy in the courts on behalf of religious pluralism, democracy, and human rights, and sustain a public relations campaign to promote our shared values and expand the base of our movement in Israel.

The Israeli Reform movement is a positive way for North American Reform Jews to participate in the building of our national home and in advocating for Israeli religious equality and democracy in the Jewish state.

Visit our ARZA website – www.arza.org.