September 23, 2018

Campaign for Religious Equality in Israel

“We are doing great things at Kehilat Mevaseret Zion with families, adults, social justice work, and building community, but we receive no funding from the Israeli government, as opposed to orthodox synagogues one of which is just down the street from us and is fully funded because it is orthodox.” So said Rabbi Alona Nir Keren of Kehilat Mevaseret Tzion, a Reform synagogue community in the Judean Hills just down the road from Jerusalem.

Rabbi Nir Keren joined with four other Israeli Reform Rabbis on a stage on Monday night at the 129th annual meeting of the Central Conference of American Rabbis in Long Beach, CA. She was part of a panel discussing the vitality and challenges of the Israeli Reform movement.

She was joined by Rabbi Chen Or Tsfoni of Kehilat Raanana, Rabbi Yoki Amir, Professor of Jewish History and Philosophy at the Hebrew Union College in Jerusalem, Rabbi Nava Hefetz, the Director of Education for Rabbis for Human Rights-Israel, and Rabbi Gilad Kariv, the CEO and President of the Israel Movement for Progressive and Reform Judaism.

Rabbi Kariv spoke about the growing influence of Israel’s Reform movement in Israel as a whole. He noted that 800,000 Israelis have attended in recent years weddings, b’nai mitzvah celebrations, britot milah, baby namings, and funerals conducted by our 100 Israeli Reform Rabbis. Israelis are not only taking notice of the Israeli Reform movement, they are joining Reform synagogues. Taken together (according to a recent poll), the Reform and Conservative movements attract 11% of the Israeli population, equal to the 11% of the Israeli population that are ultra-Orthodox Haredim.

Rabbi David Stern, President of the CCAR, questioned these rabbis on a wide range of issues including human rights, religious pluralism in the state, the impact of Reform Judaism on Israeli culture, the spiritual and educational needs of Israelis young and old, liberal religious practice in Israel, and the reasons so many secular Israelis are attracted to the Reform movement.

Rabbi Hefetz told of her work in human rights with the Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers. Rabbi Or Tsafoni, the daughter of Iraqi immigrants, shared her experience growing up in Israel as a child of immigrants from a Muslim country. Rabbi Kariv reviewed the wide range of issues that the Reform movement’s Israel Religious Action Center is actively confronting on a daily basis in the Knesset and in courts of law.

The evening was sponsored by the Association of Reform Zionists of America (ARZA), and as the Chair of the national Board, I had an opportunity to thank our Israeli colleagues for the important work they are doing and to present the “Campaign for Religious Equality” that ARZA and the Union for Reform Judaism began several months ago at the URJ Biennial Convention in Boston attended by 5000 delegates from Reform synagogues around the world.

We are asking every Reform synagogue in North America (now numbering more than 900 communities) to contribute $3600 each as we prepare to celebrate Israel’s 70th anniversary in May. The money we raise will go directly to our Israeli Reform movement to support our Israeli synagogue communities (which receive no financial support from the Israeli government), our legal and lobbying efforts on behalf of religious pluralism, democracy, women’s rights, human rights, against racism and bigotry, and to conduct a massive public relations campaign to promote Reform Judaism in Israel with the intent to draw more Israelis to liberal progressive Judaism.

For North American congregations that would like to contribute $3600, please see ARZA’s website – www.arza.org .