Two reform clergy to take their liberal spirit to Israel

Rabbi Don Goor of Temple Judea and Cantor Evan Kent of Temple Isaiah announced to their congregations on Jan. 11 that they will be moving to Israel next summer. Both will leave behind successful careers in Los Angeles as they jump into the rich but contentious world of liberal Judaism in Israel.

“I’ve been a huge Zionist my whole life,” said Goor, 53, who has been at the 1,000-member Temple Judea in Tarzana for 25 years. “I’ve had the opportunity to add to the narrative of the Jewish people in the U.S., and now I’m looking forward to doing that in Israel, and bringing to Israel the values that are important to us and to modern-day Zionism.”

Kent, 52, who has been at Temple Isaiah in West Los Angeles, which also has 1,000 member units, since he became a cantor 24 years ago, says the aliyah of a Reform, gay, clerical couple could inspire others.
“Aliyah is not reserved for the Orthodox. More people with our spiritual and religious values, and our democratic and pluralistic values should make aliyah. It’s important that Israelis see that people like us treasure Israel,” Kent said.

Goor and Kent, who have been together since 1986 and were married in Canada, made moving to Israel part of their life plan when they were in their 30s. Some years ago, they purchased an apartment in the Abu Tor neighborhood of Jerusalem.

Neither has lined up jobs yet, but both are looking toward positions at universities, think tanks or adult education institutions in Jerusalem. Goor says he doesn’t think he’ll have a pulpit in Israel, as the Reform movement is ordaining more native Israelis these days.

Kent is completing a doctoral thesis on Jewish identity and music at Boston University, and he has a longstanding affiliation with Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Los Angeles. He said he would love an opportunity to teach first-year cantorial students at HUC’s campus in Jerusalem.

While Goor and Kent have strong connections in the liberal Jewish community in Jerusalem, they are both aware that they will be entering a religious milieu markedly different from the pluralistic environment of Los Angeles. The Israeli government, under the sway of the Orthodox rabbinate, does not recognize Reform clergy as officiants at life cycle events, and Israelis only recently have begun to appreciate the spiritual depth offered by liberal strains of Judaism.

“I think one of the great challenges of our aliyah is to bring to Israel the democratic and pluralistic values that are so important in our lives and that should be so important in Israel,” Goor said. “I’m really excited about that.”

Both Goor and Kent grew up in families deeply connected to Israel. Goor developed a strong connection to Israel at Reform summer camp and spent his high school years as an exchange student in Israel. Kent celebrated his bar mitzvah in Israel in 1972.

Leaving their congregations and family and friends in Los Angeles will be difficult, though they are keeping their house here and plan to visit often.

“It’s going to be sad to lose Don as senior rabbi. He’s been here for 25 years, and clearly has been the force behind everything that has made us successful,” said Temple Judea president Michael Robbins. The board voted to give Goor emeritus status when he leaves.

Goor, who became senior rabbi in 1997, oversaw a merger with the struggling Temple Soleil in West Hills in 1999, and a $27 million reconstruction of the temple’s Tarzana campus, completed last September.

Robbins credits Goor with building the Hebrew school into one of the largest in Los Angeles, creating a warm and innovative community, and fostering social justice programs.

The synagogue already has initiated a national search, and Judea’s associate rabbis, Dan Moskovitz and Karen Bender, have thrown their hats into the ring.

Temple Isaiah is also forming a search committee. Kent said that, after the announcement, an elderly congregant told him she had already put instructions in her will for what he was to sing at her funeral.

Rabbi Zoë Klein, senior rabbi at Temple Isaiah, sent a letter to congregants last week.

“Learning this brings out many deep feelings, including admiration for their courage in realizing their dream, disbelief that such a foundational force in our congregation could ever leave, sadness over his pending absence, pride in his incredible achievements and what he has yet to achieve,” she wrote.