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99http://www.beth-israel.org/blog/2012/05/Rabbi-Lyon%27s-Blog---06_01_2012
Rabbi Lyon's Blog - 06_01_2012
05/31/2012 04:13 PM Posted by:

From the Desk of Rabbi David Lyon
June 1, 2012

 

Imagine an enormous block of ice the size of the State of Israel. And, imagine that frozen deep within it is Israel’s greatest and profoundest hope. Imagine that the Orthodox party’s powerful grip on all religious matters including marriages, divorces, and conversions, is represented by an enormous hook holding Israel in its mighty grip. And, imagine standing atop this huge mass of ice are most Israelis and most of the world’s Jews wielding a smaller pick-ax taking swings to break open the ice to gain access to Israel’s hope deep inside. Well, this week that small pick-ax broke through the ice and progressive Jews began to reveal the heart of Israel.

                It really is a place where Jews can be Jewish in all the ways they are everywhere else in the world. Reform, Conservative and other non-orthodox rabbis are beginning to be recognized for their leadership in the communities they serve and they’re going to be paid for their services by the same government that has until now only paid orthodox rabbis.

                Rabbi Miri Gold, the “poster girl” of the battle to recognize non-Orthodox rabbis, and Anat Hoffman, Executive Director of the Israel Religious Action Center, the legal and advocacy arm of the Reform Movement in Israel, along with the support of Rabbi Rick Jacobs, URJ President, spoke this week in a webinar about the profound meaning of this milestone breakthrough. It is significant for many reasons. First and foremost, the Reform and Conservative movements in Israel are gaining more legitimacy than ever before; not that they were not recognized by the people who attended their synagogues and trained to be rabbis at HUC in Jerusalem, but now the government has opened a way (even if it isn’t perfect) for non-orthodox rabbis serving their communities to be paid by the government. Second, in the past, Israelis identified themselves as either religious or secular. I have met many Israelis over the years who didn’t understand what Reform or Conservative Judaism was because it wasn’t recognized in Israel. Increasing numbers of Israelis are recognizing the opportunities for vibrant Jewish life within Reform and Conservative congregations and communities there.

                Rabbi Miri Gold, upon hearing the news on the radio said, “This is a big step for religious pluralism and democracy in Israel. Israeli Jews want religious alternatives and with this decision the State is starting to recognize this reality. There is more than one way to be Jewish even in Israel.”

                The challenges are not small and the debates will continue. Israelis have a lot to decipher from the aftermath of this longstanding issue. Rabbi Gold courageously accepted victory but humbly acknowledged the pain this decision will cause the orthodox as their stranglehold on Israeli religious life loses its grip. No doubt they will respond by retraining their hold on Jewish religious matters. But the ice has been broken and the thaw will begin to chip away more ice. Eventually, modern Judaism as we have known it in North America will flourish in the hands of Israelis who, like us, want to be everything that Israel can be, namely, modern, ancient, democratic, western, middle-eastern, and Jewish. It’s a tall order but it’s been the hope and expectation for 90% of Israelis for the last 64 years.

                Finally, let me invite you to celebrate with me the historic and profound role played by our Reform Movement which took the lead decades ago to find a place for modern Jews and Judaism in Israel. One person I want to single out is Rabbi Uri Regev, attorney and founder of “Hiddush --- For Freedom of Religion and Equality”, a trans-denominational nonprofit aimed at promoting religious freedom and equality in Israel. I consider Uri a friend of mine and our congregation (he spoke here in recent years), and a vital person on the path towards greater recognition for liberal Judaism in Israel. Rabbi Regev will be speaking to our Beth Israel members who are traveling with us to Israel on June 10th.

                Mazel Tov to Rabbi Miri Gold, Anat Hoffman, Rick Jacobs and the URJ, Rabbi Regev and to all of us who love Judaism and value Jewish life. From my family to yours, Shabbat Shalom.

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