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104http://www.beth-israel.org/blog/2012/07/Rabbi-Lyon%27s-Blog---07_06_2012
Rabbi Lyon's Blog - 07_06_2012
07/05/2012 07:00 AM Posted by:

From the desk of Rabbi David Lyon
July 6, 2012

 

It’s been many weeks since we returned from Israel with 35 travelers. While reflecting on this trip I remembered my first experience in Israel as a student in 1985. During that year of study for the rabbinate, it was very common to have conversations with Israelis about Jews in America. Their common refrain was “If you’re Jewish, why aren’t you living here?” To them it was illogical bordering on anti-Israel to remain in America. It was an uncomfortable confrontation but I didn’t miss the meaning of the message, “Israel needs you.”

                Even in 1985, I believed my home was in America and that I could be mindful of Israel from a distance. On subsequent trips to Israel, their refrain of long ago has changed. No longer do I hear from anyone that American Jews must come to Israel permanently. It’s not that it isn’t encouraged and it’s not like there aren’t many programs to facilitate the moves, but the Israelis I encounter understand for now that the relationship between American and Israeli Jews is critical to Israel’s sustainability and future. In short, Israel needs American Jews for many reasons.

                One reason has come to light in recent weeks. After decades of efforts to be recognized in Israel, the Reform and Conservative movements, commonly known as non-orthodox in Israel, are beginning to be recognized by the government. For years, HUC, the Reform seminary, has been training Israelis to be Reform rabbis in Israel. And, for years many American-trained Reform rabbis have served in Israel. But, only since June 2012, have any of them been recognized as the spiritual leaders of their communities. The deal struck by the government isn’t perfect: the rabbis in the outlying areas will be paid by the Ministry of Culture and Sport rather than the Ministry of Religious Affairs. But, as I’ve written here before, it’s a beginning that took many years to reach.

                Without the strength of the liberal branches of Judaism, Israel risks the dislocation from any semblance of religious life in Israel the 90% of Israelis who identify themselves as non-orthodox. Reform in particular has played a significant role in providing a modern and authentic way to be Jewish in Israel without adhering to the “Charedim” the ultra-orthodox who today rule and govern all religious matters in the State. The Charedim’s reactions have been cited in Israeli newspapers. They call reform and conservative rabbis “clowns” and “Christian priests”. Obviously, it’s offensive but it also provides more than a clue about the debate and struggle that is coming.

                There’s always something more important in Israel to debate. The borders and the struggles across them continue and will likely take everyone’s minds off the less lethal issue of “Who is a rabbi?” But, Israel is a stiff-necked people; if there isn’t something to wrestle with then we aren’t becoming more of what we are intended to be. I’m not worried that Israel can’t accommodate this debate, too; in fact, I think it has no choice. Reform Judaism is a vital and viable choice for all Jews. Like our ancestors before us, we have to embrace a living Judaism that helps us choose how to live in our time and place. This isn’t the middle ages, and the Israelis and Jews I know, whether in Israel in 1985 or today, have no interest in going backwards in time. The technology, free spirit, standard of living, and hope we see in Israel today speak volumes about the future of Judaism in the 21st century. Reform Judaism is part of the 21st century we can build together.

                From my family to yours, Shabbat Shalom.

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