Shabbat Evening Service
From the desk of Rabbi David Lyon
Recently, I returned from Israel where I was attending the convention of the CCAR (Central Conference of American Rabbis), which is held in Israel every seven years, and which I serve as a member of the Board of Trustees. During the course of meetings, on-site visits, and in-depth study, it became patently clear to me that we have two distinct obligations to the land and people of Israel: 1) to promote its national security; and, 2) to advocate for the Reform Jewish values we promote at Beth Israel and which we seek in our personal Jewish lives.
In the interest of Israel’s security, we elect officials and promote legislation that ensures a close America-Israel relationship. In recent years, we have deepened our commitment to this cause through AIPAC; and, on March 20-22, 2016, Beth Israel will lead 50 people, its largest delegation to date, to Washington D.C. for the annual AIPAC Policy Conference.
In the interest of Reform Jewish values, last week on Thursday morning hundreds of Reform rabbis made their way to the Kotel’s new area designated for egalitarian prayer and observance. As a female colleague chanted Torah, we envisioned plans for the future of the Kotel. Upon completion, one entrance to the plaza north of the Kotel will provide everyone choices to enter the worship space that meets his or her needs. Though not ideal, the outcome signals much more than a space at the Wall. It demonstrates that the restrictive grip of the ultra-orthodox in Israel and Chief Rabbinate cannot contain the spirit of increasing numbers of Israeli Jews who seek not only Israeli nationalism, but also Judaism and modernity for themselves and their families.
Today, there are 50 Reform synagogues in Israel. This spring, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, at the Jerusalem campus, will ordain its 100th Israeli-born and HUC-trained Reform rabbi. Across Israel, data supports the fact that non-orthodox Jews are increasingly enjoying encounters with Reform rabbis in communities across Israel, where religious observances including Shabbat, holidays and life-cycles are regularly conducted by Reform rabbis trained by HUC-JIR in Jerusalem.
Last Shabbat, I wasn’t on our bimah in Houston; I was sitting in the small Reform synagogue in Netanya, north of Tel Aviv. There, Rabbi Edgar Nof, spiritual leader of Congregation Natan-Ya, led a spirited Reform Shabbat service that was in many ways just like our own Shabbat service at home. The same melodies, rituals, egalitarian roles and voices, and commitment to Reform Judaism were evident in the Rabbi’s words and the congregational families who welcomed nearly 40 CCAR rabbis to their synagogue and Oneg Shabbat. More than 300 other Reform colleagues were spread out around Israel for Shabbat services in similar Reform Jewish settings. On our last day, while visiting the IDC (the first private university for interdisciplinary studies), a very bright and entrepreneurial leader told us that her son recently became a bar mitzvah in a Reform synagogue in Israel. Over and over, we encountered real evidence of Reform Judaism taking shape in Israel.
In the news, the Haredi (ultra-orthodox) Jews hurl scathing insults against Reform Judaism. Though it offends us, it also serves a vital purpose. It keeps the debate on the front pages of the newspapers and Internet, and reminds Israeli Jews, who feel that they’ve been held captive long enough by increasingly restrictive laws of the Chief Rabbinate, that Reform Judaism is a real choice. At Beth Israel, our Israel advocacy work will always promote a secure Israel. It will also promote Reform Judaism in Israel for the sake of a Land that is Jewish and democratic, western and Middle Eastern, modern and ancient. None of it comes easily, but the real Reform accomplishments we celebrated this past week represent a new foundation stone upon which we can build a Land of Israel that we and our children and our grandchildren can love for generations to come.
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