Rabbi Rick Jacobs' Remarks at Knesset on Nov. 12, 2013
It is time for a new conversation between Israelis and the Diaspora; may today be a concrete step in changing the conversation.
The second session of the Knesset Caucus for Israel-US relations, held
by M.K Dr. Nachman Shai in cooperation with the Ruderman Family Foundation, was held on November 12, 2013 at the
Knesset in Jerusalem. The session focused on "Jewish Dialogue 2013: What are the
boundaries and limitations?" Rabbi Rick Jacobs and Rabbi David Stav were guest speakers. Below are Rabbi Jacobs' remarks:
Jewish Dialogue 2013: What are the Boundaries and
It is an honor to be with you today for this important dialogue. Let
me begin by thanking MK Dr. Nahman Shai and Jay Ruderman for their
invitation, and let
me also express what a privilege it is to share this challenging
discussion with Rabbi David Stav.
In this weeks parasha, Vayishlach, brothers are
reunited. After spending 20 years dreading the day when he will meet up
brother Esau, Jacob is ready for the worst. But it turns out
surprisingly well for Jacob as his brother embraces him offering gifts
and kindness; it was
not what he expected. Ill not suggest who is Yaakov and who is
Esau today, but suffice it to say that when Jacob finally meets up with
his brother Esau,
he says, "Seeing your face is like seeing the face of God. (Gn 33:10)." Thats
another way of saying: It is good for distant brothers and sisters to
engage each other
with open minds and hearts.
Twenty-two years ago I moved to a new community just outside of New
York City to become the rabbi of a large suburban Reform synagogue. One
of the very
first calls I received was from the rabbi of the local Orthodox
congregation, Young Israel of Scarsdale. Rabbi Jacob Rubenstein, their
rabbi, invited me to
speak at his Orthodox shul on Shabbat morning. I didnt know him and I wasnt sure if I was being set up as a korban,
as a sacrificial
offering. So I asked Rabbi Rubenstein what he had in mind. He said
I want you to talk about what you love about Orthodox Judaism and Ill
speak about what
I love about Reform Judaism. I asked him if he had any positive
thoughts to share about Reform Judaism. He said absolutely, and
sensing my apprehension,
he volunteered to speak first. He spoke for 20 minutes about Reform
Judaisms openness, our commitment to tikkun olam, and the spirit of
creativity that inspires our innovations. I was stunned by his moving tribute.
I then spoke about my love of Orthodox Judaism, how Judaism came alive
when I studied Jewish philosophy at Hebrew University with Professor
David Hartman, zl, an Orthodox rabbi and philosopher. I
shared my appreciation of traditional Judaisms deep commitment to
rigorous Jewish practice and serious
lifelong study. From that Shabbat on, Rabbi Rubenstein became my
close friend and chevruta.
I tell you this because it is an underpinning to my approach to Klal Yisrael, the deep respect and love I feel for the entire Jewish people. You
need to know this before you hear the rest of my talk.
Just so the members of the Knesset have a clear sense of who I
represent, the Reform Movement in North America is larger than the
and Reconstructionist movements combined. Ours is the only movement
with congregations in all 50 states. We are located in communities where
there are no
other Jewish organizations.
Overwhelmingly, the members, donors, and leaders of AIPAC and
Federations are Reform and Conservative Jews. With Sen. Liebermans
retirement, every Jewish
member of the Senate and House is a Reform or Conservative Jew. The
vast number of rabbis, synagogues and synagogue members that the
non-Jewish members of
Congress know and with whom they are personal friends are Reform and
Reform and Conservative Jews are leaders in every part of our
society, so the fact that Israel remains the only democracy in the world
discriminates against the streams of Judaism representing the
majority of Jews in the world and the overwhelming number of Jews in the
U.S. alienates Jews
and puzzles many Americans, eroding Israels image as a home to
democracy and religious freedom. Thats why when a woman is arrested for
praying openly at
the Kotel or when Reform and Conservative rabbis cannot officiate at
members lifecycle ceremonies with government recognition, there is
disbelief and deep
concern among American Jews and Americans overall.
It cannot be that the great ingathering of the exiles will, in the
end, result in a Jewish state that discriminates against the religious
beliefs of so
much of world Jewry.
We believe that there is more than one authentic way to be Jewish.
Reform Jews practice a Judaism that is intellectually rigorous,
ever-evolving, relevant, and responsive to todays world and to the
prophets imperatives to shape a more just and compassionate worldand
more. Thats why we are the largest Jewish movement in North America.
Reform, Conservative, and Reconstructionist Jews believe deeply that
the time is long overdue for the State of Israel to support, accept,
and validate the
authentic Judaism that we practice every day and everywhere in
freedomexcept here in our beloved Jewish homeland.
Listen to the commitment that we uphold daily: unconditional support
for the State of Israel, abiding solidarity with the citizens of
resolve in the battle against Israels enemies, and unshakeable
determination in the face of all those who wish Israel ill. At the same
time, we hold firm
to our own vision of what the Jewish state should and can be, and we
proclaim our commitment to a two-state solution as essential to
and security. And willingly, lovingly, joyfully, we engage in the
struggle to realize Israels most cherished ideals.
But at the Western Wall, in rabbinical courts, at the bridal canopy,
at funerals, in the founding and funding of our congregations, we are
not equal here
in the Jewish peoples homeland. Ultra-Orthodox Judaism is, of
course, a legitimate choice for those who chose it, but it must no
longer be the default
position of the Jewish State. That does neither Judaism nor the
State a service; quite the contrary.
In the free marketplace of Diaspora Jewish life, Orthodoxy and
liberal Judaism are both flourishing. Why be afraid of affirming the
legitimacy of different
authentic Jewish paths here? Young Jews worldwide are searching for
answers and how they define their Jewish identities should be a choice
of each Jew, and a source of renewal for the Jewish State. But
instead, they come up against a rigid and parochial system.
I fell in love with Israel. It was during my junior year of college,
which I spent studying at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Ever
since, working to
strengthen Israel's security and well-beingwell, that's been at the
core of my public life.
During the second Intifada, my wife and I bought an apartment in
Jerusalem because we wanted to express our solidarity by spending more
time here. Yehuda
Halevi best expressed my commitment when he wrote: "My heart is in the East."
The recent study of the American Jewish community by the Pew Center,
the most authoritative study in at least a generation, should put to
suggestion that Jews today feel increasingly distant from Israel.
About seven-in-10 Jews surveyed say they feel either very attached
(30%) or somewhat
attached (39%) to Israel. Over 40% of those surveyed have visited
Israel, a significant number. Theres no doubt that programs such as
made a tremendous difference in engaging American Jews with Israel.
But the one-dimensional definitions of pro-Israel should also be
put to rest. American Jews, just like many Israelis, have a complicated
with the State of Israel. For the majority, a peace process that
results in a viable Palestinian state next to a secure Israel is of
Just 17% of American Jews think the continued building of
settlements in the West Bank is helpful to Israels security, while 44%
say that settlement
construction hurts Israels own security interests. And the Pew
survey reports that only 38% believe the current Israeli government is
making a sincere
effort to establish peace with the Palestinians.
Next month at our Biennial convention in San Diego, the largest
Jewish convention in North America, we will be honored to have Prime
address our Reform Movement. Two years ago at our Biennial in
Washington, D.C., President Barak Obama addressed our 5,000 delegates.
During our Biennial,
we will ramp up our Movements programs of Israel engagement so that
Israel will be even more deeply bound to the daily life of North
American Reform Jews.
And here in Israel there is a renaissance of Jewish life with
secular Israelis experiencing Kabbalat Shabbat at the port in Tel Aviv
or at Nigun Halev in
the Jezreel Valley. Almost 10% of Israelis actively identify with
the Reform and Conservative movements here in Israel. Over 40% say they
would prefer or
would be comfortable with Reform and Conservative rabbis officiating
at their lifecycle ceremonies. In spite of the many official obstacles,
the Reform and
Conservative movements are flowering here in Medinat Yisrael with their own unique Israeli vitality.
Each summer Israeli shlichim help staff our Reform
Movements 14 summer camps in North America. And just as surely as they
share their love of
Israel with over 10,000 of our young people, we send many of those
Israelis home with their first real experience of engaging prayer and
Shabbat. The bonds that link Israel and the Diaspora are mutually
strengthening, but must grow even deeper.
It is time for a new conversation between Israelis and the Diaspora;
may today be a concrete step in changing the conversation.
And in the meantime please know that:
We will never back down from our commitment to a secure Israel.
We will never stop fighting for an Israel that grants all of its citizens, Arabs and Jews, fundamental human rights.
We will never stop working for an Israel that grants equal rights to Jewsno matter their spiritual practice or belief.
We will never stop advocating for the U.S. to remain Israel's staunch ally.
We will not back away from our commitment to a two-state
solution, in which Israelis and Palestinians live side-by-side in peace
As the leader of the largest movement in Jewish life, I will
continue to work every single day to build up the ranks of those who
share my Zionist passion.
I want a movement that loves Israel both wisely and well, a movement
that is both particular and universal, a movement that joins the
government of Israel
in investing in and developing real links between young Jews in
Israel and in the Diaspora, a movement with partners in Israel who share
not only tears and
parades, but also sweat, the sweat of working together on joint
My daily responsibility is not only to be a leader of Reform Jews,
but also to be a leader of the Jewish people. I love and draw strength
from Jews of all
backgrounds and beliefs, those who think, believe, and practice the
way I do, and those who do not. There is great strength in our
diversity. The Jewish
State was created by extraordinary Jewish leaders: believers, atheists, Mizrachim, Ashkenazim, rich, poor, socialists, capitalists, kibbutznikim and urban dwellers. They found strength in their diversity and so must we.
Israel is plainly the most important, the most consequential, the
most exciting project of the Jewish people in our time. We in America,
and we in the
Reform Movement are not satisfied to be an audience to the drama of
Israel. We offer more than our applause. We offer, freely and
help as we can, both in protecting and extending the Israel-America
connection and in direct involvement with agencies and institutions here
in Israel that
work day-in and day-out for a state that reflects the challenges the
ancient prophets put before us, that reflects the accrued wisdom of our
people, who work, as do we, for security and for justice and for