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Several weeks ago, I spent Purim in the Israeli city of Ra'anana, just a bit north of Tel Aviv. Our congregation there has been a victim of anti-Reform attacks and slander repeatedly, yet you would never have known it. It was so moving – and fun – to be with children, parents, and grandparents who actively choose to be involved with this Reform community – and who are committed to being Jewish in a way that is different than most others in Israel. I am fortunate to work closely with our Israeli Reform Movement leaders, but rarely do I have the chance – as I and many of our URJ board members did that evening – to enjoy a holiday celebration with this congregation.
This week, Israel and world Jewry celebrate Israel’s birthday. Yom HaAtzmaut, Israeli Independence Day, is a time of celebration, as well as a time to look inward. As Reform Jews in North America, we have an important opportunity to join with our friends and colleagues in Israel who seek to live a Judaism that is inclusive, and reflects our shared values.
Those of us who participated in our recent URJ Board Mission saw that our movement in Israel is vibrant, and our communities (kehillot) and synagogues are growing. Today, we have nearly 50 synagogues and kehillot that span the country from north to south.
Despite ongoing control of the country’s religious life by the ultra-Orthodox and certain political parties, our movement in Israel is expanding. That’s because our message about what it means to live Jewishly in the world today resonates in Israel just as well as it does in Toronto or Tucson.
Our Israeli synagogues are overflowing with life cycle celebrations from baby namings to b’nai mitzvah to weddings – increasingly led by Israeli-born rabbis. For example, some of our kehillot facilitate more than 250 b’nai mitzvah a year – yes, more than five each week! On the same scale, the Reform youth movement has recently joined the largest youth movement in the country and our pre-army preparatory year program can’t keep up with the number of young people who wish to participate. What’s more, this year, the Israeli Rabbinic Program of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion will ordain its 100th rabbi. As these Israeli Reform rabbis go out into the field, they are reaching thousands of Israelis who are coming to realize that having a Jewish state does not necessarily mean having a Jewish community. Lastly, our team at the Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC), through advocacy, education, and engagement efforts, is leading the way in the fight for a better Israel, promoting shared society, religious pluralism, and more.
This year I hope your congregation will join the movement-wide campaign to support vibrant Reform communities, religious pluralism in Israel, and equality and human rights for all Israelis.
On this Yom HaAtzmaut, let’s celebrate together by helping to change what it means to be Jewish in the Jewish state. Your voice – and your support – is vital to the success of the Reform Movement in Israel.