Rabbi Rick Jacobs: URJ Continues to Deepen Commitments to and Investment in Israel

Inside Leadership

Rabbi Rick Jacobs: URJ Continues to Deepen Commitments to and Investment in Israel

Wide-Ranging d’var Torah During the URJ Biennial Reaffirms Unity of North American and Israeli Jewry

Press Release

Contact: Lauren Theodore at 212-650-4154

New York, NY; December 15, 2017 – Rabbi Rick Jacobs, President of the Union for Reform Judaism, delivered a d’var Torah focused on a wide range of important topics about Israel during Shabbat morning worship at the Union for Reform Judaism Biennial 2017 convention on December 9, 2017.

Excerpts appear below. Watch the video and read the entire text.

Jerusalem Is the Capital of Israel, and the Imperative of Israel’s Safety and Security

  • Overwhelmingly, Jews across the globe are united both in our commitment to Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and to the recognition that Israel’s security and safety requires peace in the region.
  • President Trump affirmed an age-old dream of the Jewish people. Now that the decision has been made, our Movement stands in solidarity with this recognition. Jerusalem is, in fact, the capital of Israel. That is how it should and must be. The President was correct in noting that a sovereign state is entitled to name its own capital. And his act of formal recognition was a powerful repudiation of the efforts of those who would promulgate the lie that Jewish attachment to key areas of Jerusalem is only a myth. 
  • Like many who champion Israel’s cause, we supported the position of President Trump’s Republican and Democratic predecessors, that such steps ought to be implemented as part of a broader strategy that enhances the two-state solution and thereby contributes to ensuring the safety and security of Israel, lest unilateral acts by the U.S. undercut peace process efforts and risk destabilizing the region.  

Significant Progress on Strengthening Reform Judaism in Israel

  • The Reform Zionist movement in Israel is flourishing. The Israel Movement for Progressive and Reform Judaism recently commissioned a comprehensive new survey and found that the majority of Israelis, from across the political spectrum, have positive attitudes of Reform Judaism after experiencing first hand a wedding or bar or bat mitzvah at a Reform congregation.
  • A clear majority of respondents support the right of Reform and Conservative Jews and Women of the Wall to pray at the Kotel.  
  • A clear majority of Israelis reject the claim that Orthodox Judaism is the only authentic Judaism.  
  • This survey, conducted by one of Israel’s most respected political pollsters, found that 7% of Israelis, identified with Reform Judaism -- a greater percentage than ever before. If you add the 4% that self-identified as Conservative, that means that 11% of Jewish Israelis identify themselves with non-Orthodox Jewish religious streams. This figure is roughly equivalent to the number of ultra-Orthodox Jews in Israel.

Helping Israelis Recognize the Strength of North American Reform Judaism

  • Let’s create a Reverse Birthright for Israelis here in the Jewish communities of North America. And let’s focus strategically on Israeli leaders, journalists, educators and cultural figures who can also help shape Israeli policy. We North Americans have powerful experiences during our visits to the Jewish State, but we should not underestimate the power Israelis experience when they spend time here with us.
  • Jews on both sides of the ocean need to see each other up close.  From afar we appear to be increasingly foreign to each other.
  • Too many Israeli leaders including members of the current Israeli cabinet are woefully ignorant about Jewish life outside of Israel. Indeed, I’d love to have the whole Israeli cabinet here at our Biennial so they could come to appreciate the strength of our North American Reform movement. 
  • Let’s stop using the label “diaspora,” in describing ourselves. Diaspora implies a center and a periphery. Let us use the term “World Jewry” instead. Let’s stop thinking that Israel unilaterally sets the agenda for World Jewry. 
  • We’re not disappearing. We’re not fading away. With all due respect, we have as much to offer Israel as Israel offers us. And the best way to help her leaders understand that is to have them spend time in our vibrant communities.
  • I’m afraid too many of us have stopped trying to find our connection with our Jewish siblings in Israel and North America who dress, vote, pray, and believe differently from us.  The sense of klal yisrael, of the peoplehood of Israel, is becoming an endangered notion both for those who seek to delegitimize Reform and Conservative Jews and unfortunately even from us as liberal Jews. But we will never embrace an empty tribalism. We will show up.
  • It’s not only that too many Israelis, including far too many in positions of authority, have a distorted perception of North American Jews. Too many North American Jews see Israel only through a growing litany of government decisions and actions that are at odds with our core values.  

Commitment to Double Investment in Reform Judaism in Israel; Expanded Partnership with URJ-Federation of New York

  • Between now and our next Biennial (December 2019), our North American Movement will double its financial investment in growing Reform Judaism in Israel. 
  • This is not a moment for us to watch from the sidelines. In the past seven years, our Israeli Reform Movement, the Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism, has doubled the number of Israelis who self-identify as Reform Jews, so now when we double our investment, we can continue to grow more rapidly our Israeli movement and its influence. And in doing so we will double the number of weddings, B’nai Mitzvah, those who study with us, who attend our early childhood centers and more.
  • We are fortunate to have partners who share our vision of Israel as a true Jewish homeland for all Jews. One such partner is UJA-Federation of NY. For many years, they have been advocates and significant funders of religious diversity in Israel, and invested in Reform Movement initiatives and institutions in Israel, including funding for IRAC, HUC and IMPJ. I am pleased to announce that they are ready - with materially additive dollars and leadership - to help expand our reach and increase our effectiveness in engaging generations of Israelis on the Jewish journey.

The Need For A Peace Process

  • I am encouraged by the U.S. Administration’s efforts to advance a renewed peace process.
  • We cannot and should not make Israel’s policy decisions – the people of Israel live and die by those decisions -- but we can ask that in their deliberations they listen to the voice and opinions of those who are devoted to Israel’s well-being and can offer perspectives they may miss. 
  • Continuing to spread Jewish settlements throughout the West Bank endangers any possibility of a two-state solution, which is indispensable for a realistic peace agreement, thereby undermining the Zionist enterprise of a safe and secure, Jewish and democratic state.
  • In that spirit, we should and will challenge those who wrongly suggest that lovers of Israel must support the most extreme ideology of the Settler Movement as part of the core commitment of Zionism.
  • But this is clear: There can be no legitimate Jewish state that is not a democracy. A one-state solution that would deny Palestinians any claim to sovereignty would result in the abandonment of either the Jewish or the democratic essence of modern Israel.  I couldn’t imagine losing either. This, too, is a place for honesty. The occupation is real.     


About the Union for Reform Judaism

The Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) builds community at every level—from the way we collaborate with congregations, organizations, and individuals to how we make connections across North America to advance contemporary and inclusive Jewish life. Providing vision and voice to transform the way people connect to Judaism, we help congregations stay relevant and innovative, motivate more young Jews to embrace Jewish living, agitate for a more progressive society, and foster meaningful connections to Israel.

Founded in 1873, URJ has grown into the largest and most powerful force in North American Jewish life, with nearly 900 member congregations and work that inspires, connects, and educates millions of people. Our legacy, reach, leadership, and vision mean that we can unite thousands of years of tradition with a modern, evolving Judaism to strengthen Jewish communities today and for future generations.

Visit us at www.URJ.org to learn about our social justice initiatives, camps and programs for young Jews, services for congregations and communities, and how you can work with us to create a more just, whole, and compassionate world. Enjoy related content at ReformJudaism.org and connect with URJ on Twitter and Facebook.

Published: 12/15/2017

Categories: Press Releases

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