Israel: It’s All About Love

Inside Leadership

Israel: It’s All About Love

Three Israeli wedding couples under the chuppahs at Washington Hebrew Congregation on March 26, 2019

This past week, I spent a significant amount of time thinking about love.

My week began at the annual AIPAC Policy Conference, where I joined with many of my rabbinic and cantorial colleagues and members of all ages from our Reform Jewish community alongside 18,000 other activists who also love Israel deeply. That love was on display each time we cheered, for the Israeli scientists who launched the Beresheet lunar lander on its way to the moon, for the inspiring music of Koolulam, and for the range of Israeli, American, Canadian, and international political leaders at all levels of government who are committed to a strong and secure Jewish and democratic state.

Love also comes with serious responsibility. And so out of deep love for the state of Israel, we were there to say clearly that support for Israel must be bipartisan and that Israel must not be used as a wedge issue. I had the chance to speak briefly with Howard Kohr, AIPAC’s longtime executive director, to tell him that many of us appreciate AIPAC’s challenge to preserve its historically bipartisan approach to its work. What is clear to everyone, however, is that we are living in a moment in which there is little bipartisanship in Washington D.C.

Its pro-Israel mission places extra responsibility on AIPAC to ensure that the love it reflects for Israel is bipartisan. As in previous years, this year’s attendees included participants who were trying very hard to rise above the partisanship. While AIPAC organizers tried to create an atmosphere of bipartisanship, many speakers violated that effort, including Vice President Pence. Audience members applauded the demonization of the Democratic party expressed by more than one main stage speaker. No political party has the sole claim on love for Israel – Democratic or Republican, Likud, or any of the myriad parties running in the April 9 Israeli election. Bipartisan support has kept Israel secure for decades and all who love Israel have to worry about whether that bipartisanship can be repaired. It’s also worth noting that while it is right and necessary to call out anti-Semitism wherever we find it, too many of AIPAC’s main speakers spoke of anti-Semitism as a phenomenon only among progressives. Tragically, recent years have demonstrated many instances of the same phenomenon on the right. All must be loudly and unequivocally condemned.

The love for Israel across our movement was also on display during a reception we hosted at the Policy Conference, where several hundred people – from participants in NFTY: The Reform Jewish Youth Movement to longtime movement activists – heard from Israeli politicians, including Labor Party MKs Merav Michaeli and Stav Shafir and Ambassador Dani Dayan, the Consul General of Israel in New York. Importantly, we also heard from our Israeli Reform leaders – Rabbis Gilad Kariv and Noa Sattath, as well as Anat Hoffman – all of whom spoke about the increasing success our Movement is having as Reform and Progressive Judaism grows and expands in Israel. Throughout, we underscored the importance of expressing our love for Israel by strengthening bipartisanship relationships at home and in Israel.

Before I left Washington, I was extraordinarily honored to attend the wedding of three Israeli couples, which was hosted at Washington Hebrew Congregation (WHC). Sadly Israel, where the ultra-Orthodox religious monopoly prevents these couples from marrying legally, is the only democracy that does not allow Jews to marry as they choose. Same-sex and transgender couples, couples whose Jewish status is not recognized by the Chief Rabbinate, and couples whose Jewish practice aligns with a different religious stream, cannot be married in the state they love. Because we love Israel we will fight along with the majority of Israelis for religious freedom. Rabbi Bruce Lustig and the leadership of WHC graciously partnered with Anat Hoffman and Rabbi Noa Sattath of the Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC), the Israeli Reform Movement’s justice arm, to make the ceremony joyful and powerful. I was honored to join Reform, Conservative/Masorti, and Reconstructionist colleagues in blessing the three radiant couples.

At this moment in time when it seems that there is so much trying to pull us apart, I always find it heartening to remember the words of Leviticus (19:18): V'ahavta l'rey'akha kamokha, you shall love your neighbor as yourself. As we look ahead to the work to be done, I hope you will find inspiration in those words as well and join in the journey to come.

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Rabbi Rick Jacobs is the president of the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ), the largest Jewish movement in North America, with almost 850 congregations and nearly 1.5 million members. An innovative thought leader, dynamic visionary, and representative of progressive Judaism, he spent 20 years as the spiritual leader of Westchester Reform Temple in Scarsdale, NY. Deeply dedicated to global social justice issues, he has led disaster response efforts in Haiti and Darfur. Learn more about Rabbi Rick Jacobs.

Rabbi Rick Jacobs

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