8 Ways Our Congregation Demonstrates Its Love for Israel

Inside Leadership

8 Ways Our Congregation Demonstrates Its Love for Israel

Two students, backs to the camera, wrapped together in an Israeli flag

We love Israel, and we're worried about Israel.

Over the years, American Jewish engagement with Israel has changed. Unflagging support for Israel, the perpetual underdog, used to be so central to many North Americans’ Jewish identity that we were willing to overlook the country’s indifference regarding women, liberal Jews, its Arab citizens, and, of course, Palestinians in the occupied territories. In those days, Israel’s survival trumped all.

Today, Israel is a major world power with incredible defense capability, and American Jews are speaking out about human rights and the country’s undefined borders. We are concerned with both the magnifying glass through which the world views Israel's actions and with what we see through the lens.

None of this changes our love for Israel.

Just as we would never abandon our own nation or the principles upon which it was founded, neither would we ever abandon Israel. As for its principles (yes, a foundation of equal rights is embedded within the country’s Declaration of Independence), we want to help – and we need to help make Israel a better country for all her citizens.

Here are eight things we do at our congregation, Woodlands Community Temple in White Plains, N.Y., that you can do in your congregation, too.

1. Invite speakers who teach about Israel from a first-hand perspective.

A few examples: Last spring, a local Israeli shaliach (representative) spoke to the congregation as part of our annual Pride Shabbat, sharing his personal perspective as a gay man living in Israel. He’ll be back again this year.

Recently, we also heard from a man who was born and raised in an Israeli Bedouin village and served as an ambassador for Israel, who spoke about the challenges Israel faces as a multi-ethnic nation.

And finally, in January, we’ll hear from a Palestinian man now living in Washington D.C., who will share his story of hope and possibility for Israeli-Palestinian peace.  

2. Host programs that offer opportunities to discuss and debate the issues.

Recently, we hosted an Israeli settler and a Palestinian activist, both of whom are dedicated to building a peaceful coexistence with each other. Later in the year, we'll welcome a panel of our college students who will share their struggles to construct their own narrative about the Jewish state. This program will not only open doors of understanding for adults but also for younger members of our families who, like many in their generation, may be challenged to find a comfortable place for Israel in their own lives.

3. Celebrate Yom HaAtzmaut.

On Yom HaAtzmaut (Israel Independence Day), we embrace Israel with love and in song, even as we recognize the many changes we’d like to see in Israeli society. This year, Yoel Magid will join us to share the story of the story of Project Rozana, which trains Palestinian health professionals in Israeli hospitals to enhance their capacity to deliver needed health care in the Palestinian territories.

4. Teach about Israel.

Students throughout our religious school learn why Israel is important to Jews and what life there looks like for kids their age. Through "Israel Days," "travel to Israel," and a young adult emissary who’s working with our older students this year, we strive to find creative ways to bring Israel’s complexity to the classroom.

5. Encourage and sponsor trips to Israel.

We encourage every high school student in our congregation to travel for a summer experience in Israel with NFTY – The Reform Jewish Youth Movement. During these trips, students live and learn, according to Reform values, what the Jewish state can and should be.

Temple trips to Israel are another way we express our love. On these unforgettable journeys, we walk in the footsteps of our ancestors, grapple with contemporary issues, and meet people who are working to make Israel more just and equitable for all. We also encourage (and assist) college students to participate in a Birthright Israel trip.

6. Write about Israel in your e-newsletter or bulletin.

Each month in our bulletin, we offer a brief column titled "Israel: The Long and Short of It," which features an Israeli individual or organization that honestly and fearlessly confronts challenges and issues in Israel, helping to build a nation that they – and we – can admire and love.

7. Encourage congregants to join ARZA, the Association of Reform Zionists of America.

With a simple checkmark on their dues statement and a $50 annual membership, congregants can support ARZA and join with Reform Jews across North America in raising a strong, consistent voice for equality, democracy, and pluralism in Israel.

8. Vote Reform in the upcoming World Zionist Congress (WZC) elections.

The WZC, a major representative body of the world's Jewish people, allocates funds and other resources to Israeli organizations, including the Reform Movement, profoundly affecting its ability to promote positive change in Israel.

The 38th World Zionist Congress is scheduled to meet in Jerusalem in 2020; the elections to determine the size of the various delegations that will attend will be held from January 21 to March 11, 2020 (MLK Day to Purim). Learn more about these elections and how to mobilize your congregation to vote Reform in the WZC elections on January 21, 2020. Don’t forget to sign up for a reminder to vote!

As we do at Woodlands, use these ideas to bring your community together around Israel. Embrace and celebrate the country for all that is right and beautiful about her – even as you raise your voice to help change what is challenging and distressful in our beloved Jewish state.

Rabbi Billy Dreskin and Rabbi Mara Young are the rabbis at Woodlands Community Temple in White Plains, N.Y.

Looking for more about Israel? Sign up for "Israel Connections," a weekly essay – part of the Ten Minutes of Torah series – that offers a taste of life in Israel emailed to your inbox every Wednesday. Better yet, check out all the ReformJudaism.org newsletter choices, and sign up for the ones that interest you the most!

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