We are a people with a long memory of our roots in the Land of Israel, a people that reminds itself on a regular basis of the hope of “next year in Jerusalem.” Within this sacred land, our prophets called out for justice, peace and mercy and our ancient sages developed the Judaism that we practice in our homes and congregations. The language of Israel, Hebrew, is the language of our sacred texts; the holidays of our holy calendar are derived from the agricultural and geographic climates of the Land of Israel. Judaism without Israel would be like a tree with no roots or branches. It was for this reason that our sacred bible commanded that we go up to the land on a regular basis in holy pilgrimage in order to reconnect to the land of our people’s physical and spiritual birth.
This tradition of sacred travel to Israel continues today both in Judaism and in other faith communities. As recent as 1999, tourism was Israel’s primary
industry, its revenues surpassing even diamonds and citrus. With great sadness, we have witnessed the collapse of this staple of the Israeli economy and
are keenly aware that the damage wrought is enormous. Reform Jews, as well as other Jews in the Diaspora, are visiting Israel in far lesser numbers than
ever before. While we recognize that the current matzav (situation) accounts for this decrease, we believe that the precipitous drop in tourism
levels is out of proportion to the risk entailed in traveling to Israel. Media hype and unreasonable U.S. State Department advisories have served to
increase unwarranted fear. We are thankful that the security situation in Israel has improved considerably since the height of the Palestinian uprising. We
appreciate the measures and efforts that have been taken by the Israeli government and tourism companies, including our own Association of Reform Zionists
of America (ARZA) Travel, to increase security for tourists.
We are also quite alarmed at the recent findings of the National Jewish Population Study regarding Jewish identity and the decreasing connection American Jews, and Reform Jews in particular, feel in regard to Israel. Given the critical nature of Israel in Jewish life today, it is important that significant steps be taken to enhance this bond between the world’s two largest Jewish communities. Firm in the knowledge that a trip to Israel strengthens Jewish identity and forges a stronger sense of connection to Jews worldwide, and committed to Klal Yisrael, we recognize the need to increase the number of Reform Jews of all ages making frequent visits to Israel. In particular, we understand the long-term impact of young people spending significant time in Israel during their high school and college years. We are tremendously supportive of long-term programs such as the URJ Eisendrath International Exchange (EIE) program and the Carmel Progressive Beit Midrash that bring young people closer to Israel within a Reform context. These programs are the breeding ground of our Movement’s future leadership. These programs also open up excellent opportunities for partnership between the Movement and the new Masa project of the Israeli government and the Jewish Agency for Israel, one designed to bring 20,000 young Jewish adults from the Diaspora to Israel for long-term programs.
Every effort should be made to encourage Reform Jewish college students who have not visited Israel to participate in a birthright Israel trip, and all Jewish college students should be encouraged to consider a study program in Israel during their college years. We are dismayed that many American universities currently do not permit their students to obtain academic credit for their studies in Israel, forcing those who pursue such programs to withdraw, take time off for study in Israel, forego financial aid, or forego preferential pricing. At a time when there is so much anti-Israel sentiment on campus, in the media and elsewhere, we believe that it is critical that our young people receive a firsthand experience of our homeland.
Furthermore, we encourage all Reform movement trips to Israel to continue to incorporate a strong peace and social justice component including appropriate site visits, social action projects, and discussions.
In solidarity with our people in Israel, expressed most directly through our presence, we pledge to continue our commitment to encouraging Reform Jews and others to travel to Israel. This time-sensitive commitment will require measures taken on the local congregational level, as well as the national level.
THEREFORE, in order to deepen the solidarity, connection and engagement of North American Reform Jews with Israel, and Reform Jews in Israel in particular, the Union for Reform Judaism resolves to:
- Call upon all Union congregations and national affiliates to formulate and implement plans to significantly increase the number of our members who visit Israel and urge rabbis, congregations and regions to plan and implement pilgrimages to Israel within the near future. We also call upon ARZA, ARZA Canada and the Union to develop programmatic material to assist congregations and affiliates in the development of these plans;
- Call upon ARZA, ARZA Canada and the Union to coordinate additional Movement-based trips to Israel to both assist congregations that are unable to sustain a group by themselves and to engage special populations or interest groups;
- Work with the Israeli Ministry of Tourism to launch a significant marketing initiative that makes travel to Israel a high priority of the Reform Movement;
- Call upon congregations and rabbis, our college and youth departments and NFTY regions to make a concerted effort to send all high school students and young adults to Israel, particularly with, but not limited to, Reform Movement programs, and to help secure the financial support necessary for families for whom this is a burden;
- Call upon our congregations to urge their local Federations to dramatically increase the level of incentive grants for those who wish to participate in Israel programs and call upon ARZA and ARZA Canada to explore ways to expand the availability of similar funding programs based on partnerships between families, congregations and Federations;
- Call upon Reform university students to spend time in Israel during their college years and call upon our congregations to work with the Israel on Campus Coalition in their efforts to eliminate any and all administrative barriers among institutions of higher education which deter the participation of students in these programs;
- Work with other agencies within the Jewish community to reach the goal of increasing Jewish travel to Israel; and
- Call upon coordinators of all Reform Movement pilgrimages to Israel to incorporate strong peace and social justice components into their program and to link with the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism.