After my last post, a reader asked how contributing to the Association of Reform Zionists of America (ARZA), the Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism (IMPJ), and J Street can help Israel remain pluralistic, democratic, and just. Here is my response.
ARZA/IMPJ – Its status and mission?
Currently, 11 percent of Israelis openly identify with the Israeli Reform movement (equal to the 11 percent of Israelis who also Haredi). HUC Jerusalem has ordained to date 100 Israeli Reform rabbis serving Israelis all over the country with 35 more studying for rabbinic ordination. The IMPJ has established to date 45 congregations. No money to support Reform Judaism in Israel comes from the Israeli government, as it does for the Ultra-Orthodox. Funding comes from Israelis themselves, grants, and fundraising in Israel and from abroad. Much more is needed to grow and sustain the Israeli Reform movement.
What does the movement do with that money? It supports egalitarian congregations that provide Israeli non-Orthodox Jews with a liberal Jewish approach matching their liberal Jewish values. Synagogue communities operate kindergartens, public schools infused with Reform Judaism and liberal Jewish values, family education, family worship, bar and bat mitzvah ceremonies, and egalitarian prayer.
Virtually all Israel’s Reform synagogue communities do social justice work that address a variety of issues and needs. They advocate for a shared society between Arab and Jew, support programs to provide food and clothing to the hungry and poor, underprivileged children, the elderly, and abused women. They offer bar/bat mitzvah ceremonies to autistic children, provide mentoring programs for teenagers in distressed neighborhoods, and Hebrew language instruction for new immigrants. They help the unemployed find work, support and advocate for the Bedouin community in the Negev, facilitate Ethiopian acculturation, assist Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers, support LGBTQ individuals, promote a sustainable environment, and sponsor many other social justice and social action projects.
The Israel Religious Action Center, the social justice arm of the Reform movement, has six primary areas of primary concern that it argues for in the halls of the Knesset and before the Israeli High Court. It
- Fights racism and advances civic equality
- Fights expressions of religious extremism and gender segregation in the public domain
- Advances religious freedom and seeks to dismantle the Orthodox rabbinate’s religious monopoly
- Secures egalitarian treatment of all manifestations of Jewish culture and religion and equal status for Reform and Conservative religious institutions
- Fights legislation that jeopardizes Israeli democracy
- Fights policies that discourage the participation of the ultra-Orthodox community in the Israeli workforce and discriminatory subsidies
This is a snapshot of Israel’s Reform movement. Whatever the needs are, our Reform synagogue communities are activists on behalf of the good and just in fulfillment of the biblical prophetic mandate of justice and peace and as an expression of the values embraced in Israel’s Declaration of Independence. Israeli Reform communities are open tents to anyone who values individual rights, egalitarianism, pluralism, and Israel’s democratic traditions.
J Street, the other way American Zionists can support a democratic and just Israel, is a pro-Israel pro-peace American organization that helps elect congressman and senators who advocate for a just settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict resulting in a negotiated two states for two peoples.
It is time that the liberal American Zionist community puts its money where its values are, supports our Reform Zionist movement in the United States and Israel, and actively resist the extremists in our community and in Israel.