Jewish Unity – Achdut Yisrael

Reflections after visiting CCAR Convention, Philadelphia, March 2024

The Jewish world in a post-October 7th reality can be interpreted from two different perspectives – the brand new one, which never happened before in Jewish history; or the return to the historic reality which the Jewish people are familiar with throughout centuries of persecutions and horrors.

The truth is that both perspectives are wrong if taken as absolute. Those who compare the atrocities of Hamas from October 7 to the crimes of the Nazi regime during the Shoah are correct in their evaluation that both regimes inexplicitly hate the Jewish people. However, the difference is enormous – and that is the existence of the Jewish state.

Exactly five months after that terrible day, on March 7th, I landed in New York to participate in the delegation of HaNassi fellows to the CCAR 2024 Convention in Philadelphia. It had been five years since my last visit to the United States, as the COVID pandemic and other circumstances forced me to postpone some planned trips. I came to New York with a deep sense of gratitude to American Jewry, since every group and mission that came to Israel to volunteer, to help and to comfort provided another layer of strength and love.

I cannot say I live in an Israeli bubble. We all have heard and followed the astonishing wave of antisemitism on US college campuses; we knew about the pro-Palestinian rallies which make Jews feel uncomfortable in their neighborhoods and communities. Nevertheless, coming from Israeli society, united by the evil that came to its door, I could not imagine the diversity of opinions inside the American Jewish community.

I have met Israelis living in the US, who express their pain and inability to be in Israel right now, for the whole range of reasons. I have met friends and relatives who feel our struggle, shock, and trauma, but are also astonished by all the pictures of demolition and death in Gaza and are torn apart between their sense of global humanity and their national (and even Zionist) emotions. I have met colleagues who are passionate supporters of the Jewish state yet are struggling to accept the policies of the Israeli government.

Surprisingly, I received no negative reaction towards my wearing a kippa, walking through Washington Square Park or at Times Square. The only reaction I heard came from my Israeli and American colleagues in some different forms of the question ‘Aren’t you afraid to wear your kippa here?’. My answer was that I am not, of course. My outward expression of my Judaism is my personal choice and surely in the United States, which prides itself in cherishing civil and religious liberties, personal appearance should not need to be hidden.

Following a weekend in Chappaqua, the town which still has an Israeli flag outside its Town Hall, we went to Philadelphia. There we saw an entire block patrolled by police officers during the opening ceremony at the Weitzman National Museum of American Jewish History. Though there were no protests, the feeling was very uneasy. I could breathe the atmosphere of fear in the air.

The convention itself was a safe space, filled with friendly participants who opened their hearts towards their Israeli counterparts. I repeated there what I have said to every mission group from North America who visited Israel after October 7; such support gives hope and helps not to dive deeply into despair. The experience at the Convention strengthened me, allowing me to return to Israel invigorated and full of energy to go on in serving Israeli society, and sharing with them the liberal values of Reform Judaism, deeply rooted in ancient Jewish tradition.

Additional opportunities for reflection were found at two days spent at the Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion campus in New York and a weekend spent at my HaNassi fellow synagogue – Temple Beth El of Northern Westchester and its spiritual leader, Rabbi Jonathan Jaffe. I also drew strength in meeting all of my 2019 ordained rabbinical class American colleagues, with whom I spent my first year of study in Jerusalem. All these encounters allowed me to recollect on why I chose to become a rabbi, and specifically a rabbi at the Israel Movement for Reform Judaism. Comparing our work in Israel and North America, I have learned that there is a lot in common. We all do our best to serve the Jewish people. I pray that we continue our commitment to work together for a better world and better future for the people of Israel.

About the Author
Rabbi Binyamin Daniel Minich leads Kehilat Daniel in Jaffa and works at the Daniel Centers for Progressive Judaism in Tel Aviv. He is a PhD student at the department of Jewish philosophy of Bar Ilan University and a rabbinic fellow of Beit Midrash Har'el in Jerusalem. Rabbi Minich is a proud member of the Israeli Council of Progressive Rabbis (MARAM) and the Central Conference of American Rabbis. He also serves at the board of MARAM, at Limmud FSU Israel's organizational committee and at the board of the Israeli Association of Crimean Jews. Benny is married to Dr. Elena Minich and together they raise three children - Hadar Yosef, Levi Moshe and Haleli Yerushalaim.
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