Pluralistic Jews – come to Israel!

In the past few years, when talking to my Conservative or Reform friends or when reading Jewish American press, I hear quite often complaints about Israel’s attitude towards the pluralistic (lacking a better term – writing ‘Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist and Renewal’ is just too long) Jewish movements. While I find many of these complaints (regarding prayer at the Western Wall, conversions etc) justified, they also usually ignore the causes for this situation. I’d like to point out 2 factors that while causing the current situation, are in no way negative by their own and offer us the way for changing it. Firstly, (if I may risk stating the obvious) Israel is a democratic state, so larger populations can have a larger effect on the decisions being made. Politics is in many cases a game of numbers. Secondly, Israel is the Jewish national state, and since there is no real separation between the Jewish nation and the Jewish religion, separation between state and religion is somewhere between difficult and impossible (if you like the idea of Israel being the Jewish national state). Now, because Israel has a substantial and growing population of committed Orthodox Jews and very few Jews belonging to the pluralistic movements, the inevitable outcome is Israel’s current attitude towards the pluralistic movements, and there is only one way of really making a change in this game of numbers.

Now, imagine that 500,000 pluralistic Jews come to Israel and make Aliyah. In a democratic state, they simply cannot be ignored. They will have a tremendous effect on many aspects of life in Israel. To the years-old public debates in Israel regarding the Palestinian issue or economical issues, a public debate regarding the meaning of Judaism in a modern world and the way we see our religion will be added. A public debate about the future of Judaism, currently interesting only to a small minority, will thrive. Many secular and traditional Israeli Jews, who care about their Judaism but do not find themselves within the Orthodox movement, will have many lively options of temples to go to, and the pluralistic movements will have the option of receiving many new members from different backgrounds that can inspire new ideas and prosperity.

The responses and emotions that the Women of the Wall campaign provokes amongst American Jews are, to me, a sign that many of them feel on some level that the center of the Jewish world is here in Jerusalem and here the future of the Jewish people will be shaped and determined. Also, pluralistic rabbinical schools and other institutions make sure that they will have a presence in Jerusalem (and, indeed, it can be felt in the city), but the problem is that most Jews that maintain this presence come here for a year or two and then leave. If you really want to influence the future of the Jewish people, as a collective, you need to be in Israel (it almost goes without saying that if you really want to change Israel’s attitude towards the pluralistic Jewish movements, the only way to do it is from within Israel. Financial and political pressure from abroad can only go so far). This is the only place that such a discussion can be held, and we need many committed people with different opinions in order to have it. Such a discussion needs the voices of the different Jewish movements, and they need to be a part of it. A strong Reform (for example) Jewish community in Israel will benefit Israel, Reform communities abroad and the Reform movement as a whole (taking part in a thriving discussion about the future of Judaism will make it more influential, productive and strengthen it).

So, Jews from the pluralistic movements, come to Israel! Rabbis and leaders from the different movements – next time you speak in front of your community members, encourage them to make Aliyah (for the reasons I have mentioned). Or better yet, tell them “next year I intend to start rebuilding this community in Israel! Who’s coming with me?”
לשנה הבאה בירושלים

About the Author
Ro'i Ben-Baruch is a curious being that grew up in secular Haifa to a traditional family. He studied computer science and cognitive science in Jerusalem, and thinks he found his spiritual home in the more pluralistic communities of the city. Now he is planning to study for a masters in Jewish philosophy.
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