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There Must Be Another Way

I am happy to share this blog post with Anna Kislanski,  the CEO of the Israeli Movement for Progressive Judaism. Together, we work to promote the values of liberal Judaism in Israel. This past week, our work felt especially important. We’ll tell you why:

Last week, on March 21, a few important dates converged: the International Day for the Elimination of Racism, the fast of Esther preceding Purim (reminding us of Queen Esther who asked to fast in order to prevent annihilation of the Jewish people) and the month of Ramadan. All these dates remind us of the need to atone and to reflect on the treatment of others.

Last Shabbat, we also began reading the book of Leviticus, which includes the extraordinarily famous mandate to love thy neighbor as yourself – a commandment that is the basis for our liberal Jewish values that support equality and dignity for all.

Never has this command been more relevant than during these bleak days, when we are engulfed by pain, surrounded by sorrow, and feel the sadness we have felt since October 7th, mourning the loss of so many lives.

Some people choose to deal with this reality with increased extremism, racism, hate and hostility.

But we, in the Israeli Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism, choose another path. The Israel Religious Action Center, the legal and public advocacy arm of the movement, has been fighting racism for decades. We demand that those who use Judaism to incite hatred be brought to justice because racism is not our Judaism.

But fighting against incitement is not enough. In the face of an extremist vision, we must present an alternative vision of compassion and tolerance, a vision that promotes shared society between Jews and Arab citizens of Israel. We must use this horrific time as an opportunity to delve deeply into the issues facing Israeli society, our challenges, and how we can fix our broken society.

The Israeli Reform Movement (IMPJ) has been conducting shared society programs for many years, but due to the current situation we are now expanding our work. Just last week, we held a conference on shared society under the title – “Creating a Space for A Shared Life,” at the Leo Baeck Education Center in Haifa, together with partner organizations such as Rabbis for Human Rights, Givat Haviva, Standing Together, Abraham Initiatives and the Shalom Hartman Institute.

We prayed together – Muslim, Jews, Christians, Bahai and Druze, and also presented the pressing issues, debated what is the best way to promote a shared society, discussed activist options as well as dialogue groups and interreligious events, sang, cried, laughed, and broke the fast of Esther and the fast of Ramadan together. And when four high school students – Jews and Arab – sang Noa’s and Mira Awad’s song “There Must Be Another Way” – in English, Hebrew and Arabic – we knew that we will continue to do all that we can to fight extremism and work for a better future.

The story of Purim teaches us how we can overcome fear, how to transform sorrow into joy and despair into hope. Then as now, this is the key to a better future. This requires us to recommit ourselves to rebuilding and transforming our society— to work every day together for a shared society.

Anna and Orly

 

About the Author
Orly Erez Likhovski is the Executive Director of the Israel Religious Action Center, the legal and public advocacy arm of the Israeli Reform movement.