Being a liberal Jew in Israel is not synonymous with being left wing, says Prof. Tsvia Walden, an Israeli psycholinguist, and an active member of several institutions of liberal Judaism in Israel. “I don’t accept any tagging that would prevent people from free choice,” says Walden. Indeed, according to findings by the Jewish People Policy Institute (JPPI), close to half of all self-defined Reform Jews in Israel are “right” or “center-right” politically. Walden is an active member of a Reform synagogue in Israel, and the conversation with her that I’m pleased to present here is the sixth in a series of conversations conducted with Israeli intellectuals to discuss the findings and analysis presented in a new book: #IsraeliJudaism, Portrait of a Cultural Revolution.
According to findings of surveys conducted by the Jewish People Policy Institute (JPPI), about 13 percent of all Israeli Jews identify themselves as Reform or Conservative Jews. A recent report by JPPI fellow Dan Feferman called them “Rising Streams” and argued that “Reform and Conservative Jewish practice are now seen as authentic and preferable by these largely secular and traditional Israelis, who engage with such Jewish practice primarily for lifecycle events and holidays.” JPPI’s 2019 Annual Assessment of the Situation and Dynamics of the Jewish People added another layer of information about the liberal Jewish streams in Israel by showing that “identification with Reform Judaism (and to a lesser degree Conservative Judaism) in Israel is a fluid, loosely defined construct.”
The book #IsraeliJudaism, Portrait of a Cultural Revolution, is based on the work of JPPI, and was coauthored by Shmuel Rosner, a senior fellow at JPPI and Prof. Camil Fuchs of Tel Aviv University. The English version of the book was published recently and provides us with an opportunity to both present the unique nature of Israeli Judaism to the broader world, and to discuss its future and the implications for world Jewry.
The discussion with Walden covers many topics, from the miracle of the revival of Hebrew, to the relevance of Reform Judaism in Israel. It also includes a few anecdotes about Walden’s father, the late Shimon Peres.
In the coming weeks JPPI will present more conversations about Israeli traditionalism, nationality, pluralism, ethnicity and more. The first conversation featured Prof. Ruth Gavison and focused on Israeliness and Jewishness. The second, on Israel’s ultra-Orthodox community, featured activist and philanthropist Daniel Goldman. In the third, on Israeli secularity, we hosted historian Prof. Aviad Kleinberg of Tel Aviv University. The fourth featured Dr. Ran Baratz, who spoke about Israeli nationality. The fifth, which featured Dr. Moshe Hellinger, discussed the state of religious-Zionism.
We invite TOI readers to try a short questionnaire prepared by Prof. Camil Fuchs. Once you have answered all the questions, you will be able to see where you are on the map of Israeli Judaism and compare yourself to Israeli Jews by political affiliation, religious affiliation, age and ethnicity (for the survey, click here).
#IsraeliJudaism is a research project of The Jewish People Policy Institute (JPPI), an independent professional policy planning think tank incorporated as a private non-profit company in Israel (founded by JAFI). The mission of the Institute is to contribute to ensuring the thriving of the Jewish People and the Jewish civilization by engaging in professional strategic thinking and planning on issues of primary concern to world Jewry. Located in Jerusalem, JPPI takes a global approach to the Jewish People and provides decision makers in Israel and the Diaspora with action-oriented policy recommendations.