General CCAR Israel News Prayer Rabbis Reform Judaism

New Walls, Old Walls: Your Thoughts on Next Steps?

Rosh Hodesh Sivan in Madison Square Park in NYC, in solidarity with Women of the Wall
Rosh Hodesh Sivan in Madison Square Park in NYC, in solidarity with Women of the Wall

“My daughter was at the Kotel on Rosh Hodesh Sivan, witnessed the violence against Women of the Wall and is now afraid to return again.”

This troubling comment was shared last week by one of the participants at the most recent meeting of the Rabbinic Cabinet of the Jewish Federations of North America during which we engaged in another conversation with Natan Sharansky.  At the meeting, Mr. Sharanksy once again updated us and sought feedback about his proposal for the Kotel and next steps towards implementation. I was privileged to attend this meeting representing the Reform Movement, together with CCAR President Rick Block and Immediate Past President Jonathan Stein, URJ President Rick Jacobs, and Bennett Miller, the Chair of ARZA.

When I asked Mr. Sharansky for his opinion about the likelihood of success in the implementation of his plan, especially with so many prior disappointments on this issue, he emphasized Prime Minister Netanyahu’s recognition of the importance of Diaspora Jewry, as well as the active voices of the North American leadership especially in the Reform Movement. Also, of course, he acknowledged that the publicity associated with the arrests of Women of the Wall has contributed not just to public pressure in North America but also a growing awareness of this issue in Israel too.  We will hopefully also continue the conversation not just about the Wall itself but also about the reorganization of The Western Wall Heritage Foundation.

The organizations of the Reform Movement who were in the room with Mr. Sharansky have decried the violence of last Rosh Hodesh at the Wall, and on any occasion for that matter.  That violence was in sharp contrast to Rosh Hodesh Sivan in Madison Square Park in NYC where several hundred of us gathered for a lovely, sunny solidarity service held with the Women of the Wall who gathered that day in Jerusalem.  CCAR members Rabbi Jackie Ellenson welcomed the group, Rabbi Sari Laufer led the t’filah and Rabbi Linda Henry Goodman read Torah. ACC Cantor Benjy Shiller also led the t’filah.  The Reform Movement was front and center in its support of this event, with Rabbi Steve Fox (CCAR Chief Executive), Rabbi Alan Henkin (CCAR’s Director of Rabbinical Placement), and me all in attendance.

The CCAR has been on record since 1990 in support of the work of the Women of the Wall.  At that time the Conference declared support for Women of the Wall and:

a. Bat mitzvah ceremonies at the Wall–something now forbidden;

b. Women having the option of joining prayer groups at the Wall;

c. Women holding and reading a Sefer Torah;

d. The impropriety of Jews barring other Jews from praying at this holy place in peace and dignity”

We should all applaud the work of our CCAR colleagues, Stuart Weinblatt, Chair and Gerald Weider, Director, of the Rabbinic Cabinet of the Federation. Their efforts have been amazing in moving these conversations forward in a civil and respectful manner among Jewish leadership from all walks of life.

What would you consider to be the next steps in this process of bringing freedom of religion to the Kotel?

Rabbi Deborah Prinz is Director of Program and Member Services & Director of the Joint Commission on Rabbinic Mentoring at the CCAR. 


CCAR in Israel: Highlights of Two Days


Undelivered cell phone kerfuffles did not hinder the important in-person conversations with HUC-JIR students. On our January Tikkun Olam and Solidarity Mission in Israel, CCAR incoming VP for Program, Debbie Bravo, co-chair Ariana Silverman, and I engaged with Jerusalem HUC-JIR students about their hopes for their careers and how CCAR supports them. They are excited to access our lifelong learning resources and opportunities for chevruta.

For some, these contacts have begun with relationships with many of you who have taught them, inspired them, mentored them and encouraged them in their rabbinic journeys. Indeed, on one side of Debbie Bravo sat a young man she knows from NFTY GER and on the other side sat a young woman she met as a unit head at Harlam.

I look forward to meeting them again on their respective stateside campuses over the next four years as each member of the CCAR rabbinic staff generally meets with almost each class, on each campus, each year, making approximately 20-25 times conversations over the course of each student’s seminary time. When possible, CCAR leadership volunteers also spend time with students. Over the course of these years our student members receive an orientation to CCAR and most importantly we develop personal relationships with each of them. In addition their student memberships enable them to access our teleconferences, webinars, newsletters as well as Convention. L’hitraot often in the years ahead.


Wednesday, by Rabbi Danny Gottlieb


100_8323Yesterday afternoon we visited one of the 14 student villages built by the Ayalim Foundation, which was established 10 years ago by five young people in memory of two friends who had been murdered in a terrorist incident.  The mission of the foundation is to build student villages as part of a larger plan to create communities in places that need them, such as deserted or difficult neighborhoods.  The students who live in the villages, in return for subsidized accommodations, accept an obligation to volunteer in the local community in a variety of ways that serve to strengthen the social fabric and the educational standard of the community.  They tutor children after school, support learning disabled children, provide after school activities and social programs, as well as being role models for the children in the neighborhood.
The village we visited, just south of Beersheva, was home to about 80 students of the Ben Gurion University.  The students volunteer for 8 hours a week in the local community, as well as one Friday a month when they help to clean up the neighborhood.  And also, during the Pesach and summer semester breaks, they volunteer to build the village.  You see, the village, which began with a single pre-fab building, has been expanded into a complete village, with 40 apartments, a student center, moadon and public square, all of which have been built by the students themselves (under the supervision of a construction foreman, of course…) A small alumni village exists alongside the student village, and there are plans to expand the alumni village. Financial support comes from a combination of private philanthropy, federation support and government grants.
In its 10 years of existence the Foundation has seen over 6000 students through its program.  These students have touched the lives of more than 25,000 children in the communities of which the 14 villages are a part.  At present, there are 5000 applications for 800 available spaces for next year.
4453260338_6f73a51f68_oThe other part of the Ayalim Foundation’s mission is to assist in the development of the Negev Region, which is seen as both the fulfillment of David Ben Gurion’s dream and the key to the future development of the State of Israel.  The Negev has vast land and solar resources, and is the center for cutting-edge research in conservation, eco-system and energy sustainability.  The idea is that if the students build the village and help to develop the local community themselves, they will feel a part of the community and they will choose to stay in the region.  And according to Danielle, a 22 year-old student from Jerusalem, it is likely that she will do just that.
The Ayalim Foundation belief is not that “if you build it, they will come” rather, “if they build it, they will stay!”

Rabbi Danny Gottlieb is the Rabbi at Congregation Beth Israel Judea in San Francisco, CA.  He is currently participating on the CCAR Solidarity and Social Action MIssion to Israel, part of the CCAR Leadership Travel series.