Monday at the CCAR Convention offered several opportunities to delve into our movement’s evolving relationship with the modern State of Israel. After having attended the AIPAC policy conference in Washington DC a couple weeks ago, I felt a very contrasting viewpoint among the scholars, rabbis, and thinkers here in Irvine, California. At AIPAC we focused solely on security matters, Israel’s advancements in science and technology, or Israel’s vibrant culture; but today we focused on apathy regarding Israel among Millennials, BDS on campus, and the difficulties our liberal movement faces with Israel’s right wing government.
I remarked at one of our sessions that after experiencing the euphoric atmosphere that characterized the AIPAC policy conference, the sessions today (all of which were entitled “Celebrating Israel at 70”) felt more of a bikur cholim visit then they did a birthday party. That being said, the sessions were very interesting. The presentations on BDS on campuses were enlightening and highlighted the great work that is being done by so many in the Hillel world on our college campuses. One of the more humorous moments occurred when it was pointed out by the moderator that the AIPAC representative and the J Street representative were sitting right next to each other unknowingly.
It is certainly possible after attending the sessions today on Israel that one could walk away with a gloomy assessment of where Israel us going as it begins its eighth decade. But an interesting juxtaposition can be felt by the participants at the convention when they leave the session and walk into the lobby of the hotel. There they will find several travel company representatives who are very busy engaging Reform rabbis and talking to them about their plans to lead trips to Israel with their congregations. In fact, it is very common to go on social media (which is not an uncommon occurrence here) and see my good friend Guy Millo from ArzaWorld posting another picture of a rabbi holding a sign that reads, “I am leading a trip to Israel.” Although we are talking seriously about the issues that Israel faces, it is clear that among the Reform rabbinate love for the modern state of Israel is strong.
Most of my colleagues have strong feelings and concerns about the current government and its policies, and they are trying to make sense of our evolving relationship with Israel. But it seems to me that their love for the State of Israel is unconditional. Perhaps it is this love that causes us to care so deeply about Israel’s challenges and not focus solely on their triumphs. One interesting thing that I heard today was that several students from other liberal rabbinic schools are transferring HUC-JIR because they felt that their schools were too anti-Zionist. From what they knew about HUC-JIR they knew that they would find a home where the students, faculty, staff, and alumni are willing to question Israel’s policies, but not their love for the State of Israel. This gives me a sense of reassurance that though I may have serious policy differences with my colleagues on Israel, I know that their love for our Jewish homeland is passionate and enduring.
Rabbi Jeremy Barras serves Temple Beth Am in Pinecrest, Florida.