Books Israel

What’s in an Anniversary?

In anticipation of the release of CCAR Press’s newest book, The Fragile Dialogue: New Voices of Liberal Zionism, we’ve invited several of the book’s contributors to share how the book came together. The book is officially available for pre-order now from CCAR Press. 

On the occasion of Israel’s 8th anniversary Rav Joseph Soloveitchik gave a series of landmark lectures which were later compiled and called “Kol Dodi Dofek” or “The Voice of my Beloved Hearkens.” This quickly became a seminal document in the canon of Religious Zionism which examines clear manifestations of God’s presence in modern historical events. This visionary rabbi – tasked with the mission to rebuild the Orthodox community in a post-Shoah reality – realized that merely 8 years after the establishment of the State of Israel, we were already seeing a drifting apart between the two largest Jewish communities in the world, Israel and North America.  His hope was that these two communities would operate as if they were a person with one body and two heads.[1] Soloveitchik’s argument boiled down is a basic תוכחה (rebuke) or clever commentary on Israeli and American Jewish life that accuses Israelis of being too focused on peoplehood thereby, being weak on Torah values, and American Jews for being weak on peoplehood and mutual responsibility while being overly focused on Religion.  His is a statement claiming that the early development of these two polarities could set a course of furthering one from the other and creating an insurmountable metaphoric (and physical) distance between the two communities.

This year, a year of fortuitous and fateful anniversaries, would that we could reflect back upon the Rav’s assessment and thankfully extol how wrong he was.  But alas…

This year much of the Israel-oriented and Zionist world is hyper-focused on 5777 being:

120 years since the first World Zionist Congress

100 years since the Balfour Declaration

70 years the UN vote to accept the Partition plan on November 29th

50 years since the Six Day war

40 years since the “מהפך”  (the revolutionary moment when Menachem Begin and the Likud rose to power reversing the establishment rule of the Labor party), and the establishment of ARZA(!)

30 years since the first Intifada…

All leading up to the 70th anniversary of the State of Israel which we will celebrate in 5778.

Anniversaries are important, as they mark milestones and offer opportunities for individual and collective heshbon nefesh. They allow to us pause, zoom out and ask ourselves what has happened in the past 100 or 50 years, and whether we have achieved our goals, strayed dangerously from the path of righteousness and justice, or engineer a necessary cause for celebration and affirmation that we fell on the right side of history.

Of all the anniversaries that we mark this year, the Balfour declaration and the Six Day war have been highlighted as the source of discussion, debate and convenient conferencing and teaching. These are important opportunities for engagement with our students, congregants and fellow Jews but we must not let them be used out of context or glorified for more than they are. Use this moment to teach, to read books and evaluate the current situation.  Is this moment a cause for celebration?  There is no question in my mind that it is.  Is this moment a cause for consternation, concern and recognition and that Israel has reached a point of no return, also true? A century after the British Empire awarded us with favour the “establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people,” do we not also recognize that Sir Henry McMahon made a similar promise to Hussein bin Ali, Sharif of Mecca who then saw the Balfour Declaration as a violation of previous agreements made in their correspondence?  Do we see the Six Day War only in the light of the miraculous victory that saved the State of Israel from imminent destruction, or do we view this moment as the predicate to the military rule over another people?

The answer, I hope, is “Yes, and…”.

Yes, this is cause for celebration and cause for concern and let us not forget that Zionism is about creating the exemplary society that the pioneers romanticized.  It is about liberation, self-determination and creating a society based on the principles of חסד  (chesed – loving kindness) and צדק (tzedek – justice), ones that we hope will prevail for the next 50, 70 and 100 years.  As our contemporary Zionist leader Anat Hoffman often reminds us, that “love is what remains after we know the truth.”  Seek the truth, teach it and preach it, and instill the love that is at the core of who we are and what we do.

Happy anniversaries.

Rabbi Josh Weinberg is the President of ARZA, the Association of Reform Zionists of America, and is a contributor to The Fragile Dialogue: New Voices of Liberal Zionism, now available for pre-order from CCAR Press. 


[1] Shared Suffering: A logical, and natural, consequence of the awareness of a shared predicament would be a commonality of anguish; the sharing by all Jews of each other’s suffering. To illustrate this point, the Rav utilizes a midrash based upon the discussion of the legacy to which a man with two heads is entitled (based on a parable in BT Menahot 37a).
The situations begs the question that if he should receive two shares, or just one; does he constitute two separate entities inhabiting the same body, or just a single entity with diverse appearances?
Answer:   The answer is to have boiling water poured on one of the heads. If it alone cries out in pain, then it is truly separate from the other; if both experience the agony, however, then there is but one.



Convention Israel

Showing Up – Now more than Ever

This February the CCAR will be convening in Israel.  While it’s always a good time to go to Israel, this February offers an especially important and unique opportunity to spend time together in Israel as colleagues, as students and as hovevei Tzion. In case you are still deliberating the costs and benefits of participating in this seminal sabbatical experience, I would like to offer three specific reasons why I think you should join us in Israel this February.

1. You need it. Being a one-in-seven year experience, this convention provides you with a unique opportunity to be exposed to cutting edge learning, leadership and the program being offered allows you as a rabbi to encounter and process complex issues in a collegiate environment in which to process and air feelings, discuss frustrations and digest the daily trials and tribulations facing Israel and the Jewish people. These days in Israel will doubtless afford us a high level of professional development and enrichment to last the whole year.

2. Your community needs you to have these experiences.  I don’t have to tell you that for many in our movement, Israel is the source of great debate, controversy and even despair. I also don’t have to remind you that for many congregants, you are the source, authority and expert on all things Jewish – including Israel.  Which is why coming now will give you the opportunity to report back and share the rich and important encounters, meetings, briefings, study sessions and experiences with your congregants, boards, staffs and community members. They are in desperate need of first hand, beyond-the-headlines accounts of the exciting changes that are happening in the Israeli Reform movement, innovative ways of learning Torah, governmental and parliamentary deliberations and all that we are doing to combat the worrisome trends that are oft-mentioned in the media.  Your congregations, organizations, Hillels, and staffs need you to be their emissaries and bring back a real and meaningful account of experiences that are only available to this sort of a convention.

3. Israel needs you. This past year we worked very hard (with much gratitude to all of our rabbis for supporting, pushing and campaigning) to ensure that ours was the largest delegation to the World Zionist Congress.  We wanted the Government of Israel and the rest of the world to see that the Reform movement cares deeply and passionately about Israel and has come out in droves during this difficult time.  We did that, and let me assure you that our presence is felt.  In a world where headlines fade quickly, we need to do all that we can to demonstrate to both the Government and people of Israel that we are committed and invested in the future of Israel and in our movement’s relationship with her.  Only a strong showing of our rabbinic leadership will demonstrate that commitment and will send the message that we are strong, dedicated and will not pass up the opportunity to stand as a collective body of rabbis to hear and be heard.

I look forward to spending time, learning and experiencing with all of you in just a few short months!

Rabbi Josh Weinberg is the President of ARZA, the Association of Reform Zionists of America

Israel Reform Judaism

Israel at 67- Thoughts

Approaching Yom HaZikaron and Yom Haatzmaut, I now mark the second cycle of these Iyyar holidays living in New York.  Last year went by with the curiosity of what happens in the Diaspora – events, celebrations, cocktail parties and lectures.  All nice and impressive, but still lacking. There is no comparison to being in Israel on these days as the entire country kneels down in mourning only to then rise up out of the depths in celebration of what many still do not take for granted – that the dream of an independent sovereign Jewish state is indeed a reality.   During this varying 48-hour experience it is impossible to avoid the mood that sets in throughout the country.  It is impossible to not be enveloped into the national discussion of what it is that those many thousands gave their lives and what we wish for Israel’s future on her birthday.

Peering from abroad as we commemorate and celebrate, we are engaged in two existential debates on the future of the Jewish state both testing the strength of Israel as both Jewish and Democratic.  67 years later there are too many in Israel for whom democracy is increasingly interpreted as being antithetical to Judaism.  Let me be clear, this is both wrong and potentially disastrous for the future of Israel.  It is Israel’s democratic nature that allows it to continue as Jewish.  And this will require a certain sense of maturity and willingness to compromise in order to maintain.  The Jewish state can only remain as such if it remains committed to the principles of democracy (those clearly outlined in the Declaration of Independence.)

On December 21, 1947, Rabbi Yitzhak HaLevi Herzog then Chief Rabbi of the Yishuv (Jewish community living in mandated Palestine, and grandfather of contemporary Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog) wrote to the Zionist leader Shlomo Zalman Shragai “Blessed be He that we have reached this stage, even though it is still only the beginning of the beginning.”  If we perceive the establishment of the State of Israel to be “Reishit Tzmihat Geulateinu – the first flowering of our redemption” it is upon us to be the pruners and harvesters of the early blossoms that were opened on that fateful day in the month of Iyyar 67 years ago.

Often times nurturing a blossom requires food, water and sunlight and other times pruning requires the necessary awareness to remove a side-ward growing branch – doing so in full knowledge that amputation will foster the survival and thriving of the body.  It was this notion of compromise that led one of our greatest sages Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai to plead “Grant me Yavne and its sages,” as he recognized that the only way that both Am Yisrael and Judaism could survive would be to compromise and to focus on the future.

Today our situation is not dissimilar in which we must make a fateful decision to compromise.  The fact is that most of Israeli society has done this already and has chosen the path of a Jewish and Democratic state over that of holding on to land that like the side-ward growing branch of a plant needs to be cut in order for us to survive.

The second challenge facing our Jewish democracy today that of working to determine which Jewish values we want our state to exemplify and which we don’t.  This must be the imperative for the next seven decades and we have a lot to offer.  Many Israelis are waking up to the reality that having a Jewish State does not necessarily mean that they automatically have a Jewish community.  When I came on Aliyah to Israel, I thought that I had fulfilled my own personal Zionist quest.  Shortly thereafter I realized that there was still a tremendous amount of work to be done.  I realized that for so many the values that I learned growing up in the Reform movement, of welcoming the stranger, tolerance and accepting a multiplicity of observance and Jewish practice, ecology and egalitarianism could be perceived as a threat to the Jewishness of the State.  These values are what makes the largest and most diverse Jewish society on the planet Jewish and we must not accept any dissention from that notion.

What I love about Israel is how intrinsically Jewish it is.  How much thought and creativity come out of Israeli society.  What I also love is that it is malleable, impressionable and very much growing.  I love that Israeli Jews are constantly flocking to create new kehilot and that our movement is at the forefront of creating an Israeli nusah, an Israeli style of Judaism that is authentic, inclusive and is evolving what Judaism is when it comes to social justice, how we relate to the other, and what prayer should be just to name a few.

The story of Israel’s first 67 years is one for the movies. It is full of drama, successes, mishaps and experimentation.  What we need now is to foster that flowering, to recognize and be fully aware that we as passionate and involved American Jews can be involved in this process.  We can have a voice that will resonate.  This year on Yom Haatzmaut I urge you to think about Israel not as a far off place, known often for its conflicts, but as an opportunity.    An opportunity to join together in writing history and helping to set the direction for Judaism for the foreseeable future.  As we the blossoms of that first flowering you can join too simply voting in the elections for the World Zionist Congress and ensuring that your voice is heard.  (

חג עצמאות שמח!

Please see this “Al HaNissim” prayer for Yom Haatzmaut and feel free to share with your congregations.

עַל הַנִּסִּים וְעַל הַפֻּרְקָן וְעַל הַגְּבוּרוֹת וְעַל הַתְּשוּעוֹת וְעַל הַנֶּחָמוֹת וְעַל הַמִּלְחָמוֹת שֶׁעָשִׂיתָ לָנוּ בַּזְּמַן הַזֶּה.
ביום ה’ באייר חמשת אלפים תש”ח למניין שאנו מונים לבריאת העולם, בעת ההכרזה על הקמת מדינת ישראל, זכה עם ישראל לריבונות על אדמתם ולשליטה על גורלם. על נס הקמת מדינה יהודית באשר היא ראשית צמיחת גאולתינו. מדינה זו באה מתוך קשר היסטורי ומסורתי זה חתרו היהודים בכל דור לשוב ולהאחז במולדתם העתיקה. ובדורות האחרונים שבו לארצם בהמונים, וחלוצים, מעפילים ומגינים הפריחו נשמות, החיו שפתם העברית, בנו כפרים וערים, והקימו ישוב גדל והולך השליט על משקו ותרבותו, שוחר שלום ומגן על עצמו, מביא ברכת הקידמה לכל תושבי הארץ ונושא נפשו לעצמאות ממלכתית. זה יום עשה יהוה נגילה ונשמחה בו כשנאמר: “וְלָקַחְתִּי אֶתְכֶם מִן הַגּוֹיִם וְקִבַּצְתִּי אֶתְכֶם מִכָּל הָאֲרָצוֹת וְהֵבֵאתִי אֶתְכֶם אֶל אַדְמַתְכֶם” (יחזקאל לו, כד( וּלְעַמְּךָ יִשְׂרָאֵל עָשִׂיתָ תְּשוּעָה גְּדוֹלָה וּפֻרְקָן כְּהַיּוֹם הַזֶּה, הִדְבַּרְתָּ עַמִּים תַּחְתֵּנוּ וּלְאֻמִּים תַּחַת רַגְלֵנוּ, וְנָתַתָּ לָנוּ אֶת נַחֲלָתֵנוּ אשר תיקרא “מדינת ישראל”. ולפי כך מדינה זו תהא פתוחה לעליה יהודית ולקיבוץ גלויות; תשקוד על פיתוח הארץ לטובת כל תושביה; תהא מושתתה על יסודות החירות, הצדק והשלום לאור חזונם של נביאי ישראל; תקיים שויון זכויות חברתי ומדיני גמור לכל אזרחיה בלי הבדל דת, גזע ומין;  תבטיח חופש דת, מצפון, לשון, חינוך ותרבות; תשמור על המקומות הקדושים של כל הדתות. יְהִי-שָׁלוֹם בְּחֵילֵךְ שַׁלְוָה בְּאַרְמְנוֹתָיִךְ.