Convention Israel

Just a Taste of Our Journey

There’s something about Israel that imbues each moment with layers of depth.  Our days unfold into conversations that will last forever.  The photos and clips in the attached video share just a taste of our journey.  Our spirits continue to hover between heaven and earth, as we hold on to ancient traditions, aspire to future growth, and nurture ourselves through collegiality.
Endless thanks to Janet Liss and Scott Sperling for heading such an outstanding conference.  And thank you to Denise Eger, Steve Fox, and the many CCAR leaders for their incredible work.

Rabbi Zach Shapiro serves Temple Akiba in Culver City, California.


Convention Israel


When my daughter was younger, she used to say she had three homes – the one we all lived in and kept our stuff, URJ Camp Eisner, and Disney World.

Wednesday morning, the CCAR – representing the Reform rabbinate – was invited to a meeting of the Knesset committee on Israel/Diaspora Relations – a historic moment. The chair of the committee, told us that this house of the Jewish people was ours as well, and welcomed us home.
Returning to Israel always feels like coming home. Part of the reason is that many of us spent our first year of rabbinic school studying at HUC’s cam2pus in Jerusalem; living in Israel. Somehow, even though the streets now head in different directions, favorite restaurants are closed, new buildings obscure old views, and you can’t even walk to the Old City the same way anymore, there is a hamische familiarity in the streets, the smells, and the sounds of the birds chirping at 5 am.

To be welcomed home in the parliament of Israel was a moving moment. The moments continued. One after another, interspersed by the leaders of the North American, Israeli, and world-wide Reform movements, 15 members of Knesset from parties across the political spectrum came to speak. They told us that for Israel to be the only democracy in the world where all Jews could not pray in the manners they wished was not right. They told us that we were partners with them in preserving world Jewry and the Jewish state. They told us that we had won an important victory in the new plan for the Kotel (the Western Wall). They told us that we were home. 1

We were warned that any Knesset member had the right to enter the meeting and speak. The day before one of the members of a religious party had said that all Reform Jews were mentally ill. We were ready to hear insults, and even threats. Instead, we were only welcomed – not as friends, but as family.

The division between those of us Jews who live in the Diaspora and those who live in Israel is more than an ocean and a continent, and less than width of a piece of matzah. Even when we speak the same language, we often mean different things. We fight like siblings. Like family, there is no one who can disappoint or irritate us more. Yet, when facing the rest of the world, we stand together. We welcome Israelis into our synagogues, our camps, and our homes, and when we land at Ben Gurian airport, we, too, are home.

Home is never an easy place to visit. There are comforts and joys, but there is also the responsibility. A guest is polite and doesn’t need to help set the table or clean up. Famiy can’t leave until the work is done.

After we heard each speech, we stood together – Israelis and Diaspora Jews – and we sung our common song – the national anthem of the state of Israel. The words of Hatikvah had special significance as we thought back over what had been said – I’hiyot am chofshi, b’artzeinu – to be a free people, free to worship and to live as Reform Jewish, in our own land, our home, eretz Yisraeil.

Joel N. Abraham serves Temple Sholom in Scotch Plains, NJ . The latest in a short line of rabbis, he has been attending CCAR conventions for most of his life. This is his third Israel convention.

Convention Israel

Hebron, a City of Conflicting Narratives and Religious Passions

The Explore Israel track option enticed me immediately: “Hebron, a City of Conflicting Narratives and Religious Passions.”  Because of the complexity of the security situation, it has been a few decades since I last visited this Biblically significant site. So I jumped at the chance to visit Ma’arat HaMachpelah (Cave of Machpelah), the traditional burial site of our biblical ancestors Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob and Leah.

Anticipation and slight anxiousness vied for ascendancy as I contemplated visiting the place where the Bible says Abraham first purchased a piece of land in Eretz Yisrael. Of course seriousness quickly set in as we passed through the Etzion Interchange, a checkpoint where moments before an attempted stabbing took place; which sadly ended with an IDF solider being mistakenly shot and killed in friendly fire.

We were forty Reform Rabbis from North America who chose to explore the complexity and nuance. As the Vice President of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, which hosted this gathering as part of our Israel Convention, and an oheiv Yisrael (lover of Israel, making my 14th trip to Israel), I felt particularly compelled to explore multiple perspectives and to hear – really listen to – some of the complex conflicting narratives which make up people’s connection to the city.12742359_10153307620422051_6095529456574002465_n

We met with two guides: Ishai, spokesperson for the Jewish Community of Hebron, a community which asserts its biblical right to live in this holy historical city, and Nadav, a guide from Shovrim Hashtika (Breaking the Silence), a group of veterans who are exposing the indignities of everyday life under the occupation. Mixing humor and seriousness, they wove their narrative in compelling but measured tones.

This one says Jews are only in 3% of Hebron; Palestinians control the rest. The issue is blown out of proportion.

That one says that 48% of the homes in Hebron are now empty as Palestinians could not live there or sustain life there under the security regime.

That one says the randomness of army control in Hebron over the lives of the Palestinians is untenable and we cannot fool ourselves into thinking that we are doing anything especially nice or moral.

This one says Hebron is my history and/or my religious inheritance and in either case we are causing minor dislocation on its own and especially compared to what happened to us under Jordanian control and before.

The competing indignities are vivid:

Imagine not being able to walk out your front door, or open your business in its long established location, as some Hebron Palestinians cannot.

Imagine being locked out of parts of a city that is central to your religious/historical past as Hebron Jews are.

Imagine being responsible for creating a separation between two peoples, lowering the friction, as the soldiers are, which leads you to have to “lord” over tens of thousands for the safety of a thousand. 

The bottom lines are parallel and poignant:

This one says this is my country. I love my country and we are here to stay. 

That one says this is my country. I love my country and the occupation cannot continue. 

And these don’t even include the perspectives of Palestinians who live there.

It is easy to form opinions from afar, especially when we listen only to news and perspectives that reinforce our own biases. But in a world of conflicting narratives, we strive to retrain our ears to hear multiple perspectives. Only then can we see the humanity, wrestle with the nuance, and open ourselves to possibilities and hope.

Most everyone agree that the occupation needs to end. Yet how to get from here to there, and where “there” is, is complex. There are no limit to the creative solutions being floated – some enticing, some offensive. Is there a will? The complexity of this situation defies easily identifying the way.

To paraphrase the Talmudic passage, eilu v’eilu divrei Elohim Chayim – these and these are the (narratives of people who aspire to understand the will) of the living God. But who knows what God really wants from us?! Clearly though, we leaders necessarily must listen the stories from everyone.

So the day ended. The complexity persists. Our heads are spinning. The status quo remains untenable. And we return home with much to process.

Paul Kipnes serves Congregation Or Ami of Calabasas, California.  Paul also serves on the CCAR Board of Trustees.

Note from Paul: Thanks to Rabbi Daniel Gropper of Rye, New York for his insights and collaboration on this post.

Convention Israel

Patience: The Other Side of the Coin, in Jerusalem

Tuesday, during the opening sessions of the Central Conference of American Rabbis Israel Convention, I was impatient. No, the programs didn’t start late, nor were they slow. I was impatient about the content.

I have been at all four CCAR conventions in Israel since my ordination. Today’s sessions about the two-state solution and about the rights of Palestinians could have taken place at my first, in 1995. In fact, programs on exactly those topics have been held at all four Israel conventions that I have attended.

Convention planners cannot be blamed. A two-state solution is less promising today than it was in early 1995, when then-Foreign Minister Shimon Peres shared his vision of a Middle East Economic Union, mirroring the European Union, which he dreamed would result from the fulfillment of the Oslo Accords. Peace is just as urgent as it was on March 9, 2002, when a Palestinian terrorist blew himself up at the Moment Cafe, murdering eleven Israeli citizens and injuring scores of others, just blocks from our convention hotel. The rights of Israel’s Arab citizens remain as compromised as they were when a 2009 excursion took us to a Bedouin village that lacked both sewage and safe drinking water.

At the very same time when these sessions were in progress, the CCAR distributed a blog that I had written on the airplane, on the way to the convention, “The Supreme Court Vacancy and the Soul-Trait of Patience.” The irony wasn’t lost on me, stewing as I was in my impatience: Impatience over successive Israeli governments’ failure to make the two state solution an urgent priority and to grant every Israeli citizen the rights promised in the Jewish State’s Declaration of Independence. Should I be more patient with the Israeli government, just as I wished that America’s leaders had patiently waited until after Justice Scalia’s funeral before discussing or fighting about his successor?


In my study and practice of Mussar with Alan Morinis over these last five years, I have learned that patience is on everyone’s spiritual curriculum. More people tend to be too impatient than too patient, and I’m certainly in that larger group. Still, as with any soul-trait, one can be out of balance in either direction. One can be too patient.

Reform rabbis are in Israel this week to declare that we will be no more patient in urging the Israeli government to seek peace than we were with authorities’ refusal to permit women to read from the Torah at the Western Wall. We are no more patient in seeking full equality for all of Israel’s citizens than we are in demanding that marriages solemnized by our Israeli Reform and Conservative rabbinical colleagues be recognized by the state.

Tonight, we demonstrated our righteous impatience collectively, as we marched for tolerance from Dormition Abbey to Beit Shmuel. The Abbey has frequently been the target of so-called “Price Tag” vandals. The “logic” begins these attacks is that somebody must “pay the price” for violence against Jews. Who could disagree? Terrorists should pay a price for their crimes. A heavy one. Innocent German abbots at a Christian holy place, though, are anything but terrorists. To the melodies of a Hebrew psalm and German and English hymns, we prayed that the violence end. Marching behind a banner of tolerance and bearing lights, we demonstrated that we will be no more patient in awaiting the end of violence perpetrated by Jewish terrorists than we are in demanding the end of Palestinian terrorism.

Today, in Jerusalem, I was impatient. I expect to be impatient all week.

Rabbi Barry Block serves Congregation B’nai Israel in Little Rock, Arkansas.  Rabbi Block chairs the CCAR Resolutions Committee.

Convention Israel

Balancing Self Preservation and Justice

I attended the Pre-Convention morning studying at the Shalom Hartman Institute with Yossi Klein Halevi on Tuesday.

The Jewish people read a lot of text. We do this to remember our history, to study our most important values, and because text both ancient and modern can help to reveal ourselves to ourselves. Tuesday morning Yossi Klein Halevi helped us explore the competing values of “Remember you were strangers ” which teaches us that we may not be brutal, and “Remember what Amalek did to you…,” which teaches us that we shouldn’t be naive.

On the surface it may not be clear how these values may compete, but when we read them with an eye towards the relationship between Israelis and Palestinians we begin to see how hard it may be to find a balance. We, the Jewish people must not behave in a brutal way. We must not oppress the stranger, we must love our neighbor as ourselves, and yet when we have a long and difficult relationship with our neighbor, with the people we share land with, how can we forget, how can we love when we understand that this relationship is not so easy. How can we both avoid naïveté and brutality with the neighbor and the history that we have.

Through chevruta and with the larger group we examined multiple texts with an eye toward finding a balance both between brutality and naïveté and between self-preservation and justice.

For me the stand out text was was a poem by Uri Zvi Greenberg, “Holy of Holies.” Written in the early 1950’s, this poem is a conversation between Uri and his mother who was killed in the Holocaust. In it she says to him, “And even when the Redeemer comes, and the nations shall beat their swords into/ pruning-hooks and throw their rifles into the fire–/ you will not, my son, you will not!/ …Lest the nations arise again and gather iron/ and rise against us again and we will not be prepared/ as we were not prepared until now!” He posits that the Holocaust or all of Jewish history teaches us that even after the messiah comes we can not lower our guard because the nations will always come for us. And so we will always wear our uniforms and carry our weapons or we risk history repeating once again.

And yet, we must love our neighbors as ourselves. We must love ourselves, we must love our neighbors and we must do these things in equal measure.

I do not know if balancing justice with self-preservation, or brutality with naivete, or even self love with neighbor love will bring the coming of the messiah or even just peace in the Middle East, but I  would like to see us continue in this struggle. It’s a good one.

Rabbi Elizabeth Dunsker serves Congregation Kol Ami in Vancouver, Washington.

Convention Israel

Past, Present, and Future: My Day at HUC-JIR

It has been 12 years since I was a first-year student on the HUC-JIR campus in Jerusalem, but the moment I walked up the steps to 13 King David Street this morning, it felt like I had never left.   There were familiar faces, and new faces, but the stones felt the same underneath my feet, a walk through the library brought many memories to mind, and the music of tefillah stirred my soul.


I started the day by joining in prayer with Israeli rabbinical students for Shacharit.  I did not attend very many services with Israeli rabbinic students during my Year in Israel, so I was grateful to have the opportunity to do so today.  After tefillah ended, we were treated to talks by two up-and-coming scholars from the Jerusalem campus.  Dr. Yifat Teharani taught us about biblical archaeology, focusing on the surprisingly multicultural nature of the desert society during the First Temple period (i.e. between the 6th and 8th centuries BCE).  Dr Dalia Marx taught us about the Cairo Geniza, and the ways in which some of the Geniza’s liturgical texts have begun making their way into contemporary uses.   Although the talks were different in tone and field of study, the themes were similar – reflecting on what we know of the past and how a deeper understanding of it can enrich the present and future of the Jewish state and the Jewish people.

FullSizeRender (1)We ate lunch with the Israeli rabbinical students, and I had the pleasure of connecting with several different students.  It turns out that one of them – Noa – is planning to do her final project at HUC on the intersection of dance and Judaism, and that is a topic that I’m particularly passionate about, too.  In fact, part of what brought me to Israel for this trip is a project I’m doing as part of the Covenant Foundation’s Pomegranate Prize.  I am spending a few additional days in Israel exploring the role of dance in modern Israeli society, including taking a Gaga class – not the children’s game we call “gaga,” but a unique dance form that was developed in israel and is now taught around the world.  I also spent a day at the International Dance Village, which is home to about 80 dancers from Israel and around the world who have come there to live and to dance.  It was exciting to meet Noa at HUC and discover that we share an interest in the integration of dance into Jewish life!IMG_9494

After lunch we were treated to more inspiring speakers and teachers, as we learned about the work of Dr. Ruhama Weiss and the pastoral care program on the Jerusalem campus, along with Dorit and Vivian of the amazing inter-religious “Healing Hatred” program that is sponsored by HUC. Dorit is a (Jewish) Israeli woman and Vivian is a Palestinian woman, and they help to lead an innovative year-long pastoral training program that brings together Israelis and Palestinians to address conflict-related trauma with the tools of spiritual care.

When I felt like there couldn’t possibly be anything more inspiring than the work of Healing Hatred, we were introduced to two students who are almost finished with their studies in the Israeli rabbinic program.  Tamir Nir grew up in a Sefardic masorti (traditional) family in Jerusalem and then moved with his parents to Gush Etziyon (i.e. a Jewish settlement in the West Bank) when he was 10 years old.  He is now not only a soon-to-be Reform Rabbi – which is remarkable enough given his background – but he is also the current Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem.  He spoke beautifully about the challenges faced by Jerusalem’s city council, including the challenges inherent in trying to provide provide better municipal services to residents of East Jerusalem, and the connections he sees between his role as a liberal / Reform rabbi and his day-to-day work as the Deputy Mayor.  We also met Yael Karrie, who works with Jewish and Arab communities in the Negev, along the border with Gaza.  She has created a number of programs to build bridges between people, including InLight, in which congregations throughout Israel joined hands with their Arab and Bedouin neighbors last December to “bring in the light” through a variety of programs meant to promote a shared society.IMG_8180

Overall I feel like this blog has been one big info-mercial for various people and organizations, but the truth is that today felt like a giant dose of IMG_8186 (1)inspiration as a result of what is happening at HUC in Jerusalem and by HUC’s faculty and students.  The first two professors who gave talks about their academic specialties also spoke about how their work is linked to outside projects that are aimed at bettering Israeli society (Dr. Teharani founded a Scouts program in South Tel Aviv for children of immigrant, refugee, and migrant-worker families; Dr. Marx is working on the creation of a new liberal siddur for Israelis).  We closed the day with a mincha service led by the first-year cantorial students, and a rousing, uplifting rendition of Oseh Shalom captured my feelings perfectly – that although I came to Israel feeling great despair over the state of affairs in this country, today’s experiences at HUC gave me a renewed glimmer of hope and optimism about the possibilities for the future.

Rabbi Nicki Greninger is the Director of Education at Temple Isaiah in Lafayette, CA.  This is Rabbi Greninger’s first CCAR Convention.


Convention Israel

Looking Forward to 2016 and #CCAR16

As I turn the page in the calendar to 2016, I like to see what lies ahead for me in this secular New Year, and what it is I’m looking forward to experiencing.  Just around the corner on February 23-28, I’m excited to travel to Israel for the CCAR convention. While I have led trips to Israel, I’ve not been to a CCAR convention in Israel since 1995. As a participant I’m anticipating the potential opportunities for spiritual growth both professionally and personally.

One part of this Israel convention which I am most looking forward to is interacting with colleagues, especially our Israeli colleagues, and exploring the country together with them.  So infrequently do we get a chance to be with so many Israeli Reform rabbis.  Side by side we will have the opportunity to speak with them about Israeli Arabs, Palestinians, Settlements, ultra-Orthodox, gender gaps, or environmental issues. We will also travel to different parts of the country to meet with Israelis who will teach us about their first hand experiences in these areas.  With our Israeli colleagues we’ll explore the country and learn.

Another part of #CCAR16 which I eagerly await is Shabbat. Unlike other CCAR conventions, we get to share Shabbat together when our convention is in Israel.  On Friday night for our Shabbat worship we’ll have the opportunity to travel to one of our Israeli colleague’s congregations and participate.  We’ll experience firsthand how Progressive Israelis observe Shabbat. With our Israeli colleagues and their communities, we’ll pray and celebrate Shabbat.

When we journey to Israel, it’s not so much the sites we see, as the people and the mifgashim (encounters) we share.  I’m ever reminded of this at the end of Yehuda Amichai’s poem, Tourists.

Once I sat on the steps by agate at David’s Tower,
I placed my two heavy baskets at my side. A group of tourists
was standing around their guide and I became their target marker. “You see
that man with the baskets? Just right of his head there’s an arch
from the Roman period. Just right of his head.” “But he’s moving, he’s moving!”
I said to myself: redemption will come only if their guide tells them,
“You see that arch from the Roman period? It’s not important: but next to it,
left and down a bit, there sits a man who’s bought fruit and vegetables for his family.”

The CCAR convention takes place in Israel once every seven years; don’t miss it this year. Come explore, learn, pray, celebrate Shabbat and be open to the potential to grow professionally and personally.  Click here to register.

Rabbi Amy L. Memis-Foler serves Temple Judea Mizpah in Skokie, IL.

Convention Israel Rabbis Reform Judaism

How Do Israelis Do It? – Getting Ready for #CCAR16

I often ask myself, how do Israelis maintain balance in life?  Israeli life is filled with political unrest and social stress in addition to work and family transitions that have their own challenging rhythms.  So yes, how do Israelis do it? Come to the 2016 CCAR Convention (#CCAR16) from February 23-28, and you will learn how Israelis do it.

Join your colleagues as we explore the various ways that Israeli society responds to the question, “How do Israelis do it?”   How do Israelis cope with the ongoing psycho-social-spiritual battery of one on one physical combat and warfare? How do Israelis cope with significant physical injury and post traumatic stress?

Learn from shared real experience and select a couple sessions from these options:

  • Meet Etgarmin heroes and learn of their life challenges.
  • Dialogue with JDC representative who guide the Ruderman Disability Awareness and Inclusion program.
  • Interface with the leadership of the Israel Center for the Treatment of Psycho-trauma and learn how they frame their values and practice.
  • Examine the creative contemporary healing function of Mikvah in Israeli society.

You could walk or run the Tel Aviv Marathon, half marathon, 10K, or 5K. Every rabbi who participates in the run/walk has the opportunity raise significant money to benefit Reform Judaism throughout Israel.  Together we will make a significant statement about our commitment to Israel, while supporting it financially.  CCAR is also offering a scholarship, applicable final_rotatortoward airfare and/or hotel costs, of up to 10% of the amount raised in your name.

Or, you could select another option and participate in the wellness track, which includes early morning meditation, yoga, or Tai Chi by the sea, followed by a face to face psycho-social-spiritual conversation.  You will walk away refreshed and renewed by the energy and passion of Israeli social services that speak with heart and soul.

On a personal note, after the conference, I’m riding with the Riding4Reform cycling experience that allows you to experience the land and people close up and personal. It is also a wonderful way to contribute to the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism.  Find me at to sponsor me – or join me!

Rabbi Karen Fox has been named Rabbi Emerita at Wilshire Boulevard Temple in Los Angeles, California.

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