Convention Reform Judaism

Reform Rabbis Worldwide Renew and Recommit to a Jewish Democratic Pluralistic Israel

Over 300 Reform Rabbis – North American, Israeli, European, Australian, Russian and from elsewhere – gathered in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv for the CCAR Israel convention. With renewed vigor, we speak in a clear voice, about our commitment to Israel, Judaism, Israeli democracy, Jewish pluralism and peace. Our resolutions expressing love and support for Israel and condemning the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions campaign against Israel, make it clear that we are ohavei Yisrael (lovers of Israel), Zionist, passionate and pluralistic, realist pursuers of peace.FullSizeRender-6-1-300x151

As Vice President of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, I arrived in Israel with an expansive mission:  To paraphrase the words of the Ahavah Rabbahprayer, we Reform Rabbis gathered in Israel l’havin ul’haskil, lishmo-a, lilmod ul’lameid, lishmor v’laasot ul’kayeim – to understand and discern, to heed, learn, and teach, and, lovingly, to observe, perform, and fulfill our eternal commitment to this Jewish state.

egalitarian_kotelTogether and in smaller groups, we traveled yamah v’kedmah tzafonah v’negbah (west, east, north and south) to explore, understand and advocate. We prayed together – men and women, in tallit, kipah and for some, with tefillin – at the Kotel’s newly designated Ezrat Yisrael, an egalitarian space. We studied together with some of Israel’s greatest thinkers. We marched in support of a tolerance, embracing the gifts of each religion. We spoke with Jews, Christians, Muslims, and other religious and secular Israelis. With the disenfranchised and the disillusioned. With people of all political persuasions, who live all over Israel and on both sides of the Green line. With Palestinians whose messages were sharp and unwavering.

Our hearts were filled with Ahavat Yisrael (love of Israel), and with Tikvah (hope) for Israel’s vibrant future.

Beyond the listening and learning, we shared clear messages:

We are ohavei Yisrael (lovers of Israel) and our support for Israel is unconditioned and unconditional.

We are Zionists, committed to nurturing a vibrant, Jewish democratic state that lives up to the highest ideals of democracy and social justice.

We are passionate Jews, staking out claim to a pluralistic vision of an Israel where there is more than one way of being Jewish.

We are politically active Jews, prepared to open our mouths, flex out muscles, and commit our money to further the dream of a democratic Jewish pluralistic socially just state for all its citizens.

We are realists, recognizing that a strong secure Israel, while living in a very dangerous neighborhood, can nonetheless work diligently and forthrightly toward helping effectuate the dream of Palestinians for a separate state alongside the Jewish state.

Yes, with undying devotion, we Reform Jews love Israel. We oppose BDS. We support the right of women to pray and practice in a non-coercive Judaism. We oppose the coercive control of the Rabbinate over Jewish life. We discern that Jewish democracy is the way forward. We embrace the humanity of Palestinians and believe in peace.

We return home – until our next trip – passionately rejuvenated in our passion for this beautiful Jewish homeland.

And we pray:

Oseh shalom bimromav hu yaaseh shalom aleinu v’al kol Yisrael, v’al kol yoshvei teivel, v’imru amen. 

May the One who brings peace to the High Heavens, bring peace to us, to all Israel, to all who dwell on this earth. And let us say… Amen. 

Rabbi Paul Kipnes is Vice President of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, and serves Congregation Or Ami in Calabasas, California.

Convention Israel

An Eternal Optimist in the Land of Israel

What a powerful week of study, friendship, camaraderie and spirituality.  During the CCAR convention this week, over 300 rabbis, spouses and friends gathered together to learn, pray and (re)experience the joys of Israel.  In our final day, we traveled to the Interdisciplinary Center at Herzliya.   We began the morning with a panel moderated by Rabbi Rick Block.  This panel, in which we were able to learn from Professor Uriel Reichman, IDC Herzliya President and founder and Amnon Rubinstein, former Minister of Justice and Education, discussed 10 questions facing Israel today, focusing on Israel and Democracy. Shortly after the panel, we were addressed by Ron Prosor, the Permanent Israeli Ambassador to the UN, who gave us an overview of some of the challenges of being an Ambassador for Israel to the UN.  These morning sessions really helped to give an “inside look” not only at the political situation Israel finds herself in, but also to the positive possibilities that lie ahead for Israel and her neighbors.

After a short coffee break, we were broken up into 3 tracks: 1) Start Up Nation and the Israeli Entrepreneurship Spirit, 2) The Crisis of Governance in the Middle East: Implications for Israel and 3) Between Positive Psychology and Education.  As I am really interested in how Israel is able to maneuver as the only Democracy in the Middle East, I chose to go to the section option: looking at the Crisis of Governance in the Middle East.  The presenter, Amichai Magen, is a senior lecturer at the Lauder School of Government, Diplomacy and Strategy at the Interdisciplinary Center at Herzliya.  In his lecture, Magen began by presenting a triangle of the Modern International Order.  This triangle, with Peace in the middle, had as its three points: International Organizations, Economic Interdependence and Democracy, with arrows going from every point to every other point.  According to Magen, true peace can only be obtained when the governance structures really do have relationships that lead to and depend on each other.IMG_0606

Israel, a very young country, is actually one of the oldest Democracies on Earth.  This is significant, as she is surrounded in Northern Africa and the rest of the Middle East by nations that are neither democratic and are not served by major world institutions such as the Euro League.  The situation really does begin to fall apart and becomes extremely fragile when those institutions that are specifically created to help to proctor peace are either not in existence or under-utilized, whichever the case may be.  There are major consequences of this crisis of governance in the MENA (Middle East and Northern Africa) region which include conditions of instability, understated uncertainty in the area regarding diplomacy among others, threats to regional security, and of course humanitarian problems.

While this area of the world does seem to be in a constant state of flux and can sometimes be scary and/or at least frustrating for Israelis, there are also some areas of good, some areas of hope.  To start with, there is some room for alignment (even it is luke-warm at best) of key interests between Israel and the pragmatic Arab states of Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia towards an “Axis of Stability” in the region.  With the rise of Kurdish autonomy and possible statehood, there is a chance for Turkish-Israeli rapprochement.  This would certainly give Israel another potential partner in the region– a plus for anyone who supports and loves Israel.

This convention challenged each and every one of us in so many ways, and I leave Israel to head back to my community with more knowledge – with lots of ideas and ways to help educate and inform my congregation.  Israel is not perfect; however, she is a beacon of hope in a region that unfortunately has very little hope.  As the only democracy in the region, Israel must continue to lead the way in so many areas – in her democracy and human rights to begin with.  While I believe this region has a long road ahead, I do believe that peace will come…with God’s help, sooner or later.  Dr. Magen ended his presentation with the following quote, “Anyone who doesn’t believe in miracles is not a realist,” by David Ben-Gurion.  Yes, this is why Dr. Magen, and I as well, remain an eternal optimist with respects to Israel and her neighbors.

Rabbi Erin Boxt  serves Temple Kol Emeth in Marietta, Georgia.  This is his third time at a CCAR Convention.

Convention Israel

The Orchard of Abraham’s Children

There is only one nursery school in all of Israel that has Jewish and Muslim children enrolled together. It’s in Jaffa, a mixed Arab-Jewish town, alongside Tel Aviv.

One day this past week, I went to visit along with 30 American and Canadian Reform Rabbis as part of our CCAR annual meeting in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. We gathered in the school’s backyard garden and playground near a chicken coop with very raucous roosters. The school is aptly called “The Orchard of Abraham’s Children.”

Ihab Balha is the school manager, and he greeted us warmly. He’s in his early 40s, is tall with cascading long black-gray hair framing his handsome olive-colored face. He wore the long white robe of a Sufi mystic. He speaks beautiful Hebrew and he told us his unusual story about how this school came to be created.

Ihab grew up in the house in which the school welcomes the children each day. He is one of four or five children of a loving Palestinian Arab Muslim family. However, his father’s love only went so far. He hated Jews with an uncommon passion, and he taught his children to hate Jews as well.

When Ihab was 16, he attempted to fire-bomb a synagogue. When he was 20, he encountered Jews for the first time with a group of Palestinian friends. Each side took the opportunity to release their pent-up venom and rage toward the other. Something strange happened, however, in the verbal assaults. Ihab and the others (Jews and Arabs both) wanted more opportunities to be heard and to listen. Soon, they realized that their bigotry was not rationally based, that there was humanity in the other and that they shared far more than they had ever imagined. That realization launched them into a dialogue series that transformed them.

Ihab didn’t initially confide with his parents that he was participating in these conversations nor that his attitudes about Jews were changing. At long last he told his parents, but there was a serious fall-out with his father. They did not speak nor see one another for the next five years, a painful time for the entire family. For comfort and wisdom, Ihab turned to Islam and the Quran, and he became a Sufi mystic.

After the 2nd Intifada in 2002, Ihab attended a discussion between an Imam and a Rabbi, both of whom had lost children because of the violence. In 2006, Ihab helped to organize a conference of Muslims and Jews that was attended by 5000 Palestinian Arabs and Israeli Jews at Latrun on the road between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, the site of an historic battle in the War of Independence. Around that time, Ihab reconciled with his parents. In 2008, his family made pilgrimage to Mecca.

At the age of 35, Ihab met and fell madly in love with Ora, an Israeli Jewish woman. They married two days after they met, and he struggled with how to tell his parents. Because Jaffa is a small town and his family is well known, everyone knew that he had married but no one knew who was his bride.

Ihab and Ora decided to introduce her to the family without revealing that they were, in truth, married. He brought her home along with a group of Jewish and Palestinian Arab “friends,” the first time Jews had ever set foot in the Balha home. Ihab’s father told Ora and the other Jews how he hated and resented Jews who he believed had stolen so much from the Palestinians during the 1948 War. He did like Ora – a lot.

His parents kept asking Ihab why they had not yet met his bride and when that would happen. At last, when cousins came to visit from Holland, using them as a buffer, one of the cousins told his parents: “You have met Ihab’s wife. She is there (pointing at Ora)!”

Ihab’s father exploded: “You Jews have stolen everything from us, and now you steal from me my son!?”

Ora said, “I love your son.”

Ora was soon pregnant with their first child, and she and Ihab decided that they wanted to raise their son with Israeli Jews and Palestinian Muslim Arabs. They envisioned starting a nursery school but needed a building. Ihab’s parents volunteered their house. Today, the school has 200 children who come every day . They call the school “The Orchard Of Abraham’s Children.” Ora is the Director and Ihab is the Manager. Ihab’s father visits the kids each day and is a loving “grandfather” to them all, Arab and Jew.

This story is remarkable in so many ways, most especially because it shows the transformation that can be experienced by enemies, and about what happens when we listen and seek to understand the “other.” It’s about learning the other’s narrative, and how empathy and compassion are critical in the building of friendship, community and a shared society.

After Ihab shared his remarkable story, I said to him: “Ihab – You have experienced great pain!”

“Yes,” he said, “but also great joy!”

Rabbi John Rosove serves Temple Israel of Hollywood, California.

Convention Israel

Tel Aviv Marathon

We have been making history this week.  From our attendance at the Knesset in which we heard from speaker after speaker stress the importance  of the partnership Reform Jews share with the State of Israel, to gathering at Ezrat Yisrael, the new egalitarian prayer space at the Western Wall.  Today was no different.  History was made again.  Today, Reform Rabbis joined with members of IMPJ congregations to participate in the Tel Aviv Marathon.  There were over 100 Reform leaders participating in the Marathon, Half-Marathon, 10k or 5k as we all raised money to support  Reform Judaism in Israel.  Together, Reform rabbis walked or ran nearly 1 Million Meters as we moved the Reform Movement Forward.

Tel Aviv is an amazing city with its vibrant culture, incredible foods, great music, fashion and art.  What makes Tel Aviv so unique is the openness that it has to the diversity contained within.  Reform Judaism is vibrant here.  Beit Daniel, Mishkonot Ruth and Kehilat HaLev (which make up The Daniel Center) are pillars of the community that work towards co-existence helping to create the openness and acceptance that is evident everywhere you turn. They also impact the many Israelis who  are seeking new ways to express their Judaism.

The participants in today’s races came from all walks of life, Reform, Orthodox, secular, men and women, whites and blacks.  We met people from Germany and Canada who now call Israel home.  As we ran the race, it was exhilarating to have a colleague tap you on the shoulder, say hello, and run with you for a few minutes.  It was amazing to be cheered on by colleagues as you crossed the finish line.  But just as remarkable is the sense of community that was built amongst total strangers.  We cheered as the leaders of the hand cycle race sped past us in the opposite direction (the hand cycle race is specifically for people with special needs).  We cheered as the Marathon’s oldest participant walked by.  As I neared the 20k mark, exhausted, with numbness in my feet, an Israeli who I never met and will never meet again, ran by me, turned to me and encouraged me by saying, “just one more!”  Today, we truly lived the culture of Israel, as we 100 Reform Jewish leaders joined with tens of thousands of Israelis in celebrating the diversity and openness of this great city.

In the Pirke Avot (4:2), Ben Azzai reminds us that we should run to do the least of the commandments as we would run to do the more difficult.  The ideology of supporting Reform Judaism in Israel is something we all do, however, there are times when the work of supporting Reform Judaism isn’t easy.  Whether it is responding to Knesset members who call us mentally ill or fighting for an egalitarian prayer space for more than a generation, the work we do is not easy.  We run to do it, because as Ben Azzai also teaches the reward of a mitzvah is the sacred act itself.  We are rewarded because we know we are opening up pathways for different approaches to nurturing our souls.

For many of our colleagues, participating in today’s races was not an easy mitzvah.  There were first time 5kers, 10kers, and Half-Marathoners.  Each of us pushed our bodies to the limits.  For all of us, the reward is both personal and communal.  Many of us accomplished a personal goal of a first race or adding to the races in which we have participated.  Collectively, our reward is knowing that through our efforts we raised funds and have demonstrated support to our movement in Israel.  Together, we too many steps to move Reform Judaism forward in Israel.

Rabbi Rick Kellner serves Congregation Beth Tikvah in Columbus, Ohio.  

Convention Israel

The Best of Israeli Reform

The Israeli Reform movement has come a long way these last 25 years. Thirty percent of all Israelis now have a positive impression of the Reform movement, whereas a generation ago no one knew it even existed. We’ve risen in the Israeli public’s esteem because our rabbis and congregations are liberal, Jewish, open-minded, loving, socially progressive, responsive to people’s personal, spiritual and social needs, and they offer a way for Israelis to be Jewish in a movement that is not orthodox in the state of Israel that’s positive, appealing, relevant, and meaningful.

Last evening I joined with 20 American Reform rabbis in a short twenty-minute bus ride to Kehilat Kodesh v’Hol in Holon for Kabbalat Shabbat services and a pot-luck community dinner. Holon is just south of Tel Aviv. Other rabbis traveled to Reform synagogue communities in Haifa, Zichron Ya’acov, Kiryat Tivon, Caesaria, Netanya, Even Yehuda, Ramat Hasharon, Tel Aviv, Gezer, Gadera, and Nahal Oz. There are now 45 congregations spread strategically throughout Israel from Haifa in the north to Sderot in the south.

The name “Kodesh v’Hol” has a double meaning. Hol means “sand” (Holon is near the beach) and it means “secular.” Holon is a middle-class secular city of 190,000 Israelis. The congregation’s young rabbi is smart, warm-hearted, talented, and charismatic. Rabbi Galit Cohen-Kedem, the mother three (her third child was born three weeks ago) who was ordained by the Hebrew Union College in Jerusalem a year and a half ago, began the community as a student in 2009. She explained that she and her congregants want to bring holiness to a highly secular community; hence, Kodesh v’Hol.

I ought to mention, lest I be accused of un-ascribed bias, that my synagogue, Temple Israel of Hollywood, enjoys a sister-synagogue relationship with Kodesh v’Hol. However, even if I didn’t already feel a warm spot in my heart for Galit and this community, after last evening I would be immensely excited about what is happening there. They celebrate Shabbat every other week. There are educational programs for families and children. They are sponsoring several families on the welfare rolls who are not part of the congregation, and provide food and support for those in financial distress.

Kodesh v’Hol rents space for services in a community center for seniors during the week. Simply furnished with two large rooms and a back yard where the kids played, the service was in one room that accommodated 75 people and the pot-luck dinner was in the other. We lit candles and parents and their small children gathered beneath a large talit as the community sang the Priestly Benediction. HUC Rabbinic student Benny Minich, originally from Crimea and now an Israeli, led the music. Before we sang Kiddush, Galit invited forward a new oleh from St. Petersberg, Russia, to sing. Constantine is a trained opera singer. Who would have thought that there in Holon we’d be treated to kiddush by a Russian trained tenor!?

I spoke with one of two co-chairs of the community, Heidi Preis, a young mother of four in her early to mid-30s, and a Sociology PhD candidate at Tel Aviv University who is writing her doctoral dissertation on women and the birth experience as well as the experience of prostitutes working in Tel Aviv. Where Heidi had the time to do all this and be a co-chair of this community I haven’t a clue. But she is the caliber of the people who are building this community; socially conscious, sophisticated and community centered.

We asked some of the members what they had found in this new congregation that was so appealing. Heidi’s mother said that though she had been a member of a modern orthodox synagogue for most of her adult life, she fell in love with Galit and moved over to this community. The positive and joyful energy there was palpable.

As we walked back to the bus to return to Tel Aviv, we rabbis were abuzz with excitement about this community and its future. No one doubted that Kodesh v’Hol would, within only a few short years, have its own building and would grow dramatically as more and more Israelis discover it and make it their home away from home.

This morning the entire conference celebrated Shabbat at the Tel Aviv Art Museum. Rabbi Judy Schindler was our prayer leader along with HUC-Jerusalem Cantorial Student and composer Shani Ben Or, and composer, keyboardist and guitarist Boaz Dorot, as well as a violist and a percussionist. The music was beautiful and engaging, from the very best of Israeli and American composers and song writers as well as Yemenite, Libyan, Bulgarian, and classical Israeli music, plus a new nigun composed by Shani and Boaz especially for this occasion. Did I say that Shani sings like an angel and that she intends to become the first cantor-rabbi ordained in Israel by the Hebrew Union College (there are 100 Israeli born rabbis serving the Reform movement here now with 10 being ordained annually. All have positions!).

There’s so much that can break and deaden the heart here, but there’s also so much to warm the heart and expand the soul. It was the latter that transported me on this Shabbat and I’m grateful to our sister movement here in Israel, the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism and its inspired leadership.

Rabbi John Rosov serves Temple Israel of Hollywood, California.

congregations Israel

Shabbat at Kehillat Halev

There is something magical about Shabbat in Israel. The frenetic pace of the six other days of the week comes to a crawl, it is as though one can feel the angels of Shabbat descending upon this land. As part of the CCAR Israel convention, my colleagues and I separated and were guests of 13 Reform communities throughout the country. From Haifa to Gezer to Nahal Oz, we joined in prayer with congregations affiliated with the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism.

I was delighted to attend Kehillat Halev in central Tel Aviv. We walked into the space, a senior day center the congregation rents from the municipality of Tel Aviv, and were welcomed warmly. Israelis from newborn to senior come each week to this congregation and bring in Shabbat with energy, kindness, joy, and amazing music. Rabbi Rotem offered beautiful words of Torah that spoke to my soul, stirring my own prayer, and from the feeling in the room, the prayer of each person.

Children were sitting on the laps of their parents, quietly playing with toys on the floor, or being danced around in the arms of family and friends who are like family.

The community uses a daf T’filah, a handout of the traditional prayers, contemporary reflections, and modern Israeli poetry. Music ranged from Taubman’s Hashkiveinu setting, niggunim, new Israeli songs, and traditional nusach.

The service concluded and I was simultaneously sad and ecstatic. Sad because I don’t know when I will get to celebrate Shabbat with this community again. Ecstatic because this community exists, is thriving, and my soul was filled with the spirit of Shabbat.

I hope you will join me in supporting the communities of the Israeli Reform Movement with our dollars and our Israel trips.

And thank you to Kehillat Halev for a gorgeous Shabbat. I’m sending in my synagogue membership when I get home.

Rabbi Eleanor Steinman is the Director of Religious Education at Temple Beth Hillel in Valley Village, CA.

Convention Israel

Strangers in a Strange Land – Asylum Seekers and Migrant Workers in Israel

So often when we travel to Israel we expect to see ‘the best’ of what the country has to offer. We see beautiful landscapes and architecture and eat at our favorite falafel stand. We stock up on kippot and other Judaica and we feel good about contributing to the Israeli economy. We feel good about being ‘b’aretz‘ in the land.

One of the special aspects of a CCAR Convention in Israel is the opportunity to do all of that but also go much deeper into the psyche of this modern state. My love for Israel is consistent and true and I am always wanting to understand the nuances of her character. Like a beloved friend, I am not afraid to unearth flaws. Rather, I desire to know this country for all that it is: a miraculous Nation State trying to figure out how ‘to be’ in this world.

While the world is focused on the Syrian refugee crisis, not a tremendous amount of attention is being paid to the almost 65,000 African Asylum seekers who have crossed into Israel in the last 10 years. They are mostly from Sudan and Eritrea and are part of a population of about 230,000 foreign laborers in Israel who mostly work in agriculture, home care and construction.

The laws concerning foreign laborers and asylum seekers have been uneven and inconsistent. International migrant workers, or Foreign workers as they were called, were originally recruited during the intifada of the 1990s when Palestinians were not permitted to work in Israel. But importing workers from other countries is different than having workers who go home at night and the strain on the societal infrastructure became noticeable as numbers of workers increased. While there have been deportations over the years and an ebb and flow in numbers, at this time, Israel faces a humanitarian and legal crisis as it tries to figure it how to deal with the fact that there are people in the world who seek to live and work in this country who are not Jewish and who are not Palestinian.

While the Israeli government does not now deport foreign workers, it also does not grant them refugee status. Instead they receive Group Temporary Protection. This does not include work visas. The laws and systems are confusing and many people live in abject poverty, overwhelmed by the bureaucratic system that envelopes them.

Yet over the course of our program on Migrant Workers and Asylum seekers today, we got a sense of what is being done on the ground to help them. Most inspiring was a visit to Bialik Rogozin School where Eli Nechama and his staff transform the lives of their at risk students. Children from fifty one countries and many faiths are educated, and inculcated with a sense of excellence, pride and hope. An academy award winning film about this school, “No Strangers Here” tells their story. As a group of young students sang to us of peace in sweet clear voices, we could not help but be moved by the amazing impact their school has had on them and their future. Another hopeful encounter was with the staff of Hotline for Refugee and Migrants. Through client services, detention monitoring and legal action the Hotline works to create a just asylum system and a rights based approach to migration law and policy. A staff worker showed us around South Tel Aviv and shared some of the challenges of the migrant populations.

When it was all over, the question was whether we were angry or hopeful or maybe something else. It’s hard to think of the State of Israel treating innocent people who have left dangerous homelands in search of safety and freedom in ways that are harsh and in many ways in humane. After all have we as a people not also been in such a situation too many times in our history? I acknowledge this challenge, and yet, as is often the case on these programs, I walk away sobered but also inspired by the individuals, NGOS and communities that are creatively and passionately working on the ground to solve these societal problems. Teachers and volunteers dedicate enormous energy to help migrant kids, some of whom have never received any formal schooling prepare for bagrut. Staff and volunteers at places like Hotline passionately intervene with the State to protect the well being and future of total strangers. People who cook food or donate clothing and supplies, who teach Hebrew and English and who befriend those who are ‘strangers in a strange land’ feel a sense of obligation as Jews and as human beings.

Israelis never cease to be inspiring to me, and so too despite her flaws is Israel as well.

Rabbi Mara S. Nathan serves Temple Beth-El in San Antonio, Texas. Mara serves on the CCAR Board of Trustees.

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.


Is the Two-State Solution Viable?

I had the privilege today of introducing two programs at Convention on Tuesday in Jerusalem. Both sessions addressed the issue of the viability of the two-state solution.

The first was moderated by Dr. Reuven Hazan, the head of the Political Science Department at the Hebrew University, and included MK Hilik Bar, the Secretary General of the Labor Party and Deputy Speaker of the Knesset, and Elias Zananiri, the Vice Chairman of the PLO Committee for Interaction with Israel Society.

The second featured MK Benny Begin, a geologist and member of the Knesset (Likud) and the son of the late Prime Minister Menachem Begin.12728953_10153305835187051_3337875788211354002_n

I framed the program with these words:

No issue divides the Jewish people as much as the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict. As tensions flare in this infantifada (as it is called with knife wielding Palestinian children attacking innocent Israelis) and hope seems dim for any kind of progress or negotiations, the Labor Party lead by Isaac Herzog decided in the last couple of weeks that it was officially parting with the two-state solution in the near term. Instead, MK Herzog recommended that Israel build a security fence that separates Palestinians from Israelis in Jerusalem and elsewhere. This decision is a challenge to Labor MK Hilik Bar’s outline once supported by Herzog for a final status, ‘end of all claims’ agreement between Israel and the Palestinians resulting in a two states for two peoples resolution of the conflict. This proposal resulted from Minister Bar’s two years as the Chair of the Knesset Caucus to Resolve the Arab-Israeli Conflict (otherwise known as “Two States Caucus”). MK Bar denied that Herzog had given up on a two-state solution and that his proposal to build the fence was purely a security measure to stop young Palestinians from attacking Israelis.

Though the Zionist Union still supports a two-state solution, the Palestinian Authority says it is too late and that it would refuse to sit down with any Israeli leaders without pre-conditions and without an outside mediator (Quartet). However, serious Israeli and American Jewish critics of the Palestinians argue that on at least two occasions in the past fifteen years, the Clinton-Barak-Arafat Camp David negotiations in 2000 and the secret 36 meetings between former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas in 2007. Yassir Arafat backed out of the Camp David talks and Abbas backed out of his negotiations with Olmert saying that the gaps between Israel and the Palestinians were still too wide. These critics claim that the Palestinians were never serious about an end of conflict agreement.

 All the while settlements continue to expand and new settlements dot the entirety of the West Bank.  Jewish neighborhoods now surround the city. Taken together the establishment of a contiguous Palestinian state is increasingly more difficult.

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin rejects a two state solution and instead has suggested a confederation of two states, Israel and Palestine, with two governments, two constitutions, and all security overseen by the IDF extending from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea.

The questions before our speakers are these – Is it too late for a two-state solution? Is a two-state solution still viable and the preferable option? Is there an alternative to a two-state solution? What happens to Israel’s democracy and Jewish character if the two-state solution does not come about in the near future or down the road?

12729254_10153305816732051_6169411515747942292_nThe first panel of speakers all agreed that there is no solution other than a two-state solution. Without a two state solution Israel will either cease to remain a democracy or it will cease to be a Jewish state. The Palestinian representative claimed to want a state of Palestine living securely alongside a state of Israel.

MK Begin argued that the Palestinian leadership can never and will never accept the legitimacy of the Jewish state of Israel on Eretz Yisrael, and that a two-state solution would be an existential threat the state of Israel.

The speakers represented the variety of opinion in Israel itself and among the 320 rabbis present. The CCAR  affirms, and has long affirmed, that a two state solution is the only way for Israel to preserve its democracy and its Jewish character.

John L. Rosove serves Temple Israel of Hollywood, California.