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 campus 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.
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.