Israel resolutions

One Resolution, Many Voices

The CCAR Board recently adopted a comprehensive resolution entitled, “CCAR Declaration of Love for the State of Israel and Its People.” As chair of the Resolutions Committee, I was responsible for shepherding the process of developing an idea into a proposal fit for the Board’s consideration.

Toward the end of debate, hours before the Board approved the final, amended resolution, one Board member referred to the document as “polyglot.” Thin-skinned and exhausted at the climax of an arduous process, I took that characterization as an epithet. I was wrong. What our colleague meant was that the resolution reflected many voices. The resolution finds its greatest strength in being multi-vocal.

This Resolution began with the submission of a proposal, “End the Occupation,” by Rabbi Hillel Gamoran, co-signed by a large number of colleagues.

The Resolutions Committee considered that proposal carefully during two successive meetings. After the first, I presented it to the Board, with the recommendation that the Resolutions Committee propose a more comprehensive resolution, to address the issues raised by Rabbi Gamoran and others. By that time, CCAR leadership and I had reviewed our existing resolutions on Israel — notably a comprehensive piece, “Where We Stand on Israel,” a 2002 statement in need of replacement. The Board asked the Resolutions Committee to proceed.

A long drafting and consultation process ensued. Colleagues who lead ARZA, MARAM, and the CCAR Israel Committee were intimately involved. Colleagues from across the ideological spectrum were asked to review drafts, and none were shy about offering suggestions. ARZA leadership reminded us to be careful, given that we treasure Israeli colleagues and cherish a growing Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism. We knew that; after all, we had already consulted the chair of MARAM. Still, the delicacy of our task was brought home to us very clearly.

At one point, a colleague consulted by our President, Denise Eger, submitted a complete re-write, which didn’t change the substance of the proposal, but which was better written, strengthening its voice. I substituted that version for the one with which I had been working, changing it only in ways that were necessary to maintain the support of our key partners.

Throughout the process, Denise Eger, Steve Fox, and I were mindful of the large number of colleagues who had signed onto the earlier proposal that Hillel Gamoran had placed before us. A Resolutions Committee member who lives near Rabbi Gamoran repeatedly brought him drafts, inviting input, which was carefully considered. (To cite only one example, at Rabbi Gamoran’s suggestion, the phrase “Occupied Territories” was included in two places.) Naturally, not all of the input we received, from Rabbi Gamoran nor anyone else, from across the ideological spectrum, could be accepted.

Throughout the process, I adopted a philosophy about suggested edits: Unless I absolutely couldn’t make a suggested change, I accepted it. Working in Word, the function I used the most was “accept insertion (or deletion).” I rejected only edits which violated my arcane sense of English grammar and style or which I knew would force our key partners to withdraw support. The process required a level of bitul ha-yesh (getting my own ego out of the way), which isn’t necessarily characteristic of me!

Ultimately, after again considering Rabbi Gamoran’s submission, and much discussion, the Resolutions Committee substituted our own draft for Rabbi Gamoran’s proposal. The Board adopted the Committee’s recommendation with amendments.

The result is long and multifaceted, reflecting the complexity of the issues and the variety of topics addressed. I hope that signatories to Rabbi Gamoran’s proposal will see that concepts they viewed as important are reflected, even as I hope that those who declined to sign with Rabbi Gamoran find the adopted resolution to be a statement that they can support. I note that several issues surely important to signatories of Rabbi Gamoran’s proposal, but not included in it – the status of Reform Judaism in Israel and equality of Israel’s Palestinian citizens, to name just two – are included here. Other issues that the CCAR hadn’t previously formally addressed in a resolution – most notably our rejection of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement – also merited inclusion in this comprehensive document. On that last point, I should add that the Resolutions Committee is now working on a stand-alone resolution on BDS, a topic that requires greater exploration than it has received in the past, too extensive to fit into our “Expression of Love for the State of Israel and Its People.”

I have chaired the Resolutions Committee off and on for many years – too many, in fact; but that’s a subject for another day. I mention my longevity in this role here only to emphasize that I have never steered a process that invited the interest of so many CCAR members, or one that included so many voices in both the drafting process and the final product.

Otto von Bismarck observed, “Laws are like sausages; it is better not to see them being made.” I used this metaphor a few times toward the end of the process described above, lamenting that I had been “standing over the sausage grinder for a couple of months.”

Upon reflection, though, our resolution reminds me less of sausage than of chocolate cake made with orange juice. I don’t understand how orange juice is in some chocolate cake recipes; but I know that, when it is, the cake is delectable. Standing over a mix-master can be tiring, and one never knows how the cake will turn out. Still, adhering to a recipe that assures that the cake will rise, while remaining open to innovation, can produce a delicious cake.

Rabbi Barry Block serves Congregation B’nai Israel in Little Rock, Arkansas.