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.