Showing posts with label Reform Judaism. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Reform Judaism. Show all posts

Monday, October 19, 2015

Israel’s Latest Terror Wave: The Global Reform Movement Responds

For personal reasons (health of a family member - all is fine now, thanks), I have not yet commented on what is happening in Israel. I have only begun to reach out to friends in Israel to see how they are doing (if they have not already shared on Facebook. I feel awful. And I am outraged at the woefully inadequate and barely accurate coverage in most of the American media, both liberal and conservative. I am not sure I am ready to respond yet - too busy trying to come up with ways to talk about this with middle schoolers (suggestions are welcome!). For now, I want to share the response of the Reform Movement. This is posted on RJblog, the Reform Movement's Blog.

A rash of stabbings and other terror attacks on Israeli citizens have increased alarmingly over the past few days.

The World Union for Progressive Judaism, proudly headquartered in Jerusalem, condemns these acts. The cruelty of those who attack innocent civilians and children on their way home from school seems to know no limit.

The WUPJ mourns with the families and loved ones of the victims of these latest terrorist attacks.

During dark times like these, there is a powerful urge to hate and to inflict collective punishment on “the other.” However, we cannot let extremists set the agenda for the rest of us. There will only be peace once the fundamentalists no longer perpetuate this cycle of hate.

The worldwide Reform Movement continues to pray for an end to the violent acts, meant to plant fear in the hearts of every Israeli citizen.

These acts will not deter us from our efforts to strengthen the Jewish people and the State of Israel. We must not allow fear to rule us.

Later this week the WUPJ international leadership will gather in Jerusalem to express solidarity with the citizens of Jerusalem and Israel. The meetings of the World Zionist Congress will continue as planned with a full complement of Reform Jewish leaders from around the globe. Our brothers and sisters in Israel need – and deserve – our support in these challenging times. They are not alone.

Rabbi Daniel H. Freelander, WUPJ President
Carole Sterling, WUPJ Chair
Dr. Philip Bliss, WUPJ Advocacy Committee Chair

Watch an in-depth analysis of the latest developments in Israel by Professor Paul Liptz, WUPJ Anita Saltz International Education Center’s Director of Education here.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Torateinu ARZA:
Unto Zion Shall Go Torah

Torateinu ARZA with
Rabbi Josh Weinberg, ARZA President,
with Rabbi Rick Sarason,
and Rabbi Bennett Miller, ARZA Chair
When I open Outlook each work day, I find a an e-mail from the URJ's Ten Minutes of Torah. Some days I read it with great interest. Other days I know I won't have time and set it aside for later. This morning - with one son on his way to a NFTY regional event and the other working out and doing errands (he is cooking Shabbat dinner tonight) - I decided to come into the empty office and finish a project, put away the Chanukah decorations and clean off my desk. But first e-mail.

One day each week, Ten Minutes of Torah is about making Israel Connections. Rabbi Josh Weinberg, the president of ARZA (Association of Reform Zionist of North America) was the author from Wednesday. I was struck by his words. In part because I can visualize the places in Ben Gurion Airport (NTBG) her describes. In part because of the power of a congregation her sharing a Sefer Torah with a new Reform community in Israel. And in part because of the reaction of the elderly woman at NTBG to seeing a scroll in the hands of another woman.

I share this as a Shabbat gift for those who didn't see it. You can see the link after Josh's name to discuss the article on That is the blog of the Reform movement where the article is posted online. I urge you to make any comments there so you will be part of a much larger conversation.

Shabbat Shalom!


Torateinu ARZA:
Unto Zion Shall Go Torah
By Rabbi Josh Weinberg
Discuss on
Moses received the Torah from Sinai and gave it over to Joshua. Joshua gave it over to the Elders, the Elders to the Prophets, and the Prophets gave it over to the Men of the Great Assembly.
Pirkei Avot 1:1

Dan, the official in customs, told me to have a seat with my Torah and wait. Well accustomed to Israeli bureaucracy, I immediately knew I should have canceled my plans for the rest of the day. When Dan returned, offering me a cup of coffee, I knew I was in for it. Surprisingly, within 10 minutes, having signed the necessary paperwork and paid the required fees, Torateinu ARZA (Our Torah to the Land) and I were cleared to leave.

As I headed into the arrivals hall, cradling the Torah, Dan asked, "So, is that a real Torah?"

"Absolutely," I responded.

"A great mitzvah…" he called out with a wink. Even the customs official understood the importance of our work to bring the gift of Torah to Kehilat Sha'ar HaNegev, a fledgling Israeli Reform community.

In the back of the hall, near the vending machines, I took the scroll from its box, passing it carefully to Yael Karrie, Kehilat Sha'ar HaNegev's student rabbi . Amidst swarms of Orthodox Jews, we weren't sure how a woman holding a sefer Torah would fare, but we needn't have worried. No sooner did Yael take the scroll than an elderly woman, her head covered in a scarf ran up to us, asking if she could kiss the Torah, exclaiming, "May it bring good things for the people of Israel!"

Traditionally, when we take the Torah from the ark during services we chant these words from the Book of Isaiah: "From out of Zion comes Torah." With the arrival of this particular sefer Torah, we can modify Isaiah's words to these: "Unto Zion shall go Torah."

Generously donated by Congregation Beth Israel of San Diego, Torateinu ARZA, an initiative of the Association of Reform Zionists of America (ARZA), had traveled throughout North America for nearly six months - from west to east, from San Diego to the Negev - visiting dozens of congregations and events on its way to Israel. Recently, I was honored to walk with Torateinu ARZA on Shabbat morning at the joint URJ-HUC-CCAR board meeting in Cincinnati and to be granted an even greater honor: to receive the Torah upon its arrival home - at Israel's Ben Gurion Airport. It has since arrived at Kehilat Sha'ar HaNegev, the congregation that will be its permanent home in Israel.

As we celebrate the last day of the Festival of Lights, may this Torah be a symbol of much needed light, unity, and good will in Israel. Let it show the world that the Reform Movement is building a strong and growing presence in Israel, that we are committed to making Torah accessible to all Jews, and that our congregations place Torah at the center of their existence.

This spring's World Zionist Organization elections have the potential to enhance recognition of the Reform Movement in Israel, help our communities to thrive, and demonstrate that there are many ways to be religious in Medinat Yisrael. If you haven't already done so, 
please pledge to vote in the upcoming WZO elections. 
Rabbi Josh Weinberg is president of ARZA.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Yoav and Ayala get married - again

I love Israel. It is the only  place in the world where you can get a McDonald's cheeseburger made with certified kosher cheese, glatt kosher beef on a pesadik bun during Pesach. It is also the place where each time you return up to Jerusalem, it feels like the very first time you are arriving. And when you come up to Jerusalem for the very first time (for real) it feels like you have always been there. It is a place of delights and contradictions.
It is also a place of deeply personal aggravation. Personal not because many of these angst producing behaviors affect me personally, but because I feel a personal connection to Israel, and when the nation allows officially obnoxious behavior, I am disappointed and embarrassed. Unfortunately I am not surprised. So today's piece from Ha'aretz surprised me only because the author, Naomi Schacter,  identifies herself as orthodox. As I have ducked into the office on Labor Day to get a jump on the opening of religious school this week, I am reminded that one of our biggest challenges as Jewish educators is to help our students and their families develop an intense love for Israel in the face of this kind of narischkeit. Enjoy.
- Ira

The Jewish wedding ceremony is a ritual that connects us to the generations of our ancestors and resonates deep in our souls. But I also hope that my children will bring, for example, a bit more egalitarianism to the ceremony.

Rabbi Levi Weiman-Kelman
Yoav and Ayala both grew up in Jerusalem, and both their families were active in Kol Haneshama, a Reform synagogue here. They each celebrated their bar and bat mitzvah, respectively, at the synagogue, where they enjoyed the spiritual guidance of Rabbi Levi Weiman-Kelman. A romance between these two fabulous young adults developed, and when they decided to get married, they naturally wanted their rabbi to officiate at the ceremony. This event took place this week near Jerusalem.

But Yoav and Ayala's marriage by Rabbi Weiman-Kelman will not be recognized by the State of Israel, which sanctions only Orthodox marriage ceremonies presided over by Orthodox rabbis authorized by the Chief Rabbinate. Yoav and Ayala's wedding ceremony was rich in Jewish tradition, liturgy and spirituality - nevertheless, it will not render them legally married here in the Jewish state.

And so, before this week's wedding, Yoav and Ayala did what many couples either choose or are forced to do: They had a civil marriage abroad, as civil marriages from abroad are recognized by the state. Not only are Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist or other Jewish alternative ceremonies not recognized in Israel, but there is no option for civil marriage, either. Among the Russian community living in Israel, the approximately 350,000 of whose members are of uncertain religious Jewish status have no choice but to marry abroad. There is new legislation that offers one exception to this rule: In cases where both members of the couple do not meet halakhic standards of Jewishness (even if they legitimately came to Israel under the Law of Return ), they are permitted to marry here according to a category defined by the Interior Ministry as a "civil partnership agreement."

Ironically, these presumed non-halakhic Jews have to have that status certified by the rabbinate - in and of itself a humiliating bureaucratic ordeal. However that may be, this policy may ease the way for a handful of couples in Israel each year. It clearly does not solve the basic problem.

Yoav and Ayala had a beautiful civil ceremony in Washington, D.C., in late June, at the residence of the Israeli ambassador, Michael Oren. Michael is Yoav's father. So it turns out that the son of Israel's ambassador to the United States could not be married in Israel by the rabbi of his choice because that rabbi belongs to the Reform movement. Is this a big deal? I think so. Any couple may opt to have a wedding party overseas for personal reasons - but they should not have to do so.

How much longer are we going to put up with this absurd situation? Approximately 20 percent of Israeli Jews do not marry under the auspices of the state rabbinate, most of them through lack of choice. The most popular destination for Israelis who opt for or are forced into a civil ceremony is Cyprus, and the Hebrew-language Internet is chock full of Cyprus marriage packages. It's a phenomenon.

The late Yosef "Tommy" Lapid, with his Shinui party, and more recently Avigdor Lieberman of Yisrael Beitenu, in their campaign platforms, both pledged to bring civil marriage to Israel. Neither succeeded (aside from the recent minor exception mentioned above). Coalition politics and the power of the ultra-Orthodox parties blocked them. Most of Israel's Jewish Knesset members are secular or somewhat traditional, but that majority has done nothing to change the status quo. Why do we allow this non-democratic situation to continue?

People may feel irritated by the restrictions, but when they are immersed in other marriage preparations, they usually just take a deep breath and either opt to accept the dictates and authority of the Orthodox rabbinate (many now use the slightly more user-friendly Tzohar rabbis ), or choose another option. Some may decide on a common-law partnership. Some couples will marry with an Orthodox rabbi and then supplement the ceremony with the rabbi or spiritual leader of their choice. Or they go abroad for a civil marriage, and then have the meaningful Jewish ceremony when they return home.

 Those who opt for a civil marriage abroad and later decide to divorce cannot do even that in a civil court; the divorce has to go through the Chief Rabbinate, which is predominantly ultra-Orthodox and has a poor track record regarding women's rights. This leads to a not insignificant aguna problem (literally, a "chained woman," referring to women whose husbands refuse to grant them a divorce ).

I myself am Orthodox, but I hope that my kids, when they get married, will opt for a ceremony in which they combine traditional and original elements. The Jewish wedding ceremony is a ritual that connects us to the generations of our ancestors and resonates deep in our souls. But I also hope that my children will bring, for example, a bit more egalitarianism to the ceremony. Depending on what they choose, they too may require a civil ceremony abroad and only then a modified Orthodox wedding here. For even those Orthodox rabbis who are inclined to allow certain alternative elements in the ceremony are being watched, and have to be careful about what they do and don't do to avoid risking their eligibility to officiate.

The "Take 2" wedding event this week for Yoav and Ayala was truly lovely and moving. But if circumstances in this country were different, this should have been the only wedding they had.

Naomi Schacter
Naomi Schacter is associate director of Shatil, an initiative of the New Israel Fund.