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Galilee Diary: From vision to reality

Galilee Diary: From vision to reality

by Marc Rosenstein
(Originally published in Ten Minutes of Torah and Galilee Diary)

...Your sons and daughters shall prophesy; your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions.
        -Joel 3:1

We just returned from a few days in Jerusalem, participating in the festivities surrounding the ordination of four new rabbis, graduates of the Israel Rabbinic Program of HUC-JIR (of which I am the director).  If we had called central casting and asked for a cross section of Jewish Israel, we would have gotten something like this class: Gaby, son of immigrants from Morocco and Iran, who grew up in a development town and attended Orthodox yeshivot; Zohar, who still lives on the secular kibbutz where she was born, and has been active for over twenty years in Jewish Renewal programs; Haim, who grew up in the Reform movement in England and immigrated as a young adult; and Myra, whose life path was that of a "typical" urban secular Israeli. Four years ago they all found their way to HUC. A very different profile, I think, from that of the North American Reform rabbinate. And an interesting lesson in the reality and the challenge facing the movement here.

When HUC was founded in Cincinnati, the founders' vision was to createan "American Judaism," that would serve the needs of the new Jewishworld developing there.  And indeed, Reform became the largestdenomination in North America.  Here in Israel, there were visionariesin the 30s and 40s who thought that the creation of a Jewish state wouldbring with it the rise of a new form of Judaism, adapted to modernityand also to sovereignty - a Judaism perhaps related to the liberaldenominations, but unique to the Hebrew-speaking reality and Jewishsovereignty that so distinguish life here from life in the Diaspora. The movement in Israel today is the heir of those visionaries, but thevision is still in the process of clarification, and our movementremains a small minority, not yet having found its way to the hearts ofthe masses - for most of whom a national-cultural form of Judaism issufficient, and the synagogue is a relic of the Diaspora, to bepreserved for those few occasions in life when they need it.  And thatpreservation is of course to be done by the Orthodox, the true "keepersof the flame."  In other words, the majority of Israeli Jews, who arenot Orthodox and who often feel a real antagonism to at least somesegments of the Orthodox minority, can't understand why anyone needsReform Judaism.  They see their Judaism as simply organic, imbibed andexpressed in every aspect of their lives from public school to thecalendar to the language of the street to the very landscape in whichthey live their lives.  The traditional Diaspora community model ofsynagogue/center/congregation just doesn't seem to address their needsin life.

But one needs patience when one is looking at historical processes.  Thestate is only 62 years old, and Israeli society is a work in progress. The rise of Jewish Renewal congregations, of non-religious Jewish studynetworks, of large and impressive Reform institutions in the bigcities, of networks of pluralistic schools and communities, of theability of HUC to attract such a diverse student body - are all signsthat the vision is still alive, and that when you get past the headlinesof the coalition manipulations of the ultra-Orthodox parties (and themainstream's consistent capitulation to them), this place is very richand varied in new models of Jewish learning, spiritual practice, andliturgical creativity.  If the Reform movement can refrain from becomingan orthodoxy, if it can avoid falling into the standard Israeli publicdiscourse of competitive victimhood, if it has patience, and wisdom, andinclusiveness, and openness to new directions and new models, then Ibelieve it can become the way of the future here, and this year's cropof rabbis can be among the architects of that future.

Published: 11/16/2010

Categories: Reform Judaism, Israel
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