Klal Yisrael: The Challenges and Opportunities of Uniting a People

January 6, 2016Rachael Brill and Nadav Savaia

We live in an era of contradictions. Although we have the ability, today, more than ever, to create an interconnected “global village” and foster a sense of unity with Jewish communities around the world, in reality, we’re often far from united.

This was the conclusion we reached last month in Jerusalem, surrounded by a group of young adult Reform leaders, participants in the Union for Reform Judaism’s year-long Roswell Klal Yisrael Fellowship, which brings together young people from Reform and Progressive communities in North America, Israel, and Europe for leadership development through webinars and in-person seminars. We realized, too, both the immense opportunities and tremendous challenges we face in fostering a sense of Jewish peoplehood through connection to Israel.

K’lal Yisrael (the concept of Jewish peoplehood) is a major value in Judaism, but has various interpretations: to some, it is a sense of responsibility for other Jews, regardless of physical location; for others, it signifies a shared narrative throughout history. Often, K’lal Yisrael is perceived as a deep connection to the land and people of Israel. The centrality of Israel as a core tenet of K’lal Yisrael may be understood by some, but during the Roswell Klal Yisrael Fellows' first seminar in Israel, we explored and challenged this assumption.

We dissected what it means to be part of a global Jewish community in the 21st century and how we can learn from and rely on one another. We struggled to reconcile our Progressive Jewish values with some of the more traditional values of the multi-cultural, modern Jewish state. In our session with Rabbi Noa Sattath, director of the Israel Religious Action Center, we learned about Israel’s complex political and social issues, including the dominance of Orthodoxy in the public sphere, lack of recognition of Reform communities, gender segregation, rules surrounding marriage and conversion, racism toward minorities, and more. We also contemplated controversial issues that similarly affect Diaspora communities.

In light of all of these issues, we questioned how we, as liberal Jews from around the world, could possibly feel as one with those who would challenge our right to be stakeholders in the land of Israel. As Erich Fromm noted in his landmark book The Art of Loving, “Love is the active concern for the life and the growth of that which we love.”  Because of our deep love and affection for Israel and Jews worldwide, we are invested in creating and strengthening our global Jewish connections and, together, supporting and further developing our Progressive Movement in Israel.

Despite the many challenges we witnessed and debated in Israel, the seminar enabled us to bring young Jews together, to inspire them, and to feed their desire to learn and interact with other Progressive Jews. Becci Jacobs, a North American Klal Yisrael Fellow and the assistant director at the URJ’s Jacobs Camp/NFTY Southern Regional Advisor summarized her experience this way:

Prior to the seminar in Israel, I lived in my North American bubble. I did not really know about Reform or Progressive Judaism in other countries. I left the seminar with a renewed commitment to Reform Judaism, feeling especially inspired by the work my peers are doing worldwide to ensure Reform communities exist and thrive. After this seminar, I also care more about Israel than I ever did before. The content throughout the week sparked a curiosity in me that did not previously exist as I discovered the aspects of Israel – including social justice – to which I most connect.

Indeed, we were strengthened in our conviction that love for Israel is about working together to determine how our often dissimilar communities can effectively advance the cause of a more inclusive and tolerant Israeli society for all.

Rachael Brill is the Union for Reform Judaism’s Roswell Project Manager. Nadav Savaia is the Union for Reform Judaism’s senior shaliach in North America.

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