While we have been having a relatively warm winter in the United States, it cannot compare to what winter is like in Israel. It is the rainy season there, the time of year that Israel greens up, with cooler temperatures and rain (which feels like a miracle every time I experience it) in between wonderfully sunny days. In Israel’s climate, it is easy to understand how Tu B’Sh’vat, this year starting on the evening of February 7th, is celebrated as the birthday of the trees. By Tu B’Sh’vat, trees throughout Israel are blooming, getting ready to set fruit and there is a festive, hopeful feeling in the air.
There is a lot to feel hopeful about in Israel, a western democracy with positive values, yet it seems like every day we hear about gender issues and racist incitement there. As disheartening as it is to get this news, there is a very positive side to this; we are hearing about it! We are hearing about it because we planted seeds. For years we, as a movement, have been helping to grow a community of people who care about women’s equality; who care about living in peace with our neighbors; who want people of all faiths to be treated fairly, who believe in democracy; who are working hard for sustainable, ecological living. We have been helping to grow a community of people who care enough to speak up and take action when they see injustice.
The Reform Movement in America, through ARZA, has been helping to grow this community by investing in the Israel Reform Movement. On a recent trip to Israel, this hopefulness, amidst the worry and concern, was palpable. People came together in Beit Shemesh to stand witness to the value of derech eretz (civility) in the face of brutality toward a female child. People came together at the Israel Reform Movement’s home, Beit Shmuel in Jerusalem, to raise their voices against the suppression of women in the public square of Israel. While each one of us who cares about justice in Israel could not be there, the community we have helped to build was, front and center.
When you have visited Israel, have you really met our Israel, the one you helped grow? Have you been to Darchei Noam, which won the right for all congregations, not just Orthodox ones, to be allocated land to build synagogues? Have you been to Kiryat Ono, or Birkat Shalom, or Or Chadash, or Ohel Avraham, all of which work with and promote good relations with their Arab, Druse, and Bedouin neighbors? Have you been to the Daniel Centers, which are helping to revitalize Yaffo, prepare the next generation of social justice-committed Jewish leadership, and have programs serving the youngest to the oldest? Or Kol HaNeshema, which is reaching out to our gay and lesbian family members and helping the Israeli Reform community understand what it is to be open and affirming? Have you been to Kibbutz Lotan to see what it looks like to live day in and day out as a Reform people?
While government officials have been speaking out against the mistreatment of women and girls, it is important to know that this response is the fruit borne of the deep roots progressive Jews have in Israel that we all helped plant. The early Zionists came wanting to help build not only a State, but a New Jew; strong, free, part of the world community. These seeds sprouted and are expressed in the Declaration of Independence. Our Reform Zionist seeds are also sprouting. More and more Communities are being formed. Our Communities have become a movement. The Israel Reform movement is spreading the word, in the Courts, the Knesset, the bimah, and the streets. The sap rose this summer in the tent cities born of frustrated ideals, vision and hopes that have been kept alive in our Reform communities. The sap is rising this winter as people across the country respond to the Beit Shemesh incidents. The Israeli government cannot say that the events in Beit Shemesh were an aberration because of the cases, the depositions, the studies on gender discrimination done by the Israel Reform Action Center. People had the words to speak, the facts to lay out, the spirit to do so because of all the growth ARZA, as the American Reform voice for Israel has been able to nourish.
Hope is in the air. Tu BiSh’vat is coming. The trees, the community you nourish, are bearing fruit. Eat. Celebrate. And let’s keep growing.