I just returned from Jerusalem where I joined Jewish Agency leadership at the Knesset to lobby against two recent major decisions: the government’s decision to withdraw an egalitarian prayer space at the Kotel, and to weaken the rights of Reform and Conservative conversions in Israel.
As I stood with my colleagues, I felt a sense of de ja vu from the 80s and 90s. I used to go all too often to the Knesset to fight for Reform Jewish rights and advocate for a more inclusive definition of ‘who is a Jew.’ Again, we must stand firm as we promote and argue for equal rights in Israel. Both here and in the Diaspora progressive Jews have always fought hard for equal rights and achieved them through building strong grassroot movements.
Although we began this week with disappointing news, what I have learned from living and battling for the rights of non-Orthodox Jews for over 30 years is that we need to redouble our efforts and expose and engage more and more Israelis to a modern, inclusive Judaism.
Just last Friday, we held our first outdoor Kabbalat Shabbat service on the bank of the Yarkon River – an evening co-sponsored with the Municipality of Tel Aviv-Jaffa. Hundreds of people attended with more expected over the next six weeks. It is public celebrations like these that energize me and should encourage all of us both in Israel and in the Diapsora. Israelis want and need Reform Judaism and Israel needs our voices and perspectives.
Come join us when you are next in Israel, just like Rabbi David Stern of Temple Emanu-El in Dallas will this week, through his synagogue mission (Rabbi Stern also serves as the president of the CCAR) and Rabbi Ron Li Paz, the spiritual leader of Valley Outreach Synagogue in California.
Together, as a community, joined by our guests from around the world, we will stand in solidarity for freedom of religion and a Judaism that is open and accepting. Without support from friends like you, our voice would only be a fraction of what it is today.
Rabbi Meir Azari
Following this year’s Tikkun Leil Shavuot, we received a warm response to our night-long study session:
“I wanted to tell you what a powerful and meaningful experience I had at Beit Daniel for the Tikkun Leil Shavuot at which I remained until 5am. I purposely stayed in Israel several more days just to be there, having remembered my presence at the same event several years before. Given the chance to participate again, I was not going to miss the opportunity. I go to a Tikkun every year on Erev Shavuot, in Los Angeles and have attended several in Jerusalem. There is nothing anywhere in the world that compares to what you offer at Beit Daniel. First, to see hundreds of Tel Avivis, who would describe themselves as secular or mildly observant, and to participate with them in learning and discussion is a very moving experience. The depth, intelligence and emotion of your teachers and the listeners’ participation, and for me to participate in it all in Hebrew is extraordinary. I have now heard Rabbi Sadan twice and her presentation and analysis touch my soul and my intellect. Each time I sit through the 3am concert, I feel like I am the luckiest American Jew on the planet having been part of this Tikkun and the celebration that follows. Pouring out onto the patio and the park across the street to discuss the content with people gives me a deep connection to Israel, Tel Aviv and the Jewish people. Both times I have attended, I purposely walk the miles (kilometers) back to the hotel in the early morning darkness, watching the sun rise as I return, savoring every moment of recalling the night’s learning and the sense of walking the city’s streets all alone.”
Shabbat T’kuma — the Shabbat between Holocaust Remembrance Day and Yom Ha’atzmaut — is an evening that deeply moves me each year. We begin the evening at Beit Daniel by welcoming over 20 members from our community, whose native language is not Hebrew, to light and bless the Shabbat candles in their mother tongue.
This mosaic of voices reflects the diversity within our community and that of the greater Israeli society as well. They are voices of renewal, of those who chose to build their homes as Jews in the Promised Land; the land filled with dreams, hopes and challenges. Their voices bring to light their pasts and show us all their and Israel’s bright future.
I listen to these diverse voices in amazement, humbled that just a little over 70 years ago Jews were surrounded by fences in Auschwitz and Majdanek, and millions of Jews were spread across the Arab world. Today, we raise our voices as Jews in Hebrew, Filipino, Spanish, English, Romanian, Russian and more in the first Hebrew city: Tel Aviv. This is the spectacular journey that the Jewish people have taken over the past centuries.
This journey is far from over. The challenges we face as a diverse nation are enormous. It does not simply involve strengthening our army that defends us, or our economy that bolsters us. It requires a deep dedication to promote and continue our work in the spirit of the prophets to build a just Jewish state that is welcoming and inclusive. This is the role of Reform Judaism, which is needed in Israel now more than ever.
Beit Daniel’s special Shabbat T’kuma is just one way that we answer this challenge of welcoming new voices into our society. I am proud of our conversion school which provides a platform for families to build Jewish lives in Israel, and of our receipt of the 2016 Genesis Grant for advancing engagement of intermarried families, which has opened the doors further to families seeking inclusive B’nei Mitzvah.
I look forward to this Friday evening and our upcoming Yom Ha’atzmaut to celebrate the journeys taken by Jews from around the world to arrive here, in Israel.
Yom Ha’atzmaut Sameach,
Rabbi Meir Azari
Recently Hiddush and the Jewish People Policy Institute (JPPI) published fascinating research on the society Israelis desire. Hiddush’s marriage survey and JPPI’s Pluralism Index validated what we at the Daniel Centers experience every day in Tel Aviv-Jaffa:
60% of secular Israelis identify with the phrase, “I prefer synagogues where men and women have mixed prayers.” And 72% of Jewish Israelis support the statement that every resident [of Israel] has the right to get married in Israel with whomever he chooses, in whatever way he chooses, and according to his beliefs.
Oftentimes, we — and you living outside of Israel — become disheartened when we see efforts to thwart pluralism, equality and tolerance. These findings should encourage us and propel us to fight harder. Israelis need only the right opportunities to explore their Jewish identity and engage in modern, progressive Jewish life.
This is why the Daniel Centers matters.
For over 25 years we have been on the frontline building bridges between the Reform Movement and Israelis. Every day we see Israelis longing for a Judaism that is more welcoming and inclusive. It is because of your support that we can be there every dayto meet their needs through education, conversions, weddings and other life cycle events.
As Israel enters into her 69th year, we at the Daniel Centers promise to forge forward in making Israel the most just, equitable and fair country it can be. Please consider a donation today so we can be there every day.
Rabbi Meir Azar
Shonim B’yahad has traveled overseas and is visiting our sister congregation at Temple Sinai in Atlanta! The spirit and importance of this project has never been more important, and we are excited to be able to share the winning 2016 artwork with communities abroad.