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Jewish Renewal and Reconstruction in Israel - July 22, 2014

07/22/2014 05:24:17 PM


Ruth Calderon

One of the most inspiring things about this trip has been to see the flourishing of creative Jewish life. We  had the opportunity to learn with the recently elected Knesset member Ruth Calderon, inside the Kneset as part of her weekly Bet Midrash. It is, in no small number of ways remarkable to have a non-Orthodox woman teaching Talmud in the halls of the Knesset.

Kobi Oz

At the end of our trip we got to sit in on a daily Talmud study lead by Kobi Oz, lead singer of a very popular band Teapacks. Though not quite as popular, imagine sitting in on daily Talmud class with Bob Dylan. Kobi Oz, a Tunisian Jew who grew up in Sderot and is at home in contemporary hipster Tel Aviv sat with a minyan of secular Jews studying Talmud for its own sake. This is an open group at Alma (also founded by Ruth Calderon) that we were able to join.

We also heard from Reform, Conservative and Reconstructionist leaders here in Israel about how the question was no longer one of only fighting to be acknowledged as a legitimate form of Jewish practice. This they said was a battle that was being won, with increasing, though still small numbers of rabbis even being paid by the Israeli government. The World Union of Progressive Jews, an international organization to which but the Reconstructionist and Reform movement in North America are members, has doubled in size Israel.

Rabbi Gilad Kariv, the leader of the Israeli Movement of Progressive Judaism said that our work has moved beyond just being accepted and that we have to play a serious and strategic role in protecting not only pluralism but democracy. That too often Judaism is used as justification for an anti-democratic discourse in Israel. He said that we are the ones that can rewrite that discourse so that Judaism is understood as supporting democratic values and human rights. In other words he said our battle has moved from one of about our status to one about our values.

He was explicit in saying we need to do this not only for Jews but for the 1.5 million non-Jewish residents of Israel. He was also the first person I heard who spoke instead of speaking of the tragic death of three Israeli teens and one Palestinian, said simply, "We must mourn the four Israeli boys who died."

I have more that I might mention - the wonderful and moving "secular" davening of Bet Tefillah Israeli, or Nava Tehillah founded by former Bnai Keshet Rabbinic Intern Ezra Weinberg. More about the kindergartens at Mevakshei Derech, a Reconstructionist congregation that is helping to bring the synagogue into relationship with Israelis who might never have entered in such a synagogue in the past. But the big story is that progressive Judaism is flourishing and taking up space here in ways that would have been unimaginable a decade ago and suggest great possibilities for the next decade.

Sat, June 15 2024 9 Sivan 5784