Dear KHN Member and Friends,
When I was a first year rabbinic student in Israel, I worked as an intern for the Reform Beit Din L’Giyur (now known as The Beit Din for Conversion of the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism). It was a truly eye-opening experience. I sat with the few Reform rabbis who worked in Israel at the time to hear the stories of those who—for various reasons—had chosen to convert to Judaism through the Reform Movement. Some had been rejected by Orthodox rabbis for not being observant enough; others had made a conscious choice to align themselves with Reform Judaism because of their own ideological beliefs and principles.
At that time (1985-86), there were only about 5 Reform congregations in the whole country; none of them received funding from the Israeli Government. As I traveled around Israel, striking up conversations on busses or in stores, few Israelis had ever heard of Reform Judaism, and many were dismissive or worse, denigrating of it. Today, there are 42 Reform congregations, including half a dozen large synagogue-centers in Israel’s major cities, which provide an authentic and meaningful opportunity for those who—for a variety of reasons–choose to affiliate with the Reform Movement. Since 1986, the Reform Movement has built a network of schools; it has also made an important impact on the political system, mostly by filing legal appeals for religious rights with Israel’s Supreme Court. Bit by bit, it has begun to reach more Jews and touch more lives. Today, the Government does provide financial support to some Reform and Conservative rabbis.
I share this with you because this spring we have an opportunity to shape a more progressive future for Israel—something that is very important to me. I know that many of us have been frustrated by developments in Israel these past years, and this election provides us with the best direct means to help make real our vision of a Jewish and democratic, pluralistic and peaceful, state of Israel. Let me explain.
For the first time in five years, Jews throughout the world are eligible to participate in a vote for representatives in the World Zionist Congress. These elections are the strongest way for U.S. Reform Jews to promote and encourage the progressive ideals of social justice, equality and democracy in Israel itself and help build the kind of Jewish state we all know is possible: a Jewish state that holds true to the ideals of religious pluralism, women’s equality in all areas of life, democracy, as well as a solution to the ongoing conflict and so much more. The decisions made by the Congress also influence hundreds of millions of dollars in funding. Since the last election, over $20 million has been distributed to the Reform movement in Israel, enabling support for the Women of the Wall, as well as more pluralistic religious activities. It has helped create a very different landscape than the one I knew when I was there.
ARZA, the Reform movement’s vehicle for the engagement of American Reform Jews with Israel, is running on a platform of Women’s Rights & Gender Equality, Religious Equality, and a Lasting Peace for the region. If ARZA receives a significant majority of votes and therefore delegates to the WZC, it can be more effective in influencing policy and shaping the society of Israel.
Voting is a simple matter. All Jews 18 and older are eligible to vote. Voting is open from now until April 30; over the next three months there will be multiple opportunities to vote. Voting is conducted online (https://www.reformjews4israel.org); there is a $10 charge. You can register and vote at the same time.
KHN’s Board of Trustees (Shammes Committee) agreed to endorse the effort to educate our members about this opportunity, and to encourage people to vote. KHN member Eric Orlin is leading the effort. You may see him at the upcoming retreat, at Hebrew School, and elsewhere with a computer to make voting easy. I encourage you to participate. Your vote is critical to the success of the overall election!
Rabbi Zari M. Weiss