Reconstructionists Boost Focus on Israel

By Eric J. Greenberg

Published November 12, 2004, issue of November 12, 2004.
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Admitting that its relationship with Israel has grown estranged and must be re-configured, the Reconstructionist movement in America plans to celebrate the 50th anniversary of its national synagogue body this week with the expected approval of an ambitious plan to become a greater political and religious force inside the Jewish State, the Forward has learned.

The plan calls for the smallest of the four American Jewish denominations to re-establish itself in Israel only two years after it was forced to close its office there because of budget cuts. The national board of the Jewish Reconstructionist Federation — which represents the movement’s some 100 congregations and its havurot, comprising about 60,000 members — is expected to approve a series of recommendations from a special two-year task force that would place Israel back at the center of the movement’s priorities.

The 17-member task force, comprising members of 10 federation congregations from the United States and Canada, concluded, “JRF needs to increase significantly its efforts dedicated to fostering the Israel component of Reconstructionist Jewish identity.”

In explaining their recommendations, the authors of the report noted that the movement has had a tenuous relationship with Israel for a variety of political and religious reasons, including Reconstructionist objections to the Orthodox monopoly over religious rights and Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians.

“For Reconstructionist Jews, belonging to the Jewish People stands at the core of what it means to be Jewish,” the task force explained. “However, the same feeling of belonging and mutuality does not always exist when it comes to our relationship with the land and people of Israel.” For many, the task force added, “the lack of meaningful interaction between Diaspora and Israeli Jewish communities has resulted in disconnection, even alienation.”

But they also acknowledged that the movement, too, shares blame for the failed relationship.

“The Reconstructionist movement itself has lacked coherent policies on issues affecting the peace and security of Israel, thus hampering our ability to take a significant advocacy role alongside other North American and world Jewish organizations on many vital questions,” reads the report.

The task force proposed immediate and long-term measures, including the establishment of a programming committee and promoting the recitation of the prayer for the State of Israel in the Reconstructionist liturgy. It also called for using the Reconstructionist Web site to distribute educational information and articles about Israel to create community dialogue, as well as for directing local congregations to advocate on social justice Israel issues “with particular emphasis on religious pluralism and equality.”

Reconstructionist federation spokesman Phil Goldberg said that once the plan was approved, movement leaders would begin to determine the cost of such programs and launch a nationwide fund-raising effort.

The report cites the late founder of Reconstructionism, the 20th-century Jewish theologian Mordecai Kaplan, as the developer of the ideology of “New Zionism,” which places Israel as the spiritual center of the Jewish people while simultaneously claiming legitimacy for Disapora Jewish communities.






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