Calling on the federation system to join synagogues in a fight against religious discrimination in Israel, Reform leader Rabbi Rick Jacobs aimed to engage the broader Jewish community in the struggle for equality of non-Orthodox Jewish denominations in Israel.
Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, described Israel as “the only democracy that legally discriminates against the majority of Jews who are in the non-Orthodox streams.”
He also spoke out against Israel’s decision not to allow women full access to the Western Wall, its refusal to recognize marriages performed by non-Orthodox rabbis and the discrimination against religious institutions affiliated with the Reform and Conservative movements.
“It is time to end this discrimination once and for all,” Jacobs declared.
While this call for arms is not new in the Reform discourse with Israel, his effort to enlist the federation system in the struggle does represent a new phase in the battle against the Orthodox denomination’s hold on Israel Jewish institutions.
“Synagogues are not just local tzedakah boxes. They are the primary address for shaping Jewish identity and commitment,” Jacobs said. “Without vital synagogues, federations will not thrive.”
In his speech at the closing plenary of the 2012 General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America, Jacobs also took issue with other aspects of what he views as lack of inclusiveness within the Jewish community. He pleaded with leaders to accept all voices supportive of Israel in the discourse, regardless of their views about the Israeli government or the future of the Israeli-Arab conflict.
“The pro-Israel community must be large enough to include the IDF veteran campaigning for peace on the college campus, the AIPAC activist lobbying members of Congress, the human rights activist protesting unlawful seizure of Arab homes in Jerusalem, the West Bank settler, and the Jew who protests the lack of religious freedom in the Jewish State,” he said.
Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, who also addressed the forum, called on American Jews to create a relationship with Israel that is “more symbiotic, more organic and more vital to our common survival.”
Nathan Guttman, staff writer, was the Forward’s Washington bureau chief. He joined the staff in 2006 after serving for five years as Washington correspondent for the Israeli dailies Haaretz and The Jerusalem Post. In Israel, he was the features editor for Ha’aretz and chief editor of Channel 1 TV evening news. He was born in Canada and grew up in Israel. He is a graduate of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.