Are We Losing Israel?

Posted on June 27, 2018

Last week I returned home from our Kabbalat Shabbat services and discovered that the two checks, which I thought were in my pocket, were not there. I panicked and immediately searched through the pockets of pants I had worn on the previous days, looked in the places I had remembered leaving them and even searched the car to find them. At about 10pm that night I returned to the synagogue to see if I had left them in my office, but they were nowhere to be seen. As I went to sleep that night I imagined that inspiration would strike and by the morning I would remember the obscure place I must have left them. But the next day there were still no checks. I frantically looked everywhere around the house, I called every place I had been over the last 48 hours and I failed to find them. By Sunday night I was anxious, and I have an over active imagination – I began to imagine that the money from these checks for our insurance claim might be lost forever. In my more rational moments I reassured myself that there would be a simple solution when I could speak to someone on Monday morning. But needless to say when I woke up in the middle of the night my rational brain was overwhelmed by my imagination of worst case scenarios. It’s a strange feeling when you lose something. There was a part of me that was lamenting the loss of these checks as though there was nothing to be done. Another part of me believed that perhaps after over 48 hours of searching I would still be able to find what had once been lost. And then I also imagined that now was the time to act and do something to rectify the situation despite the loss. On the Friday when this saga began I was also wondering if something far more important had been lost. And not by me as an individual, but by us as a Jewish community with our hopes and dreams for the State of Israel. Last week on Thursday when we were getting up in the States, news had already begun to spread of the early morning arrest of the Conservative Rabbi Dubi Hayun. At 5:30am police knocked on 2 his door and dragged him out of bed to be interrogated. The crime which he has supposedly committed was that he conducted a Jewish wedding ceremony. He did not deny the charges levelled against him. An amendment to the Law for Marriage and Divorce, which passed in 2015, stipulates that an individual who conducts a wedding ceremony for a couple and fails to register it with the Chief Rabbinate is liable to a two-year jail sentence. Unfortunately, weddings performed by Reform or Conservative Rabbis in Israel cannot be registered with the Chief Rabbinate. To put this in context, as a Reform Rabbi I can perform weddings in virtually any country, but one of the only places where I am not permitted to officiate or conduct these ceremonies is in Israel, in the Jewish State. This news alone would have been bad enough and cause for us to ask questions about what is happening in Israel and Israeli society today. But this event did not happen in isolation. On that same morning as we were waking up to the news that a Rabbi had been arrested for performing weddings, we were also waking up to the news that the Israeli Government had passed the Jewish Nation State Law. While supporters of this new legislation have claimed that there could be nothing wrong with affirming the Jewish character of the Jewish State, in reality this law challenges Israel’s democratic foundations. Among the measures that this law introduces it downgrades the status of the Arabic language, undermines efforts to advance religious pluralism, and give legal sanction to discrimination against marginalized groups. There has always been a necessary balance in Israel of being a Jewish-democratic state. From David Ben Gurion on there was an understanding of the need to balance these two elements of Israel’s identity ensuring that one never overrode the other. This new law does not once mention democracy and instead appears to affirm solely the Jewish character of the state losing the democratic element. In a rare move, the President of Israel, Reuven Rivlin, wrote a letter to the speaker of the Knesset urging him to amend this law warning that it “could harm the Jewish people, Jews throughout the world and the State of Israel.” His concern was that the law would permit discrimination and set up a situation of Jewish superiority enshrined in law. 3 A Jerusalem Report cartoonist adapted a picture of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and his supporters celebrating the passage of the bill into a picture of pigs, with the George Orwell quote above them: “All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others.” He was fired for publishing this cartoon. Rabbi Joshua Weinberg, the President of ARZA, our Association of Reform Zionists wrote of the law: “This week’s Nation-State bill takes the beauty of Jewish Nationalism and steers it on a dangerous course. It creates a precedent of Jewish superiority and exclusiveness that is not only unnecessary, it is offensive and antithetical to the values outlined by the founders.” From where I sit it seems clear that we are in severe danger of losing the Jewish-Democratic State that we yearned for and that was built by David Ben Gurion and the Zionist pioneers. Responses to the arrest of Rabbi Dubi Hayun and the passage of this controversial law filled my Facebook wall. Friends who had made Aliyah, committing their lives and those of their children to the Jewish State lamented what was happening. Concurrent with these events a law was passed excluding same sex couples from adopting children through surrogacy and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu laid out the red carpet for Hungary’s far-right Prime Minister, welcoming him to Jerusalem. One friend Deborah, who moved to Israel almost two decades ago wrote: “Is this the point when one should just pack up and leave? When you came to the country not to be victimized as a Jew but your victimized as a Jew. So you can’t be a gay Jew here and have equal rights, or a nonorthodox Jew and not be arrested because the orthodox said so, or a Jew who wears short sleeves in a government building. When people have to protest outside of Yad Vashem to the Prime Minister hugging extreme fascists who wish to kill Jews … at Yad Vashem! It’s a strange day when you feel you need to leave because you know you will end up having your rights taken away within the next 10 years.” As my experience with the checks suggests there are 3 responses when we lose something: we can accept the loss, we can hope, despite what the evidence suggests that it will be found, or we can do something about it to rectify the situation. With something as important as the State of 4 Israel I am not prepared to accept the loss and I am not so naïve as to believe things will simply change. Instead I believe it is time for action. Last week as Rabbi Jordi taught us, it was Tisha B’Av, our day for mourning loss. We spend a day lamenting the loss of the two Temples in Jerusalem and an assortment of other tragedies that have afflicted the Jewish community throughout history. And then today, less than a week after mourning we celebrate Tu B’Av, the day which is often referred to as the Jewish Valentine’s Day. On this day, which the Mishnah says was the most joyful in the Jewish calendar, matchmakers were out in force making shidduchs, making unions between young Jews. While we felt the pain of loss we knew that we couldn’t simply sit and lament what might have been, we still have an obligation to build for the future. So what can we celebrate on Tu B’Av? This past week has been a wake-up call for Israelis. In the aftermath of his arrest Rabbi Dubi Hayun alongside other Reform and Conservative Rabbis have been inundated with requests to officiate at weddings. Israelis are voting with their feet and doing what they can to send a clear message to the Israeli Chief Rabbinate that they want religious pluralism and access to other ways of being Jewish. Alongside this protests have filled the streets in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv speaking out against the prejudice inherent in the surrogacy laws and protesting against the Chief Rabbinate’s control over Israeli society. And we in America need to find ways to support these efforts. ARZA, the Association of Reform Zionists in America have launched a Campaign for Religious Equality in Israel. This campaign seeks to raise $3600 from every single Reform congregation in North America to support their vitally important work: enhancing their ability to win battles in the Knesset and in the courts, growing the Reform movement in Israel by building new congregations, and strengthening the impact of the Israel Reform Movement’s public awareness campaign. We at Temple Shir Tikva have been able to commit 50% of what is being asked for and we are asking you to help us to raise the other 50%. Our dollars can make a difference. On Monday I accepted that the checks were lost and I contacted the insurance company to get replacements sent out. I did what I needed to do to remedy the situation. Today we are in danger of losing the Israel we dreamed of. The recent attacks on Progressive Jewish values make it clear 5 that now is the time to stand up and be counted to ensure the future of the Jewish State as an Open, Pluralistic, and Democratic society. We cannot afford to lose this fight and so we must do what needs to be done. We must recognize what is on the line and do what each of us can to rectify and remedy the situation.