January 6, 2023

I hope everyone had a good start to the new year. My annual month-long sabbatical will begin next week. As always, I look forward to some time for study and will be excited to share with you some of my learning upon my return. Rebecca Benoff, our Rabbinic Intern, will be with us for the next three Shabbat services and will be writing the weekly Friday column over the next few weeks. I also want to be sure to wish Debbie Vinocur mazel tov on the birth of her new grandson, Noah, who was born on December 22. Mazel tov Debbie!

I want to take a moment to share some reflections on the new Israeli government that took on the mantle of leadership with a narrow majority in the last week. It is the most right-wing government that Israel has ever seen and includes leaders who are racist, anti-LGBTQ, anti-egalitarian, and anti-Reform Judaism. Just this week, Minister Ben Gvir took an early morning walk on the Temple Mount at a time when Jews are allowed to do so. While this was not the first time Ben Gvir walked on the Temple Mount, it was his first as a member of Knesset. Such an action has led to calls from many in Israel promising a holding of the status quo. I recall in the year 2000 when then Knesset member Ariel Sharon walked on the Temple Mount. His action led to the beginning of the Second Intifada. Such actions can be seen as an attempt by some hardliners that Jews should have control over the Temple Mount. A disruption to the status quo could cause irreparable harm to the region. Other causes for concern include a calling for significant changes and a reduction of power of the judiciary branch.

I have been an ardent lover and supporter of Israel since before I was a teenager. That love has never waned even for a second. However, I am deeply concerned about what harm this extreme government may do to relationships between Israel and the Diasporas. Just a few weeks ago, Rabbi Rick Jacobs, President of the Union for Reform Judaism, penned an op-ed in the JTA entitled “Why we’ll fight Israel’s new extremist political agenda with the determination of the Maccabees.” Jacobs talks about how the choice lies before us to either walk away or lean in. He advocates for leaning in. Years ago, before the establishment of the Jewish state, Reform Judaism had chosen to walk away from Israel. We are still trying to recover from that decision. Leaning in today will demonstrate our dedication to not “allowing extremists to subvert religious equality.” There have been efforts to undo the progress made to create an egalitarian prayer space as well as modify rights already gained by members of the LGBTQ community. We cannot allow this agenda to succeed. Israel is too important to the Jewish people.

I agree wholeheartedly with Rabbi Jacobs as we will come together as a strong North American Jewish community to continue to support the values we have worked for in Israel. Over the years, the Israel Religious Action Center has worked across denominational lines to ensure that women can have a voice on the public airwaves, that Reform Jewish congregations can be supported by the state, and that Reform Jewish conversions are recognized by Israel. It is time to double down on these efforts and continue to support those doing this sacred work.

To run away from Israel at this time would only do further harm for the people of Israel. Our voice and our values must continue to be present there. It is important that the Hebrew Union College still continue to send students in their first year of study and that our leaders continue to represent us, so that Israel can continue to do the work to ensure our values are part of the fabric that defines the Jewish state. If you are looking to learn more, please dive into Jewish publications like the Times of Israel, Haaretz, or the Jerusalem Post so that you have access to diverse voices. Please continue to support ARZA, the Israel Religious Action Center and other organizations who are doing the sacred work of bringing our values to life in Israel.

Wishing you all a Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Rick Kellner