Reform Judaism Sets Extensive Program for Strengthening Ties with Israel

Reform Judaism in America, which at its inception in the 19th century dismissed the idea of a Jewish national homeland, announced an extensive program today to strengthen ties with Israel among its million adherents in the United States and Canada, and to advance the cause of Reform Judaism in Israel itself.

The program was outlined by Rabbi Maurice N. Eisendrath, president of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, central congregational body of Reform Judaism in the Western hemisphere; Earl Morse, chairman of the UAHC board of trustees; and Nathaniel Hess. Mr. Hess will serve as chairman of a national committee on Israel, the creation of which was mandated in a resolution adopted at the 49th biennial general assembly of the UAHC in Montreal last month.

Mr. Hess said that his committee will give priority to eight specific activities recommended by a study group that has been exploring the situation since last June. Three of the activities deal with advancing the cause of Progressive – or Reform – Judaism in Israel. Five are designed to involve the UAHC’s 680 member congregations and individual Reform Jews more actively in the life of Israel. The latter include the expansion of present programs for teen-agers; the development of camp-study programs for younger children and adult education study programs in Israel; the establishment of Israel committees in Reform congregations here; and strengthening of ties with the Leo Baeck High School in Haifa, the only school affiliated with Progressive Judaism in Israel.

On the Israel scene, Mr. Hess said, the program calls for acquisition of synagogue buildings for the seven Progressive congregations there, the placement of more Reform rabbis from the U.S. in those congregations, and the establishment of a Hebrew language journal to express the Reform outlook.

Commenting on these activities, Mr. Hess said: “The faith of Israel today faces a grave emergency in the land of Israel. Orthodox rituals are widely rejected by the vibrant young sabras and the hardened realists of the new nation. But knowing no alternatives, they turn their backs on Judaism and call themselves ‘non religious.’ Yet the battle-scarred paratroopers who wept at the Western Wall in June were not non-religious. They are, in fact, searching for a mode of religious expression that will speak directly to their needs.” Mr. Hess pointed out that Reform Judaism, unlike the Orthodox branch, does not enjoy Government recognition or financial support in Israel, and Reform rabbis are not granted the right to perform rabbinical functions there.

The program announced by the UAHC marks a new, deeper involvement of that organization with Israel. Reform Judaism originally rejected the traditional Orthodox view that Jews throughout the world were living in exile from Palestine as punishment for their sins but would be returned with the coming of the Messiah. But a pro-Zionist policy was adopted in the 1940′s, and many Reform rabbis and laymen have been involved in various activities and philanthropies related to Israel. According to Rabbi Eisendrath “Israel is a living laboratory of the Jewish soul which Reform Judaism has entered only hesitantly, gingerly making experiments here and there. The events of last June have proven the value of that laboratory; they have proven that Israel, the people, the land and the State, are essential to the continued creativity and development of Reform Judaism.”

NEXT STORY