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New HUC Wing to Rise in Jerusalem Symbolizes Growing Acceptance of Reform Judaism in Israel, Gottsch

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Jerusalemites will soon see another new building going up on one of this city’s few remaining vacant lots. The lot will be the site of a new, multi-purpose wing of Hebrew Union College. When completed in three or four years, the wing will contain a public library with works in many languages relating to Jews and Judaism throughout the world, a special library for scholars and a world center for Progressive Judaism.

Dr. Alfred Gottschalk, president of HUC, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that he sees in the new wing a symbol of the increasing acceptance by Israel of Reform Judaism, called Progressive Judaism here. Gottschalk called the government’s 99-year lease of the lot to HUC “the greatest gesture of confidence a government can show an institution, encouraging it to grow and expand.”

Things have not always been easy for the Progressive movement in Israel, Dr. Gottschalk said. He revealed that it took the late Dr. Nelson Glueck, former head of HUC, seven years to complete the school’s present building, although two years should have been sufficient. Gottschalk said, “the delay was caused by the (Orthodox) National Religious Party, which blackmailed the contractors, and if Levi Eshkol, Ben-Gurion and Golda Meir and others in government and municipality circles had not fought on principle to help us, it would have been impossible to complete the building.”

In a country where the prevailing attitude toward religion is one of “all or nothing,” Progressive Judaism has a difficult task convincing people that religion is open to re-interpretation, the Reform leader said. The movement does have a sizeable following in university and government circles, where there are many who have had exposure to the West.

Dr. Gottschalk also sees the Hausner Bill on civil marriage, currently under discussion in the Knesset, as a sign of “a greater disenchantment, if not outright resentment, towards the NRP on a grass-roots level.” There is increasing interest in Progressive Judaism on the kibbutzim and “among the thinking members of the population who have an interest in Judaism beyond just nationality. This is a direct result of seeing what the movement has to say, especially since we have become more Zionist oriented. Now we are going to move into the Zionist organizations, where we are greatly at a disadvantage compared to the Orthodox, and make an impact there,” Dr. Gottschalk said.

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