U.S. Reform Judaism Urged to Set Up Center for Religious Pluralism and Social Justice in Israel

The American movement of Reform Judaism was urged Friday to establish a center for religious pluralism and social justice in Israel to help the country resolve “the burning issues of Arab-Jewish relations, respect for the democratic process, women’s rights and toleration of diversity.”

The appeal was issued at the semi-annual meeting of the Board of Trustees of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations. The chief topic of the weekend meeting in the Doubletree Hotel was the denial of religious rights to the Reform movement in Israel.

In a Sabbath sermon to some 750 people at Congregation Shaare Emeth, Rabbi Charles Kroloff of Westfield, N.J., president of the Association of Reform Zionists of America, called on the Reform movement to help Israel develop a society “where Jewish pluralism and tolerance will flourish.”

Declaring that “the survival and unity of our people are at stake,” Kroloff urged Reform Jews to bring to Israel “the message that pluralism and social justice are at the core of Jewish history and central to progressive and enlightened political theory.” Israel’s future, he said, “is as dependent on resolving some of these issues as it is on a strong defense.”

ISRAELIS WILL BE ‘RECEPTIVE’

Noting that polls in Israel “demonstrate that the majority of Israelis support equal treatment of all streams of Judaism and welcome help in improving governmental process and the quality of life,” he declared: “I believe that if we go to the people of Israel, we will find them receptive to joining us in building a more just society.

“Israel has the most respected army in the world and the least respected synagogues; while her sophisticated high-technology propels her into the 21st century, unremitting intolerance in some quarters pits Jew against Jew. Israel has liberated our people and, at the same time, has subjected them to a small cadre of medieval legalists.”

As an example, Kroloff cited the case of Morton Berman, a Reform rabbi and lifelong Zionist from Chicago who settled in Israel in 1962 and who died there last year. “A few weeks ago members of his family visited his grave on the Mount of Olives for an unveiling service,” Kroloff recounted. “There they found that an extremist Orthodox group had built a concrete wall around his grave so that Rabbi Berman would not ‘contaminate’ the cemetery.

“Despite these provocations,” Kroloff said, “we are not anti-Orthodox. We are pro-Israel. Precisely because we love Israel so much, we cannot ignore Israel’s need for a religious Judaism that her citizens can respect.”

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