To the Editor:
As to your article "Reform leaders push new image of strong, growing Israel movement," I have been living in Israel since July as a student in Hebrew Union College’s Year in Israel program. This is my first extended visit to Israel and I have been interested in the role progressive Judaism plays in this society.
One of the main reasons I chose to study at HUC is the comprehensiveness of its Israel program in comparison to other rabbinic programs. The school devotes many resources to exposing its students to all aspects of life in Israel, not just an American Reform perspective. Each Wednesday is devoted entirely to learning about Israel, from the role of the halutzim in founding the state to the current political situation. We have spent the day on an army base meeting with soldiers, made a visit to the Tali Bayit V’Gan school affiliated with the Reform movement to observe and talk with the children, and spent time on a kibbutz in the North with Moroccans who were settled there to farm chickens.
We also have engaged with Jewish leaders of all denominations, as well as Christian and Muslim leaders. We have traveled across this beautiful country trying to understand it as best we can in this year. The picture I have gained of Reform Judasim in Israel is a nuanced one that recognizes the success that the movement and some congregations have had in getting state recognition and funding, and also the struggles that some congregations are experiencing as they try to carve out a place for themselves without automatic funding and support from the state.
On a personal level, I have experienced some of the difficulties of Reform Judaism in Israel. While most Israeli citizens and government offices have treated with me with simple curiosity and often acceptance, I have been consistently denied, as a Reform Jewish convert rabbinical student, a visa to participate in the Year in Israel program, in spite of my many visits to the Interior Ministry and the provision of every document it has requested.
With the help of the Israel Religious Action Center, which is affiliated with the Israel Movement for Progressive Judasim, I have been pursuing the recognition that I need to study in this country legally. This struggle has been both frustrating and eye opening as to the range of the acceptance of the Reform movement in Israel.
From my experiences this year at HUC, I am learning that the situation for Reform Jews in Israel cannot be reduced to sound bites or one-sentence explanations. Yes, the Reform movement is growing and is stronger, but the situation is more complex than that and the North American Reform population should learn about it in its entirety.
There are many positive developments, but there is also much work to be done.