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Donniel Hartman to Reform biennial: Kudos for not abandoning Israel

SAN DIEGO (JTA) — The Union for Reform Judaism awarded one of its highest honors to an Orthodox rabbi, the late David Hartman, at the opening plenary of the union’s biennial conference in San Diego.

On Wednesday evening, the union’s president, Rabbi Rick Jacobs, presented the Alexander M. Schindler World Jewry Award posthumously to Hartman’s son, Rabbi Donniel Hartman, president of the Hartman Institute in Jerusalem and, like his father, an Orthodox-ordained rabbi.

Following the presentation, Jacobs and Hartman announced a new partnership between the Shalom Hartman Institute and the Union for Reform Judaism-an Israel Engagement Initiative for Reform congregations across North America. Next year, the Union for Reform Judaism will select 30 congregations to participate in the first stage of the initiative.

“The goal of this joint initiative with the URJ is to support and enhance Israel engagement work throughout the Reform Movement by creating a new narrative regarding the significance of Israel in Jewish life,” said Dr. Yehuda Kurtzer, president of the Shalom Hartman Institute of North America.

Participants will discuss Israel engagement with experts from the Hartman Institute and the Union for Reform Judaism through a series of webinars, consultations and regional gatherings, where they will network, sharing best principles, experiences and ideas.

Hartman, in accepting the prize on behalf of his father, hailed the persistence of Zionist sentiment among Reform Jews despite Israel’s treatment of Reform Judaism.

“The truth is you should have walked away from Israel a long time ago,” he said. “How much insult, how much alienation, how much lack of respect should a person take before they say enough and walk away? Your love for Israel is measured in the fact that you’re willing to fight for it.”

In presenting the Schindler award, Jacobs credited David Hartman with inspiring him to become a Reform rabbi.

“David taught us to question traditional beliefs,” Jacobs said.

Nearly 5,000 people are attending the Reform biennial, the first since Jacobs took the helm of the movement a year-and-a-half ago.

The Wednesday evening presentation included a video message from Vice President Joe Biden, who said he had been asked by President Obama to give a shout-out to Reform’s youth movement, NFTY, the National Federation of Temple Youth.

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