My rabbinical class was the first to spend our first year of studies in Israel. When we arrived in the summer of 1970, Hebrew Union College was a small but impressive building at 13 King David Street which had served, up till that time, as headquarters for the archaeological school. But the President, Rabbi Nelson Glueck, had grander plans. During that year, we witnessed the opening of a Mo’adon (lounge) down the hill, where we had our coffee break and attended special lectures.
Since that time, HUC has grown into an extensive campus that houses, among other things:
- Classrooms and cafeteria for HUC students, along with a beautiful library and museum
- A pre-school programme housed in that same Mo’adon
- The offices of the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism, the nerve-centre of Reform Jewish life in Israel
- The offices of Arzenu and the World Union for Progressive Judaism, headquarters for Reform communities around the world
- The offices of the Israel Religious Action Centre, whose staff work tirelessly to promote civil rights and democratic values
- Bet Shmuel and Merkaz Shimshon, buildings that host Progressive Diaspora groups who come to meet and study.
All these facilities have a significant impact on our Progressive Jewish communities around the globe. They remind us that our brand of Zionism works toward a State of Israel that remains both Jewish and democratic. They promote a religious expression of Judaism that is steadily gaining support among erstwhile secular Israelis. And they radiate Israeli culture – its music, literature and arts – to enrich our own Jewish life wherever we live.
If you ask the average Israeli (or Diaspora Jew, for that matter) whom they identify as “religious Zionists,” they will probably mention the settlers in the occupied territories, whose home base is located in Mercaz HaRav Kook in Jerusalem. It is my hope to change that image. I look forward to working with all of you, to make 13 King David Street the centre of a religious Zionism that is meaningful to Israeli and Diaspora Jews alike, to ensure that our progressive Jewish values become the norm in the Jewish State.
To accomplish these ideals will take some work. We need to recruit more members to our Progressive Zionist organizations in our home countries and encourage them to vote for Progressive delegates to the next WZO congress. Even more importantly, we need to teach our people what it means to be a Progressive Religious Zionist. Together with other leaders of Arzenu, we are preparing educational materials that will highlight some of the issues facing us in the years ahead. We hope you will take a look at them, adapt them to your own region and study them together in your community.
Just as the Israeli Reform movement helps to shape our own Jewish identity in the Diaspora, so does our support have a significant effect on Israeli life. This mutual relationship is best expressed in Psalm 122, which is read each Shabbat at HUC:
Pray for the well-being of Jerusalem;
May those who love you be at peace.
We need each other. Let’s work in concert toward our vision of an Israel that is truly a “light to the nations.”
Rabbi Lawrence A. Englander is Rabbi of Solel Congregation of Mississauga, Ontario Canada, and President-Elect of Arzenu.