Leadership with an Eye to the Future Seminar- Zionist Seminar in Europe

Dear friends,
I’m pleased to share with you an article about an innovative program I have initiated: Leadership with an Eye to the Future Seminar- Zionist Seminar in Europe
It was published by an Orthodox journalist, which joined the seminar, in both Makor Rishon, an Orthodox newspaper, with a wide spread and in NRG-Ma’ariv.
Since it is a long article, I have translated the opening paragraphs.
For me, the fact that for the second time, I as a reform leader have received a prominent place in the orthodox press is maybe not to be necessarily accepted, but it is to be RESPECTED.
For those of you that would like to receive more information regarding this unique program, please contact me.
Sincerely,
Gusti Yehoshua Braverman

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Translation of the two first paragraphs The entire article is attached :
An American Orthodox Rabbi, a Reform woman and an Arab-Israeli are sitting at a Budapest pub, and are trying to convince the owner of the place, a Hungarian Jew, to make Aliyah again, after he already once made Aliyah but returned to his motherland. “I am afraid”, he told them. When I used to live in Israel, I did not feel safe. I think that the Jewish state will not survive for many more years”. The Rabbi, who intends to make Aliyah to Israel in several years’ time, does not give in to him. The representative of the Arab public also preaches Zionism: “Israel is the only place for the Jews”, he says.

This quasi-weird episode reflects pretty well the journey in the footsteps of the founders of Zionism in Europe, in which we participated. The journey, organized by the World Zionist Organization, offers a once in a lifetime opportunity to gain direct knowledge about the events, the places and the Zionist stories that brought to the establishment of the Jewish state in the Land of Israel. The vision of those who initiated this journey is to turn it into a custom for Israelis – adults and youth – who will see for themselves the roots of the Zionist ethos.

In Russia there is no Zionism
I am in the midst of a group of twenty Israelis who came in on flight 057 from Kiev to Odessa. This is a heterogeneous delegation that was sent here as part of an original Zionist experience named ‘Leadership for a Future seminar’. “My goal is to challenge all that you thought is ‘Zionist’ until now”, declares the organizer of the seminar, Gusti Yehoshua Braverman, “and I also want you to reflect”.

And why start specifically in Odessa? Well, as we know, the beginnings of Zionism included important figures other than Herzl. Legends such as Jabotinsky, Achad Haam, Shaul Tchernichovsky, and Haim Nachman Bialik lived in Odessa, and spread their ideas from there. Without those, it would have been harder for Herzl to promote his agenda, which at the time was completely not self-evident.

Gusti, the head of the department for Diaspora Activities in the World Zionist Organization and the representative of the Reform Movement in the National Institutions, opens the journey with words of gratitude. The world of the Torah is not unfamiliar to her; she defines herself as “religious Zionist”, even though her lifestyle is different from other religious-Zionists. “We are in the days between the Holocaust Remembrance day and Independence Day, between the Torah portion Kedoshim and Emor”, she says, and shows the parallel between those days and the ten days of Repentance. According to her, it was not incidental that she chose this period in order to hold the journey in the footsteps of Zionism.

 

MKR1 Dyokan 874 Zvika Zionut Herzel

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It Is By Now No Secret Rejoinder

This conversation is critically important.  We invite all who are interested to join in either in the comments or in our Facebook group

Clearly, Dan Ross and I agree on the affirmatives: We love Israel, and we want to see it succeed as a “country of lofty ideals.” Even more than that, we probably share a sense of what those ideals look like, and I applaud him for his forward gaze. It appears, additionally, that we agree that our Western interlocutors, as defined by Ross, do not go out of their way to question Israel’s right to exist. But here’s where I think we disagree: the West’s acceptance of Israel as a Jewish state—not Netanyahu’s call for a diplomatic formulation as such but, more generally, the concept itself.

To be sure, the institutions of Israel’s statehood are firmly in place, and the West generally accepts that fact. And I am not an alarmist about the threats to Israel’s existence.

But I’m not at all sure that Europeans, just as an example, feel that the Jewish character of the state has any legitimacy, nor that that character is worthy of promotion or defense. Closer to home, the Presbyterian Church recently published the controversial “Zionism Unsettled,” a study-guide and DVD that questions both the current policies of Israel and its Jewish character.

More to the point, “Zionism Unsettled” conflates those policies and character as morally and inevitably twinned, and therein lies the difficulty. We progressive Zionists hold that Israel embodies a simultaneously (if imperfectly) Jewish and democratic character, and that destructive or short-sighted policies do not fundamentally belie or de-legitimate it. As such, we struggle against the policies, while we defend the state and its particular character.

I believe that, between these two positions, most people outside of the United States follow some variation on “Zionism Unsettled.” That is, they perceive the progressive Zionist position to be either paradoxical or quixotic and, in any case, impossible to uphold. They oppose the same policies that we progressive Zionists oppose. But insofar as they see those policies as a natural outgrowth of Zionism, they point to them as proof of the illegitimacy of Zionism itself.

And I believe that a subset of American Jewry is increasingly inclined to agree—passively, superficially or only incipiently—but to agree nonetheless.

So, when Ross specifically queries “to whom Dr. Holo believes we should be addressing ‘our Zionist assertions with sufficient confidence, information and conviction,’” I answer, as I had attempted to do in my initial posting: American Jewry. Secondarily, as per this posting, I might also address our Western interlocutors.

And here is my message: I am in unqualified agreement with Ross and his call to look to the future. And I want something additional, as well. I want progressive Zionists to re-articulate the Jewish claim to sovereignty, because it’s a compelling argument, and because American Jews may be losing sight of it. And yes, it is fundamentally an historical argument, but without it, Israel as such has no future to aim for.

Dr. Holo is the Dean of the Los Angeles Campus and Associate Professor of Jewish History at HUC-JIR/LA. He served as Director of the Louchheim School of Judaic Studies from 2006-2010. Dr. Holo’s publications focus on Medieval Jews of the Mediterranean, particularly in the Christian realm. His book, Byzantine Jewry in the Mediterranean Economy, was published by Cambridge University Press in 2009.

Q&A with Rabbi Ira Youdovin

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There is much being said about the up-coming World Zionist Congress, and why Reform Jews from across the globe should be interested.  To address these, we’ve invited a true expert to guide us through the material.

Rabbi Ira Youdovin forty years ago headed the team that created ARZA—Association of Reform Zionists of America, served as its first executive director and, together with its president, Rabbi Roland B. Gittelsohn, led Reform Zionism’s first delegation to the World Zionist Congress.

When we contacted Rabbi Youdovin he mused that the questions being asked were largely the same he was called upon to answer in the mid-1970’s.

As you read Rabbi Youdovin’s comments, please remember to post here additional questions as well as your own take on the issues that he is raising.

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The World Zionist Congress: Why should Reform Jews be interested? 

The next World Zionist Congress will be held in October, 2015.  More than 500 delegates from Israel and the Diaspora will gather in Jerusalem to discuss key issues confronting Israel, Zionism and world Jewry, and to determine allocations made by the World Zionist Organization, the WZC’s parent body.  These decisions are determined by vote of the delegates, who reflect a wide diversity of ideological and religious perspectives.

If you care about the Reform Movement in Israel, if you support egalitarian prayer, if you believe in freedom of religion, the right of Reform rabbis to conduct marriage, divorce, burial and conversion, if you believe that women should have equal status, here is your chance to make a difference. Your vote in determining who represents your region is your voice in determining what happens at the Congress.

 

What are the origins of the World Zionist Congress? 

Theodor Herzl convened the first World Zionist Congress (WZC) in Basel, Switzerland (1897).  An assimilated Viennese Jew covering the Dreyfus trial for a local newspaper, Herzl saw the anti-Semitism manifest in the trumped-up charges against a Jewish captain in the French army as a harbinger of a fate that awaited Jews everywhere in Europe.  His response was to embrace the need to create a national homeland where Jews would be safe and free. The WZC was the first institutional step toward achieving this goal.  Foremost among the resolutions adopted by the Congress was one that defined the movement: “Zionism seeks to establish a home for the Jewish people in Palestine secured under public law.”

Approximately two hundred delegates  from seventeen countries attended.  Sixty-nine were representatives from various Zionist societies.  The remainder were individual invitees. In attendance were ten non­-Jews who were expected to abstain from voting. Seventeen women attended.  While women participated in the discussions, they did not then have voting rights.  Those were granted the following year, at the Second Zionist Congress

Herzl called the WZC “the Parliament of the Jewish People.”

Excerpts From the Address of the President of the Central Conference of American Rabbis

Excerpts from the address of the president of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, Rabbi Richard Block, to the CCAR Convention, Chicago, March 31, 2014. 

[In discussing Israel] criticism and attachment are not necessarily incompatible….. 

There are aspects of Israel I find annoying, demoralizing, even horrifying. I support ARZA, IRAC, IMPJ, and the World Union, and I urge you, especially, to promote and campaign actively for the ARZA slate in the forthcoming WZO elections, because our Movement’s funding in Israel depends on it, and because there are things about Israeli law and society that absolutely must change. However, these feelings are manifestations of my bond with Israel, not impediments to it, and they are overwhelmed by the pride I feel at what is admirable, exemplary, even miraculous about the Jewish state. When I have a quarrel with Israel, it is a lover’s quarrel.

But while criticism and attachment can surely co-exist, there are proper and improper times, places, and ways to critique others, if we want our admonitions to be heard and to do more good than harm. The Torah commands, “Reprove your neighbor, but incur no guilt because of him.” Rashi explains: Rebuke him, but do not shame him publically. Going further, the Talmud likens those who embarrass others in public to shedders of blood.

Israel needs a many things, but one thing it does not need is more public criticism, which is ubiquitous. Some is legitimate, but lacks context. Much of it is exaggerated, unfair, uninformed, or plainly wrong. Increasingly, it lurches from offensive to anti-Semitic, rationalizing the shortcomings of Israel’s adversaries and ignoring the worst abuses of others, focusing exclusively and obsessively on the Jewish State.  

…. I choose, instead, to heed the CCAR’s Centenary Platform on Reform Judaism & Zionism, which lists “political support” as the first of “our obligations to Israel.” I elect to make common cause with others who believe that Israel’s security depends on broad bipartisan political support for the US-Israel alliance, regardless which party controls Congress, the White House, and the Knesset. 

…I am not suggesting we pretend Israel is perfect, ignore the complex moral challenges it faces, disregard its occasional failures or excesses in the exercise of power, or encourage unquestioning approval of whatever its government does. Ardent support for Israel does not permit us to deny that Palestinians, too, have rights that deserve acknowledgment and suffer hardships no one would willingly bear. 

Where Israel is concerned, rabbis have a primary duty: to nurture ahavat Yisrael – love for, identification with, and attachment, loyalty and commitment to the Jewish state, its imperfections notwithstanding. The highest and best use of our pulpits and voices is not to focus on Israel’s flaws, but on its virtues, to rebut distortions, oversimplifications, and falsehoods, to provide context and perspective, to inoculate those who will study on campuses rife with anti-Israel hostility and to support them once they get there. It is to acquaint people with Israel the vibrant democracy, that guarantees freedom of speech, press, religion and assembly, where relentless self-scrutiny is the national pastime, and women, Arabs, religious minorities and gay and lesbian persons enjoy rights, protections, and opportunities unknown elsewhere in the region and most other places, the Israel that has sent humanitarian aid and emergency relief missions to more than 140 countries and provided medical care to more than 700 Syrians wounded in a genocide to the world seems mainly indifferent, the Israel that rescued tens of thousands of Ethiopian Jews, the only time in history that white people took black people out of Africa to free them, rather than enslave them, the Israel whose arts and culture are as rich as its geography is various and its beauty is breathtaking, the Israel whose myriad innovations in science, medicine, and technology are contributing so much to humanity, the Israel that is infinitely more than the sum of its conflicts.

It is also the Israel of my favorite poet, Yehuda Amichai, who wrote HaMakom SheBo Anu Tzodkim: The Place Where We Are Right.

From the place where we are right
Flowers will never grow
In the spring.

The place where we are right
Is hard and trampled
Like a yard.

But doubts and loves
Dig up the world
Like a mole, a plow.

And a whisper will be heard in the place
Where the ruined
House once stood.

Response to Dean Holo

To read Dan’s original post, click here

To read Dean Holo’s response, click here.

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In response to Dr. Holo’s, assertion that many in my generation do not identify with the foundational Zionist claim, I ask why should we be?  I’m not entirely certain to whom Dr. Holo believes we should be addressing “our Zionist assertions with sufficient confidence, information and conviction.”

The world’s most prominent anti-Zionists—those who reject the foundational Zionist claim—are not amongst the ranks of those with whom we find ourselves arguing about Israel on a regular basis; rather, they reside in Tehran and Cairo and Riyadh and Ramallah.  And the folks in those towns are not going to be convinced of the foundational Zionist claim any time soon.

Instead, the key aspects of the current political conversation in the West surrounding Israel are the peace process with the Palestinians, the continued occupation of the West Bank, and the appropriate response to the Iranian nuclear program.  While the Palestinians, Iranians, and the other nations of the Arab and Muslim world may continue to question Israel’s right to exist, they are not party to our Western debates.

In New York and Berkeley and Amsterdam and Paris, I don’t believe that most people question Israel’s right to exist as must as they question Israel’s many misguided political and military decisions.  And they are further skeptical as to Israel’s continued insistence that it is in constant existential peril.  Instead, they see an Israel with the strongest military in its region and a burgeoning—if inequitable—economy.

The fact of the matter is that the Jewish state that was dreamed of for centuries is a fact.  A fact on holy ground.  Most of us accept, embrace, and even cherish this reality.  Our challenge then is to ensure that the state founded on this holy ground continues to be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation, a country that lives up to the lofty ideals that the first Zionists imagined this place could embody.

Israel exists.  Perhaps I’m naïve, but I don’t see that changing any time soon.  Thus we must look towards its future, not back at its past.

Dan Ross is a first year student at Hebrew Union College in Jerusalem.