GA / Reform Jews to GA: We´re the religious option for secular Israel (HA´ARETZ NEWS) By Daphna Berman 11/19/03)
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"For a strong Jewish identity, sometimes you have
to step out of Israel," says Makki
Osheroff-Gerzon, who found Judaism at a Reform
summer camp in the U.S. 16 years ago. "To be a Jew
in Israel is, for the most part, to be Orthodox,"
she says. Her experience with Judaism in America
"touched the deepest side of [her] identity."
Osheroff-Gerzon, the director
of the Reform Movement
education department in
Israel, spoke to two
bus-loads of GA delegates
early yesterday morning, and
said that though the Reform
Movement has passed "the
tough years" in introducing
itself to Israeli society, it is still engaged in a struggle that is,
the most part, foreign to American Jews.
The delegates, who traveled to Jerusalem´s
Hebrew Union College as part of the GA´s day of
"classrooms on wheels," all opted to explore
the religious streams of Judaism in Israel, one
of 55 different bus-tour options for
The GA delegates, who represented a variety of
religious observance and affiliations within
their own communities in North America, also
joined the kindergarten students from the
movement´s day school for their daily morning
prayers, and spoke to a Reform rabbinical
student who immigrated to Israel from Ukraine
13 years ago.
Paula Edelstein, the chair of Israel´s Movement
for Progressive Judaism, says that bringing an
"American understanding of Judaism" is vital to
the development of Reform Jewry in Israel.
"There is more than one way to be Jewish ...
and we are giving so-called secular people ways
to express their Judaism," says the
American-born Edelstein. "Families [in Israel]
must reintroduce Judaism into their lives."
Edelstein, who said that the Reform Movement is
not, contrary to popular belief, "an import
from North America," thanked Jewish Federations
for their support in "enabling [Reform Judaism
in Israel] to grow and develop." She also
pointed to the movement´s "indigenous" roots,
adding that German immigrants to Israel founded
the first Reform temple in the 1930s in Haifa.
Anat Hoffman, an activist in the Israel
Religious Action Center, "the social arm of the
Reform Movement," also addressed the GA
delegates, and said that she too found
Progressive Judaism for the first time in the
United States. As a student athlete at the
University of California - Los Angeles,
Israeli-born Hoffman says that she realized for
the first time that "there is more than one
understanding of Judaism."
Hoffman, who is now active in the movement´s
struggle toward the recognition of Reform
conversions and wedding ceremonies, says that
when she tells people in Israel that she is a
religious Reform woman, they think it is an
oxymoron. "In Israel, the word dati [religious]
means Orthodox." Still, she says that secular
religious Israelis are looking for a place to
"express other way of being Jewish."
Philip Schlussel, a GA delegate from New York
who is active in his local Reform temple, says
that he was disturbed to learn about the
problems facing Reform Jewry in Israel. "Some
people here are, unfortunately, still
intolerant," he says, adding that his own
congregation doesn´t face the same problems as
those that Edelstein and Hoffman described.
Rachel Silverman, 21, a student delegate in the
GA who is president of Hillel at Brandeis
University, says she chose to participate in
this specific classroom on wheels because she
is considering a career in rabbinics. "I love
pluralism and I want to work with it," she
says. (© Copyright 2003 Haaretz. 11/19/03)
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