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Discussing Israel

April 29, 2013

LJ Patrons DinnerLast week, I had the pleasure of representing WLS at the annual Liberal Judaism Patrons dinner.  The guest of honour was the Israeli Ambassador – H.E. Daniel Taub.  This was the first time that an Israeli Ambassador has attended a Liberal Judaism Patrons dinner 

It is, of course, good news that an Israeli Ambassador is engaging with Liberal Judaism, especially in the same week as the Jerusalem District Court ruled that Women can pray at the Western Wall and at a time when the Israeli government appears to be ready to accommodate Egalitarian Prayers at the Wall  

It may be early days, but it does appear that the recent change of government in Israel has created opportunities for progressive Judaism to more widely engage with the state of Israel.  However, a recent exchange of e-mails between some of the Chairs of Liberal Jewish synagogues has highlighted the difficulty of discussing Israel.  

We are, by definition, Liberal Jews – we support pluralistic and egalitarian Judaism; we want Israel to exist, to thrive, and to be a strong Jewish state living in peace with its neighbours.  We are also aware that Israel is not always a pluralistic or egalitarian society.  

Are we being anti-Israel by supporting campaigns like Women of the Wall and the breaking of the non-progressive religious monopoly on Marriages, Divorces and Conversions – or are we being true to our beliefs and the way we practice Judaism?  In wanting Israel to be a strong thriving state must we turn a blind eye or condone the way that Israel treats the Palestinians, Bedouin, and Israeli-Arabs?  In praying for peace in Israel – should we not pray for peace for all its inhabitants indeed for all the middle east – not just a peace imposed through an Israeli hegemony?

This week the World Union for Progressive Judaism, in its ‘home’ at Beit Shmuel in Jerusalem, is hosting Connections 2013: Being The Difference – representing 1,200 congregations with 1.8 million members in 45 countries. I suspect that many of those congregations, like WLS and other Liberal Judaism synagogues, celebrated the 65th birthday of Israel.  

As has reported by both the Ilford Recorder and the Wanstead & Woodford Guardian, our celebrations included the sharing of 65 facts about Israel – highlighting some of the many achievements by what is still a relatively young country.

Sixty-five – like 18, 21, 40, 50, or 60 – is one of those birthdays when we reflect on our life and what the future holds.  So it is perhaps an appropriate time to have a debate on what it means for Israel to tun 65.  I am not suggesting that Israel should now consider itself a pensioner but maybe it is an age of maturity and appropriate time to reflect on what has been achieved and what the future holds.

I think it is one of the strengths of communities like Woodford, and others round the world that make up the World Union of progressive Judaism, that we recognise that the world is not perfect – wherever imperfections occur.  This does mean that we can be proud of the state of Israel and celebrate the successes of Israel  – but only if we have the right to be critical and to expect Israel to do more.

So it is perhaps an appropriate time for the World Union for Progressive Judaism to be Israel; at a time when Israel has much to celebrate and maybe (just maybe) is willing to engage more widely with pluralistic progressive Judaism.

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