Monday, December 11, 2023

Report from Israel – Day 3 November 30, 2023


Our third day was a rollercoaster of emotions.  We began at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. All Reform American Rabbinic, Cantoral and Education students spend their first ear of studies at HUC-JIR Jerusalem.  I studied there in 1982. All Israeli Reform Rabbis spend their entire time at the Jerusalem Campus. This morning, our group was joined by Israeli Rabbinic Colleagues and we studied the concept of Pidyon Shvuyim – the redemption of Captives – with the Rabbi Dr. Dalia Marx – professor of Rabbinics. Our discussion was deep and heartfelt.

We then travelled to the Knesset where we met with two elected officials (MK’s) – Rabbi Gil Kariv – of the labor party and the first Israeli Reform rabbi to serve as an elected official in the Israeli parliament, and Idan Roll of the Yesh Atid party. Rabbi Kariv spoke to us about the fact that this moment in history is unprecedented – especially in terms of Israel’s relationship with the diaspora. This posited that Israel is facing both a crisis and a moment of clarity. The fact that the vast majority of world Jewry stands with Israel at this difficult time cannot be minimized. As anti-Semitism raises its ugly head around the world, our communities are linked- not only symbolically, but existentially. He also stressed the fact that President Biden’s support of Israel has been unequivocal and apolitical. The fact that the president of the United States took it upon himself to travel here in a time of war, extend massive military support and strengthen our relationship cannot be minimized.

He also shared that we need to see this conflict as existential.  Hamas does not have the ability to defeat Israel’s military, but they can destroy the concept of a 2-state solution. Also – if Hamas is not completely eliminated, they will destroy the Palestinian Authority (PA) – the only other option for leadership in the Palestinian community – and the only hope for moderation. He has no love for the PA, but he knows that they are the last gasp for any hope of a negotiated solution.

 Rabbi Kariv also shared his concerns about the extremists in the current government.  He shared that their racist and isolationist agenda may have been paused by the war, but they are waiting to impose their will on society as soon as they can. The sense of solidarity that is prevalent during wartime will most certainly dissolve once some semblance of normalcy returns. He warned us that the same ministers who are preaching Jewish unity are also eager to strip Reform and secular Jews, women, minorities and the LGBTQ+ communities of their rights.

                                            (MK Rabbi Gilad Kariv)

(MK Idan Roll)

MK Roll shared much of Rabbi Kariv’s positions – even though they come from different political parties. He told us that this war will not be quick or easy. He also shared that he believed that when the war is finally over, there will be a new governing coalition in place. Netanyahu will not be able to survive the multiple failures of leadership that preceded this crisis.

We spoke about many other issues with these two remarkable leaders- including:

·       The current financial burdens that Israel is facing;

·       The role of NGO’s and civil society in dealing with this crisis and replacing the government in many arenas;

·       The potential for war in the North with Hezbolah;

·       The plans (or lack thereof) for next steps after the war;

I don’t have space or time to list them all – but I will share more upon my return next week.

After we left the Knesset, we drove to Tel Aviv to meet with Lee and Shelly Siegal. Lee’s brother, Keith Segal and Sister-in-law, Aviva were captured on October 7th from their home in Kibbutz K’far Aza. Thankfully, Aviva was one of the hostages to be freed in recent exchanges, but Keith is still in captivity.  They could not share many details of their loved ones’ ordeals, but the pain, fear and worry that they shared was palpable. They also told us how important it was to have the presence of the Hostage and Family Forum – a group of volunteers that, literally overnight, came together to offer support, raise funds, and provide respite for the families of the hostages. They were grateful for the overwhelming solidarity they have experienced, but, until every hostage is returned home safely, they will not be able to rest.

(Lee and Shelley Siegal - With David Bernstein - Deputy Director of the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism (IMPJ))

 We then met with a group of remarkable young people who were participating in the Israeli Reform movement’s gap year “Mechina” program. This is a program where high school graduates defer entering into the army for a year and volunteer to help in needy communities in Israel. They also study Jewish history and thought and serve as future leaders of Israel’s growing Reform Jewish community.

(Participants in the IMPJ "Mechina" program)

Our day ended on a very powerful note as we visited Kikar Ha Hatufim – “Hostage Square” – the gathering place for families of those who were captured and all those who support them- outside of the Tel Aviv museum.  This has become a truly sacred space. It is here that a symbolic table has been set with places for all those who were captured. There are art installations, information booths and, most importantly, circles of chairs set up for those who need to sit in silence, give or receive comfort to all who are in pain. I was honored to lead a short song and prayer circle in Hebrew and English. 

(Link to video of Misheberach at Hostage Square on Facebook:

We returned to Jerusalem with heavy hearts – but a sense of connection with everyone who is grieving in the amazing country. 

Tomorrow will be our last day.  I will be staying with dear friends over Shabbat and returning on Sunday.


Rabbi Joseph R. Black


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