Response to Rabbis Gordis and Perlo and David Breakstone

by Rabbi Daniel R. Allen

Activism not faith is what built Israel. Creating facts on the ground, hityashvut, and the audacity to believe in the ability to change history is why there is today the modern state of Israel. Belief in the messiah, any messiah, though he or she tarry will not bring peace and certainly was not the Zionist answer that created a home that is now the largest community of Jews in the world.

Rabbi Gordis’s fear of younger colleagues is based on his historical perspective. He, like many of us, lived through periods of time when the majority of our people had been alive prior to the existence of Israel as a state. Those fears were real. The rhetoric today, the campaign against the legitimacy of Israel which is now socially acceptable in Europe, brings those fears to the surface. We hope that the Arab Spring produces democracies but not at the cost of our democratic Israel.

Rabbi Perlow describes a different reality. His generation wants to bring peace with the unstated supposition that even with threats Israel’s existence is not in question. We all want to believe in that reality. We all want to be part of bringing peace whether we serve our people with smicha or as baalabatim. While our political perspectives may differ, we all want to be in the generation that brings peace.

David Breakstone expresses the view that Rabbis, young and old, are disillusioned with Israel more because of the religious establishment than the Israel-Palestinian conflict. If he is correct, and I am not sure, then bringing 30 rabbis to Israel to learn together while a nice effort is not a solution. Indeed, it is not even a band aid since I suspect that none of the thirty are decision makers within their own establishments.

I appreciate the Rabbis and Mr. Breakstones’ passion and Zionism. However, I think they all miss the boat. We do not have to wait and we do not have to be satisfied with small steps. Bringing peace and the kind of society we want is at our fingertips if only we seize the moment and build the state in our own image. Our task is not about winning a debate but about building the relationships among Jews that makes a better future for Israel and all of our people.

We must work to expand liberal Jewish religion. We can build an ever more inclusive democratic Israeli society if we marshal the human and financial resources. Israelis physically built a country, with significant assistance from world Jewry, that most of us believe is here to stay. It was done through times of war while bringing in our exiles in massive numbers. Israel was built by people many of whom had broken lives before they arrived on its shores. Israel was assisted in physically building the state by a Jewish community that was not as affluent and capable of participating in building the soul of the society as it is today.

Where is the serious funding from the Reform and Conservative movements to have not 85 congregations between them but 850? Where is the funding to have a constant flow of public information to the Israeli society about the varieties of Jewish religious values and practices?

Where are the multiple summer camps and ganin to serve the needs of the masses not just the growing but still relatively small liberal community? Where are the budgets from the ministry of education for Tali schools that teach a non-threatening, non orthodox approach to Judaism in the Jewish state?

What if there were 1,000,000 now secular Jews in Israel who had come to understand the available options for Jewish observance? What if there were 1,000,000 Israelis who did not kowtow to the foreign British born “gift” of the chief rabbinate? What if there were 1,000,000 Israeli who agreed that there are many legitimate paths in the observance of Judaism? What if 1,000,000 Israelis voted for a government that insisted that every child in the state learn to read and write Hebrew, serve in the IDF, celebrate Yom Ha’Atzmaut, and learn math and science? Liberal Jews in Israel and the world need only join hands in the holy work of creating these facts on the ground. If we do so we do not have to wait for peace. We will be the peace makers at least with our fellow Jews if not our Arab neighbors.

Rabbi Daniel R. Allen is Executive Director Association of Reform Zionists of America.