One of the intriguing aspects of our time in Israel is this was my first time back as a rabbi. Yet the majority of 'secular' Israelis we encountered could not believe that I was a rabbi. Now granted I do not wear a black hat nor have a long beard (though I was working on a goatee), which means I do not fit the stereotypical version of what a rabbi in Israel is.
The reality is that progressive Jews and progressive Judaism has been in Israel since well before its founding. And yet, far too many Israelis are only nominally aware of it. There are both reform and conservative congregations scattered throughout Israel. And there are more and more home grown rabbis, which also helps. But there are still many challenges facing non-Orthodox Jews in Israel.
To combat these challenges has been and continues to be the work of the Israel Religious Action Center, which just celebrated its 25th anniversary. The IRAC, which like its counter part in the States, the Religious Action Center, fights for rights based on Reform Jewish values. However, unlike the RAC, it also has a legal arm that will fight out many of these cases before the Israeli Supreme Court.
We learned a great deal about the efforts of IRAC from Paula Edelstein, the chair of the IRAC steering committee. Paula has lived most of her adult life in Israel. She has done any number of amazing things, and her work with IRAC is very significant.
We learned how IRAC is fighting to have Reform Rabbis recognized by the State and to have equal financial support given to them as is given to Orthodox Rabbis. We learned how the IRAC is fighting against second class seating on buses for women. For a nation that fought similar fights in the 60s in the US, it is simply astounding that we are now having the same fights in Israeli in the 2000s. There are the issues of not recognizing weddings performed by Reform rabbis in Israel, and the lack of modern education for most yeshiva students. Ms. Edelstein spoke about these challenges and many more with passion.
However she began her talk by stating that she loves Israel, and she wants the best for Israel. I feel it is important for us as Reform Jews to continue to support the efforts of IRAC who are working to bring about a better Israel. You can find out more at the link below
As an aside, we had dinner with Mr. Edelstein at a wonderful restaurant called Olive and Fish. It was there that two of us were introduced to one of Israel's new micro-brews Shapiro. Founded by six brothers, Shapiro beer is becoming a favorite amongst Jerusalemites. One of our group members really liked the Pale Ale, where I thoroughly enjoyed the Stout. It, like Guinness, is a meal in and of itself. First wines, and now beers. Israel really is becoming a food and drink 'mecca.'
Israel Religious Action Center
Article on Shapiro Beer