ARZA Canada, strengthening ties of Reform Jews to Israel

ARZA Canada is an affiliate of the Union for Reform Judaism and its Canadian Council. We are a member organization of ARZENU, the International Association of Reform Zionists, and the Canadian Zionist Federation. With over 6,000 members, our mandate is to connect with Reform communities throughout Canada, foster connections with and strengthen our ties to the Reform Movement in Israel, and work to realize the vision of Reform Zionism.


Reform Movement Leaders React to the Elections in Israel

New York, NY, March 18, 2015 - Today we join supporters of democracy around the world in marveling at the vibrancy of Israeli society and the openness of her electoral process.  We stand ready to work with the Prime Minister, the leaders of the new government, and those in the opposition as well, to ensure that Israel remains strong and secure, and to advance the values of democracy, peace, and pluralism to which we are unshakably committed.

While nothing can displace our celebration of democracy, we do have deep concerns about the result and about some campaign tactics. We are concerned because yesterday's triumph for democracy in Israel may have come at the expense of the Jewish and democratic values we hold dear. 

In a video message to his supporters yesterday noting that "Arab voters are coming out in droves," Prime Minister Netanyahu chose to use demographics as a wedge that threatens voter engagement.  No public figure should lament fellow citizens exercising their right to vote freely, expressing themselves openly, and peacefully in accordance with the values of a democracy.

To read the rest of the message, please click here.


Message from the Reform Movement in Israel

Dear friends and colleagues in Israel and around the world,

It has now been just over 24 hours since the final election results came in and Israelis woke up to a new Knesset. While we do not yet know what the government will look like, we do know who the Israeli people have chosen to lead the country in the next four years. We know that within our movement there are those that were very disappointed with the results, while others who were very happy with them. As a movement, we first and foremost congratulate on our ability to take part in the democratic process and for the ability of each and every Israeli to vote for that party which best serves his or her conscience.

We are also mindful of some clear achievements brought on by these elections. This past Tuesday, over 70 percent of Israelis went to the polls. This is the highest voting rate over the past several elections. While the gamut of votes was wide, the ultra-right-wing “Yachad” party, which ran a campaign based upon racism and fear, did not pass the threshold of votes necessary to enter the Knesset. The Joint Arab-Jewish list, on the other hand, won an unprecedented number of seats. Former ambassador Michael Oren, a member of Kehillat “Kol HaNeshma” in Jerusalem has gained a seat in the Knesset, as well as Prof. Manuel Trachtenberg, a member of Kehillat Beit Daniel in Tel-Aviv. On all of these we say – Ashreinu.

To read the rest of the message, please click here.


Message from IRAC

Dear Friends,

We have been following the elections with great hope. We were thrilled with the large participation of Israelis in the elections. We are deeply saddened by the racism which pervaded the election campaign.  We are disappointed and disturbed that the Prime Minister chose to galvanize his supporters on election day by creating fear over the participation of Israeli Arabs in the elections, rather than celebrating the participation of all citizens in the democratic vote. We hope that the Prime Minister takes the necessary steps to rebuild bridges with Arab-Israelis.

 We are delighted that the "Yachad" party that ran with a blatantly racist platform didn't make it into the Knesset. However, we don't know what the future holds in terms of the next Israeli government. We know that it is likely and realistic that the next government (with three ultra-Orthodox parties) will pose great challenges to our hopes and dreams for Israel.
We will find ways to be effective and successful despite a very challenging reality. Now is not the time for despair. Now is the time to fight even more determinedly for the future.
 David Ben Gurion once said,  "In Israel, in order to be a realist you must believe in miracles."
We are that kind of realists. Expert realists. Fearless realists.
 I ask you today to commit, together with me, to being even more engaged in solving the challenges of Israeli society.
 This is the time to work together, to be smart, to be effective. No matter what challenges lie ahead. 
 Remember, miracles are in store only for those willing to make an effort.


Anat Hoffman    Executive Director - Israel Religious Action Center


Eight major victories for non-Orthodox Judaism in 2014

Despite a few setbacks, this year showed signs of growing, though at times begrudging, acceptance of Israel's Reform and Conservative movements.

By Judy Maltz | Dec. 15, 2014   Haaretz

This was the year that saw the Israeli government push forward legislation that would have couples married outside the Orthodox-run Chief Rabbinate face two-year prison terms. This was also the year that saw a group composed mostly of Conservative movement rabbinical students banned from holding a service in the Knesset synagogue. And it was the year that saw a leading parliamentarian – David Rotem, head of the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee – refer to the Reform movement as “another religion” and “not Jewish.”

Despite these setbacks, 2014 also saw some key victories for the non-Orthodox movements in Israel – signs of growing, though at times begrudging, acceptance of them by the establishment. Here are the top eight:

1. State-funded rabbinical salaries: Following an eight-year legal battle, the state for the first time began paying salaries to rabbis representing the non-Orthodox movements. At this point, these salaries are paid only to rabbis serving in congregations within the purview of outlying, regional councils, rather than in major cities. This year, state salaries were paid to Reform rabbis working under the auspices of four regional councils: Gezer, Mateh Yehuda, Misgav and Hevel Ayalot. Unlike Reform rabbis, Conservative rabbis do not drive on Shabbat, and none of them live in, and are thus able to serve in congregations in such outlying areas.

But that is all about to change. Starting in 2015, the Conservative movement plans to appoint three rabbis to congregations in such locales and to apply for state funding for them.

2. Presidential recognition: In his first few and very hectic months in office, Israel’s new president, Reuven Rivlin, took the time to meet with North American leaders of both the Conservative and Reform movements. These events might not have been noteworthy, were it not for the fact that 15 years ago, the former Likud parliamentarian and Knesset speaker had referred to Reform Judaism as “idol worship and not Judaism.” In his meeting with the Reform leaders, Rivlin made amends, assuring his guests that “we are all one family.”'

President Reuven Rivlin with a delegation of Conservative Jewish leaders, Sept. 10, 2014. Photo by GPO/Mark Neiman

3. Tiny Torah trick: For two months in a row, Women of the Wall – the multi-denominational feminist group – were able to realize a 25-year-old dream of reading from a Torah scroll at the women’s section of the Western Wall. It took a bit of guile, though. Until now, all attempts by the women’s prayer group to read from a scroll at the holy site have been foiled by the Orthodox-run Western Wall Heritage Foundation, which has imposed a ban on this practice. Large Torah scrolls “smuggled in” in duffel bags on various occasions were easily detected by security guards at the entrance to the site and confiscated. So this time around, the women tried something different: They snuck in a tiny Torah. The 200-year-old scroll, measuring just 28 centimeters in length but deemed perfectly kosher, was donated specifically for this purpose by a couple from London.

Bat mitzvah girl Sasha Lutt reads from the tiny Torah scroll smuggled into the Western Wall, Oct. 24, 2014. Photo by Miriam Alster

4. First gay Conservative rabbi: Israel’s Conservative-Masorti movement got its first openly gay congregational rabbi this year, when Mikie Goldstein was installed as spiritual leader of Congregation Adat Shalom-Emanuel in Rehovot. The ordination of gays rabbis has long been a divisive issue among Conservative Jews, and it was only two years ago that the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies, which is affiliated with the movement, began admitting gay and lesbian students. Born in Liverpool, Goldstein belonged to the national-religious Bnei Akiva youth movement before moving to Israel in 1989. He has been married for the past 20 years to Isi Yanouka, a veteran diplomat who today is Israel’s ambassador to the Ivory Coast. Asked to comment on his appointment, Goldstein said that being gay was simply “not an issue.”

Rabbi Mikie Goldstein speaks at Congregation Adat Shalom Emanuel, September 2014. Photo by Facebook

5. Staking a claim in the Negev: The Reform movement this year opened its first congregation in Be'er Sheva, the capital of the Negev. It’s a city where the Conservative-Masorti movement has long had a presence and one that is expected to take off in terms of population growth, as the Israel Defense Forces moves its headquarters down there. Hoping to build on the momentum of Jewish revivalism sweeping the country, the Reform movement launched a major expansion campaign five years ago. Since then, 17 new congregations have been founded with its support, including two that specifically serve Russian speakers.

6. State funding for youth movement: Noam, the youth movement affiliated with Conservative Judaism, for the first time ever year received state funding this year, through the Ministry of Education. One of the smaller youth movements in the country, Noam has been active here for 30 years. Until now, however, it was never eligible for state funding since it did not have the critical mass of participants required to qualify. With 20 branches around Israel, Noam boasts more than 2,000 members today.

7. Easier recognition for overseas conversions: Under orders from the Supreme Court, the Ministry of Interior published for the first time this year a list of criteria for recognizing conversions performed abroad. The idea was to remove some of the major hurdles facing converts interested in moving to Israel and in applying for citizenship under the Law of Return. Until now, these converts would find themselves at the mercy of low-level Interior Ministry bureaucrats, who tended to make their rulings on a case-by-case basis. Since most conversions abroad are performed by the Conservative and Reform movements, they stand to be the main beneficiaries of these new regulations that spell out exactly what needs to be done and when, leaving little room for personal discretion.

8. Talmud lesson from female rabbi: Judith Hauptman, a Conservative rabbi and feminist, became the first guest lecturer from abroad to address the Knesset’s weekly religious study session this year. The first woman ever to earn a doctorate in Talmudic studies, Hauptman was ordained in 2003 and serves as a professor at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York. She was not the first female rabbi to address this forum, however: Paving the way was Naamah Kelman, the American-born Reform rabbi who serves today as dean of Hebrew Union College in Jerusalem.

What to watch out for in 2015

For many years, the key issues dominating the agenda of non-Orthodox movements in Israel have been changing the laws that regulate marriage and that regulate conversions. Both involve breaking the stranglehold of the Orthodox-run Rabbinate on matters of religion and state in the country. Whether the movements make progress in the coming year will depend, to a large extent, on what parties eventually make up the government formed after the March 17 election.

Another important issue for both the Conservative and Reform movements, which could be determined in the coming year, concerns regulations related to prayer at the Western Wall. Both Conservative and Reform leaders have been involved in discussions about a proposal for a new egalitarian prayer space near the existing gender-segregated areas. To date, however, no agreement has been reached with the Orthodox establishment about how this space will look.



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The World Zionist Organization will be having it's 37th Annual Congress in Jerusalem October 20-22, 2015.  Please click here to for information about the World Zionist Congress Elections and ARZENU.  Also stay tuned for updates as news about the Congress becomes available.