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With the Israeli holidays of Yom HaShoah, Yom HaZikaron and Yom HaAtzmaut behind us, as Jews and Reform Zionists we rejoice in celebrating our beloved Israel at 71 and the miracle of the return of our people to the land of our ancestors, yet with tears in our eyes.
Israelis experienced an escalation of violence and more terrorism after Gaza militants fired almost 700 rockets into Israel, killing four Israelis and injuring over 200 Israelis during the first weekend of May. It was the bloodiest fighting there since 2014. We admire the defiance of Israeli communities in the South who have been subject to rocket attacks for nearly two decades. We mourn with all the grieving and suffering on both sides.
At the same time, we celebrate the strength and resilience of all Israelis. The population in the South continues to grow. Indeed statistics show the population of Israel has increased by 2% since last year growing to 9 million, with 45% of world Jewry now living in Israel, and the population expected to reach 15.2 million by 2048. Today, Jews around the world are able to both live in and visit Israel.
We at ARZA CANADA remain resolute and steadfast in our work to help create a homeland for all Jews, where all Jews feel welcome. We are unwavering in our work to help build an Israel that is both Jewish and democratic. We are the voice of the Canadian Reform Movement relating to social policies in Israel. These include working to break the monopoly of the orthodox rabbinate on matters like civil marriage and divorce, equality for women, state salaries for Reform rabbis and access to the Kotel. More about this in the articles below.
One crucial way for us to do so is by actively supporting the work and growth of the Israel Reform Movement (IMPJ) and its legal arm, Israel Religious Action Centre (IRAC). We do this in many ways including partnering with Reform congregations in Israel. The need is heightened by the results of the April 9 Israel elections and the recent terrorist rocket attacks from Gaza. The ultra-right forces in the Israeli political system are being strengthened just as Prime Minister Netanyahu is engaged in negotiations with potential coalition partners about the composition of the next government. May Israel’s founding vision not be drowned out by religious extremism and back-room negotiations.
On a personal note, I have previously shared that I am part of a holocaust survivor family. I was excited to participate at the amazing Yom HaShoah event at Holy Blossom Temple in Toronto on May 1 focusing on The Tailor Project. My father was one of the tailors brought to Canada from the DP Camp where I was born. The Tailor Project is a unique Canadian Jewish story that is now being told and needs to be celebrated. Prime Minister Trudeau was guest speaker at the event. I was honoured to have him shake my hand as one of the Tailor Project families. My late parents are truly my inspiration.
President, ARZA CANADA
Religious Freedom - What's important to Israelis
Rabbi Dow Marmur, citing a survey conducted by Israeli organization Hiddush, reports that four fundamental concerns for Israelis are:
(1) Availability of public transit on Shabbat,
(2) Recognition of civil marriage and divorce,
(3) Enlistment of yeshiva students in the IDF,
(4) High government subsidies to yeshivas and religious institutions.
Hiddush encourages liberal Jews in the Diaspora to show unity with Israelis on these issues as a way to both promote social progress in Israel, and create a bond with progressive Israelis. Taking a strong stand on these issues is more effective in engaging Israelis than focusing on issues of interest mainly to Diaspora Jews, such as equality at the Kotel.
Here's a link to Rabbi Marmur's commentary.
And here's additional background on these four topics.
Stuck at home on Shabbat
The most needy Israelis, who can't afford private transportation, are the most affected by the absence of public transportation on Shabbat. But any attempt to change the status quo is met with threats by ultra-Orthodox coalition partners to bring down the government.
Here's an example, where the Transportation Ministry's attempt to build a pedestrian bridge over the Ayalon Expressway on Saturdays, to avoid closing the highway on weekdays, became a major battle among government coalition factions.
In a ray of hope, the mayor of Tiberias launched free Shabbat bus service in his city, over the protests of the ultra-Orthodox. He called the mayors of other cities "cowards" for not doing the same.
Civil marriage: Israelis marry in US to bypass Chief Rabbinate
As part of an ongoing protest by Israelis against the Orthodox monopoly on marriage, 3 Israeli couples who would not qualify for Orthodox marriage in Israel, were married in a Reform synagogue in Washington, DC.
The couples gave their views just before their weddings, in this video.
The weddings are on YouTube. The first 4 minutes are comments by Rabbi Gilad Kariv (President, Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism), Rabbi Rick Jacobs (President, Union for Reform Judaism), and Anat Hoffman (Director, Israel Religious Action Center).
A billboard calls for equality in marriage, and civil marriages.
Enlistment of Haredim - the battle most likely to break the coalition
The question of IDF service by Haredim is also an issue that divides secular and ultra-Orthodox factions within the governing coalition. Secular Israelis resent that yeshiva students don't "share the burden" of military service.
Haredi youth protest IDF recruitment targets for the ultra-Orthodox, calling them religious persecution and "secular coercion".
Are ultra-Orthodox a drag on the economy?
With the growth of the ultra-Orthodox sector, and success of ultra-Orthodox parties in the recent election, Israelis are concerned of the economic impact - both from the heavy subsidization of yeshivas and religious institutions, and from the lack of a modern, secular education that Haredi students receive.
Israel at 71
In honour of Israel's 71st birthday - a statistical snapshot of a remarkable country.
A positive note: "A Tribe of Brothers and Sisters"
In an effort to counteract the divisiveness of the recent election campaign, where the rhetoric sank to new depths, 35 popular singers recorded a song promoting unity among Israelis.
The song's title - A Tribe of Brothers and Sisters - Shevet Achim va'Achayot - is a play on words. The word for tribe, shevet, can also mean "sit" (with slightly different spelling). So "shevet achim" in the title is also a reference to the song Hinei Ma Tov - how nice when brothers sit together! Click here to watch the video.
Photos from the visit of Anat Hoffman to Temple Sinai, April 2019
Rabbi Michael Dolgin of Temple Sinai with Anat Hoffman, Director, Israel Religious Action Center
Anat Hoffman with members of the Board of ARZA Canada
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