Good-bye Marilyn, Hello Rabbi Miri Gold

Back in the United States, Rabbi Miri Gold's mother supported Israel without ever thinking her kids might end up living there. Her home environment was "always supportive of Israel ... but in the Diaspora way, not by living there."

Back in the United States, Rabbi Miri Gold's mother supported Israel without ever thinking her kids might end up living there. Her home environment was "always supportive of Israel ... but in the Diaspora way, not by living there."

Two trips here as a youth dramatically altered her relationship with Israel, a connection which today is reflected in the community congregation she founded over five years ago - Kehilat Birkat Shalom.

Her first experience, at 16, brought her closer to Jewish prayers and rituals. "The full Jewish life" she experienced later during her junior college year abroad was decisive to her future. She then decided to give up her all-American name - Marilyn - and took on the name Miri, a shortened version of her biblical name, Miriam.

In 1977, Gold left her Detroit home for Israel, determined to follow her ideals. She joined a group of a dozen young people settling on Kibbutz Gezer. Although she had doubts about how she could use her philosophy degree in the community, Gold always felt comfortable with the kibbutz way of life.

At the kibbutz, Gold took charge of the absorption of new immigrants in the kibbutz, bringing her closer to pastoral functions, as she gradually took on more responsibilities at the kibbutz synagogue, in what she calls "para-rabbinic" activities.

For Gold, the mission she carried out with Diaspora Jews is different to her relations with Jewish Israelis as a rabbi today. Instead of bringing Jews closer to the land, Gold is now bringing traditions closer to Israelis, presenting them with new options, showing "there is more than one way to be Jewish." She sees a great need to reach out to Israeli secular Jews, which is reflected in the special Sabbath, holidays and bar or bat mitzvah ceremonies she leads in her congregation.

Three years ago, Gold was ordained a rabbi by the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism (IMPJ) becoming the third woman rabbi ever ordained in the country. The teachings offered by the movement went along Gold's beliefs of religious tolerance: "Not religious coercion, but showing possible options," as well as greater equality for women: "Not affirmative action, but the right to have a choice."

Today, her rabbinic role includes responding to the needs of the changing realities of Israeli society, namely the growing population of non-halakhic Jews in Israel (Jews who are not strictly Jewsih according to religious law). "There is a whole category of people left in limbo. We have to find a solution for them," Rabbi Gold says.

As a Reform rabbi, Gold feels she is able to stand up for more pluralism in Judaism and in Israeli society in the face of "the problematic Orthodox rule in Israel," which, she says, "is depriving some Israeli people of basic civil rights."

As a part time immigration counselor at the AACI, Gold feels she is also continuing her rabbinic role. "Just being a sympathetic ear" for newcomers is definitely connected to her conception of rabbinical functions.

But this position also allows Gold to fulfill her Zionist duties, namely, helping North American families to immigrate in order to "contribute to the plurality of the State of Israel." In her sense, "secular and modern Orthodox immigrants" are essential to strengthen pluralism and religious tolerance, which she feels is lacking in society today.

Gold seems to have succeeded in some of her goals by gaining formal recognition of the Gezer regional council, and expanding the reach of her congregation to local moshavim and cities (Ramle, Lod, Neveh Shalom), in a traditionally Orthodox area. In the light of changing realities of Israeli society and rigid Orthodoxy, "there is space for Jewish communities like Kehilat Birkat Shalom," she says, ready to face the challenge.