President-elect Rivlin: Will You Now Respect Our Reform Movement?

U.S. Reform movement president Rick Jacobs asks Israel's president-elect if he's ready to update his harsh and unenlightened views about the largest denomination in American Jewish life.

Rick Jacobs
Rick Jacobs
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Israel's newly elected President Reuven Rivlin visits the Western Wall in the Jerusalem's Old City, on June 10, 2014.
Israel's newly elected President Reuven Rivlin visits the Western Wall in the Jerusalem's Old City, on June 10, 2014.Credit: AFP
Rick Jacobs
Rick Jacobs

Dear President-elect Rivlin,

I want to offer my warm congratulations to you upon your election as the 10th president of Israel. What a tremendous opportunity you have to serve our beloved Jewish State at this critical time! In your acceptance speech, you immediately signaled that you are resigning from the Likud party to become the president of all Israelis: “Jews, Arabs, Druze, rich, poor, those who are more observant and those who are less.” I was very pleased to read these words which herald a new breadth and depth to your leadership.

I would be less than candid, however, if I did not admit to some concern about your ability and willingness to work with the largest denomination in North American Jewish life, the Reform Movement, and our Israeli counterpart, the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism. In 1989, you visited Temple Emanu-El, a Reform synagogue in New Jersey. In an interview after your visit you told a reporter from Yedioth Aharonot about your experience, where you disparaged, with stunning insensitivity, the dominant religiosity of North American Jewry, our Reform Movement.

I’m hoping that you’re ready to update your harsh and rather unenlightened views of our dynamic, serious and inspiring expression of Judaism that animates almost 900 congregations representing over a million and a half North American Jews.

Mr. President elect, we are strong, we are proud and we love the Jewish people and the State of Israel. We honor and respect the many different expressions of Judaism - from the ultra-Orthodox to secular Jews. You may not agree with everything we do or how we express our deep Jewish commitment, but please know it is no less than yours, or any of the chief rabbis. The world has too many people who have disdain or antipathy toward our people and our beloved homeland, so please do all you can to model ahavat yisrael, love of your fellow Jews.

Just a few weeks ago, I led a mission of our Union for Reform Judaism leadership. Our 50 lay leaders observed Yom Hazikaron (Memorial Day) at Mt. Herzl and spent Shabbat with our burgeoning Israeli Reform Movement in thriving congregations in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Mevasseret Zion and Gedera. We met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres, both of whom addressed our rabbis by the title "Rabbi" that they deserve (as do most Israeli leaders).

We spoke with Israel’s leaders about the many challenges facing Israel and the Jewish people. We renewed our deep commitment to Israel.

We continue to speak out for Israel no matter where we are. In fact, next week I will be addressing the Presbyterian Church’s large general assembly gathering in Detroit, Michigan, as they consider harsh boycott, divestment and sanction resolutions. I am going there to engage with them and to argue against the delegitimization of the State of Israel.

Then, I will travel from Detroit back to Israel just in time to observe Shabbat Korach in the Jerusalem neighborhood where my wife and I purchased a home during the second Intifada. We wanted a place in the holiest of cities to bring our children to and we wanted to express our commitment to Israel especially in the darkest of days.

This summer, thousands of our Reform Movement’s young people and families will be arriving to study, to take part in tikkun olam service programs, for touring, and for Birthright and NFTY (our North American Youth Movement, the North American Federation of Temple Youth) trips. Upon their return they will become some of Israel’s best ambassadors as they spread knowledge, appreciation and support for the Jewish State. I hope they do not hear harsh or delegitimizing words about their Jewish lives from Israeli politicians in the Knesset or in the president’s residence that would have an adverse impact on their growing love for an Israel where they can see their own identity fully realized.

I, and our entire Movement, stand ready to work with you to strengthen our people and our Jewish State. I also hope you will accept my invitation to visit our thriving congregations, our academies of higher Jewish learning, our 14 overnight summer camps, the largest Jewish camp system in the world, teeming with young Jews living exuberant and committed Jewish lives.

President Elect Rivlin, yours is an awesome responsibility to represent the State of Israel to supporters and detractors alike. May the Holy One who blessed and sustained our ancestors bless you, and may you find new room in your heart for our extraordinary Movement which stands ready to partner with you to help Israel be a beacon of tolerance and light to all people.


Rabbi Rick Jacobs

Rabbi Jacobs is president of the Union of Reform Judaism, the largest movement of organized Jewry in North America and affiliated with the Israel Religious Action Center and the Israel Movement of Progressive Judaism.

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