Rabbi Sharon Sobel and her dear friend, MK Rabbi Gilad Kariv
I am an ardent Zionist: my paternal grandmother was the president of her chapter of Hadassah and made me a life member when I was seven years old, long before this was common for young children. My parents took us to New York City to march in Israel pride parades and instilled within us the concept of “ahavat Yisrael” – love of Israel from the time we were young. The summer after I celebrated Bat Mitzvah, I took my Bat Mitzvah gifts, and used them to go on a 7-week teen tour of Israel and I was hooked! My next visit would take place not long after: I finished high school in three years and then spent one year prior to starting college on a kibbutz-ulpan program in the Jezreel Valley. My first year of rabbinical school was at HUC-JIR in Jerusalem. I served as the Executive Director of ARZA Canada – the Zionist arm of the Canadian Reform Movement, teaching about Israel, raising awareness about issues, raising funds for the Israeli Reform Movement (the IMPJ) and building bridges between the Canadian Reform Movement and the IMPJ. I have led trips, facilitated think tanks and panel discussions, organized the WZC elections in Canada and visited Israel over 30+ times. For me, Israel is my “other home.” I share this with you in hopes you understand the depth and breadth of my love for and understanding of our Jewish homeland. Israel is part of my soul.
I just returned from nine days in Israel for the Reform rabbis annual convention (it takes place in Israel every seven years). I’ve been in Israel during complicated times before, however this time felt different. Despite the fact that “the people spoke” and voted in the new government in November, Israel’s parliamentary system of government is unique. The people had no idea that the consequences of Binyamin Netanyahu’s coalition would be so extreme, so ultra right-wing, so painfully difficult.
The protests against the judicial changes proposed by Netanyahu are massive. The proposed changes would limit the rights of women, non-religious Jews, LGBTQ+, Arabs, people with disabilities and so much more. They would increase the rights of the police. They would take away any semblance of balance to the Supreme Court as a system of “checks and balances” in Israel’s government. The changes are all about the concept of “power.”
As my dear friend, Member of Knesset (and rabbi and lawyer) Gilad Kariv said: “The strength of these protests is that they are not being led by one player. The protests are non-centralized, huge and they are bringing people together from all sectors of society.” Pilots refusing to fly, women in red (to symbolize the woman in Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale”) marching every week and forming “red line” from coast-to-coast across the country, hundreds of thousands every motza’ei Shabbat (Saturday evening) in the streets, every week – “days of disruption” – when schools, businesses, everything shuts down so people can march in protest, to protect the notion of Israel as a free and democratic country.
The situation is very complex and these are complicated, difficult, and painful times. I met with friends from all sides of the political spectrum who live in Israel and listened to their thoughts, feelings and ideas. We (the rabbis) heard from government leaders, scholars, educators and social justice workers. I spent time in the Israeli communities on the border of Gaza, in the Arab communities in East Jerusalem, with my friend Rabbi Nir Barkin, the Senior Rabbi of Kehilat Yozma in Modi’in. We prayed with Women of the Wall, marched in protests, observed and took it all in.
We also celebrated all that is good and beautiful about life in Israel: we celebrated Shabbat with thriving Reform communities throughout Israel, walked/ran in the Tel Aviv marathon, hiked in the Jerusalem hills, ate delicious food in fantastic restaurants, enjoyed uplifting cultural and art experiences in Jaffa, Sha’ar Ha’Negev, Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, met up with friends and family who live there and so much more.
My biggest takeaway from this experience: Israel should be important to us as Jews no matter where we live in the world. Israel’s existence as a democratic and Jewish state is being existentially threatened in ways it has never been threatened before. As Jews in North America, our friends in Israel are relying on us, asking us, pleading with us to do our part to help keep Israel a Jewish and democratic country. They are asking us to use our voices to speak up to our members of congress, to our elected officials, to our diplomats in Israel and to voice our concerns.
For the sake of Zion, we cannot stay silent.
Please join me tonight when I will explain more about the proposed judicial reforms, reflect on my trip, share some of my experiences and offer and opportunity for a Q and A.
Rabbi Sharon L. Sobel
Senior Rabbi, Temple Beth Sholom