Reform Zionism: Rooted in Caring for Ourselves & Caring for the Other

Rabbi Jill Maderer wrote this article for the November RS Bulletin.

I recently had the joy of co-leading a discussion in our 6th grade, along with Rabbi Freedman, during Berkman Mercaz Limud. Our topic was theology and the students raised a common question: is God good? I was struck by the nuance of the conversation that followed. The students opined that God could not be good because what’s good to one person or side, is not good to the next person or side. Inherent in their understanding of God’s role in our lives was the notion that our lives are different. Our perspectives are different.

I left that conversation with faith that the world will be a better place because these kids are in it and that they have much to teach us all.

I believe the framework of much of the conversation about Israel is hindered by an imposed need to take sides and to see only one perspective. As if one side is right, the other wrong. Is there a place where we can see the truth in more than one side? I don’t mean to say we should be centrist, although that is one legitimate approach to thinking. I mean can we feel strongly, passionately, about truths that exist in more than one camp?

I feel strongly, passionately about Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people, its spiritual center, its historical center, and its center as a modern expression of Jewish life. I believe Israel’s existence and security are critical to the survival of the Jewish people. I feel proud of Israel’s accomplishments in technology, agriculture, medicine, and bridge-building for people from all religions and backgrounds. And I feel proud of Israel’s exceptional approach to medical ethics as the nation that medically treats its enemy and travels to areas of the globe in crisis to provide relief. As a Jew, Israel is my people, my place, my roots.

I feel strongly, passionately, about the dignity, opportunity, education, and needs of the Palestinian people and other Arab neighbors. I believe a Two-State solution, that is, two states for two peoples, is the way to ensure self-determination for both nations. I oppose the Occupied Territories and long to see Israeli and Palestinian leadership find a way to end the occupation and ensure security and statehood for both. Our Jewish values mandate that a civilization centered in Judaism must also care for others.

Much of our public rhetoric hardly allows for both camps to be rooted in truth. But really, I only trust a voice about the Middle East if that person can speak of the anti-Semitism of the Holocaust AND the alienation of the Palestinians. I only trust a teacher if that person can recognize that Israel is called out by the United Nations for human rights violations in a way that is disproportionate to any other nation that is reprimanded AND the unjust life of the Palestinian who lives in poverty and insecurity. I only trust a thinker who understands that BDS is not about the methodology of Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions as it does not protest a policy of Israel; it protests the existence of Israel AND who understands that Israel’s technological advances mean little if it remains an occupier.

There is truth in both camps. And there are a few places I am finding the education I can trust that brings me the complex, multi-voiced truths. My teacher, Rabbi Eric Yoffie, former president of the Union for Reform Judaism, is my trusted teacher. Deeply committed both to Israel and to justice, he does not sacrifice the message of one side for the argument of the other; his position is whole. For me, this is Reform Zionism.

Our congregation is privileged to be welcoming Rabbi Yoffie as our Scholar-in-Residence on November 15-17, sponsored by the Joseph W. Rosenbluth Fund. With us, Rabbi Yoffie will explore commitment, political struggle, and challenging questions about our loyalties, our relationship, the Jewish people, and Jewish values.