Insights into Israeli politics and culture brought to you by JSO’s Israel Chair, Dan Osburn. Did you know that the character of “Glen Coco” in the movie Mean Girls was inspired by Dan? True story.
Religious Freedom in Israel: Making it a Reality, Not Just an Ideal
Presentation By Rabbi Miri Gold
On Tuesday, October 23rd, Mizzou Hillel welcomed a unique guest speaker with a poignant perspective on the reform and progressive Jewish movements in Israel and the world. Rabbi Miri Gold who serves as the Rabbi of Kehilat Birkat Shalom, a reform synagogue based at Kibbutz Gezer located in between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, spoke to an audience of college students and community members Tuesday night. After a ruling by the Israeli Attorney General this past May, Rabbi Gold is the first non-orthodox Rabbi to be paid by the State of Israel. This is a result of a seven-year fight by the Israel Religious Action Center in the Israeli Supreme Court.
Rabbi Gold spoke to about her path from growing up in Detroit to becoming an important figure in the Reform Movement in Israel. She first visited the State of Israel in 1966 as part of the USY Israel Pilgrimage Program and again in 1969. She noted the profound patriotism of the country during her second visit after the successes of the ’67 Six Day War allowed Jews once again enter the Old City and pray at the Western Wall. Rabbi Gold and her husband then made Aliyah to Israel to Kibbutz Gezer where they continue to live now.
The Rabbi drew some comparisons between being Jewish in the United States and Israel. She said that she never felt uncomfortable or unsafe being Jewish in the United States but she was perturbed when conflicts would arise that made her choose between observing her Judaism and attending, for example, an important football game. She found it was simply much easier to be Jewish in Israel. The other comparison though is that while it may be easier to observe Judaism in the land of Israel, many people see there only being two options for Israelis: practicing Orthodox Judaism or being completely secular. In the United States, there is a greater spectrum of ways people practice Judaism. The Rabbi indicated that it is one of the goals of the Reform Movement in Israel to bridge that gap between the Ultra Orthodox and the secular Jews.
Much like the Rabbi’s path from a Jewish American from Detroit to a Rabbi in Israel, Rabbi Gold spoke about the development of the reform movement in Israel. Currently called the Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism, the reform movement has looked to have more of a footing in Israeli culture. Accordingly to Rabbi Gold, today, there are nearly 10,000 Israelis associated with the reform movement and approximately 35 to 40 reform communities across the country. Their main goal is to provide options for Jews who don’t want to practice Orthodox Judaism but still want to be Jewish. To expand the movement, the Rabbi and various reform organizations are working to connect with the secular Jews. They are doing this by creating preschools and education outlets that instill reform values in young Israelis.
Another part of the process to expand the Reform Movement in Israel that the Rabbi discussed was changing the Orthodox leanings of the Israeli government. The Chief Rabbinate of Israel is recognized by law as the spiritual authority for Jewish people. This position in the Israeli government has long been dominated by Orthodox traditions and values which in turn dictates the standard of religion for the entire country. For the Reform Movement to have a bigger impact on Jewish culture in Israel, Rabbi Gold says there will need to be reform and a change in attitude within the Knesset and the Rabbinate Council.
Overall, Rabbi Miri Gold’s talk was an eye opening perspective on the status of the Reform and Progress Movements in Israel and the experiences of being a female Rabbi in country that is locked in many religious traditions.