IMPJ Chairperson’s Speech – Biennial 2018
Dear members of the IMPJ and its congregations, guests and dignitaries,
In this week’s portion of the Torah we read, “Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Speak to Aaron and say to him, ‘When you mount the lamps, the seven lamps will give light in the front of the lampstand.’” This was a magnificent Menorah, it was a “hammered work of gold; from its base to its flowers it was hammered work; according to the pattern which the Lord had shown Moses, so he made the lampstand.” This Menorah later became the state symbol of the State of Israel, and in its very modern and up to date form, also the logo of the Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism, which we have adopted in our convention some six years ago. It is designed to not simply be a seven-candle lampstand that sheds light on its surroundings but rather a Menorah that embraces and hugs in ever growing layers. It is this Menorah that we must continue to cultivate, make sure that it continues to shine, and be reflected in what we do. It is a Menorah that symbolizes our adoption of tradition and our rejection of the notion that we must surrender under its weight. Rather, we have to wrestle with it wisely, appropriately and intelligently.
Each of the candles may symbolize a unique challenge. I will address seven of them briefly today referring to our youth, young adults, peoplehood, and Tikkun Olam, as well as three objectives which we must pursue, growth (Tsmicha), funding (Memun) and recognition (Hakara) – an acronym in Hebrew that is pronounced Tsama. After several difficult years to our youth movement we have decided that the time has come for significant change. The youth movement is a life artery of the movement and from time to time fundamental changes are necessary in order to face challenges. Under the leadership of Nadav and Einat we are seeing new fruits growing on this special earth. For example, we are experiencing growth in the number of participants in various trips and summer camp. This was made possible by a contribution of our one year service (shin-shin) youngsters who worked in Haifa and from Haifa to build and strengthen the workings of our Telem youth movement. Another layer of activity is that of our pre-military prep program, the Mekhina, where we now have an extension in Holon in addition to the one operating in Jaffa. Our young adults’ activity, Tlamim – furrows, is not simply grooves in a field but rather is flourishing with growth in several places throughout the country. And if we go even broader we will find the blessed cooperation with youth and young adults from abroad, including our activities within the National Institutions. This energy emitting from these groups of young people changes the world and the decision making processes. You will find them all in this biennial, the youth of Telem, the Shinshinim, the youngsters of the Mekhina, and young adults from Israel and abroad.
Peoplehood, this understanding that we are part of something which is greater than just our family, or community, our movement, or State, but an integral part of the Jews, those who live here or elsewhere, is also a focus area for us. It must become bidirectional where we have to make our views clear and known as well as listen; we must share our experience, and learn from the experience of others. We achieve part of this thanks to a blessed cooperation with the Ministry of Diaspora Affairs in the Domim-aLike project that matches congregations in Israel with communities abroad. Other efforts take place through cooperation with our partners in the Zionist Institutions, World Zionist Organization, The Jewish National Fund – KKL, and the Jewish Agency, as well as our friends and supporters. Through the activities of Arzenu, the political arm of the Reform Movement at-large, we are promoting the discourse of young and veteran leaders so that we may achieve even more in the future. Another aspect of peoplehood is demonstrated by over seventy guests from some nine countries who have come to join us in the international track of our Veida. Welcom!
Tikkun Olam is a candle we must raise high, may be a center candle of our activities. It is a candle that demands from us day and night to open our eyes and look around, not overlook the sorrows of others, the difficulty of the stranger, the collapse of those who are different. One can always do more, even at times when we have no choice but make decisions as to what we can do at any given time. Resources may be limited, time is short, and work is in abundance. Nevertheless we must strive to find the time, the resources and capabilities to fix at least something. Tikkun Olam means that we use our abilities to the benefit of those who seek refuge and need recognition of the disasters they have experienced; Tikkun Olam is the multifaceted operation of our very own Keren BeKavod that provides for the communal, educational and humanitarian needs to a variety of communities and unique groups; Tikkun Olam is the continued struggle in favor of those discriminated in marriage, divorce, child adoption, and conversion; Tikkun Olam is providing life solutions for persons with disabilities that should be living within the community and we proud to announce that recently IMPJ received a permission from the State to do so; Tikkun Olam is helping congregations in need through periods of roughing dire straits; Tikkun Olam requires us to be attentive to the needs of world Jewry and be there for them, whether it is when Camp Newman went ablaze in the California forest fires last year, or when hate crimes strike a community. We have to make a Tikkun, a fix, and then continue to the next place that is of need of fixing, to provide light where it is dark.
For all of this to happen we must kindle three more lights, those which I call in Hebrew Tsama – Tsadi, Mem, Heh – that is for growth, funding and recognition. During the last decade we have concentrated on growth that focused on increasing the number of congregations and membership therein. During this coming decade we shall have to focus on a different type of growth. This is a growth that will strengthen exiting communities, letting them grow new and stronger branches that will allows them to fulfil the Movement’s vision. In an in-depth opinion poll that we have conducted it was determined that over 50% of secular Jews, and almost 40% of traditionalist Jews, partook in a lifecycle event officiated by a Reform or Conservative rabbi. Even orthodox and Haerdi Jews, 18% and 11% respectively, had such experiences. This is a great achievement of our mission that called for “significant increase of the number of Israeli involved in Reform and pluralistic Jewish experiences, with an emphasis on ongoing and long-term involvement manifested in a commitment to the movement’s ideals and involvement in its communities and projects.” We have also found out that roughly half of those secular and traditional Jews surveyed, surely our target audience, had no idea whether there is a Reform synagogue in the town in which they live in. As part of our growth efforts we shall have to change this.
The candle of funding is paramount to long term success. Between the years 2014 and 2018 the annual budget of the Movement increase by some 38% and is now about 26.9 million Israeli New Sheqels. These funds have to be generate year by year from a variety of sources. Some of this budget is provided for from the Israeli government, mostly from the Ministry of Diaspora Affairs and the Ministry of Culture Affairs. There is no doubt though that the funding from the Israeli government falls short of equal funding to the non-orthodox streams operating in Israel. This is an injustice that must be corrected. Other funds are raised from Jewish Federations and other organizations, mostly from abroad. It is important to recognize and thank the World Union, the URJ, and the various ARZA branches for their continued significant support. It is time for us to also do for ourselves. This year’s budget calls for raising 250 thousand sheqels here in Israel. For us it is a life line and we must begin this process now. It will allow us to better support our own communities and in the long run to also be there when we shall have to take responsibility to communities outside of Israel. As the issue of funding is of great importance to the Movement, our board is delighted to announce that it has adopted a resolution that calls for the founding of the International Advisory Council to the IMPJ. Membership on this council shall be limited and shall target those donors who are committed to significant increase in their donations over an at least three years period. Heading the council initially shall be Joan Garson and yours truly. The members shall be from Israel and from abroad and will be enjoy in-depth updates about our activities here, and will share with us their advice and comments as to our activities in Israel and abroad. This way we can increase our financial and non-financial support that will complement other activities of the movement.
The candle of recognition is certainly dim, sometimes refusing to be kindled, sometimes just not burning at all. It may remind us of Ehud Manor’s song, “Here Here Here / a tune that begins down low / a melody beginning in E flat / but yearns, it yearns to grow / to A flat, F minor / seeks a passage / And here it ascends, it lifts.” Yes, it started down low, it started sadly. Once, when I was a youngster, some reckless member of Knesset slammed a Reform prayer book onto the Knesset floor. Few people in Israel knew then who the Reform are or what they stood for, nor did they understand what it was all about. Some will say that today we face more of this kind arrogance and rudeness. Maybe this is the case; however, we are not speaking in low voices any longer. We may be looking for a passage, but it is one more passage, a wider one, not just a crack in the wall. You all know, I have spoken of this many a times, we have a long way to go, at times we must run, sometimes walk, at times breathless, sometimes calm. But we are a Movement, we walk forward, and despite their wicked intents of those who caused the agreement on the Kotel to collapse, the attempts to control Kashrut, conversions, marriage and divorce, we will prevail. Ehud Manor said this so eloquently: “I had no idea that it will run away / I did not anticipate it will fly so far away”. Those who were here five decades ago know that we are in a very different place today. Some have dreamed so that we could be here today. It is our duty to dream about our Movement fifty years from now.
Recognition requires efforts. It requires that we will be willing to demand clearly and unequivocally that which we lawfully deserve. That which any citizen in a democracy deserves, especially in a country which wants to be Jewish and Democratic. After the High Holy Days we will enter an election period to the local municipalities and regional councils. In this sphere of activity we have achieved some fine results and therefore encourage our members to partake in these activities. You should register and demand your rights, influence. Our Movement is non-partisan nor is it affiliated with or supports a particular party. We call upon every one of you that considers the Reform Movement near and dear, to influence the election process, to cause changes in platforms of candidates so that they align with the Movement’s vision, to monitor the election process and then hold elected officials accountable. This is also true for the elections to the Knesset, those will surely come, even though we are not yet sure if they will be pulled forward or not. We must get ready and get involved in the parties which each supports and influence them so that pluralism, equality and peace are clearly part of their vision too. The Movement will organize itself to assist those who will decide to take an active role with materials and information so that that the race towards recognition and influence be understood, accessible and well prepared.
So that a Menorah will glow it needs men and women to service it. Our Menorah is serviced by a wonderful group of people from all around the country. My colleagues and friends of the board of IMPJ, the board of the Mekhina, and other boards of the Movement’s many affiliated organizations. It glows due to the work of the people attending the general assembly who participate in the due process of management of the movement. Special thanks go to our dedicated audit committee that must check and report. A special thank you from the bottom of my heart goes to our professionals that are led by the very talented Rabbi and lawyer Gilad Kariv. He is now celebrating ten years in office, years during which all that I have spoken about and that which is yet to happen is run under his management.
Upon reading this week’s portion of the Torah one may conclude that the Menorah is material only. In the Haftarah from the book of Zechariah the prophet see “a lampstand all of gold with its bowl on the top of it, and its seven lamps on it with seven spouts belonging to each of the lamps which are on the top of it”. The angel speaking to him asks him if he understands what he see and then explains to him, “’Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit’ says the Lord of hosts.” The Menorah is not really the gold or its physical manifestation but the light emitted from it. That is the light that changes reality, pulls it out of the depths of the worst darkness towards a brilliant future. If we will learn to see and listen, wisely work together, our journey shall be a success.
Thanks to all of you who came to celebrate the IMPJ’s Veida! God Bless you all.
Reuven Marko, IMPJ chairperson
18 Sivan 5778, 1 June 2018