Op-Ed Columns Opinion

New Reform head is friend of Israel

Rabbi Robert Orkand

I read with great sadness and considerable anger the editorial in the May 6 Jewish Ledger by Carol Greenwald, Ph.D., about the selection of Rabbi Richard Jacobs as President of the Union for Reform Judaism. By printing an editorial without checking the facts, the Ledger is simply repeating half-truths and insinuation and is, in the process, contributing to a smear campaign directed at a good and decent man and to the sowing of dissent within the Reform movement at a time when coming together is critical.
The tragedy in all of this is the fact that increasingly a litmus test is being applied to anyone who claims to be a supporter of Israel.  If one is in any way affiliated with so-called left-wing organizations, such as JStreet or New Israel Fund, that automatically makes that individual anti-Israel and writes him or her out of the Zionist camp.  If one has criticized policies of the State of Israel—policies that are routinely debated in Israel itself—he or she is unfit for recognition by a major university, as recently happened to noted playwright Tony Kushner.
What in the world is happening to us? Are we so afraid of dissent that we are willing to alienate good and honest people who have found their own ways to engage with Israel? Israel has enough enemies without creating new ones, but this time within the Jewish community. If we want to alienate young Jews, this is the way to do so, for they are already turned off by a message which says that one either supports Israel.
As the president of the Association of Reform Zionists of America, I have learned that people have found many ways to engage with Israel.  Some promote travel. Some are involved in organizations that deal with social needs within the Jewish state. And some have become involved with political organizations of every type.  By what right do we decide that one’s involvement with an organization with which we may disagree somehow makes that individual an enemy of Israel? What chutzpah!
I have known Rabbi Richard Jacobs for many years. I have found him to be a passionate and articulate ohaiv Yisrael, a lover of Israel. He speaks Hebrew fluently. He takes time every year to study in Jerusalem. He and his family have purchased an apartment there. And, he cares passionately about the social needs of the people of Israel and has worked diligently to make sure those needs are met. Yes, he has been involved with JStreet and the New Israel Fund because he believes that there needs to be a place where dissent can be heard, but he has not hesitated to speak out against the decisions of either organization when he feels that is necessary.  He also understands that upon assuming the Presidency of the URJ it will be necessary for him to devote all his time to his new role, including support of ARZA, the Reform movement’s Zionist organization, and the many ways the URJ is engaged with Israel. In short, Rabbi Jacobs is one of the most ardent Zionists I know.
I hope that Ledger readers can understand that Israel‘s primary threat today comes from those who would delegitimize her and worse. What Israel does not need are those who would sow dissention within the Jewish community. Driving us apart plays into the hands of Israel’s many enemies. I am afraid that this editorial, without rebuttal, does just that.

Rabbi Robert Orkand is spiritual leader of Temple Israel in Westport and president of ARZA.

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