Washington Hebrew Comes Together to Conclude the Conversation

This past year, we, as a congregation, came together to discuss the reality and future of Israel, Zionism, and Jewish identity. We asked ourselves: What is my Promised Land? Can Israel be a Jewish and democratic state?

More than 1,000 of us answered Rabbi Lustig’s Kol Nidre call to action that “conversation is a form of prayer.” At our opening event in November, we were joined by 1,200 congregants at services and 450 at our “pray and stay” community dinner. Over 500 members of our community participated in our 29 book club style conversations, and over 1,000 people joined us for our Keynote series. With civility and passion, we studied together, creating an open and honest dialogue, community, and a collective hope!

On Friday, June 5 we celebrated the culmination of our reading of Ari Shavit’s My Promised Land with a special Shabbat service, “pray and stay” community dinner, and siyum sefer.

Ari Shavit returned to Temple to help us conclude our eight-month-long Congregational Conversations program. Speaking on the 48th anniversary of the beginning of the Six-Day War, Shavit stood on the bimah and urged us to remember the human story behind Israel’s successes and failures, and he spoke in frank terms about the “cloud” hanging over Israel caused by the “blindness” on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The past year has been a difficult one for Jews around the world. Unsettling events have rattled our community, from the unrest and rocket fire that accompanied last July’s Israel-Gaza conflict to the Paris terrorist attack.

“It is as if the tragedy I talked about in the book came out of the pages and played itself out again,” said Shavit.

Shavit also offered a stark view of the current situation with young Jews as they struggle with the tension between their liberal identities and what’s currently happening in Israel.

At our “pray and stay” community dinner following services, 300 congregants joined us for a siyum sefer moderated by Rabbi Bruce Lustig featuring Shavit; David Harris, executive director of AJC; and Rabbi Uri Regev; president and CEO of Hiddush-Freedom of Religion for Israel.

Our three panelists engaged in a deep, intellectual discussion tackling topics including the implications of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement (BDS), preventing Israel from becoming an issue of the American political left or right, and keeping young American Jews from being alienated by current events happening in Israel.

“The good news,” said Harris, “is that America overall remains a resounding pro-Israel country. The bad news is that…the adversaries understand that they cannot fundamentally drive a wedge between the U.S. and Israel today, but their goal is tomorrow….to shape the outlook of the graduating classes in the elite institutions in this country whose members will be informing public policy and foreign policy in the decades ahead.”

Elaborating on his earlier statements about young American Jews, Shavit stated, “90% of these youngsters are Obama democrats, whether you like it or don’t like it, this is it. So you have to deal with their world. You have to translate our message to what is relevant for them. I think that if we don’t do that, the avalanche might be very serious.”

Shavit continued, “I have overwhelming evidence…that if you tell the Israel story and you put the Jewish case in the right terms, the right kind of context, you can win minds and hearts. But if we do not, I think we are betraying ourselves and are endangering ourselves.”

All three speakers raised concerns over the issue of equality for Jews and non-Jews within Israel – an issue of great concern for the Reform Movement and our congregation.

“The narrative that we should aspire to fully realize is right there in Israel’s Declaration of Independence,” Regev said, “which speaks of the State of Israel being based on the precepts of liberty, justice, and peace as taught by the Hebrew prophets; upholding both social and political equality to all regardless of religion, gender, or race; ensuring freedom of religion, conscience, culture, education, etc.”

Harris added, “If we see a hemorrhaging of young Jews, who look at the state and can’t identify with the state because they don’t feel legitimized or validated as a Jew, they feel their identity questioned as a Jew, if they see Israelis going to Cyprus to get married in order to return to Israel with valid marriages they couldn’t achieve in Israel itself, something is seriously wrong. And we have a profound stake in making it right.”

Click Here to View our Concluding Conversation Photo Gallery