By Erin Boxt | @ Rabbi Boxt and Rabbi Lebow of Kol Emeth
Israel — the homeland of the Jews, the Promised Land, Eretz Yisrael, Ha-Aretz. As a kid, I always envisioned what Israel would be like. I saw the many posters in my synagogue. I watched the videos and read the stories. When I first traveled to Israel in 1999, what I experienced I could not have been prepared for. There were modern buildings. We had dinner in a mall. Israel was just like America in so many ways. As a tourist, I was in awe at the beauty and wonder of Israel. Sixteen years later, I am still in awe at the wonder that is Israel, but I am also keenly aware of the challenges and questions facing Israelis every day.
While I was living in Israel in 2007, I took a taxi with a few of my friends to go to the mall. As was usually the case, the driver started to ask us about our visit to Israel. When one of my friends, a female cantoral student, remarked she was studying to be a Chazanit, the driver stopped his cab, yelled that there was no such thing as a female Chazan, and kicked us out. This story is a clear example of some of the questions and challenges facing Israel, even today.
Rabbi Miri Gold earned the dual distinction of being the first female AND the first non-Orthodox rabbi to receive a paycheck from the state of Israel as a rabbi. Anat Hoffman, often seen being arrested at the Western Wall for her leadership of Women of the Wall, just wants the right to pray, read Torah and wear a tallit. These are just two incredible women doing their parts to ensure gender equality in Israel. Rabbi Gold, because she is not an Orthodox rabbi, is not granted the same status as her Orthodox colleagues. The very character of the state of Israel is affected by these unequal policies. By denying its non-Orthodox Jewish citizens equal treatment under the law, Israel violates its own Declaration of Independence, which guarantees freedom of religion.
As a rabbi, I stand 100% with Israel. I love Israel — the people, the food, the culture. However, as an American Jew, I understand also that there are opportunities for me (and all American Jews) to help shape the future of Israel. Israel is not just the homeland for Israeli Jews; no, it is the homeland for all Jews. As a Reform Rabbi, I support ARZA, the Association of Reform Zionists of America. ARZA speaks for all Jews, providing a valuable voice for women’s rights and gender equality, religious equality among all Jews, and the safety, security and stability of Israel, the Palestinians and the entire Middle East.
So, the question is, will you step up and help create an Israel that cherishes the same values we cherish? Each of us has a critical voice and a critical opportunity. In October, the World Zionist Congress will meet in Jerusalem to discuss, debate, and decide critical issues; those decisions will shape Israel today and into the future. Israel was founded to be a pluralistic and democratic Jewish state. By supporting ARZA in the WZC election, you will ensure that the dream of the founders of Israel will be realized.
How can you be involved? Visit www.reformjews4israel.org to learn more about the elections and how your vote will matter. Through April 30, vote. You can vote online or with a paper ballot. The vote costs $10 for those over age 30 and $5 for those 30 and under. The future of Israel is in your hands.
Erin Boxt is one of two rabbis serving Temple Kol Emeth in East Cobb.