My father davened every morning. He observed kashrut. He wore a tallis and a kippah in synagogue. He took pride in being a Kohen.
“My Judaism envelops my entire life and is not something to be recalled only at isolated moments,” he wrote. In his view, Reform Judaism offered the choice not of whether, but of how to observe mitzvot, and his observance grew over the years.
My father did this as a member and president of a Reform congregation. As a member of the Reform movement’s executive committee. As a progenitor of the Reform movement’s current prayer book.
He was accepting of the varying approaches his five children took to Jewish life.
That many Diaspora Jews choose whether or how to observe apparently confounds Israeli Minister of Religious Services David Azoulai.
“A Reform Jew, from the moment he stops following Jewish law, I cannot allow myself to say that he is a Jew,” Azoulai told Israel Army Radio. In Israeli terms, “Reform Jew” broadly means non-Orthodox.
Azoulai later modified his comment, saying, “These are Jews who have lost their way, and we must ensure that every Jew returns to the fold of Judaism and accept everyone with love and joy.”
Those of you who belong to Conservative, Reform or Reconstructionist congregations: Do you feel that you have lost your way as a Jew?
I didn’t think so.
“I have spoken with Minister Azoulai to remind him that Israel is a home for all Jews and that as minister of religious affairs, he serves all of Israel’s citizens,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement.
That’s nice, but it was Netanyahu who cut a deal with the ultra-Orthodox Shas party to form his government and paid Shas’ price by putting the Religious Services Ministry — responsible for matters of birth, death, marriage, conversion and other issues — in Azoulai’s hands.
Lost in Azoulai’s insulting comments (and he is not alone in such utterances) is the concept of Klal Yisrael, with its focus on what unites rather than divides us.
It no longer astonishes that a Cabinet minister will demean non-Orthodox Jews or that the government will find it politically expedient to promulgate discriminatory policies and then turn to the non-Orthodox (particularly American) Diaspora for political and fundraising support.
If you are offended by Azoulai’s comments, consider supporting organizations that promote religious pluralism in Israel and seek to put all Jews on equal footing.
As a student of history, Netanyahu understands that in slaughtering 6 million Jews, the Nazis did not discriminate based on the religiosity of their victims. Nor do those who today bastardize Islam as a justification to threaten Jewish lives.
No, it is the self-righteous among us — in this case, a government minister — who declare (to borrow from George Orwell) that all Jews are created equal, but some are more equal than others.
My father lived with integrity as a Jew in the modern world (as a member of Reform and Conservative congregations).
My brother the (Conservative) rabbi is likewise confident of his identity.
I am not bothered that Minister Azoulai would consider me one of those “lost” Jews.
I’ll soon travel to the wedding of a nephew to an impressive young woman. She is a Reform Jew — and a rabbinical student.
I find her pending ordination and my brother’s career and the passion with which my father engaged Judaism the perfect antidote to the likes of Minister Azoulai and the tolerance he receives from the prime minister who appointed him.