Rabbi Yael Ridberg San Diego, CA

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Really interesting article Robbie, but I am not sure one service in one shul in one city is indicative of the trend you identify.

As a rabbi working to inspire attachment and imagination regarding the Jewish past, present and future, there is no doubt that the relationship with Israel is at the heart of the challenge, but it is not the only challenge.

It is true that there is a gap between Israel and the Diaspora, one that is being written about and discussed by the American Jewish community a great deal (in Peter Beinart’s book The Crisis of Zionism, in Rabbi Sid Schwarz’s new book Jewish Megatrends – to name two recent publications.) The gap is political, social, and definitely religious. The image just this week of Israeli police in full riot gear needing to protect women who wish to pray at the Kotel is a painful example of such a gap.

But to decry a spiritual community in New York that is one of the inspiring examples of how Jewish life can be relevant and compelling is not useful, and most certainly is not an example of the “dying of the light.”

As a Reconstructionist rabbi I see Israel as the “radiating center” of the Diaspora that Mordecai Kaplan identified. Like many rabbis, I bring Israel into my services and my work through the liturgy, English readings that stimulate my community to think about Israel engagement, through discussions about current events, by programs about Israel, and by helping congregants grapple with their Jewish identity in relationship to Israel.

But to hold our spiritual practice up against the part of Israel that simultaneously champions secularity and says that traditional, Orthodox or ortho-prax services are the only authentic expression of Jewish practice is a reflection of that gap.

Admittedly, my concern each week is not how to make 95% of Israeli Jews avoid culture shock should they come to my community. My chief concern is encouraging 95% of my congregation to recognize the meaning to be made from living life as a Jew in the 21st century.

I believe it is my job as a leader and teacher to make connections to and with Israel and I’d like to believe that my Israeli counterparts feel the same way about Jewish life in the Diaspora. Israel is one of the “most important missions of the Jewish people” but the strength of that mission includes the recognition by Israeli Jews that the American Jewish attachment to spiritual practice, moral courage, and meaningful communities where we live is also part of that mission. 

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