Does Israel live in Diaspora Synagogues?

On May 7th a piece by Makom’s Robbie Gringras appeared in the Jewish Week. We reproduce it here, since it appears to have stirred some controversy. While it was written with respect and even affection, it also offered a critique of the way an Upper West Side synagogue might symbolize a distancing from Israel. This was, of course, a one-off, snap-shot view, that could not (and perhaps should not) be seen to represent all that one synagogue has to say about Israel. 

The questions about where a connection to Israel might fit into Jewish ritual, how Zionist thinking might or might not harmonize with Diaspora credo, and how progressive approaches to Judaism might affect Israel itself, are all key questions worth delving into. 

We have approached several figures in the North American Rabbinic and Educational establishment for their thoughts and responses to Robbie’s piece, and genuinely hope a deep and constructive discourse might ensue. In the meantime Robbie has also written a follow-up piece…

Can we pray about Israel in our synagogues?

June 9, 2013 by

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This is a follow-up article to the conversation that can be found here. First appeared in The Jewish Week.

Can Jewish religious life be full and fulfilling with no connection to Israel? Must a connection to a concrete Israel live separate from synagogue worship? Should our religious rituals ignore Israel in any way other than the metaphorical, or should it accept that the establishment of the State of Israel affected not just Jews but also Judaism itself? To Full Post

Robbie Gringras, Makom – Does Israel live in Diaspora Synagogues?


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First appeared in The Jewish Week.

I went to a wonderfully inspiring religious service on Friday night at Romemu congregation on the Upper West Side. Beautiful singing – much of it in Hebrew -, an inspiring sermon, a warm and welcoming community atmosphere. In some ways, it was a snap shot of all that is dynamic and valuable about North American Jewry. And at the same time a snap shot of how sustainable Israel engagement is in real trouble.

A snap shot of all that is dynamic and valuable about North American Jewry. And at the same time a snap shot of how sustainable Israel engagement is in real trouble.

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Rabbi David Ingber, Romemu Synagogue



Dasee Berkowitz, Jewish Life Cycle Consultant


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Your piece definitely makes me miss being on the Upper West Side and going to Romemu on Shabbat mornings!

A few comments:

  1. There’s a time and a place for everything… Israel doesn’t only represent the contemporary/modern state and political discord, but it also represents spiritual life/ history/ yearning, all of which can easily be incorporated into a Romemu service. The Rabbi might share something about the Jews of Safed searching for the Shabbat bride as the sun sets over Mount Meron (or something uplifting that is fitting for a religious experience like Friday night services.)  I think that Romemu would probably be very happy to highlight programs and people in Israel who are working to make it a better place (as are many other synagogues like BJ). To Full Post

Saul Kaiserman Director of Lifelong Learning Congregation Emanu-El of the City of New York


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Robbie, Thanks for your candid and reflective piece on your experience at Romemu.

I do have a few questions for you, and would be glad to hear your responses:

1. Would you have felt differently about the sermon if it had happened to be on Israel? I would think that even in Israel, rabbis choose from many different topics when they give sermons and drashot. Does every service you attend in Israel always include a reference to domestic politics? To Full Post

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.” To Full Post

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