By Rabbi Mark Goldsmith
Senior Rabbi at Edgware & Hendon Reform Synagogue
The prophet Ezekiel, prophesying in the midst of the Babylonian exile, had an extraordinarily optimistic view of what the Jews being back in Israel would mean. He had a vision of God saying that ‘I will take you from among the nations, and gather you from all countries, and will bring you into your own land…. A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put inside you… you shall live in the land that I gave to your ancestors; and you shall be my people, and I will be your God.’ (From Ezekiel 32:24-28)
Over the past 75 years, since the State of Israel’s Declaration of Independence, that has certainly happened. The Jewish people has a new spirit where we know that there is one country in the world where we are all welcome.
It has not been without struggle. Israel’s first President, Chaim Weizman’s assertion that ‘The State of Israel will not be given to you on a silver platter’ remains true. Progressive Judaism has to work constantly to make sure that all Jews are welcome in Israel, whether born Jewish or converted to Judaism in their lifetime. We have to struggle to ensure that you can freely and wholeheartedly follow the kind of Judaism in Israel that enables you to find your way to God, whether that be Progressive, Masorti or Orthodox, with equal access to Israel’s religious infrastructure. We join all Israel’s citizens in working to ensure that the State of Israel will, in the words of the 1948 Declaration of Independence, ‘ rest upon the foundations of liberty, justice and peace as envisioned by the prophets of Israel, maintaining complete equality of social and political rights for all its citizens, without distinction of creed race or gender.’ We pray for and work for peace between Israel and the Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza and between Israel and her surrounding nations, never losing sight of that goal.
Above all Israel is worthy of celebration. A week after the Jewish world celebrates Israel’s 75th anniversary, the World Union for Progressive Judaism will hold its international convention in Jerusalem in our headquarters, based there since 1973, bringing Jews from all around the world together for a wonderful week of study, prayer and vision. Jerusalem is now a centre where Progressive Jews around the world learn from our Israeli Rabbis and educators and each other, where Israel helps give new heart and new spirit to all. We come to build and be built, to strengthen and be strengthened by Israel.