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A Rosh Hashanah message from Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner

Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner“Older people dream dreams and your youth will see visions” (Joel 3:1). It’s this prophetic blend of dreaming and vision that works beautifully for us as Reform Jews.

The adults in Reform Judaism have often taken the lead from our youth movement. I think it’s the right way around! Our young people have always posed intellectual and ideological questions for the Movement as a whole to respond to.

The changed commitment to kashrut at our central Movement events was inspired by a consistent dedication to kashrut in the early 1980s by RSY. More recently, RSY-Netzer passed a motion at their annual meeting – Veidah – on Jewish status, to proactively involve those with patrilineal Jewish status in RSY-Netzer. This, in turn, galvanised our communities and our lay leaders, the Reform Judaism Board and then our Rabbinic Assembly.

The proposals made to our communities by the Rabbinic Assembly would enable rabbis to confirm Jewish status on people with one Jewish parent. This status would then have to be ratified by the Beit Din. We have aligned our core values of a love of tradition and providing a proactive welcome, with our ability to adapt and our commitment to equality. Here it is – loving Judaism, evolving Judaism, sustaining Judaism.

Next year RSY-Netzer will focus on Reform Zionism. This has inspired me to make one of my key aims for this coming year to re-emphasise teaching Reform Zionism. I am also focussing on Israel education as I believe that increasingly, especially for people under the ages of 35, the arguments for the existence of the State have become too opaque.

Just four words contain the multiple and dynamic concepts of Zionism. The educational exercise of expanding these four small words is one of the simplest and most effective ways of explaining Zionism that I have been taught.

Try this for easy, memorable and enriching: take these four words from the Hatkivah: ‘lehiot am chofshi b’artzeinu.’ They translate as ‘to be a free people in our land’, which, admittedly, is slightly longer in the English!

Take each word, place it in one part of a grid and start to broaden out these words into a concise and clear explanation of Zionism. For instance: lehiot – ‘being’. It’s about the meaning of existing, flourishing and being safe. This brings together the Herzlian idea of Zionism as providing a safe haven for Jews to exist in with the vision of Ahad Ha’Am in which Israel will provide cultural impetus for the whole Jewish world to live by.

The next tiny word, am, is the dynamic concept of ‘peoplehood.’ Jews are far more than a narrow definition of ‘religion’. Instead we are a people, like other people who deserve national self-determination. We have a common language, culture, literature, land and religious civilisation.
The third word, ‘chofshi’, is our ‘freedom’ to develop ourselves in a modern democracy.
Lastly ‘b’artzeinu’ – ‘in our land’ – in Israel due to Biblical covenantal connections, historical continual Jewish presence.

So as the Prophet Joel said, “the older people dream and our youth will see visions.” We need our next year to be one that brings together the dreams of older generations and the new visions of younger generations. This would provide us with a Reform Zionism that encapsulates an inspiring progressive vision for Israel for 5776 and beyond.

Shanah tovah!

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