Our Relationship with Israel

February 2024

Temple Micah has a deep, rich, and committed relationship with Israel, and this relationship—our Zionism—is core to who we are as a congregation. We do this from a place of love. Our Zionism does not turn a blind eye to the complexity that characterizes the State of Israel. In fact, our Zionism demands that we confront the complexity head on, and our own Temple Micah Roadmap directs us to tackle tough conversations, with special consideration for Israel.

We have strived to bring diverse voices of Israel—both Israeli and Palestinian—to Temple Micah to educate, to deepen our understanding of the complexity, and to strengthen our relationship with our homeland.

This page strives to describe our relationship with Israel. In drafting this, we drew heavily from the sermons and writings of our rabbinic leadership, as well as Temple Micah’s actions over many years.

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Overview of our Zionism

Progressive Zionist Congregation

We are a proud progressive Zionist congregation. We sometimes refer to our Zionism as “Religious Ethical Zionism” or “liberal Zionism.” Fundamentally, this reflects our aspirational belief that Israel should be the Jewish national homeland, where people live in peace and security. We also believe in the inherent dignity of every human being. To that end, Israel must be a democracy that protects religious pluralism and the human and civil rights of all its inhabitants. 

Our Zionism Embraces and Rests on the Three Classic Pillars of Zionist Thought

Our Zionism also rests on our need for a safe haven for the Jewish people. The father of political Zionism, Theodore Herzl, began making the case for the State of Israel in the late 1800s amid growing antisemitism in Vienna, where he was living. He argued that a Jewish state is the only answer to antisemitism. 

Years later, the Israeli writer Amos Oz, an early supporter of a two-state solution, eloquently reiterated the need for a safe haven in his 1983 book, In the Land of Israel:

“I would be more than happy to live in a world composed of dozens of civilizations...all cross pollinating one another, without anyone merging as a nation-state...No nothing. Only spiritual civilizations tied somehow to their lands, without the tools of statehood and without the instruments of war. But the Jewish people has already staged a long-running one-man show of that sort. The international audience sometimes applauded, sometimes threw stones, and occasionally slaughtered the actor. No one joined us; no one copied the model the Jews were forced to sustain for two thousand years, the model of a civilization without the ‘tools of statehood.’ For me the drama ended with the murder of Europe’s Jew by Hitler.”

Finally, our Zionism rests on our hope for unleashing Jewish spirituality and culture. We draw from the thinking of Ahad Ha’am, a Russian Jew of the late 19th and early 20th century who died in Tel Aviv in 1927, having lived the last five years of his life in pre-state Palestine. Ahad Ha’am was not enamored about the creation of a state; rather, he envisioned a Jewish spiritual and cultural center. For him, the diaspora was a spiritual disaster for Jews because we regarded ourselves as an “other,” a perpetual outsider to the host country wherever we lived. During this time, the Jewish soul wasted away. Ahad Ha’am's Zionism was an antidote: "It is not only Jews who have to come out of the ghetto, Judaism has to come out, too." According to Ahad Ha’am, Zionism is not only about saving Jews, but saving Judaism by returning to real life in a real land where Jewish culture will again become real. 

Ahad Ha’am’s vision has been realized. We now know Israel as a place of intense Jewish creativity in all areas of endeavor. Our Jewish lives in America are the direct beneficiaries of this overwhelming output in art, poetry, literature, and music. The contributions of Israeli artists have impacted our prayer life and culture in ways beyond measure.

Confronting the Complexities of the State of Israel 

Our Zionism does not turn a blind eye to the complexity that characterizes the State of Israel. In fact, our Zionism demands that we confront the complexity head on. 

We acknowledge that threats to Israel’s security by terrorists are grave and numerous. Israel’s security needs require our relentless support. And at the same time, we understand that extremist ideologies within our own community threaten Israel’s existence as a liberal democracy. Recognizing these intricacies compels us to grapple with the challenge of safeguarding Israel’s borders while simultaneously confronting the reprehensible acts committed in the name of Zionism, and also acknowledging Israel’s infringement on human and civil rights. Additionally, it necessitates an acknowledgment of Israel’s historical chapters marked by displacement and occupation. 

We understand that in any democracy, we contend with results with which we disagree. However, as Rabbi Zemel has said, “We can love that which pains us most.” From a place of love, it is our obligation to work to ensure that our people’s return home is built on a moral foundation.

How do we live our Zionism?

Symbols in Our Temple

We have chosen to fill our home with symbols that express our values, our Jewish story, and our relationship with Israel. 

Our sanctuary’s bimah is flanked by the flags of the United States and Israel to mark our support of both countries. We sing Hatikva, Israel’s national anthem, on Sunday mornings at Boker Tov with our Machon Micah students. The words of Hatikva remind us of our unwavering hope for peace:

“Our hope is not yet lost

The hope of two thousand years,

To be a free nation in our land,

The land of Zion and Jerusalem”

When we were building our temple, which opened in 1995, we special-ordered stone from a quarry just outside of Jerusalem. Not only is this stone a physical manifestation of our connection to the land of Israel, but it also captures symbolically our Jewish tradition of turning toward Israel during prayer.

Our worship team designs each of our services deliberately, selecting musicboth the prayers, poems, and songs, as well as the compositions and composerswith great care and thought. From Yair Rosenblum to Naomi Shemer, Kobi Oshrat to Daphna Rosenberg, our rabbis feature Israeli compositions and composers frequently in our worship experiences, reinforcing our cultural relationship with Israel.

Visiting Israel and Its Inhabitants

We realize the importance of visiting Israel and building meaningful relationships with its inhabitants. We return time and time again to affirm our connection with the Jewish people, the State of Israel, and our vision of Progressive Zionism. Over the years, we have encouraged and supported our community in traveling and studying in Israel. In addition, Rabbi Zemel has led 16 Micah trips to Israel over 40 years.

Each of Rabbi Zemel’s trips is highly curated and intended to provide a broad, nuanced experience and engender an appreciation for Israel’s complexity. The trips explore the exceptional, the good, the bad, and the ugly. In doing so, Micah travelers have met with everyone from the American ambassador to Israel to mayors of Arab villages. We have met advisors to the prime minister, Palestinian activists on the West Bank, as well as journalists, rabbis, security experts, peace activists, and leaders of the 2023 social protest movement for democracy. Through these visits, Temple Micah has developed thick relationships with a number of people and organizations that share our vision of and hopes for Israel. These partnerships are discussed in more detail in the following two sections.

Bringing the Diverse Voices of Israel to Micah

Over many years, we have strived to bring diverse voices of Israelboth Israeli and Palestinianto Temple Micah to educate, to deepen our understanding of the complexity, and to strengthen our relationship with our homeland. 

  • Sally Abed and Alon-Lee Green, Standing Together, a grassroots movement for peace, justice and independence for Israelis and Palestinians
  • Rabbi Steve Bernstein, Kehillat Birkat Shalom, Kibbutz Gezer
  • Naomi Chazan, chairperson of New Israel Fund Board of Directors
  • Mohammed Darwashe, assistant director of Givat Haviva, Israel’s oldest institution for shared society
  • Rabbi Miri Gold, Kehillat Birkat Shalom, Kibbutz Gezer
  • Lee Gordon, founder Hand in Hand Schools: Center for Jewish-Arab Education in Israel
  • Riad Kamel Kabha, mayor of Barta, an Arab village in Israel that was divided by the 1948 border between Jordan and Israel, reunited in 1967
  • Ambassador Sallai Meridor
  • Rabbi Edgar Nof, Kehillat Or Hadash, Haifa
  • Palestinian and Israel Student Representatives from New Story Leadership for the Middle East
  • Ambassador Itamar Rabinovitch
  • Gili Rei, Board member of Shaharit, a shared society organization
  • Yaniv Sagee, executive director of Givat Haviva
  • Eilon Schwartz, Shaharit founder and president
  • Dr. Jonathan Shimshoni, Retired General Israel Defense Forces
  • Daniel Sokatch, president of New Israel Fund
  • Rebecca Strober, Breaking the Silence, Director of Education

Supporting Israel through the Zemel Fund for Israel and ARZA

Another way that we express our relationship with Israel is through our contributions to charitable organizations. Our Temple Micah Israel Fund (which the Board named the Zemel Fund for Israel in 2013) has donated to a wide range of causes and organizations. These include support for the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism, institutions devoted to shared society among Jews, Muslims, and Christians in Israel, and organizations that seek to mitigate the harmful effects of the settler movement, among others. Although there are many worthy organizations doing such work in Israel, we have focused our support on several with whom we have developed meaningful relationships. These groups have enriched our Micah trips to Israel by meeting with us, and we have hosted them when their representatives have come to the United States.

In addition to donations from the Zemel Fund for Israel, during our membership renewal process, we invite members to donate to ARZA, the Association for Reform Zionists of America. ARZA membership supports the Reform Movement’s voice within Israeli institutions and promotes equality, democracy, and religious pluralism in Israel.

Standing with Israel, Critiquing Israel

As discussed above, our Zionism is complex, and it asks us to hold seemingly conflicting views at the same time. It demands that we love Israel, we support Israel, and we stand by Israel in difficult times. It also demands that we call out Israel when it falters, that we bear witness to the suffering it causes, and that we criticize Israel’s political leadership when it seeks to undermine the very Zionist principles that we hold dear. 

Our rabbis have used the pulpit and Temple publications to address this:

Since October 7, 2023, our rabbis have spoken about Israel in numerous sermons, included below. In response to this moment in our history, the community also came together for small group listening sessions, “Ask the Rabbis” Q&A on Israel, group conversations for parents and teens, and small group book studies to explore and discuss the history of the modern State of Israel. 

Our rabbis also have provided leadership beyond the walls of Temple Micah. The following are some examples:

Read more about our ongoing work on our Israel Resources and Support page.

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