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Making Space at CBI to Talk About Israel

05/25/2023 06:15:21 PM


Rabbi Steve Folberg

I know that many of you took the opportunity to participate in the various festivities in honor of the seventy-fifth anniversary of the founding of the State of Israel, held at the JCC on April 30. CBI as an organization was well represented at the Shalom Austin celebration, and by all accounts it was a smashing success.

At the same time, I've been involved in conversations stretching back to well before the COVID-19 pandemic, conversations about the need for space within CBI to discuss and explore our members’ diverse and often complex relationships with Israel. From those conversations, I’ve learned that our Congregation Beth Israel family includes people who,

  • have made multiple visits and love the land and the people.
  • have children and grandchildren who have made aliyah, who have served or are serving in the Israel Defense Forces, who have families and careers in Israel.
  • admire Israel’s economic, scientific and technological achievements.
  • cherish Israel as the birthplace of Judaism, the land where Hebrew is a living language, the only country in the world where being Jewish is normative.
  • resent the UN’s hyper focus on Israel.
  • agonize over the thin line between anti-Zionist activism and antisemitism.
  • are worried by the inclusion of ultranationalist, theocratic, racist and homophobic Knesset Members in the current government coalition.
  • wrestle with Israel’s human rights record with regard to Palestinians, immigrant workers, non-Orthodox Jews and other marginalized groups.
  • fret over the voices of authoritarianism in Israel that, left unchallenged, could destroy Israeli democracy.
  • are upset that their Reform conversion to Judaism would not be accepted by the Israeli Chief Rabbinate…
  • are torn between their progressive political leanings and the way they have felt targeted in liberal spaces for their Jewish or Israeli ties.

In keeping with CBI's core values of openness and mutual respect, I could not ignore the feeling that some of you expressed to me that Israel was somehow taboo as a topic of conversation within CBI. To me that was just unacceptable.

Although it took many months of conversation to make it happen, we finally held two installments of "Let's Talk About Israel," one on April 30 and one on May 7. Both sessions were fantastic. On April 30, we spent our time in personal sharing, talking about why we had taken the time to participate in this program. The conversation was deeply personal, open and revealing. Most important, it seemed that everyone felt respected and heard.

In our second session on May 7, we were blessed that Cantor Evan Kent, a longtime friend from our seminary days who has been living in Israel for the past decade with his husband, Rabbi Don Goor, spoke to us live on Zoom from their home in Tel Aviv. Evan did an extraordinary job unpacking the forces that have resulted in hundreds of thousands of Israeli citizens protesting in the streets, speaking up against not only the proposed weakening of the Israeli Supreme Court as a check on prime ministerial and Knesset power, but also raising their voices against homophobia, misogyny, civil rights abuses and more. Everyone left feeling enlightened, worried, hopeful and grateful for the opportunity to just "talk about Israel" with one's fellow Jews, in a passionate but respectful community.

It's my hope that we will be able to continue these sessions in a more extended form next fall. Keep an eye out for more publicity.

By the way, I'm looking forward to leading our Shavuot morning festival service this coming Friday at 9 AM, both in person in the CBI chapel and also streamed on our YouTube channel. The service includes lots of joyful celebration, along with the Yizkor memorial prayers on behalf of our departed loved ones.

All my best,

Rabbi Steven Folberg

Sat, April 20 2024 12 Nisan 5784