Not Your Dad’s Reform: Rabbi Lopatin’s amazing breakfast of discovery in a Reform shul

February 10, 2010

I’m still flying from a great breakfast I had a big Reform shul on the North Shore, Temple Beth El. What made is so special was that I expected some kind of a left-wing speaker on Israel, food that I couldn’t eat because while it might be dairy, wouldn’t be under hashgacha, and a sleepy, small Sunday morning crowd. Instead, a packed house of 200 energized congregants of all ages clapped and cheered as General Effy Eitam, a member of the right wing of Likud, spoke about heroism and miracles of God in Entebbe and today. While Effy Eitam is a strong advocate for all soldiers, on the right and on the left, following the policy of the state and IDF, he is also known in Israel by his strong stances on Judea and Samaria and for the Palestinians not being ready for their own state. Some on the left in Israel have tried to get him convicted for inflammatory statements against Arabs. Many his positions and some of his statements would have made him a stretch for my, albeit Modern and progressive, Orthodox shul. But it was mind blowing to hear a huge Reform audience cheering him on as he talked about the need to say to everyone that, “We Jews are here to stay; go fish somewhere else!” – a reference to what you need to say to grizzly bears when they encroach on your territory. The rabbi of the shul said that Temple Beth El was probably the most right wing Reform shul in Chicago, and someone said that Linda Gradstein – last year’s speaker- of left wing NPR fame – was a lot more controversial!
Wow! As you may know, I see myself all over the map, when it comes to politics, on the right and on the left. But if you read Norman Podhoretz’s book on Why are Jews Liberal, you might think that Reform Judaism is the religion of American liberalism. Well, he needs to come to Temple Beth El. I am happy for Jews to take any political stand which they feel speaks to their Jewish convictions, but I learnt from this breakfast never to judge Jews by their cover, title, or movement affiliation.
Many readers may know of the fiasco – which is historically true – of the shrimp served at the reception for the first graduating class of Hebrew Union College, the rabbinical college of the Reform movement. Apparently, it was not done on purpose, but it scandalized the movement in the eyes of the Orthodox Jews who attended and for generations of Orthodox and traditional Jews till this very day. So let me report: the breakfast at Temple Beth El was catered by Zelda’s, with CRC (the Orthodox Chicago Rabbinical Council) supervision, and not only was it catered by Zelda’s, but each table (at least my table!) had a sign on it that it was catered by Zelda’s, CRC. Thanks to the new Reform movement I downed five or six delicious “mini” muffins – oy! I would have been much safer with shrimp! But this breakfast speaks to a new reality: Reform, Conservative and Orthodox have new ways of coming together, of learning from each other, of growing together. We can never take each other, or each other’s positions, for granted. Here at Temple Beth El, I was downing CRC muffins, listening to a speaker with a big knitted kippa, and learning how much of a divine miracle the existence of Israel really is! Only in a America!

Rabbi Asher Lopatin

Hooray! I Have Found A Home in the Israeli Political World! by Rabbi Asher Lopatin

October 14, 2009

If you have read this blog, you know that all of us, rabbis and Maharat, think out of the box and sometimes unpredictably. You may have seen my views of the One State solution, one democratic, Jewish and Palestinian State allowing all self declared Jews to return and Palestinians to return. You may have also seen my desire for separation of church and state in the Jewish state of the future – in Israel. Feel free to dismiss me as naïve, foolish, crazy, irresponsible, etc. However, the last laugh is on those who mock me: I can say will full confidence that I am in the tradition of Ze’ev Jabotinsky, the founder of Revisionist Zionism. And… as a follower of Jabotinsky, I feel at home in the party of Menecham Begin, his heir, Herut and Likud. Yes, I see myself as part of Likud.

Huh? A One Stater in Likud? Well, let’s look briefly at the principles of Revisionist Zionism:
1) Jews returning in the millions to the homeland. Jabotinsky hoped European Jews in the 1930’s would fill up both sides of the Jordan with Jews; in the 21st century, we have to look to Africa and Asia – and still not give up hope in America – to bring in those huge numbers so that Jews remain a majority culture in our land.
2) The right of Jews to live in their homeland – even more important the getting the State. Herut opposed partition in 1947, giving up our rights to our land, as we should oppose partition in 2009. In the 21st century, our priority should not be demographics or a homogeneous state; no, our priority must remain a solution where Jews can live in Tel Aviv or Hebron, or Gaza or Shechem or Modiin. Everywhere! Palestinians can by homes or start communities in these places as well. Anyone who has any suggestion that gives up Jews returning to Gush Katif should be rejected as compromising the essential rights and dreams of the Jewish people.
3) Liberalism in terms of freedom of the individual: open and free markets, capitalism rather than socialism.
4) Being strong and demonstrating strength: Any solution in the 21st century needs to involve the army – the IDF – not tolerating any pocket of terrorism or fiefdom outside the control of the One State – no Gazas controlled by rogue, terrorist regimes.
5) When you look at the writings of Ze’ev Jabotinsky, he has different attitudes towards the indigenous Arabs. Everywhere he wants them to know that the Jews are staying. However, in some places he writes that once the Jews are established in their land, they can allow the Arabs to be full participants – including voting – in a liberal democracy. Yes, Jabotinsky understood that if the Jews are strong and confident, they have nothing to fear from Arabs/Palestinians getting the vote.
6) It is clear that while Jabotinsky wanted a Jewish state – designated for the Jews and filled with Jewish culture – he did not want a state with rabbinic control. He had European democracies in mind, where the look and feel is Christian, but the power resides in the government of the people, not the church leaders.
I am planning to move to Israel because I believe that God wants us to live in the Holy Land and God wants us to build a moral and ethical state where Judaism can flourish and have an impact. With the vision of Jabotinsky I hope we can all gain the strength to build communities anywhere in the land and that that land should be a full democracy which will allow Judaism to flourish in all its diversity and creativity, taking the best from cultures dwelling alongside of us, including Palestinian, Arab culture. Likud – here I come!

Rabbi Asher Lopatin