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Message from the President of the Council

Stephen L. Naman

Recently the American Council for Judaism reported in Special Interest Report (SIR) on an article published in The Jerusalem Post, and on their website, with a byline of New York City, “Coming Home: Reform Movement Encourages Aliya” (return to Israel) by Michal Lando. In the article Rabbi Eric Yoffie, President of the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) — the congregational arm of the mainstream Reform movement — was quoted as follows, “Those of us who live here (speaking of the United States) live in galut (exile), and to live in Israel is to live a fuller Jewish life. For an American people that does not understand the importance and centrality of Zion, you are an important bridge.” The article goes on to report, “Joining in the spirit of the evening …Yoffie surprised the crowd of several hundred olim (immigrants), who gathered here for a sendoff this week, with his outspoken Zionism.” To further understand his position one need only go to the URJ website homepage to see “Faces of Reform Aliyah” which quotes Rabbi Yoffie: “Israel is the only place where a Jew can be a Jew in a completely unselfconscious manner.”  
Further exploration of the URJ links reveals that “Faces of Reform Aliyah” is not the title of an article but is in fact a program of the Association of Reform Zionists of America (ARZA), an affiliate of the URJ. It is also particularly noteworthy that ARZA is a member organization of the American Zionist Movement (AZM) which affirms the Jerusalem Platform whose critical planks call for “… the centrality of the State of Israel” and “Aliyah to Israel from all countries …” When promoting participation in voting for the World Zionist Congress these organizations require each participant to affirm their belief in these doctrines.  
The issue I have about aliyah isn’t a concern about Israel so much as it is one about America. If people want to visit Israel or send their children there to visit or even if they choose to move there that is their right and a personal decision on their part. But the promotion of the concept of aliyah (return to Israel) is in direct conflict with the founding ideals of America, the coming together of all religions and nationalities in a multicultural society, all motivated within a democratic framework by a common purpose and collective spirit. The American experience isn’t one of exile, it is one of being home. Further, regarding the centrality of Judaism it was always my understanding that God was the centrality of Judaism, not Zion or the State of Israel. Thus, it is most perplexing to me why the leadership of the congregational movement of Reform Judaism, whose congregations are supposedly here to support the religious beliefs and practices of their American congregants, is not espousing a philosophy that supports and strengthens the practice of Judaism in America as opposed to minimizing it.  
While the URJ and ARZA leadership are certainly entitled to their own personal opinions, I question whether their constituencies truly support the promotion of a return to Israel, the centrality of Zion / the State of Israel, being in exile, or the inability to be a complete Jew in America. A philosophy that replaces the centrality of God in the Jewish religion, questions Judaism as a legitimate religious experience in America, and Jews as full participants in the American process is at best troubling. It is equally of concern to consider the possibility that some might mistake these organizations, and others of similar ilk, as spokespersons for the majority of the American Jewish community that do not in fact accept these premises.  
In discussing these situations with rabbinic and lay leaders, it is upsetting to find an almost complete apathy toward what I think many of us consider egregious positions detrimental to Judaism in America. Promoting positions from the pulpit that encourage affirmations contradictory to the principles of our country as well as our personal and religious beliefs is at the least questionable. Taking positions that “it doesn’t matter, no one pays any attention, these people/organizations are irrelevant,” as some have told me, is disconcerting and could to our dismay well be proven wrong in the future. Lay people who prefer not to raise issues and remain mute on what they truly believe because they might appear as negative or “anti” are missing the point, the positive affirmation of our lives in America.  
In conclusion it seems to me that each of us, rabbis, lay leaders, congregational members, and those who define and participate in the Jewish experience in their own way need to vacate our complacency and step up to our responsibilities as Americans and members of the American Jewish community. We must demand that our congregational rabbis, board and committee members, and mainstream organizational leadership stop promoting policies and positions that are not in keeping with our philosophies, beliefs, and best interests. We cannot take for granted the freedoms and democratic ideals we so dearly cherish as Americans and Jews. Our forefathers came to this country to pursue a dream, and we have benefited exceedingly from their courage and initiative. We owe it to them, ourselves, and our progeny to defend and promote our way of life in this greatest of countries, the United States of America.  
The American Council for Judaism has and will continue to be dedicated to promoting the American Jewish experience. We need and appreciate your continued involvement to ensure that the voice for our cause is heard and legitimately recognized.  
Please feel free to forward your comments to my attention at either the address or email listing below.  
Stephen L. Naman, President  
American Council for Judaism  
Post Office Box 2836  
Ponte Vedra Beach, FL 32004-2836  

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