I am writing this on Monday, February 29, a leap day and plot device in Gilbert and Sullivan’s operetta, Pirates of Penzance. In the story, Young Frederic is forced to be a pirate, but is allowed to give up this despicable occupation when he turns twenty-one. However, when on his twenty-first birthday, he goes to the pirate lair to declare his independence, the pirate king has an ingenious paradox to share with Frederic: Because of your birthday, Frederic is only five years old! So, no, he is not allowed to stop being a pirate.
My recent trip to Israel, courtesy of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, has shown me many paradoxes in Israel.
For starters, despite the new age of terror in the streets of Jerusalem, Israelis are enjoying life more than ever before. One day I went wine and beer tasting in the Ellah Valley, near Jerusalem. It could have been the Loire Valley!
In addition, despite all the bitterness of the Palestinian plight, I visited a model Palestinian city, Rawabi, in the middle of the West Bank, where a 21st century oasis of order and beauty is taken shape.
More meaningful to me is the contrast between my Israeli Reform youth trip leader, back in 1979, expressing his frustration to me that whenever he mentioned Reform Judaism to young people in Israel, they just laughed at him. Last week, this troop leader, Rabbi Danny Freelander – now the head of the World Union for Progressive Judaism – spoke at the K’nesset and no one was laughing.
Finally, praying with men and woman together at the Kotel last Thursday morning, while a female colleague read from the Torah, reflects the biggest paradox of all: Reform Judaism in Israel is now seen as a solution to many who want religion without sacrificing modern values and sensitivities. At the same time, it is becoming a huge problem to the Ultra-Orthodox who see their absolute control of matters religious in Israel challenged and even endangered.
The biggest paradox will be if we serious Reform Jews do not continue to build on our victories and push for the recognition and support Reform Jews require and need to transform Israeli society. As the Deputy Mayor of Tel Aviv said, adding her voice to the many Members of K’nesset, the President of Israel, and the Prime Minister of Israel: Israel is counting on us.