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A Jewish Democratic Israel

Today I had a wonderful visit with Rabbi Uri Regev.  Rabbi Regev is formerly the head of the World Union for Progressive Judaism, world-wide umbrella of Progressive congregations.  Rabbi Regev was the founding director of the Reform movement’s Israel Religious Action Center in Jerusalem and is also an attorney.  He lives in Jerusalem but is here in San Francisco at the Central Conference of American Rabbis Convention. 

Rabbi Regev has successfully argued on behalf of religious freedom and pluralism before the Israeli Supreme Court and won many historic battles. He is an expert often consulted by the Knesset in these areas and as the Knesset once again grapples with issues about the Law of Return and  “Who is a Jew” Regev continues to play an important role.

He wanted to share with me the work he is now doing to ensure a Jewish and Democratic Israel now and in the future.  Regev has teamed up with Jewish philanthropist, Stanley Gold to create a new organization called Hiddush. Hiddush is dedicated to working within Israel and by reaching out to Diaspora to change the status quo in Israel.  Regev’s research shows the Israeli public is tired of the Orthodox hegemony over their lives.  The Chief Rabbinate controls who can marry, who can get buried, and the issue of conversion.  There is no separation of synagogue and State in Israel.  Regev and he says, 85% of Israelis see this as a deep flaw in Israeli life.

Jews who wish to marry civilly cannot they must fly to Cyprus.   Reform and Conservative rabbis can not marry anyone in a religious ceremony.  Regev shared with me story after story of Russiam olim (immigrants) who have served in the Israel Defense Forces after immigrating but are not considered Jewish enough by the Chief Rabbinate.   Regev is out to create a multi-pronged approach to changing this inequality and injustice in Israel.

Hiddush is trying to reach beyond just the Reform movement and Conservative movements in Israel. They are very small in Israel.  The secular Israeli population must also be mobilized to the cause.  Regev is out to do this. He says they are already there. 

If anyone can he can.  He has a unique opportunity to bridge the Diaspora and Israel and move beyond denominationalism to the broader Jewish community to bring this issue to the Israeli public. And Stanley Gold’s support is nothing to sneeze at.

Check out their work.  It is exiciting.