Thursday, June 9, 2011

Rabbi Jacobs, part 2

Last month I did a post on incoming Reform movement head, Rabbi Rick Jacobs and Israel/Palestine. He was forced to back away from his previously held center-left positions (J Street) in deference to the APIAC pro-Israel camp.
In the last week, my blogppost has received a lot of traffic of folks coming over from Lizzy Ratner's piece on the same issue over at Mondoweiss.

I agree with Ratner that Rabbis Jacobs is a better candidate than previous leaders of the Reform movement, who gave their blessing and authorization to the colonization of the West Bank by Jewish settlers.

However, I have some problems with Ratner's piece. First, there is this gratuitous dig at Reform Judaism's attitude to women:
it [the Union for Reform Judaism] represents more Jews than any other branch of Judaism in the United States, and the man (because you can bet it’s always a man) who gets chosen to lead these members has no small influence.
It's true that the URJ has always been led by a man. On the other hand, the membership and clergy of the Reform movement reflect a deep commitment to full gender equality. Sensitivity to gender equality is reflected in the last two editions of the Reform prayerbook; women and girls are full equals in ritual; a majority of young cantors are women. Increasingly women rabbis are attaining senior toles in the movement.
Looking at the two Reform clergy associations, the immediate past-president of the Central Conference of American Rabbis and the current president of American Conference of Cantors are women.
Awareness of women's rights and issues is a defining concern of the Reform movement.
If a woman wasn't selected for the job, it is not because this is an old boys' club, but because we have moved so far forward on this that it is a non-issue in the Reform movement.

he was chosen to helm the URJ at least in part to offer a new kind of leadership, one that will reel the young folks back into the reform movement and give it a needed jolt. 
Lizzy Ratner does not offer any evidence for this. There are other reasons that can be put forward in its place, the most obvious has to do with the interests of an organization in guaranteeing its own future. Just because us folks who read Mondoweiss think about Israel/Palestine every day, it doesn't mean that this is on the front burner for the URJ leadership.

I would love to see the URJ extending its liberal politics on womens' rights, gay issues and other domestic social issues to progressive politics on Israel/Palestine. I agree with Ratner that this might give the Reform movement that elusive "relevance" that it supposedly lacks.

After his election, President Obama disappointed progressives when he moved to the political center. Similarly, the case of URJ President-elect Rabbi Rick Jacobs is instructive in reflecting what one has to sacrifice in order to hold a position of national leadership in the mainstream Jewish community.

After all is said and done, I still prefer a beaten-down progressive to a right-wing ideologue.

Good luck, Rabbi Jacobs!

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