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HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, DECEMBER 23, 2011 offie From page 1A not and what more could we have done. Jews are a dissatisfied people; we cry out all the time. Jewish leaders have to be more dissatisfied than anyone else. Among the elite, we have more observance and commit- ment than I would have imag- ined possible, but general levels aren't what they ought to be. Two years ago we started a youth engagement campaign for ages 13 to 18. In retrospect, we should have started that 15 years ago. While individually I've been tremendously engaged and involved in Israel, the real- ity is that too many people don't feel the connection they should. I'm sorry I wasn't more successful in creating those bridges. JTA: The upcoming Reform biennial is slated to be the largest ever, with nearly 6,000 attendees. What's so special this year? Yoffie: It's a time of tran- sition. There's tremendous enthusiasm about Rick [Rabbi Richard Jacobs, the incoming president of the URJ]. People want to come. Most of these people aren't rabbis but syna- gogue lay leaders who come at their own expense. That's enormously encouraging. JTA: What's the role of the president of the URJ? Yoffie: It's a mistake to exaggerate the influence of the president of the URJ, and for that matter most Jewish leaders. The most important Jewish work is done in local Jewish congregations. We can help shape Jewish consciousness, give priority to important Jewish things, give concrete support, offer legitimacy in cases where there may be some resistance among leaders. JTA: If organizations like yours only have a limited influence on Jewish life, who has a great influence? Yoffie: The critical arena for the Jewish world is the syna- gogue. It's the anchor. It's the only place in the Jewish world where you're valued as an indi- vidual Jew no matter who you are or how much money you have. It's a democratic venue. It's a place where you study Torah and you pray and you educate your children, where you create community, deal with people who are suffering, celebrate successes. Where else does that happen? JTA: Does contemporary Reform have an ideology? Yoffie: Heschel [Abraham Joshua Heschel, a major Con- servative Jewish thinker who taught at Reform's Hebrew Union College for five years but spent most of his career at the Conservative move- ment's Jewish Theological Seminary], talked about a three-legged stool of God, Torah and Israel. I would say Torah study, observance of mitzvot and faith in the God of Israel. We understand you need a balanced Judaism; focusing on any one leg distorts the others. Reform Judaism has be- come more expansive. What is certainly different is the word "mitzvah" [command- ment]. That word had really disappeared from the Reform lexicon, even as late as the 1970s. That began to change. I spoke a language of mitzvah. We now have a Reform Juda- ism that is in a certain sense more traditional. We're also more radical. We live with the contradiction. We're not a halachic move- ment and we don't profess to be. In some ways, we clearly have adopted polices that by pre-modern standards are a departure: patrilineal descent, gay and lesbian partnerships. If it's not ethical, it's not Jewish. As much as we em- brace tradition, we remain committed to this notion. JTA: Reform Judaism long has struggled to gain a foot- hold in Israel. Will it ever catch on there? Yoffie: If we're not a part of Israel, we move to the margins of Jewish history. The key is Israeli Reform rabbis. When we have 100 Israeli-born and -educated rabbis, it's going be a different country and a different movement. Now we have 40-plus rabbis. In 10 years we'll have 100. JTA: What's next for Eric Yoffie? Yoffie: I write for The Huffington Post, I blog for the Jerusalem Post, I have some other writing projects. I'm exploring. There's a lot to do in the Jewish world, even outside of the Jewish world. I've thought of writing about Israel, I've thought about writing about Chabad. I've always thought about writ- PAGE 19A ing children's books. I enjoy the blogging style. It fits my mentality. JTA: What would you write about Chabad? Yoffie: Their role in the community is fascinating. I see the intense reactions they elicit, both positive and negative, from people outside of the Chabad world both in Reform and non-Reform circles. There are those who feel it's undermining other institutions in the community and at the same time people who have been touched by a Chabad rabbi or have found a Chabad connection. There are Reform rabbis who say they specifically target our wealthy members and they feel that that's outra- geous, and other Reform rab- bis who say they're out there offering Jewish services in the competitive, free market society in which we live, and we have to dowhatwe're doing and we have to do it better. RJC From page 2A replacement," Gingrich said in response to a question from an audience member. He called for covert action to sabotage Iran's gasoline supply and said the U.S. should fund Iranian dissident groups. Regarding the country's nuclear program, Gingrich said, "It's better to stop them early than to stop them late." Perry warned that Obama's "failed policy of outreach to Tehran" has left the U.S."with only two options: a military strike or a nuclear Iran." Romney called for keeping the threat of military action on the table while pursuing sanctions. "We should make it very clear that we are developing, and have developed, military options," Romney said in response to a question. "Noth- ing concentrates the mind like suffering from sanctions and seeing a military option. It is unacceptable for the U.S. to endure an Iran with a nuclear weapon." Moving the embassy Presidential candidates regularly promise to move the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Back in 1999, then-candidate George W. Bush told an RJC Crossroads From page 5A "This community will be sustained by the synagogue and nothing else," he said, asserting that "the synagogue remains the central institution in Jewish life." Rabbi Yoffie's tenure was also marked by his unabashed, passionate voice as ideological leader, speaking out in defense -- and at times criticism -- of Israel, seeking greater un- derstanding and cooperation between Muslims and Jews, between Evangelical Chris- tians and Jews, and articulating what it means to be a liberal Jew today. Rabbi Rubinstein says that need for progressive Jews to define and describe their beliefs is paramount. "I ask members, 'Why do you care? Why do you care if your children stay Jewish?" The rabbi holds about 70 informal meetings a year with member families and finds gathering that he would move the embassy, but he never fol- lowed through as president. At the RJC forum, Gingrich reiterated his pledge--made in a June speech to the RJC--to move the embassy to Jerusalem. But it was Rep. Michele Bachrnann of Min- nesota who took that promise into uncharted territory with her unconventional proposal to help finance the move. "I already have secured from a donor who said they will personally pay for the am- bassador's home to be moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem," Bachmann said. Gingrich's State man Gingrich offered some red meat to the foreign policy hawks in the house and made the only real news of the night when he said that he would of- fer the job of secretary of state to former American diplomat John Bolton. Bolton served for less than a year as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations during the second Bush administra- tion as a recess appointment. Known for his confrontational style, Bolton is a favorite of conservatives who take a dim view of multilateral institu- tions such as the U.N. but a pariah to liberals who see him as an undiplomatic diplomat. Boiton, who has not yet en- dorsed a candidate, later called the offer "very flattering" but did not say whether he would accept the job in a Gingrich administration. Aid to Israel One issue mostly missing from the RJC forum was aid to Israel. The issue became a cam- paign flash point after Perry said at a debate that all U.S. aid allotments to foreign countries should start at zero and be considered anew each year, and Gingrich and Rornney immediately agreed. Asked at the debate whether his framework also would ap- ply to Israel, Perry answered that it would, though he stressed that Israel would likely continue to receive funding at a "high level." Even the RJC had expressed concern over Perry's formu- lation, warning in a Twitter post that it contradicts a previous memorandum of understanding between the two countries. For weeks, leading Jewish Democrats have been high- lighting the issue, accusing the Republican contenders of lacking commitment to American aid to Israel. In an interview in advance of the forum, Brooks, the RJC's executive director, ex- pressed confidence that the candidates would "put to bed the political smears" from Democrats "that the leading Republicans want to cut aid to Israel." At the forum, Perry did address the issue head on, saying that "I am adamant that any discussion of foreign aid should start at zero. But let me be clear: Israel is our strategic ally. America long ago ended traditional foreign aid to Israel. Strategic defense aid to Israel will increase un- der a Perry administration." Yet, the issue of aid was not mentioned by front-runners Gingrich and Romney--and Democrats pounced. "I am deeply disappointed that Gov. Romney refused to state whether he supports the [Memorandum of Under- standing] between the U.S. and Israel in his address this morning to the Republican Jewish Coalition," Rep. Steve Rothman (D-N.J.) said in a statement. "If Gov. Romney isn't willing to support Is- raers military and foreign aid package before an audience of pro-Israel, Republican Jews, many of us believe he simply doesn't support it!" However, in a follow-up interview, Brooks dismissed that most people are "beyond inarticulate; they have no words" to express what being Jewish means to them. "There's a vacuum." He says it was a mistake for rabbinical schools to train rabbis notto speakaboutthem- selves and their own spiritual struggles. So Rabbi Rubinstein made a point of devoting his Rosh HaShanah and Yore Kip- pur sermons this year to his own search for God, how he finds God in Jewish existence and the need to articulate one's feelings and transmit them to one's children. "Parents always ask me to talk to their kids" about these issues "but I say no. It needs to come from you to impact your children." Rabbi Jacobs believes that in the first months of his tenure "we'll get dearer about who we are, and live it, and remove the walls" that separate congrega- tions and unaffiliated Jews. "We need to be less timid about being out" in the wider culture, he says. Some congregations are wondering about the bottom line for them if the movement spends time and money on an outreach that is not just about increasing membership. Supporters say they are enthused about Rabbi Jacobs' confident positioning of Re- form Jewry but warn that his first priority must be to address persistent concerns about internal matters. These include the dues structure of the union, which critics say is too high; how synagogues can sustain themselves when younger people want free ser- vices; and greater synagogue representation in who speaks for the movement. "Expectations are very high," Rabbi Sheinberg of New Hyde Park acknowledges. She believes RabbiJacobsis"hoping to create a great deal of excite- ment inside the movement and the rest will follow." How he manages to balance an expansive new vision while addressing deep concerns on the home front remains to be seen, but no doubt he will be advising potential critics: "Adapt or die." Emaib the controversy surrounding aid to Israel as nonsense. "The only one who had a perception problem on foreign aid was Perry as a result of his comments at the debate," Brooks said. "He laid that to rest unequivocally as predicted." Post-forum headlines While Jon Stewart of "The Daily Show" labeled the RJC's event a "tuchus kiss- off"--and Democrats used the opportunity to accuse the Republican candidates of politicizing the U.S.-Israel relationship--the forum's organizers said they were pleased with how things went. "All of the candidates used the opportunity to demon- strate their strong pro-Israel credentials, their visions for how they want to lead America and provided a strong contrast Sudoku solution 16427 82356 97534 54718 68975 31269 73842 25193 49681 between their visions and that of the failed policies of Barack Obama," Brooks said. But while the RJC forum garnered plenty of media at- tention, it did not yield much news. Instead the headlines-- and sparks--over the Israeli- Palestinian issue came later in the week with the release of an interview that Gingrich did with The Jewish Channel. In the interview, Gingrich labeled Palestinians as "an in- vented" people. After coming under criticism--including from Romney, who called his opponent's comments "incen- diary"--Gingrich said that he stood by his characterization but reaffirmed his support for a negotiated settlement including a Palestinian state. This article was produced in cooperation with The Wash- ington Jewish Week. from page 7 9853 1479 8162 2936 3214 4785 6591 7648 5327