Many Israelis are born Jews, but as they grow up and witness people identified as Jews doing things that offend their own sense of morality, things that offend their own sense of justice, they have an identity crisis with their being called "Jew". So, for a long while, many people took refuge by saying: "well, I am an Israeli, and not a Jew." What they meant was that "I", my own identity, can't really cope with my identifying myself as a "Jew", but, I can easily and proudly identify myself as an "Israeli".
Israel then was glitzy, proud, victorious, a miracle. Good materiel for self identity. But, today, even the Israeli part is having a rough time in our own eyes. So, if we have trouble with "Israeli", what happens next?
How does one address this problem? It seems obvious that what is needed is a way for a Jewish person to develop a positive nurturing sense of themselves as a proud Jew and as a proud Israeli. I cannot think of separating the two. We have to return the positive pride in being Jewish to Jewish Israelis, and the positive pride of being Israeli to Israeli Jews.
We must make it possible for a Jewish Israeli citizen to feel proud of their Judaism, and to feel that their personal existence and Israeli society is ennobled by this identification. And, all of this must be done with NO degradation of pride in Israeli citizenship among those Israelis who are not Jewish.
Repairing the tearThe Masorti Movement in Israel, and the world wide Conservative Movement produces just such results. We offer a living example of just such a process of positive choice of Jewish and Israeli identity, with NO belittling of other ethnic groups or religious groups. It is a Jewish approach that we believe can repair the tear in the Jewish identity of many Israelis and many Jews.
Our basic building block in this process is the sense of "kehillah", that is, diverse people from diverse backgrounds who come together to care for each other, and to care for society, to take responsibility. It is the sense of responsibility that is at the heart of Jewish religion, it is a prime value of Judaism.
It is the pride in community, respect for each other, all rooted in Jewish texts and tradition that keeps people attached to Masorti congregations, such as my own congregation Magen Avraham in Omer. It is a thirst for Judaism that brings these diverse people together!! Imagine if the way we treat each other, and our positive pride in being Jewish were the norm all over Israel!!! Our example is crucial to coping with the identity crisis which grips our society.
Judaism inspires democracy
While some Orthodox leaders, and the Chief Rabbinate conduct a public campaign of defamation of Masorti (Conservative) Judaism, we continue to believe in the positive approach of our movement of inclusion based on the intrinsic values of Judaism about the ultimate worth of every human being.
There is no need to debate the ability of Judaism to be a source of strength and inspiration for a democratic state. Concentrated and serious study of Jewish texts will reveal values that serve that purpose. Even as we study and encounter other values within our tradition which seem antithetical to a Jewish democracy, we become profoundly aware of the range of ideas and values within our tradition, and we realize that we have an obligation to choose and highlight those values which reflect our deepest beliefs.
This is part of the process of study in Masorti institutions around the world. It is a way of pleasantness, peace and deep spiritual enrichment.
Rabbi Michael Graetz, Rabbi Emeritus in the Masorti congregation 'Magen Avraham' in Omer, is one of the Founders of the Masorti Movement in Israel, its first director and past president of the Rabbinical Assembly in Israel. He is past winner of the prestigious Simon Greenberg Award and past member of the Israel Law Committee.