|Written by Ruby Ong|
13 May 2011
A Message from Daniel Sokatch
A couple of months ago, Reform Jews celebrated the news that Rabbi Rick Jacobs had been named as the next president of the Union of Reform Judaism, the largest denomination of Judaism in the United States. We at the New Israel Fund were particularly delighted. That’s because, for many years, Rick has served as a highly involved NIF lay-leader. He is a former Board member, and the current head of our Pluralism Grants Committee. He reflects and represents core NIF values, and we are proud to call him one of our own. He is also a mensch, a wise and thoughtful leader, and (on a personal level) a dear friend and counselor. All of us who call him Rabbi were overjoyed that the URJ was wise enough to tap him to lead the movement in these challenging times.
That’s why so many of us were so disgusted – but not terribly surprised – when a small group of individuals questioned Rick’s pro-Israel bona fides, and thus his appointment, in part because of his long association with progressive pro-Israel organizations like the New Israel Fund. We have, of course, seen this story before. The hard-right in our Jewish community has taken it upon itself to serve as the arbiters of what constitutes acceptable support for Israel. Any deviation from their hard-line is labeled as misguided or, increasingly, treasonous. Fear of these bullies has chilled community debate, cowed some supporters of Israel into silence, and caused many others to walk away from the Israel conversation entirely. But not Rick Jacobs.
Rabbi Jacob’s love and support for Israel are palpable in virtually everything he says and does. And his way of loving and supporting Israel make sense to most American Jews. As the Forward’s JJ Goldberg writes, “Jacobs is no more hostile to Israel than Shimon Peres, or David Ben-Gurion for that matter.” I am heartened and encouraged by the enormous outpouring of revulsion at attempts to label Rick as somehow not “pro-Israel enough,” and at the wave of powerful support for Rick’s appointment across the American Jewish political and denominational spectrum. This rejection of attempts by a few to control the debate over what constitutes support for Israel is good news for American Jews, the vast majority of whom understand that loving Israel means working to make it better, fairer and stronger. Just as Rick Jacobs, and NIF, have always done.