or over a century, the educators and cultural
leaders of the Yishuv and later of the State of
Israel have been struggling to define the ideal
of the Jew who would build – and sustain – a renewed
Jewish national existence in the Land of Israel. For a
long time the voice of our Movement was not much
heard in this conversation. We were marginal, perceived
as an import, our rabbis speaking for the most part with
pretty heavy American accents.
But times have changed. We are still a small Move-
ment, but we are known. We have congregations across
the land and some large and well-respected institutions,
including Bet Daniel in Tel Aviv and Leo Baeck in Haifa.
Our Center for Religious Pluralism often makes the
news and has impact in the courts and on the street.
And for three decades, we have been ordaining Israeli
rabbinical leaders for Israeli society. For the last two of
those years, as Director of the Israel Rabbinical Program
at HUC-JIR/Jerusalem, I have found the challenge of
defining the ideal of the rabbi that is appropriate to
Israeli society in our time to be fascinating, exciting,
and as yet unresolved.
Traditionally, the rabbi’s authority, based on his
knowledge, piety, and understanding of the needs of his
flock, was centered in his interpretation – and determi-
nation – of Jewish law. He was a legal authority for the
community; his influence thereby touched every aspect
of their lives. But in Israel (outside of the Orthodox
world) – and in Reform Judaism anywhere – most Jews
today are not concerned with what Halachah requires
In modern liberal Judaism, the rabbi is less a de-
cisor than a teacher, the one who helps her community
find meaning, moral values, and personal solace in the
Jewish experience and in Jewish sources; she is a repos-
itory of knowledge, a counselor, a leader of
institution-building and social change. But in Israel, the
baseline of Jewish culture and identity – Hebrew, Bible,
Jewish history, holidays, Hebrew literature – is already
there on the street and in the public schools; no one
needs a rabbi for her knowledge of Hebrew. No one
needs a synagogue to provide a Jewish anchor or envi-
ronment; the street is a Jewish environment.
So what is the niche for the Reform rabbi in Israel? I
don’t believe there is one right answer. Here are a few
Spiritual and educational leader of a synagogue-
based community, seeking to take Judaism back from
the state and the street and build an intimate commu-
nity informed by Jewish texts and driven by Jewish
Leader in the wider society who brings Reform’s plu-
ralistic and prophetic approach to building the Jewish
state – in politics, education, and civil society.
Jewish scholar in academia who can bridge the gap
between the ivory tower and the challenge of applying
the wisdom of Jewish sources to the needs of a real
Entrepreneur, gadfly, informal educator, social activist,
thinker-outside-the-box, who can create for herself an
as-yet-untried channel for bringing liberal Judaism to
bear on the challenge of realizing the vision of the
So, whom should we recruit and how should we
train them, and how can we attract candidates when
their options after ordination are so unknown? Not easy
questions. And yet, we do attract candidates, and we do
train them – and we continue to model adaptive leader-
ship: constantly reflecting on what we are doing and
how we are doing it, and trying to help each student
discover his own unique role and mission in the perfec-
tion of the Jewish state. The State of Israel is the
opportunity we Jews have to show the world what we
can do and how we apply our values when we finally
have sovereignty, political power, and military might.
Reform leaders – and those who train them – have a
critical responsibility to make sure that the result of
this experiment is
and the sanctification
of God’s name.
What Kind of Rabbis Does Israel Need?
Rabbi Marc Rosenstein, Ph.D., N ’75;
Director, Israel Rabbinical Program, HUC-JIR/Jerusalem
y rabbinical work involves creating something from nothing. A group of parents and I are
attempting to create a community for adults with special needs included within the wider com-
munity. It will be the first of its kind, based around a synagogue, good deeds, giving to the community,
without books for those who cannot read. We are working to build an inclusive, plural-
istic home of satellite apartments around a community center for 70 adults above the age of 21 with
developmental disabilities, autism, and deafness. We will create work opportunities with self-respect
and meaning. Our goal is to use the model of a thriving Jewish community so that people will experience
belonging, giving, and caring. Our residents will experience empowerment by being leaders themselves.
As a second-year student at HUC-JIR, just five years ago, my studies enabled me to dare to attempt
the impossible. I consulted with teachers about the genesis of this project. Their belief in me was not
necessarily based on my past work with those with special needs, but on a deep reading of the texts
and belief in the invisible and impossible, a belief in social change.
In September we are starting a parents' group based on my final project at rabbinical school, and we
will discuss Jewish sources which deal with separation and anxiety and engage in creative activities to
face this challenge. We are also starting a social group for the young adults themselves, to prepare for
and for independence in life. I will begin receiving a salary this month for the first time. We
have been granted 2 acres of land, several government offices are engaged, and we have 70 believing
families on our books. We have a website, architectural plans, and many helping hands. We are a com-
munity that is becoming.
From Dream to Reality
Rabbi Judith Edelman-Green, J ‘09
Rabbi Judith Edelman-Green, M.A., was ordained at HUC-JIR/Jerusalem in 2009. She founded and
directed Israel’s national program of Bar/Bat Mitzvah for the Special Child for 12 years; initiated
Israel’s first overnight camp for young adults with special needs; and organized Israel’s first national
conference on Jewish Special Education that brought together teachers, parents, rabbis, and children.
Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion
Rabbi Marc Rosenstein
meeting with Israel
students at HUC-