Pictured, from left to right: Naamah Kelman, Dean, HUC-JIR/Jerusalem; Yaron Shavit, Chair, Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism; Natan Sharansky, Chair, Jewish Agency for Israel; Rabbi Stanley Davids, Former Chair, ARZA, and Member, HUC-JIR/Jerusalem Board of Overseers; Rabbi Gilad Kariv, Executive Director, Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism; and Dalya Levy, Director, Arzenu; at the Murstein Synagogue at HUC-JIR/Jerusalem.
Natan Sharansky, the former Soviet refusenik and prisoner, Israeli political leader, human rights activist, author, and Chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel, spoke with HUC-JIR’s Year-In-Israel students on Monday, February 28, 2011. The evening was arranged under the auspices of ARZA, the Association of Reform Zionists of America, by Rabbi Stanley Davids, former Chair of ARZA and member of the HUC-JIR Board of Overseers in Israel. Sharansky explained that human beings strive for two great goals: to be free and to belong. He urged HUC-JIR’s students to strive to belong to the great Jewish Narrative. He shared his desire to seek unity for the Jewish People, including Reform Jews worldwide.
Rabbi Davids writes, “Natan Sharansky challenged the Reform rabbinic, cantorial, and education students who were present not to accept the world as they encounter it, but to trust in the power of their convictions to transform themselves, to transform the Jewish people – and to become active partners in the shaping of Israel into a Jewish democratic state that will truly be a light unto the nations. Even as the Reform/Progressive Movement grows in numerical strength in North America as well as in Israel, it must also deepen and strengthen its ties to the Jewish people and to the Jewish state. Sharansky’s leadership and inspiration play a key role in helping us in the fulfillment of that imperative.”
Rabbi Naamah Kelman writes, “Rabbi Zweiback, Director of the Year-In-Israel program, and I are deeply grateful for the efforts of ARZA, ARZEINU, and the IMPJ to be the voice of our North American Reform Movement hopes and concerns in Israel. They sponsored this extraordinary event, and our students had a rare opportunity to meet a living legend and a current leader who does not shy away from the toughest challenges we face as Jews, Israelis, and human beings. Our students raised thoughtful and insightful questions based on their experiences this year in Israel and years of Jewish activism. HUC-JIR rabbinical student Steven Beck said, ‘the first letter I ever wrote to a Congressman at age 10 was to free Natan Sharansky, what a thrill to hear him at HUC-JIR!’”
Liz Piper-Goldberg, a first-year rabbinical student at HUC-JIR/Jerusalem, explains, “I was moved and excited by Sharansky’s emphasis on Jewish Peoplehood during his address. He argued that the same awakening of Jewish identity that occurred in Soviet Jews has happened for the more than 300,000 Birthright Israel participants, and all the more so, for participants in long term Israel programs, such as EIE, NFTY in Israel, or HUC-JIR’s Year in Israel. As he stated, ‘Israel doesn’t have any magic Zionism to give you – so what’s happening?’ North American Jews who visit Israel are discovering that we have a stake in a history, a people, and a nation – a nation that is exciting and interesting, despite the problems and challenges that we also find here.” Click here to read Liz's full response.