Educating for Democracy in Israel
Across Israel and North America, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion community members have been vocal leaders in efforts to build and maintain an open and democratic Israel.
October 3, 2023
On Friday, September 22, students, faculty, staff, alumni, and friends of HUC-JIR joined over 3,000 pro-democracy individuals outside of the U.N. for the largest pro-democracy demonstration outside of Israel.
“It was so moving to be with my Hebrew Union College community and a cross-section of liberal American and Israeli Jews raising our voices for democracy in Israel. Democracy is a Jewish value, and sustaining democracy in the Jewish state is an existential matter.” — Rabbi David Adelson, D.Min., Dean of HUC-JIR/NY
On September 19, HUC-JIR students, faculty, and administrators attended a demonstration advocating for democracy in Israel at Times Square. Rabbi Naamah Kelman, former Dean of our Taube Family Campus in Jerusalem, and Rabbi Josh Weinberg ’13, Vice President of the Union for Reform Judaism for Israel and Reform Zionism and the Executive Director of ARZA, the Association of Reform Zionists of America, were among the speakers.
Rabbi Kelman described how she, as the first woman ordained in Israel, stays hopeful and committed to a democratic, egalitarian Israel. She also offered a blessing:
May the God of ancestors bless those who stand in defense of democracy, justice, and peace.
From among our people and those all over the world who work to secure society in the face of the threat to the justice system and the rule of law.
I return to Jerusalem strengthened and uplifted!
On August 27, Michal Muszkat-Barkan, Ph.D., a leader in the growing protest movement for democracy in Israel and Head of Education and Professional Development Department at HUC-JIR, hosted the “Reality Informs Democracy Education” conference on our Taube Family Campus in Jerusalem. Over 200 teachers, school principals, and educators came together to attend this gathering for educators just before the start of the school year. The conference was a joint effort organized by leaders of the Jerusalem protest movement “Safeguarding Our Shared Home” and HUC-JIR, along with leaders from partner organizations, Israeli Educators for Democracy, the Education Front, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), the Beit Berl Institute, the Tali Foundation, and the Be’eri Program at the Shalom Hartman Institute.
The conference welcomed presentations from a variety of guests and proposals for activities related to pluralistic Judaism and democracy. Dr. Muszkat-Barkan, opened the conference with a lecture on the challenges of pluralism in our current times, emphasizing the need for “active pluralism” in our schools. She called for establishing boundaries against illegitimate voices and stressed the importance of building social alliances through ideological educational discourse and social activism.
One participant shared, “The conference instilled hope for solidarity among teachers working to uphold democracy’s values.”
On July 22, Rabbi Dalia Marx, Ph.D., Rabbi Aaron D. Panken Professor of Liturgy and Midrash, spoke at a rally in Jerusalem with Israelis from all over the country after tens of thousands walked from Tel Aviv to make their voices heard about the future of Israeli democracy. To Rabbi Marx, this felt like a pilgrimage, and she greeted everyone as the Jerusalemites greeted pilgrims in the time of the Temple.
“We are now in a challenging time in Israeli society and history, and a difficult time in the Jewish calendar as we approach Tisha B’Av, the day that marks the destruction of both temples and many other disasters,” Rabbi Marx noted. She quoted verses from last Shabbat’s Haftorah, explaining that current leadership are what the prophet Isaiah describes:
“Your rulers are rogues
And cronies of thieves,
Every one avid for presents
And greedy for gifts” (23)
“Today we have leaders who try to destroy all that is dear to us: social justice, gender justice, relations with Palestinians. We are here to ensure the story of destruction does not repeat itself. This is why we are here every week, every Shabbat night for seven months, and during the week. We are here to say ‘no’ to divisive leadership. We are here to say ‘yes’ to this very delicate tapestry of Israeli society, ‘yes’ to a just and equal society.”