Encouraging Pilgrimage to Israel Among Reform Jews

Resolution Adopted by the CCAR


Adopted by the 116th Annual Convention

of the Central Conference of American Rabbis

Houston, TX

March, 2005


We are people with a long memory of our roots in the Land of Israel, a people that reminds itself on a regular basis of the hope of “next year in Jerusalem.” Within this sacred land, our prophets called out for justice, peace and mercy and our ancient sages developed the Judaism that we practice in our homes and congregations. The language of Israel, Hebrew, is the language of our sacred texts; the holidays of our holy calendar are derived from the agricultural and geographic climates of the Land of Israel. Judaism without Israel would be like a tree with no roots. It was for this reason that the Bible commanded that we go up to the land on a regular basis in holy pilgrimage in order to reconnect to the land of our people’s physical and spiritual birth.

This tradition of sacred travel to Israel continues today both in Judaism and in other faith communities. As recently as 1999, tourism was Israel’s primary industry, its revenues surpassing even diamonds and citrus. With great sadness, we witnessed the decline of this staple of the Israeli economy and are keenly aware that the damage wrought was enormous. We are grateful that tourism is again on the rise. Still, Reform Jews, as well as other Jews in the Diaspora, are visiting Israel in far fewer numbers than before. While we recognize that the current matzav (situation) accounts for this decrease, we believe that the precipitous drop in tourism levels is out of proportion to the risk entailed in traveling to Israel. Media hype and unreasonable U.S. State Department advisories have served to increase unwarranted fear. We are thankful that the security situation in Israel has improved considerably since the height of the Palestinian uprising. We appreciate the measures and efforts that have been taken by the Israeli government and tourism companies, including our own Association of Reform Zionists of America (ARZA) Travel and North American Federation of Temple Youth (NFTY) in Israel, to increase security for tourists.

Recent findings of the National Jewish Population Study regarding Jewish identity indicate a decreasing connection American Jews and Reforms Jews in particular feel in regard to Israel. Significant steps must be taken to strengthen the bond between the world’s two largest Jewish communities. Firm in the knowledge that a trip to Israel strengthens Jewish identity and forges a stronger sense of connection to Jews worldwide, and committed to Klal Yisrael, we recognize the need to increase the number of Reform Jews of all ages making frequent visits to Israel.

In particular, we understand the long-term impact of young people spending significant time in Israel during their high school and college years. Programs such as the URJ Eisendrath International Exchange (EIE) program and the Carmel Progressive Beit Midrash bring young people closer to Israel within a Reform context and nurture our Movement’s future leadership. These programs also open up excellent opportunities for partnership between the Movement and the new Masa project of the Israeli government and the Jewish Agency for Israel, one designed to bring 20,000 young Jewish adults from the Diaspora to Israel for long-term programs. Birthright Israel trips and semester and year-long study programs offer college-age students wonderful opportunities to build connections to the land and people of Israel. Based on State Department travel advisories, some American universities currently do not permit their students to obtain academic credit for their studies in Israel, forcing those who pursue such programs to withdraw, take time off for study in Israel, forego financial aid, or forego preferential pricing. At a time when there is so much anti-Israel sentiment on campus, in the media and elsewhere, we believe that it is critical that our young people receive a firsthand experience of our homeland.

In solidarity with our people in Israel, expressed most directly through our presence, we acknowledge our responsibility to encourage Reform Jews and others to travel to Israel. This time-sensitive commitment will require measures taken on the local level, as well as the national level.

THEREFORE, in order to deepen the solidarity, connection and engagement of North American Reform Jews with Israel, and Reform Jews in Israel in particular, the Central Conference of American

Rabbis resolves to:

  • Work with the Reform Movement, its affiliates, and the communities we serve to formulate and implement plans to increase significantly the number of our constituents who visit Israel, and urge clergy colleagues, congregations and regions to plan and implement pilgrimages to Israel within the near future;

  • Support ARZA, ARZA Canada and the Union for Reform Judaism in the coordination of additional Movement-based trips to Israel both to assist congregations that are unable to sustain a group by themselves and to engage special populations or interest groups;

  • Continue to work with the Israeli Ministry of Tourism to undertake significant marketing initiatives that make travel to Israel a high priority of the Reform Movement;

  • Call upon Reform congregations and rabbis, our college and youth departments and NFTY regions to make a concerted effort to send all of our high school students and young adults to Israel, particularly with, but not limited to, Reform Movement programs, and to help secure the financial support necessary for families for whom this is a burden;

  • Call upon our communities to urge their local Federations to dramatically increase the level of incentive grants for those who wish to participate in Israel programs and call upon ARZA and ARZA Canada to explore ways to expand the availability of similar funding programs based on partnerships between families, congregations and Federations;

  • Call upon Reform students to spend time in Israel during their college years, and call upon our congregations to work with the Israel on Campus Coalition in its efforts to eliminate any and all administrative barriers among institutions of higher education which deter the participation of students in these programs;

  • Work with other agencies within the Jewish community to reach the goal of increasing Jewish travel to Israel;

  • Call upon coordinators of all Reform Movement pilgrimages to Israel to incorporate strong peace and social justice components into their programs and to link with the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism; and

  • Call upon the U.S. State Department to lift unreasonable advisories against travel to Israel.

    1 Text based on resolution adopted by Union for Reform Judaism Board of Trustees, December 2004