Resolution Adopted by the CCAR
ENCOURAGING PILGRIMAGE TO ISRAEL AMONG REFORM JEWS1
Adopted by the 116th Annual Convention
of the Central Conference of American Rabbis
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:
1 Text based on resolution adopted by Union for Reform Judaism Board of Trustees, December 2004