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Seeking Peace, Pursuing Justice

Seek peace...and pursue it : Psalm 34:15

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I. Articles & Speeches

UAHC Biennial
Rabbi Uri Regev

This is the transcript of the speech Rabbi Uri Regev, recently appointed director of the World Union for Progressive Judaism, gave at the UAHC Biennial on December 6, 2001.

Rabbi Uri Regev: Than you Ellen. Itís really for these very generous and exaggerated introductions that Iím so eager to attend conventions, conferences.

Realizing that this is the first biennial of the century, the first biennial of our movement in the new millennium and realizing that there would be thousands of delegates of the UAHC and the WRJ biennial, it really felt scary. Then I was thinking about it and realized that, at the same time, it does feel like home because my wife Garri is here, my in-laws and sister-in-law, my in-laws who have demonstrated to me the commitment, the involvement in Reform Judaism when I first met them.

Itís the leaders, lay and professional, of the World Union for Progressive Judaism that have come here from all over the world, those of my coworkers, partners and friends that are here from Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism, those that have come from the former Soviet Union, from Europe. Itís the leaders, the professionals, the staff of ARZA, and now ARZA World Union, who have been a home for me since we have jointly created the Israel Religious Action Center. It is the leadership of the Union and Rabbi Eric Yoffie, may be your president but to me he is a friend. And the truth of the matter is should be told that the Israel Religious Action Center with all its achievements is his brainchild no less than it is mine.

Seeing the friends and colleagues and co-visionaries, dreamers, of the Religious Action Center, of the CCAR, of the Hebrew Union College, of the Women of Reform Judaism who indeed have made it possible for me to pursue the rabbinate as a native born Israeli studying toward my ordination at the Hebrew Union College in Jerusalem, the brotherhood and so many others, that I realized this isnít so scary. Itís an extended mishpucha here.

And yet I couldnít help thinking about Buberís writing this famous chasidic story about two Jews seeing each other. And one is asking the other, "Moishe, do you love me?"

And the other responds, "Yankl, how can you ask that? Of course I love you."

And Yankl responds, "But, Moishe, how can you say that you love me if you donít know what pains me?"

And the question is, do we really know each otherís heart? Do we know each otherís heart enough?

That last suicidal bomber that exploded in front of the Jerusalem Citadel hotel, the David Citadel hotel, but 30 seconds away from the Hebrew Union College and the headquarters of the World Union for Progressive Judaism where each day I walk around the same time from the parking lot of the college to our offices. That realization that it was so close to home made it very personal. And realizing that it isnít just about me as a native born Israeli that these terror attacks are perpetrated but realizing that it is us together that are challenged by the fundamentalist Islamic terror because they view the Jews as infidels. Because it isnít about the territories of the post 67-era; it is about the legitimacy of having a Jewish state all together. Itís about the Jewish people. We are in it together and this is a challenge that will be facing us together. And I know that Professor Yuli Tamir will be talking more about that part of the challenge facing Israel and the Jewish people.

But I do want to share with you that from our parasha that we have just read, from Vayishlach, we can learn maybe something about where we as Jews should be trying to find the solution. It was Jacob preparing to confront Esau, the brother and the enemy. So much strife, so much pain has separated them. And what does Rashi, what does the midrash tell us about how Jacob prepared for that encounter, that confrontation? He tells us that hi hitkin atzmo líshlosha dvarim, lídoron, liítfila, ulímilchama. He is prepared for three things: holistically, jointly, for prayer, for a gift and for war.

Yes, we are a religious nation. We are a religious movement. We seek our strength in faith, and our journey is a religious journey. And the same time, while we prepare ourselves to war, and painfully and unfortunately we cannot exempt ourselves from that necessary though sad engagement, at the same time we have to come bearing gifts. We have to think of the day of tomorrow where we, destined to live together in this country, will have to forge ways of coexistence. And we have to tell our enemies that just as we are determined to fight terror until its demise, we are willing, we are ready to provide them with their sustenance, to provide them with gifts, to provide them with acceptance, to provide them with help. And like Jacob too, hopefully preparing for prayer, for war and for gifts, we shall prevail and peace will dawn in our world and in our country.

Applause

Now, at the same time, the battle over pluralism, the battle over pluralism for Jews in Israel -- mind boggingly -- Israel, our nation, our state, the joint enterprise of the Jewish people. Mind boggingly, Israel the Jewish state is still this last and only country in the free, democratic world that denies Jews religious freedom. The challenge of pluralism again is not just for me as a native born Israeli or Israeli-trained Reform rabbi. The challenge of pluralism is ours, as committed Jews, as committed Reform Jews because the assault is not on me as an Uri Regev. The assault is just as we have read recently in the Haredi press, describing why no cooperation and no recognition of Reform Judaism should be allowed, the language read: "Just as the darkness covers the earth, so do the Reform and Conservative sects of the destroyers of the religion trying to dig their claws into the Holy Land. No one should lend a hand to these criminals and any one who does so is amongst the enemies of God." This is the language voiced today by mainstream religious leaders in Israel and it isnít just about me, itís about you, itís about us. Just last week, the Sephardic Yom Líyom newspaper, the organ of Shas, has chosen out of the blue to speak about Reform Judaism disguising itself as part of the Jewish people but turning around to perpetrate and collaborate with the Nazis in the destruction of their brethren. Why? Because we have emerged as the first serious threat, to any dream, vision, hope for religious pluralism and equality and freedom in our land, in our state.

The good news is Israel is ready and waiting for us. Just this week we are releasing the findings of a holistic, comprehensive study on attitudes towards religion and state, which show amazingly how relevant indeed pluralism is for Israelis and how relevant Reform and Conservative are.

At this point, more Israelis express their identification with Reform and Conservative Judaism than Israelis who express their identification with Orthodox Judaism. At this point, the clear majority, two-thirds of Israelis, want there to be pluralism, want there to be freedom and equality. At this point, a majority of Israelis want there to be freedom of choice in marriage and divorce. Itís a new era. And this new era seems to be scaring those who donít want Israel to be part of that enlightened and progressive world.

This is a challenge that we share together and we should not be facing it alone. I know that Russell Silverman will shortly tell you of a simple, easy way that you can express your participation and partnership. Heed to his call about the participation in the elections for the World Zionist Organization.

You see, my election as the incoming director of the World Union for Progressive Judaism is, I think, a statement not just of trust in what I personally represent, and Iím so very grateful, honored and humbled by the trust put in me by the leadership of World Union for Progressive Judaism for Progressive Judaism.

But as Ruth Cohen, the President of the World Union has said yesterday to the board of the Union, it goes beyond that. And I think that the maturation of the Reform Movement, and moving from the time that the World Union headquarters were in Europe, in England, and then were transferred to America and then 25 years ago were moved by the master builder of the World Union, Rabbi Richard Hirsch, to Jerusalem to Israel. And at a later point, indeed, Ruth Cohen, being both representing the European region and having been a leader in our British movement and then making aliyah, was elected president of the World Union. And now I as a native born Israeli was selected to be the professional head of our world movement. I think it speaks volumes of the role of Israel today and the role of Israel of tomorrow in our life as a world movement. It is a very tangible expression of our unity, the unity of our world Reform Movement and World Jewry.

So, itís too early, obviously, to speak of my plans for our world movement. But I do what to tell you that while coming here, I followed the advice first suggested in 1851 by Horis Greeley, the editor of the New York Tribune: go west young man. And Reform Judaismís heeding this advice and going west has certainly yielded great fruits. And looking around this room and around this country shows how beneficial it has been for our movement. I take my heed, I hope we take our guidance from our own sources. And again it is only recently that we have read the charge in the Torah. Ufaratzta, yama vakedma, tzafona, vanegba. Spread abroad, north and south, east and west. Indeed as a movement we have a universal message. It is not a new message that we today are inventing.

As far as Iím concerned, the words of Lily Montague, the founder of the World Union in the first founding meeting, resonate as fresh today as they were ever before. She said: "I want our Union to make its contribution to the worldís spiritual treasury. It will be a Jewish message. It will tend to peace, to the sanctification of life, to the brotherhood of man, revealing the unity of God. Thatís the Jewish message and I say the world is hungry for it. Our union will help to formulate it."

This to me is a charge that I will be carrying with me, facing the challenges of the World Union in this new century, in the new millennium: the challenge of pluralism, the challenge of spirituality, the challenge of providing for sustenance for our movements throughout the world and strengthening the Jewish renaissance that is our lot in the former Soviet Union and in countries in Europe where we have not been in existence for many, many decades, the challenge of cooperation and strengthening our world wide movement, the challenge of providing for our message to be heard in the forums of the international community and the international Jewish community, the challenge of working with all of you as mishpucheh, as brothers, as coworkers and codreamers.

It was Hillel who said: Im ein, ani li mi li, uchshani li atzmi ma li, víim lo achshav, ein mati? It is Hillel the elder that said, if I am not for myself, who will be for me? And if Iím only for myself, who am I? And if not now, when? Indeed, initiative and responsibility will first have to come in each and every place and each and every community. But we are one people, we are one movement and our mutual responsibility and I pledge my commitment to work closely with my friends and colleagues in the North American movement and first and foremost with ARZA/World Union North America, with Rabbi Ammi Hirsch and Philip Meltzer. And indeed this will be a partnership which will transform our world and bring our message to places far apart.

And im lo achshav,ein mati. And if not now, when?