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Wednesday 31 October 2007

Reform leaders return from Israel

Reform leaders return from Israel
Written by Joe Millis

Leaders of the British Movement for Reform Judaism met President Shimon
Peres on Thursday 18th October for a 35-minute meeting. It was one of
the highlights of their six-day tour of the country.

The British delegation comprised movement head Rabbi Dr Tony Bayfield,
its chair, Michael Grabiner, and treasurer Stephen Moss, CBE. The visit
was organised by Julian Resnick, the Movement's director of Living Judaism.

Mr Peres, who unlike his predecessor Moshe Katzav, addressed Rabbi
Bayfield as "harav," (rabbi) made it clear he was "troubled" by internal
attempts to have a narrow definition of Jewishess. "We are a
disappearing people," he told the group. "We are not the Chinese. There
are only 14-15 million of us. We need to be more careful, generous and

He added that, "if rabbis have a right to decide who is a Jew, the
Jewish people have a right to decide who is a rabbi."

On the scheduled peace summit in Annapolis, Mr Peres said that "all
parties will do their utmost to ensure there is no failure. Even partial
success will be a success."

After the meeting, Mr Grabiner said: "I found the meeting inspirational.
His vision of reaching out to all the Jewish people, not just those in
the centre, but especially those on the edges was both profound and

Rabbi Bayfield said: "I found it an honour and a privilege to be a rabbi
within a people led by a President of such stature. We were all taken I
by his phrase that 'if rabbis have a right to decide who is a Jew, the
Jewish people have a right to decide who is a rabbi."'

Reform Movement President, Sir Sigmund Sternberg, added: "I am very glad
that, for the first time, the President of Israel has recognised the
importance and contribution of the Reform Movement and has addressed its
head as 'Rabbi'. This is long overdue."
The six-day visit underlined the Reform Movement's commitment to Israel
and was a springboard for ever-growing involvement of members and
communities in the life of the Jewish state.
The delegation engaged with those who enriched its understanding of the
complexities of the central issues facing the state at this crucial
time. Through visits to Sderot, which has come under an almost daily
barrage of rocket attacks from Gaza, and the north, where tensions are
running high in the wake of an Israeli Air Force attack deep in Syria,
the leaders also displayed the Movement's concern for the welfare of all
The leaders heard moderate Palestinians, such as Palestinian Authority
deputy Foreign Minister Ahmed Soboh and leading academic and journalist
Hanna Siniora, who are struggling to be heard above the din of
Rabbi Bayfield said: "The trip was both symbolic and practical. It was
symbolic of the importance that we give to Israel - our highest level
delegation to date. And it was practically important in terms of
developing the gesher chai, the living bridge that connects us ever more
strongly to Israel - and Israel to us".


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