NEW YORK — Out of mounting concerns over increasingly hostile attitudes towards Israel and a departure from traditional liberal values, New York’s Stephen Wise Free Synagogue (SWFS) has launched a multipronged awareness effort to amplify support for the Jewish state within the progressive Jewish space.
“While the majority of liberal American Jews are not hostile to Israel or Judaism, we have already entered a phase that warrants the strengthening of Reform Judaism’s commitment to Israel,” said Stephen Wise Free Synagogue Senior Rabbi Ammiel Hirsch. “If we do not devote resources and tireless efforts to buildings liberal Jews’ Jewish identities and affinity for Israel, the future of American Judaism could very well be compromised.”
Rabbi Hirsch added: “The last thing we want to see is Reform Judaism decline beyond repair. With liberalism embedded in my psyche and a lifelong devotion to progressive causes, I am deeply concerned. However, there is still time, and that is why we must reinvigorate our movement now — as a pro-Israel movement — so that it does not fall prey to elements of American liberalism that have challenged and weakened Jewish identity and love for Israel.”
SWFS’s proactive endeavor has commenced with the establishment of the Marilyn G. and Joseph B. Schwartz Israel Fellowship to influence current and future rabbinic leaders. Fellows will reimagine and develop curricula and learning tools to help students and their families better understand and contextualize Zionism and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and give them the tools to identify and call out manifestations of anti-Israel bias, anti-Zionism and antisemitism.
To this end, SWFS announced Rabbi Tracy J. Kaplowitz, Ph.D. as its Marilyn G. and Joseph B. Schwartz Israel fellow. Kaplowitz previously was director of operations for the JCC Association of North America’s signature JWB Jewish Chaplains Council program that endorses and certifies a network of more than 100 Jewish chaplains and military lay leaders around the world. Kaplowitz has been an educator at the Schechter School of Long Island and the Jewish Education Project and served as a reserve chaplain in the U.S. Air Force.
“I wholeheartedly believe that we need to have an improved foundational understanding of Israel so that liberal Jewry’s Zionism and connection to Judaism are not shaken,” said Kaplowitz. “Because there is too much at stake, we will be relentless in creating a mechanism that heals the apparent fractured relationship between American liberal Jews, Israel and the Jewish people.”
As part of SWFS’ awareness building, Hirsch has also launched a podcast “In These Times with Rabbi Ammi Hirsch,” where he will host in-depth conversations that seek to unpack currents events and trends affecting the Jewish community through honest dialogue with guests from across the religious and communal leadership spectrum. The podcast launched on May 19 and so far has featured episodes with Hussein Aboubakr Mansour and Natan Sharansky.
“Amid the rise in domestic and global antisemitism, and on the heels of the biggest experiment in remote learning and worship, it is incumbent upon us to rethink how we educate non-Orthodox communities around support for Israel,” said Hirsch. “Because support is waning, our ultimate goal is to reverse this trend and pave the way for improved literacy around — and pride for — Judaism and the Jewish state.”
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About Stephen Wise Free Synagogue:
A vibrant Reform congregation on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, Stephen Wise Free Synagogue has served as a catalyst for progressive Jewish thought, committed social action in the local community and beyond, and support for Israel for more than 110 years. Visit swfs.org.
About Rabbi Ammiel Hirsch:
Ammiel Hirsch is the senior rabbi of Stephen Wise Free Synagogue in New York City, where he has led a dramatic revival in Jewish life. Since his arrival in 2004 the synagogue has grown rapidly and has tripled its membership. He has introduced dramatic changes in worship, ritual, and education, attracting a new generation of Jews from throughout the New York region. Read more about Rabbi Hirsch and follow him on Twitter.