June 6, 2013
I live in the Bay Area, where the weather can change so quickly it can leave you breathless. You’re standing there on a sunny day, you walk two blocks, and then whomp, you’re fogged in. Or vice-versa.
It's as good an analogy as I can come up for what's going on in Israel.
After years of work by the NIF family, the Ministry of Religious Affairs finally comes around to the idea that rabbis serving Reform and Conservative communities should be paid through the communities, and not subjected to the "are-you-ultra-Orthodox?" test for state funding. At the same time, the issue of military service for haredim rages on, disguising the fact that Israelis are unsure what to do with a religious community that isn't even learning science, math, or Zionism in most of its schools.
Israel's biggest amusement park decides quietly to restrict Arab and Jewish school visits to different days, partially to protect Arab students from overt racism from the Jewish kids. But the Education Ministry is adding 500 Arab teachers to understaffed Jewish schools, and Prime Minister Netanyahu speaks out against exclusion and racism.
He also appears, smiling and supportive, in a promotional video for the radical ultra-nationalist group Im Tirtzu, which regularly runs anti-Arab campaigns.
Israel's poverty rate is 21%, compared to the 11% average for the other OECD members, but the money from Israel's new gas fields is starting to come in. Thanks to our campaign to significantly increase the royalties, that's more money that Israel gets for education and social welfare programs.
But it's also inflating the shekel versus the dollar. And we fund hundreds of organizations in dollars – your dollars – which means a certain amount less that these already-strapped NGOs will receive.
Sunshine and fog. No-one is even pretending to know if Secretary Kerry's newest efforts will bear fruit or how the continuing chaos of Israel's neighbors will impact its security and future. What we know, however, is that social change means two steps forward and one step back, not losing hope, taking the small victories and building on them.
This is a good week to be a Reform rabbi in Israel. Next week, we hope it will be just as good for somebody else.