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Mourning a Statesman, Peacemaker, and Legend

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Shimon Peres
The Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, Jewish Reconstructionist Communities and the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association mourn the loss of Shimon Peres, z’l, who passed away near Tel Aviv on Tuesday after recently suffering a stroke. Shimon Peres was one of the most important and influential founders and shapers of the State of Israel. An early military leader and defense strategist in the young state, in later years Peres built a political career that advocated strongly for peace between Israel and all of its neighbors. After playing a crucial role in the peace agreements Israel made with the PLO and with Jordan in the 1990s, Peres devoted boundless energy towards a dream of a new Middle East, based on foundations of peace, political and territorial compromise, cultural and technological cooperation, and regional strategies for improving education, health, and infrastructure. The Peres Center for Peace, which he founded in 1996, will carry on his deep commitment to the pursuit of peace through diplomatic, social, economic, and cultural ties with Palestinians and with the other peoples of the Middle East.

Peres arrived with his family in British Mandate Palestine in 1934, at age 11. In his youth he helped found Kibbutz Alumot. At age 20, he became Secretary of the Labor-Zionist Youth Movement. At 24, in 1947, David Ben-Gurion tapped him to be responsible for military personnel and arms for the Haganah. Soon after he served as head of Israel’s Navy, and then as Director General of the Defense Ministry, all before turning 30.

In 1959 he won election to the Knesset and held a seat there until 2007. He is the only person to have served as both Israel’s Prime Minister and as its President. During the second Rabin administration, Peres initiated and conducted the negotiations that led to the 1993 Olso Agreement between Israel and the PLO. He received the Nobel Peace Prize, along with Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat, in 1994. After leading a unity government in the 1980s, he served a second term as Prime Minister after Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated in 1995. In 2007 he was elected Israel’s 9th president by the Knesset, and in 2012 President Barack Obama awarded Peres with the Presidential Medal of Freedom – the highest American civilian honor offered to people for their work for world peace.  

Beyond his remarkable achievements, Shimon Peres was an important part of Israel’s identity, and a spokesman for its best aspirations, for as long as anyone with ties to Israel can remember. His loss will be felt powerfully throughout Israel, the Middle East, and the world. His dream of a more peaceful, just, interconnected, and cooperative Middle East will continue to inspire the Jewish people and seekers of peace throughout the world. We add our condolences to everyone mourning his loss in Israel and everywhere, and we offer prayers for comfort to his family. May his memory be a blessing, and may his vision inspire us to continue the work for co-existence, humanity, and peace.

Image:
By Copyright World Economic Forum, swiss-image.ch /Photo by Remy Steinegger - originally posted to Flickr as Shimon Peres, Yasser Arafat - World Economic Forum Annual Meeting Davos 2001, CC BY-SA 2.0,https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4486615

Public Statements, Israel

Statement on Historic Western Wall Compromise

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The Reconstructionist movement is overjoyed that on Jan 31, 2016, the Israeli cabinet voted to dramatically expand the space for egalitarian prayer at the Kotel. This is a blessed and welcome decision. The Western Wall in Jerusalem’s Old City is a central and highly symbolic Jewish space. For many Jews, this is an historic moment, because an egalitarian community of men and women is essential to their religious obligations, needs and desires. We are proud that for nearly three decades, Reconstructionist rabbis, congregants and students have been part of the on-the-ground struggle at the Kotel for egalitarian practice and women’s prayer groups.

Now, as they can in many progressive communities around the world, women and men will be able to pray together at this sacred site: mothers with sons, fathers with daughters, spouses, relatives, and friends. Women will be counted for a minyan. They can lead prayer services, and handle and read from the Torah, without the interference and violence they have previously encountered. This is extremely good news for the pluralistic Jewish world, and for those who have pressed this feminist issue for many years.

We congratulate Women of the Wall and the many feminist activists in Israel and from around the world, who, for twenty-seven years, have pushed for recognition of women’s full engagement in prayer and leadership at the Kotel. Their efforts and perseverance are an inspiring chapter in the recent history of Judaism.  We congratulate the leadership of the Reform and Conservative movements, who negotiated this agreement.

That said, the work is not yet done. Religious pluralism means attending to all religious needs along the spectrums of gender and Jewish practice, so that everyone is accommodated. With the new changes, there is still no room for an Orthodox feminist minyan at the Kotel, or for any women’s group that wants to lead prayer and read Torah in the traditional women’s-only space. We want these women, too, to be included in the vision of Jewish religious pluralism.

The Reconstructionist movement hopes that this signals a renewed starting point for the work that remains to be done to bolster women’s religious equality and religious pluralism in Israel. Our movement is committed to improving the state of democracy in Israel in all its forms.

Let us celebrate, appreciate and continue to work for change.

For additional background, check out the links below

http://www.jta.org/2016/01/31/news-opinion/israel-middle-east/why-the-western-wall-compromise-matters-and-doesnt?utm_source=Newsletter+subscribers&utm_campaign=5d83ab0e30-Daily_Briefing_2_1_2016&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_2dce5bc6f8-5d83ab0e30-2838636

http://www.jta.org/2016/01/31/news-opinion/israel-middle-east/3-maps-that-explain-the-western-wall-compromise

http://www.urj.org/blog/2016/01/30/north-american-reform-movement-applauds-passage-plan-enhance-egalitarian-prayer

Public Statements, Israel, Israel

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