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I run the Reconstructionist movement. We believe in Israel’s right to exist but reject litmus tests on Zionism

This story was originally published in the Forward. Click here to get the Forward’s free email newsletters delivered to your inbox.
The terrible events of Oct. 7 and its aftermath have been at the forefront of the Reconstructionist movement, and especially at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, throughout this year. It has been incredibly challenging to lead a religious movement and a rabbinical school that includes people with a wide range of views, personal experiences and perspectives on Israel, Palestine and Zionism — as well as on our roles as Jews and as Americans in this moment. Reconstructionism was founded on a commitment to diversity, and at the college we have incredible diversity across many dimensions. The stance of the Reconstructionist movement from the time of its founder, Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan, to this day is that Israel has a right to exist and is a vital center for Jewish life and the Jewish people.
Rabbi Deborah Waxman at RRC's 52nd graduation on May 19, 2024.

We care deeply about the Jewish people across geography and we stand in solidarity with Israelis. We also hold a longstanding opposition to Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and support for Palestinian self-determination.

And, in contrast to the approach taken by many — if not most — Jewish institutions, we do not impose a litmus test around our positions on Israel. 

At our rabbinical school, the boundaries we draw are behavioral rather than political. What matters is our students’ capacity to center relationships and to build covenantal community across differences. By covenantal community, we mean intentional, abiding, values-driven communities that can hold together through in hard conversations and in times of struggle. 

The questions we ask ourselves include: How do we treat one another? How do we foster a sense of community? What do we do when we inevitably fail?

This approach is certainly more complicated than it would be to simply throw out anyone who isn’t 100% aligned with our movement on all things. It means everyone is uncomfortable at least some of the time. 

This was a new experience for some students, many of whom were used to Jewish institutions that shut down any voices that dissented from a specific Zionist perspective. Other students brought their backgrounds from activist contexts in which Zionist perspectives are shunned. All of them — no matter where they fall on the political spectrum, no matter their relationship to Israel, Palestine or Zionism — have benefited from being in conversation and community with each other.

All our rabbinical students are required to engage and grapple with Israel as a central component of our curriculum, which includes a summer of study in Israel. There, we focus on providing knowledge and experience of the land as well as exposure to and relationships with representatives of the wide range of people who live there. Students also undertake significant coursework around Israel and Zionism in several required classes.

Léah Miller, Kanaan Goldstein, Beryl Trauth-Jurman, Maria Pulzetti, Sam Kates-Goldman, Josh Nelson, Lesley Pearl, Emery Cohen, and Shira Singelenberg spent the summer of 2023 in Tel Aviv studying with BINA.

The stance of the Reconstructionist movement from the time of its founder, Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan, to this day is that Israel has a right to exist and is a vital center for Jewish life and the Jewish people.

The graduating class of 2024 with some members of RRC's faculty on Sunday, May 19, 2024.

The cohort of Reconstructionist rabbis who were ordained this Sunday has been forged in the intensity of these last several years. Many of them enrolled during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic; studied when George Floyd was murdered and when the reckoning on systemic racism began and retreated; and learned while women, transgender and other queer Americans were vilified and stripped of rights. 

The Reconstructionist Network

Serving as central organization of the Reconstructionist movement

Training the next generation of groundbreaking rabbis

Modeling respectful conversations on pressing Jewish issues

Curating original, Jewish rituals, and convening Jewish creatives

The Reconstructionist Network