By Rabbi Dr Andrew Goldstein
With the theme of Liberal Judaism Day of Celebration on 7 June being Israel, I’ve been looking at our movement’s relationship with the state.
Many of the early Liberal Jewish leaders, including founders Rabbi Dr Israel Mattuck and Claude Montefiore, had negative feelings about Zionism. Others, such as Israel Abrahams, the Orthodox scholar who contributed much to the establishment of Liberal Judaism, modified their positions and became supporters.
I suspect like many a Liberal Jew and many an Anglo-Jew, I was not really interested in the state until the Six Day War in 1967. I don’t believe Israel played any part in my religion, school education, nor in my early experiences of a Liberal Jewish youth movement. Even when the former Chief Rabbi of the United Synagogue, Israel Brodie, was inducted, in the same month as Israel’s Declaration of Independence, he didn’t mention it in his sermon.
At Leo Baeck College, the requirement was to know Biblical Hebrew grammar, rather than to be able to speak modern Hebrew. All this changed in the days before the Six Day War with the fear that the surrounding Arab states would achieve their stated aim – to drive Israel into the sea.
Some of my fellow students sought to go immediately to Israel to help defend the country. We less committed, but no less worried, gave blood and collected blankets.
When the war ended so quickly, we believed it a miracle. On day seven, our elderly German Bible lecturer said: “Now we must give this territory back.” We young gung-ho students thought she was mad. But would history be different if Israel had done so?
Liberal Judaism was also changing and this was largely due to Rabbi Sidney Brichto, who brought with him from America, a more positive attitude to Zionism and connected Liberal Judaism with Israel-centred organisations.
Now our feelings about the present state of Israel, our reactions to daily events and how they are portrayed in the media, are a constant concern and challenge to us. I am looking forward to seeing many of today’s Liberal Jews at the Day of Celebration, showing their commitment to both our movement and the state of Israel.
Rabbi Dr Andrew Goldstein is president of Liberal Judaism