Joining in the spirit of the evening, Union for Reform Judaism President Rabbi Eric Yoffie surprised the crowd of several hundred olim, who gathered here for a sendoff this week, with his outspoken Zionism.
"Those of us who live here live in galut, and to live in Israel is to live a fuller Jewish life," Yoffie said. "For an American people that does not understand the importance and centrality of Zion, you are an important bridge."
Yoffie's words reflected noticeable changes in the Reform Movement's approach to aliya. Traditionally, aliya has not been a major component of the movement's platform, but increasingly over the last few years, it has been placing greater energy on their Israel-related activities, including hiring a full-time aliya emissary for the first time.
Brett Willner, 22, who will make aliya at the beginning of August and start his army service, is in many ways a poster child for the movement. He went to Reform summer camp and religious school, and grew up in the youth movement. It was also the Reform Movement that first brought him to Israel, in 2002, during his junior year of high school.
The evolution of Reform Judaism to support of Aliya is a gratifying and important historic development. Reform Judaism has come a long way from resolutions such as those of the Philadelphia convention
and the odious Pittsburgh Platform
. Unfortunately, when Reform Jews get to Israel, they may find that it is hard to be a reform Jew here. Israeli society and culture evolved from the early beginnings of Zionism, in which secular and religious Jews united against the anti-Zionist reform movement. As reform Jews were not interested in Zionism, Zionism was not interested in them for a long time. Rabbi Yoffe himself heard from ex-President Katsav himself that a reform rabbi is not a rabbi. Nobody really protested against Katsav's dictum.
A recent initiative by the Jewish Agency to pass a resolution that would recommend that the state of Israel honor reform conversions was quashed
for technical reasons.