Growing up as a Conservative Jew in America during the 70’s was one of the richest experiences one could have as a young Jewish American. USY and Camp Ramah were maybe the best tools available to combat assimilation, build a strong Jewish identity and promote a strong and Jewish Israel, including Aliyah. We were taught how Israel “Liberated’ Judea and Samaria in 1967, returning our historical homeland to the Jews. We all listened as we were told how Israel must be settled, all of Israel, and how we must not let the Arabs ever take it from us again. Tales of Jewish strength, were told to us, over and over again, the likes of Yoni Netanyahu z”l and other IDF figures became our heroes, stories of the settlers from the beginning of the State till the present (mid 70’s) stoked the embers of Zionism within us, and this included all of Israel. We were taught to stand up to our enemies, and taught who our enemies were, those who want our land. We viewed the people of the Galil, Judea and Samaria and the Negev as the modern day “Halutzim” of Israel. All of this with no political messages, and no political parties. Conservative Judaism was about Judaism and making an effort at becoming a good Jew. We learned how to keep Kashrut and Shabbat, and enjoyed it. When politicians from Israel came to speak, they came from all parties and all parts of Israel, equally, and spoke of Israel and not which party to back. When USY and Ramah summer trips came to Israel, they went all over Israel, and didn’t delete our historical homeland from their itineraries, after all we were taught to be strong and that Israel, was our land. This was taught, again, without a political agenda. I still remember the excited discussions of my friends from the US, visiting here in Israel with USY or Camp Ramah, about the places they visited, about the connection they felt, the envy some had that I made Aliyah.
We were free to choose what we thought about Israel’s policies and politics. Leaders of political movements did not manipulate us, after all this was “Conservative Judaism”, where they wanted us to think for ourselves. For many of us, we grew in strength and identity. Some became more observant, some became more Zionist, and all of this came from being taught how we are a part of “Am Yisrael” and “Eretz Yisrael”.
Nowadays it seems there is a different picture. If you are a Conservative Jew and an active part of the movement, there are lines in the sand. There are political movements in Israel that may and may not be backed, at least in public. Group trips may no longer go all over Israel, “Safety”, being the excuse, Political Agendas, being the reason, Fear, the stench, and a lack of a strong Jewish Zionist identity being the result.
How is it today that politics have infiltrated so deep into this once glorious movement that it now allows it and its members to be political pawns. That Conservative Jews are afraid to travel the roads of the heartland of Israel while others, from around the world do so freely is very strange. How can the leadership of this movement hope to inspire its members to expand their horizons while they put blinders on? Conservative Judaism used to be the flagship of American Judaism, because it was based on a philosophy and not Political Correctness, or being left or right.
Maybe this is one of the reasons, so many have been leaving the movement. The political undertones heard throughout Conservative Judaism have been alienating many who grew up as I did, those who heard the same message, those who were educated and then given the right to decide on their own, from a point of knowledge, not ignorance.
If Conservative Judaism wants to become a viable movement again, it must return to what it once was, a movement that embraced Judaism and Israel without politics and politicians. When you cut parts of Israel out of your life, you cut more Jews away from your movement.
In the coming years, the Jewish people living outside of Israel are going to need more strength than ever. You need Israel now more than ever, all of Israel, no lines, no borders.
We are here for you.