This summer, as Hamas rained thousands of missiles on Israel, a group of American rabbinical students at non-Orthodox institutions wrote an open letter condemning the Jewish state for a variety of supposed sins. The letter formed the basis for a long report in the New York Times Magazine on the suppose “unraveling of American Zionism.” But support for Israel among American Jewry remains high. Moreover, writes Ammiel Hirsch—the rabbi of a prominent Reform synagogue in New York City—the Reform movement is committed to Zionism, for unambiguous moral and theological reasons:
For the record, the Reform movement is a Zionist movement. Every single branch of our movement—the synagogue arm (Union for Reform Judaism), the rabbinic union (Central Conference of American Rabbis), and our seminary (HUC-JIR)—each organization separately, and all together, are Zionist and committed ideologically and theologically to Israel.
We are theologically committed to the centrality of the Jewish people and the Jewish state. We have said so repeatedly. We have obligations to fellow Jews. We are commanded to be ohavey Yisrael, to love fellow Jews—and to support them, especially in times of war, hardship, and struggle. We have a right, and an obligation, to teach future leaders our values and commitments. . . . The student letter calls for a rethinking of American Jewish education about Israel. Fair enough; but our movement has a right to encourage some American Jewish seminary students to rethink their approach to ahavat Yisrael, [love of the Jewish people].
Jewish leaders have an obligation to speak about Jewish peoplehood and our struggle to survive. . . . What higher responsibility does a Jewish leader have than to love and protect fellow Jews? Are we so emotionally distanced from our own people that we cannot even bring ourselves to condemn war crimes against Jews in the middle of a war?
Where you sit often determines where you stand on an issue. If you are sitting in a lecture hall on an American campus or seminary, you might come to view the Israel-Palestinian dispute differently than parents of three children who are spending the night in shelters five miles from Gaza. If you are sitting in an American seminary or university, you might come to view the conflict as a racial one, or one of oppression, patriarchy, or colonialism, as so many students nowadays view every social problem.