Sunday, August 26, 2007

Time Magazine: "Anti-Zionist [Reform] Judaism"

Many Palestinian solidarity activists are familiar with the staunch anti-Zionism of orthodox Jewish groups like Neturei Karta but far fewer know that anti-Zionism was once a significant force in the Reform movement, too. Sadly, that is no longer the case and even the organization mentioned in the article below has been corrupted by the poison of Zionism. What follows is the text of a Nov. 3, 1952, article from Time entitled "Anti-Zionist Judaism."
Most Jewish religious agencies in the U.S. are enthusiastically friendly to Israel and Zionism. The contributions of American Jews have furnished substantial financial support for Premier David Ben-Gurion's Israel government. The Israeli flag is prominently displayed in the religious schools of some Jewish congregations. The modern Palestine pronunciation of the ancient Hebrew liturgy is encouraged, and children often sing the Hatikvah, the Israeli national anthem, before beginning their Sunday school classes.

In Highland Park, Ill., a Chicago suburb, a Jewish religious school has opened for the avowed purpose of eliminating Zionist and Israeli influences from the lives of Jewish children in the U.S. The School for Judaism (enrollment: 115) is the first full-scale school to be run by the American Council for Judaism, an organization of U.S. Jews who hold that the loyalty urged on all Jews by the State of Israel is debasing Judaism from a universal world religion into a "nationalist faith" based on "the primacy of the Jewish people."

Angry Shouts. The Council was founded in 1943 by a group led by Lessing J. Rosenwald, onetime board chairman of Sears, Roebuck and Co. Almost all of its members belong to Reform congregations, and Executive Director Elmer Berger, 44, is a Reform rabbi who left his synagogue in Flint, Mich, to take the job. Some of the earliest Reform rabbis were explicitly anti-Zionist, and to Council members, the rising popularity of "Israelism" in the U.S. seemed the very thing the rabbis had protested.

From its founding, the Council has met [b]itter opposition. In 1945, no less a pro-Zionist than Albert Einstein attacked its program as "a pitiable attempt to obtain favor and toleration from our enemies by betraying true Jewish ideals, and mimicking those who claim to stand for 100% Americanism." On his speaking tours, Rabbi Berger has drawn angry shouts (e.g., "Pro-Arab!") in some congregations. Nowadays, however, the angry voices have become quieter, and the Council (dues-paying membership: 16,800) is getting some serious attention. Says Rabbi Berger: "American Jews are uneasy about the nationalism of the Israelis. They're beginning to listen to us."

New Textbooks. The Council's newest project is in the field of religious education. In a survey of Jewish religious schools in the U.S., the Council decided that Zionist ideas were being taught in most of them. Israeli national holidays, e.g., the Israeli Arbor Day, were celebrated as Jewish religious festivals. Of 114 religious textbooks studied by the Council, 73, the Council decided, were marred by "Jewish nationalism" in a more or less open form. When a mother came to the Council's Chicago chapter last summer complaining that she could not find a non-Zionist religious school for her children, it was decided to set up experimental schools in Chicago, Milwaukee and New York's Westchester County.

Rabbi Berger and other Council members have prepared new textbooks for the three new schools, and many teachers and Reform rabbis are cooperating. They hope to set up similar schools and ultimately to get their program adopted by all Reform congregations. Their object: "To demonstrate that Judaism as a universal religion has depth and vision and appeal . . . There need be no nationalistic accouterments or trappings, no secular separatism or isolationism of an allegedly unique 'people' to attract and hold a child to the faith of his fathers ... The child who is educated in the faith and eternal verities of Judaism will become—and remain—a devoted and practicing Jew."

Said Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise, laying down the principles of Reform Judaism in 1885: "We consider ourselves no longer a nation, but a religious community, and therefore expect neither a return to Palestine nor a sacrificial worship under the administration of the Sons of Aaron, nor the restoration of any of the laws concerning the Jewish state."

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