Israeli rabbi to speak here about Reform movement changes

Rabbi Gilad Kariv has seen big changes in the Reform movement in Israel.

How big? At Yom Kippur services this year, more than 1,000 people filled Beit Daniel, the synagogue for which he serves as head rabbi. On that holy day it was, he says, the most crowded shul in Tel Aviv.

That’s up from a couple dozen congregants not so many years ago.

Of course, in the United States, crowded Reform synagogues are commonplace. Kariv will have a chance to see for himself next week when he addresses the World Union for Progressive Judaism’s International Humanitarian Awards Celebration Dinner on Sunday, Oct. 8, in Burlingame. The event salutes three local individuals who have led the charge for the cause of international progressive Judaism.

They include businessman/philanthropist Lorry Lokey, his partner Joanne Harrington and Rabbi Roberto Graetz of Lafayette’s Temple Isaiah.

Says Kariv of the three: “We are honoring people who presented for many years their commitment to the Jewish people and to the future of progressive liberal Judaism around the world and in Israel.”

Kariv is associate director of the Israel Religious Action Center (counterpart of the Washington, D.C.-based Religious Action Center) in Jerusalem. As both a lawyer and a rabbi, he stands at the forefront of advancing the legal status of progressive Judaism in the Jewish state.

It’s been an uphill battle, in large part due to the long-standing “monopoly” the Orthodox movement has on religious affairs in Israel. But Kariv sees change in the offing.

“Non-Orthodox Israelis are starting to feel a need for communal Judaism,” he says. “Now we’re moving to a spiritual Zionism, the beating heart of the Jewish people. Israeli society needs our spiritual and communal products, and I think we can overcome the political and legal obstacles in our way.”

As evidence, Kariv notes he officiated at 30 weddings in the last two months alone, one every other day. Of course, to make the marriages legal in Israel, the couples had to fly to Cyprus for a civil wedding.

“It means a foreign marriage in Nicosia has more validity with the Israeli government,” he laments. “Although they have to spend hundreds, thousands of Israeli young people choose not to go through the Orthodox establishment, and instead come to our congregations. I believe most Israelis want a connection with Judaism, and our way is the preferred path.”

It has been his path since a young age. Born in Tel Aviv and raised in a secular household, Kariv found himself drawn to Judaism early on. “I started walking to an Orthodox congregation,” he recalls. “For a few years I was connected to them. But as a teenager, questions started to disturb my connection with Orthodox ways. I started to be involved with Beit Daniel.”

After his military service, Kariv studied law at Hebrew University, and later established a young adult division for the Reform movement at Israeli campuses and congregations. From there, he attended Hebrew Union College in the United States to become a Reform rabbi. Armed with a law degree and ordination, he joined the Israeli Religious Action Center four years ago.

Kariv is a frequent visitor to the United States and the Bay Area (his brother is a professor at U.C. Berkeley). When he sees how dominant the Reform movement is here, does he ever get pangs of envy? He says emphatically, “No.”

“The Reform movement in America had its own struggles,” he says. “It took it decades to become the flourishing and vital denomination it is today. When I look at Reform Judaism in the States, it makes me optimistic because I know we will become a key player in the Jewish scene in Israel. It’s only a question of time.”

The World Union for Progressive Judaism’s International Humanitarian Awards will take place at 5:30 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 8, at the San Francisco Airport Marriot Hotel, 1800 Old Bayshore Highway, Burlingame. Tickets: $125. Information: (888) 834-8242 ext. 28.

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a contributing editor at J. He was a longtime staff writer at J. and retired as news editor in 2020.