New Reform lay leader has work to do in Jerusalem

Palo Alto resident Daryl Messinger has been named the next board chair of the Union for Reform Judaism, making her the movement’s top lay leader and the first woman to hold the position.

That’s terrific. It’s about time the largest Jewish stream in the United States puts a woman at its helm. The Conservative movement did it 13 years ago, when Orinda resident (and J. board member) Judy Yudof was tapped as the international president of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, a position she held from 2002 to 2005.

We congratulate Messinger, a member of Congregation Beth Am in Los Altos Hills, on her nomination to a post she will assume at the URJ Biennial in November. And while we understand her duties will focus on strengthening Reform synagogues in North America, we also urge her to use the prestige of her new position to push back against the outrageous actions of Israeli government officials and rabbis that work to perpetuate the second-place status of liberal Judaism.

This week alone, as detailed in our pages, Israel’s newly appointed minister for religious services, David Azoulay, said in an interview on Army Radio that Reform Jews are not Jews.

The outcry from American Jewish groups was immediate. As URJ President Rabbi Rick Jacobs pointed out, Azoulay sits in the Israeli Cabinet and has the authority to help turn his views into government policy. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu criticized Azoulay’s comments but has not removed him from his post, which would be the correct course of action.

Also this week, an American woman was turned away from the Western Wall for wearing a kippah. And Israel’s Cabinet repealed a government measure passed just last November that aimed to reform the country’s draconian conversion policy, which would have increased the number of conversion courts from four to 30 and helped more than 300,000 Jews from the former Soviet Union who are not Jewish according to halachah, or Jewish law.

These stories indicate an alarming trend in the new government aimed at preventing liberal Judaism from flourishing in the Jewish state. The so-called apologies from Azoulay and the Western Wall’s chief rabbi made things worse by “blaming the victim” — respectively, Reform Judaism and the Women of the Wall.

URJ represents more than 1.5 million Reform Jews, the largest Jewish movement in North America. Daryl Messinger, we urge you to lead a delegation of lay leaders to meet with key Israeli government officials and rabbis, in the name of Jewish peoplehood.