Shlichah Brings a New Message to Reform Jews in the United States

Standing at a podium but barely needing a microphone, Liran Avisar Gazit, a former commander in the Israel Defense Force, painted a straightforward picture for the more than 150 people gathered at Old York Road Temple-Beth Am in Abington: As Jews, she said, they are all part of "a bigger family" that exists halfway around the world.

"You are stockholders of this huge investment of the Jewish people," Gazit said, adding, "we share the ownership of Israel."

She explained that while the past 60 years have been spent trying to build the Jewish state in terms of infrastructure — homes, roads and government agencies — Zionism now means connecting Israel with American Jewry. And her new job is to convince Reform Jews in particular to make aliyah and help diversify Israeli society. "After 60 years," she insisted, "we have to change the face of Israel."

This, she stated, is what Zionism is all about today.

While Orthodoxy and secularism once provided Israeli citizens with the principle forms of Jewish identity open to them, Conservative Judaism and the Reform movement have sought a growing presence in the country over the past several decades.

In case of the latter, this is apparent in the growth of Reform kibbutzim and in the city of Modi'in, the ancient home of the Maccabees, whose mayor has welcomed Reform Jews there.

That is where Gazit comes in. Since she became the Jewish Agency for Israel's first shlichat aliyah to the Reform movement a year-and-a-half ago, she has visited Reform congregations throughout the United States, trying to "sell" the benefits of making aliyah.

Her background seems to have prepared her well for this task. After serving for five years in the IDF, Gazit became an attorney specializing in public and constitutional law. She served as assistant to the Attorney General of Israel from 2003 until 2006, when she moved to America and assumed her new role.

She is based in New York and affiliated with the Association of Reform Zionists of America.

The 32-year-old Israeli's recent visit was co-sponsored by the synagogue's Israel-action and adult-education committees, and its Brotherhood, as part of its Israel@60 programming.

Gazit's main function as an emissary is "to carry a message" to Reform Jews and to point out that, if they cannot commit to aliyah, then they might opt for an extended stay. There's also the possibility of studying abroad or spending a sabbatical year in the Jewish state. She also suggested that people purchase a summer home in Israel, consider retiring there or spending half the year instead of heading to Florida.

Gazit reminded her audience that Jews everywhere share the same history, holidays and traditions, and quipped that Israel is a country run by Jews who say, "Thank God, it's Thursday!"

She admitted that Israel is not a perfect country, and that challenges exist when it comes to the Diaspora community. But she also pointed out some less well-known — and highly attractive — facts about Israel, such as its high number of museums and other cultural sites, its technological contributions and its dedication to human-rights issues.

The attorney then presented a video she recently helped produce that highlights not only the personal stories of Reform Jews of various ages and lifestyles who have made aliyah, but also the accounts of people who decided settling in Israel was not the right for them — and why.

Gazit will be leading a trip to Israel in August organized by ARZA, the Israeli Reform Movement, and the Jewish Agency for Israel, designed to present an insider's view of Reform Jewish life there. Experiencing the nation firsthand, she noted, might just convince visitors that there's a bit of Israel in their future.



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