Using a $2,800 Ma’alot Initiative grant from United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, Congregation Adath Israel in Lawrenceville is sponsoring a multi-part education program on Israel.
One key event will take place on March 7, when Rabbi Yoav Ende, religious leader of Kibbutz Hanaton in the Galilee, will address a gathering.
Ende, the son of an Iraqi-born mother and the grandson of a Conservative rabbi from Brooklyn, grew up in Herzliya and was ordained by the Schechter Rabbinical Seminary in Jerusalem in 2008. He has been a key member of the Masorti movement’s 28-year-old Hanaton, a “privatized kibbutz” near Nazareth, which he aims to revitalize and transform into a center for the study and practice of pluralism and Masorti religious values.
He spoke with NJ Jewish News from his home on Feb. 9 prior to leaving for a speaking tour that will bring him to New York, New Jersey, Philadelphia, and Chicago.
NJJN: What will you be speaking about at Congregation Adath Israel?
ENDE: I will talk about the future of Conservative Judaism in the land of Israel. Our movement is part of the Jewish people. I am going to bring the perspective of Israeli society, the lack of Jewish pluralism in Israel, and the key role the Masorti movement has in order to fight for Jewish pluralism in Israel.
People can identify with Israel if you are talking about history or shared fears, but we are also talking about making it a shared spiritual home.
NJJN: How big is the Masorti movement in Israel?
ENDE: There are about 70 Masorti congregations around the country, but the question is tricky. If you count people who claim membership in a synagogue, you’ll get one number. If you count people who define themselves as Masorti Jews, that will be a whole different number.
NJJN: What is your movement’s relationship with the Orthodox Jewish world in Israel?
ENDE: In terms of the Orthodox establishment, they make it very hard for us. I am not considered a rabbi by the Orthodox establishment, and the state will not provide funds for us. That means we have to make it on our own. In terms of the Orthodox establishment, there is no true dialogue. But if we are talking about Orthodox people, we find there is a lot of dialogue, and people are starting to talk with and respect us.
We are saying out loud we want to fight for religious pluralism, and we know we deserve it. We grew up here, we served in the army, and we paid our dues.
NJJN: Do you see Israel becoming increasingly dominated by the Orthodox establishment?
ENDE: In terms of politics we definitely see the ultra-Orthodox more dominant, and Israel is not going forward. But in terms of the society, we see an interest in religion among secular Jews and people are open to more types of expression, but we have a long, long way to go. There is no doubt we have a political struggle.
NJJN: How big is Kibbutz Hanaton and what is its mission?
ENDE: We started with six families in a rundown place. Now we are 26 families, and we are building another neighborhood for 34 more families who will join us in the next two years. Our goal is to create a center for dialogue, learning, and spirituality so people can come to learn and interact. We want people to make aliya and try to influence the society they live in.
NJJN: Does one have to be a Conservative Jew to join your kibbutz?
ENDE: No, no, no. We call ourselves pluralistic. One has to want to be a part of a religious place. If you are a secular person that does not like to come to a synagogue, it is really not your place. If you want everybody next to you to keep Shabbat and kosher, you will also have a hard time. You have to agree to pray with an egalitarian minyan, and outside of our homes there are no cars on Shabbat. We have Reform Jews and a Reform rabbi here. We have Modern Orthodox people here.
NJJN: How do you define religious pluralism?
ENDE: In a nutshell, it means being part of a dialogue and knowing you might change your ideas when you come out of that dialogue.
One example is that there are Modern Orthodox people here who say, “I have no problem being egalitarian, but I want to pray with just men.” So sometimes on Shabbat we will have a joint section, a men’s section, and a women’s section. We are trying to create a new model of community life.
NJJN: When you come to the United States, is part of your message to make aliya and move to your kibbutz?
ENDE: I think aliya is an ideal but I am not coming to tell people to make aliya. I am coming to say, “You are welcome, and we want our kibbutz to be a home for everybody.”