Below is the text of a speech made by Rabbi Ofek Meir, Managing Director of the Reform Movement’s Leo Baeck Education and Community Center in Haifa, at the protest rally against the Nation-State Law on Saturday evening, August 4, 2018, in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square.
We have gathered this evening shoulder to shoulder, loyal citizens and residents from all walks of life at a rally that is entirely out of love for the State of Israel.
The Israeli flags that are carried here in every corner represent to all of us the Jewish-democratic State of Israel, which since its inception has espoused with the flag and the Declaration of Independence the values of Judaism, equality and democracy – the vision of the prophets of Israel.
In Israel, Jews, Arabs, Druze, Circassians, Bedouins and other national minorities live together. This is a constant challenge, both delicate and complex. Emotional and not straightforward. This is our reality. Our fate has bound us together.
I was invited to this stage as an educator, rabbi and director of the Leo Baeck Education Center in Haifa.
Twenty five thousand members of the Druze community live on the Carmel ridge. Haifa is home to many other Israelis belonging to minority communities. The Israeli mosaic in our city, one of many cultures and nuances, is fascinating and complicated.
As educators, our role is to foster sensitivity, tolerance and patience and create genuine connections and cooperative endeavors. These positive connections are both exciting and empowering for everyone who experiences them. Their attainment is neither simple nor smooth, but we prove every day that it is possible. We are familiar with the adage: It is hard to build and easy to destroy; we are mindful and at the same time committed to its message.
Three thousand years ago, when the Torah was given to the Jewish People at Mount Sinai, the Druze aligned their fate with that of the Jewish People. Jethro the Prophet, Moses’ father-in-law, identified in the Koran and the Druze tradition with the prophet Shuaib, advised Moses on how to organize and lead the people. The most influential Torah portion in world history – the story in which the Ten Commandments were given – expressing the values and principles that comprise humanity in its entirety to this day, bears his name. Values and principles of a just and respectable society in which all its members, Jews and non-Jews alike are entitled to equality, recognition and respect.
The Leo Baeck Education Center, an educational institution operating in the spirit of Reform Judaism for the past 80 years, is a Jewish educational and community center by definition, since all of its activities are based on the values of Judaism. Shabbat, prayer, the annual calendar, and holidays are an inseparable part of the center’s existence, but what particularly distinguishes its special Jewish character is the ability to accommodate the non-Jewish facet as an integral part of its activities.
Together, we are building on a daily basis a reality of a community based on partnership, mutual respect and equality. It is important for us not only to get along with one another but to celebrate diversity, to grow and flourish from the differences and similarities between us. Dozens of Druze, Christian, Muslim and Baha’i students are educated at the school and live alongside religious, secular, Reform and Conservative Jewish students. Hundreds of members of non-Jewish communities and religions are partners in the “Leo Baeck” educational and community network and all its branches. They are an important and inseparable part of us. One human living organism.
We educate our students that the most important [Jewish] test in Judaism is how the non-Jew feels amongst us, and in the language of the Bible is he really “one of our citizens”!
Hard work and great efforts must be made so that non-Jewish citizens feel at home in Israel. I believe this is possible! I know it’s possible! This is first and foremost the duty of the Jewish public. It is our duty to create a society in which the value of equality is our guiding principle. It is one of the most difficult challenges a person can face.
It is not a coincidence that our holy Torah commanded us to love the stranger and treat him with respect -36 times – more often than any other mitzvah! The reason for this commandment: ”for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” is a sensitive issue deeply rooted in the Jewish consciousness.
We know what it means to be a minority. We have been there.
The commandment of love appears four times in the Torah: once for God, once for your neighbor is like you and twice for the stranger! The Torah has formulated for us the sensitive and beautiful Jewish Nation Law that has lasted for three thousand years: “The stranger who sojourns with you shall be as a native from among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” (Leviticus 18:34) The Torah teaches us that a law which contains the idea of equality, is worthier as a law, more Jewish and most likely, more democratic.
If this is true with respect to the stranger who comes to our land, than it is even more applicable in regards to those who are the sons and daughters of this land.
I invite all Knesset members and anyone who has any doubt to come, experience, see, feel and breathe our Jewish center, which lovingly embraces every human being and is a home to all the students, employees, members and all visitors who come through its gates.
We are all privy to an important lesson in citizenship, Zionism and Judaism. A lesson in the power of unity, equality and mutual responsibility. A lesson in unconditional love . All these serve as the guiding light for the existence of the State of Israel and an inspiration for all its fundamental laws.