by Rabbi James Prosnit, December 2017/Kislev-Tevet 5778
She’s number 8 on the Jerusalem Post’s list of most influential Jews of 2017 and we’ll welcome her to B’nai Israel on Monday evening, December 4. (In 2013 she was Israeli newspaper Haaretz’ “Person of the Year.”)
Anat Hoffman, the director of the Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC), is an old school activist who never shies away from reminding Israeli society of the need to uphold Jewish values envisioned in the Israeli Declaration of Independence guaranteeing “freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel” and ensuring “complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex.” Once you’ve heard her speak you know that few can channel that prophetic voice better than she. And like the prophets of old her power comes from her passionate voice. Hoffman, writes, “I am as powerless as Jeremiah, Isaiah, Haggai, Amos and Hosea. They were all powerless politically; Jeremiah was locked up in jail. So why are they in the Bible? Because they were right.”
She is perhaps best known for being a founding member of the group that started Women of the Wall, the international organization of women working to secure the right to pray at the Western Wall, while wearing prayer shawls and singing and reading from the Torah collectively. She has been arrested multiple times for wearing her tallit at the Kotel and for “smuggling” a Torah scroll into the women’s gallery.
But her activism goes beyond dealing with prayer rights at the Western Wall and includes issues of Jewish conversion, marriage and divorce, as well as others relating to religious life in the Jewish state. She reminds us that “It says some 36 times in the Bible, ‘Do not oppress the stranger, because you were a stranger in the Land of Egypt.’ It’s saying to do right by the minority. That’s how a community is measured, by how we deal with the other, with the orphan and the widow. This is our great gift to the world. What are Jewish values? Chauvinism, racism, ethno-centrism? Or pluralism, tolerance and equality?”
And in a 2015 interview in the Connecticut Jewish Ledger, she had a powerful charge to the American Jewish community:
I think something is very lost when arguing over Israel and I think American Jews are very disturbed by that; it splits families. If you want to bring indigestion to your dinner, just bring Israel as a topic on Friday night. Don’t talk about Israel because this is going to cause Cousin Naomi to walk away in a huff from the table because she is AIPAC and she can’t hear Cousin George talk about J Street. Instead of Israel becoming an excellent place for us to work out what these values are and to fight for them, you’re silent about Israel. I think this silence is the most disturbing thing I see among diaspora Jews because this silence breeds apathy, disinterest, disengagement.
No matter where one fits on the spectrum of Israeli politics, Anat Hoffman’s presence in our community provides a unique opportunity to engage with one of the most significant Reform Jewish leaders of our day.
We are appreciative of both Temple Israel and the Jewish Federation for Philanthropy of Upper Fairfield County for the their co-sponsorship of Ms. Hoffman’s talk, as well as very generous anonymous donation from two of our congregants. Please join us on December 4 at 7:30 p.m.
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