During the month of May, Temple Rodef Shalom in Falls Church, Virginia, began its latest semester of Beit Midrash, an adult learning program. 68 adult learners chose a class out of five options to deepen their understanding and learn new things.
One of the classes offered was "Democracy in the Jewish State." During the class, we asked ourselves if Israel can be both Jewish and Democratic. We delved into ways Israel maintains its stance as a democratic country while maintaining its Jewish character, and ways it fails to do so. We examined the Zionist vision, the parliamentary system, Jewish pluralism, and minorities in Israel.
The first session featured Brian Reeves, a former visiting fellow at the Mitvim Institute. He talked about why the Zionist movement defined Israel as a democratic and Jewish state and how that has played out and continues to play out in Israel today.
For the second session, Rodef Shalom Senior Rabbi Amy Schwartzman, Cantor Rachel Rhodes, and Jewish Federation of Greater Washington Senior Shlicha (Israeli emissary) Pnina Agenyahu talked about how Israel defines its Judaism through three lenses: the social lens, the activist lens, and the education lens.
At the third session, Arabic-language research analyst David Daoud from the Foundation for Defense of Democracies spoke about the Israeli Arab minority in Israel and how Israel treats these citizens.
The three sessions definitely enlightened the community about the complexity of life in Israel and the day-to-day challenges regular people and policymakers face. There was agreement among the group that Israel can never be fully Jewish or fully democratic, and that gray area in between the Jewish and democratic is what creates that tension that arises with almost every decision the Israeli government makes.
By Lior Doron
Originally from Tel Aviv, Lior Doron is a shlicha (Israeli emissary) at Temple Rodef Shalom in Falls Church, Virginia.