Challenges of a Reform Jew in Israel

By Tina Hughes, Hebrew Union College
 
I went to Israel for my first year of Rabbinical School at HUC, Hebrew Union College.  
 
I had been to Israel before – three times – and thought that I knew what I was getting into.  
 
The year was not what I expected.  Being a female Rabbinical student in Jerusalem, wearing a kippah had its difficulties – but it gave me a taste of Israeli society that I both had not and would never have seen solely from short group-organized trips.  
 
At first the reactions I got from Israeli society disheartened me about Israel – how could I, a Reform Jew studying to be a Rabbi, feel that I didn’t belong in the Jewish homeland?  
 
It just didn’t make sense to me.  
 
However, through my studies at HUC and the Shalom Hartman Institute I began to realize what my role as a female Reform rabbinical student was.  
 
It dawned on me that the Reform movement in Israel is not like the Reform movement here in the United States.  One would understand that from a look at the prayerbooks – but it goes beyond that.  People in the United States get what Reform Judaism is.  
 
They may not really understand the minutia, but they understand that just as society as a whole believes in equal rights for women, so too has the movement adjusted, and that is one example.  
 
However, what I found was that it wasn’t that I didn’t belong – it was that Reform Judaism was not understood, because it was so small, and the areas I where I was tended to be heavily Orthodox-dominated.  
 
Most of the people that criticized my practice of Judaism didn’t understand it.  I realized that my role there for the year was to educate.  To be a Reform Jew in Jerusalem and hold my head up high and stand up for what I believe in.
 
After returning to the United States, I found it difficult at first to speak about my experience.  
 
With a little time to process, I can see the impact the year had on me and my thinking and my beliefs – that I am much more clear on not only what I do, but why I do it – after trying to painstakingly explain it in Hebrew during my first few weeks when I didn’t yet have the language capacity to do that – it seems easy to discuss in English these days.  
 
But it also taught me how to begin to be a leader of my movement – how to not only be solid in what I believe – but help others to see the way I believe so they can make their own decisions about what they believe.
 
 

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