Rabbi Miri Gold, the first non-Orthodox rabbi to receive a government salary in Israel, was in Ottawa last month speaking about her precedent-setting court case and promoting the Reform movement in Israel.
Rabbi Gold began to receive the government salary well after an Israeli Supreme Court ruling in May 2012 that she should be paid. Rabbi Gold’s test case at the Supreme Court paved the way for Reform and Conservative rabbis in Israel to earn salaries. Her case was filed in 2005.
In January, JTA reported that four Reform rabbis were now receiving a salary, but that the funding was filtered through the Culture and Sports Ministry rather than the Religious Services Ministry, which funds Orthodox rabbis.
Under the terms of the ruling, only Reform and Conservative rabbis serving in Israel’s regional councils – and not in major cities – are recognized as “rabbis of non-Orthodox” communities.
Rabbi Gold was in Ottawa, March 17 and 18, during a visit to Canada – which also included stops in Toronto and Montreal – sponsored by ARZA Canada, the Canadian arm of Reform Judaism. While here, she spoke at Temple Israel and to students at the Ottawa Jewish Community School.
“Every Reform congregation in Israel needs multiple partners in North America,” said Rabbi Gold, who spoke with the Ottawa Jewish Bulletin prior to her presentation at Temple Israel, adding that face-to-face interaction is vital for promotion of Reform Judaism in Israel.
Looking around Temple Israel, Rabbi Gold said she admired the community here and recalled the Temple Quilt Project, which sends baby quilts to Israel, and Temple Israel’s soup project, which raised $16,000 after Anat Hoffman of the Israel Religious Action Centre challenged Reform congregations to raise $10,000 each for an Israeli food bank by making and selling soup.
At her sessions, Rabbi Gold spoke generally about her court case, the situation in Israel, and about what it’s like to be a Reform Jew and Reform rabbi in Israel.
Born in Detroit, she made aliyah in 1977 and settled at Kibbutz Gezer along with other North Americans. When the founder of Kehilat Birkat Shalom, the kibbutz congregation, left, she began leading High Holidays services and preparing children for bat and bar mitzvahs.
Deciding to become a rabbi, she entered the Reform movement’s Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 1994, and was ordained in 1999.
“It took from 2005 to 2013,” said Rabbi Gold, 64, of the time it took for her case to be filed, ruled on and implemented. “I didn’t actively do anything but hang in there. But I learned valuable lessons. You have to look at the bright side. You have to be acting and doing.”
She said there were times when she “never thought it would happen. I thought I would retire first.”
Rabbi Gold said she sees progress in the growth of Reform Judaism movement in Israel.
“The youth movement has a summer camp for a couple of weeks, and campers go into the world with a strong sense of who they are. In the Israeli textbooks, now there is mention of Reform Judaism,” she said. “That’s brand new.”