- February 20, 2023
From halfway across the world came a topic that resonated with Temple Beth Israel members on Longboat Key. Rabbi Uri Regev, a lawyer and reform Judaism rabbi from Israel, visited the congregation as a Scholar in Residence from Jan. 14-16 and spoke at three events.
On Jan. 14, the congregation gathered for Shabbat dinner and had the chance to meet Regev before services. About 60 members attended dinner, but close to 100 were in attendance for the special service. Instead of Rabbi Stephen Sniderman delivering the sermon as usual, Regev took over.
Regev is a former member of the Israeli government and focused his discussions on how politics in Israel have become poisonous, as well as what he hopes to reform. As a figure of reform Judaism, he works towards plurality and tolerance of all religions and wants to reform marriage in Israel.
“As a URJ (Union of Reform Judaism) congregation, we really aspire to liberalism when it comes to regulating religion, so that's a topic that is very close to our heart,” Executive Director Isaac Azerad said.
Overall, Regev’s discussions centered on current affairs in Israel and the topic of religious plurality and acceptance of other religions. Regev’s discussions were well attended each day, and Azerad said the debate was a hit, though the Shabbat dinner and presentation was the highest attended.
The first night was an introduction of Regev and the topic he’d be discussing throughout the weekend, the second was for development of the topic, and the final day culminated in a debate between Regev and Harold Halpern, a local expert on Israeli affairs. The debate was new and challenged the temple’s AV team to come up with a solution to Halpern being offsite, Regev being at the temple and some audience members livestreaming in.
“It was almost like a game of mirrors,” Azerad said.
During Regev’s second-day discussion, he fleshed out the topic from the previous day more and honed in on the deterioration of discussion in Israeli politics. The country’s legislative body is the Knesset, a 120-member parliament that governs by coalition. No one party has control over the government, but parties compromise to try to get things done — usually.
“In America, it's a problem because you only have two parties,” Regev said. “In Israel, it's a problem, because when we have elections, we have about 30 parties competing … In recent years, there's been a serious problem because of the growing acrimony between left and right. Because of the nature of the further fragmentation of the conflict between left and right, even though the mainstream right isn't so right, and the mainstream left isn't so left.”
Basically, Regev said, there’s been a trend in politics in recent years to label anyone who didn’t agree with the word of the ruling party as the opposite of whatever the party was. For example, someone who didn’t agree with Benjamin Netanyahu would be labeled as a leftist when there usually wasn’t much “leftist” about them.
“This deterioration of the political discourse has muddied the waters and at times deteriorated into physical violence,” Regev said. “I'm not taking sides between left and right. … We are focusing on one thing and one thing only and that is religious freedom and equality and it is because we are focusing solely on religious freedom and equality, that we can reach out to and embrace the political left or right. Interestingly, when it comes to religious freedom issues and pluralism issues and religious equality issues, there are significant overlaps in both the political left and the political right.”