Meet the Staff:
Associate Director Rabbi Gilad Kariv
By Debra Weinstein, IRAC Intern
February Monthly 2006
Balancing a thriving career with a gratifying spiritual life is difficult for many individuals to accomplish in a lifetime. For Rabbi and Attorney Gilad Kariv of the Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC), negotiating these competing demands is merely in a day’s work. As IRAC Associate Director and Associate Rabbi of Synagogue Beit Daniel in Tel Aviv, Kariv masterfully synthesizes the practical with the spiritual.
“I love to stand behind the pulpit,” says Kariv, “I really enjoy congregational religious life. Yet, the right thing to do now for myself and for the Reform Movement is to work primarily on issues of public policy and social action.” Like the ancient city straddling the modern world he inhabits, Kariv serves as a visionary who lends credence to tradition.
“I joined IRAC three years ago with two main objectives ,” says Kariv, “First was to strengthen the Movement’s public advocacy work and second was to develop the social action activities of the Reform community here in Israel.” Understanding the internal mechanisms that have driven and shaped Kariv’s prolific career and varied experiences lend insight into the man he has become today.
As a child, Kariv was intrigued by Judaism. “When I was younger, I visited many synagogues,” Kariv recalls. “For many years I was actually a member of an Orthodox congregation.” How did a young orthodox man evolve into a leader of the Israeli Reform Movement?
“During my high school years, I started to feel uncomfortable with my role as an Orthodox Jew,” Kariv states. He attributes his discomfort primarily to the atmosphere of inequality and other theological issues which, as Kariv describes, “I found quite disturbing.”
Hence, Kariv found his way to a newly developing congregation, Tel Aviv’s Congregation Beit Daniel, where he realized that the Reform movement’s social values better mirrored his own. “I am a traditional [more observant] Reform Jew,” says Kariv, “I think that Reform Jews in Israel should be more serious regarding their Jewish life.”
Even though Kariv leads a more traditional Jewish life, he acknowledges that Reform Judaism, “is about setting the right priorities in our Jewish life – Tikun Olam (healing the world) and social responsibility must come first.” Over the last fifteen years, Kariv has assumed a larger role in his congregation, first as a congregant, then as a board member and currently as an Associate Rabbi.
“For many years IRAC used solely legal means to effect change,” explains Kariv, “We came to understand that only a combination of sophisticated legal work and public advocacy would achieve IRAC’s goals.” With Kariv’s guidance, IRAC has become more involved in the political and public arena in Israel. “We strive to be an NGO that presents new ideas and refreshing thinking on issues of freedom of religion and conscience and human rights.”
From his daily work in the congregation, to addressing various Knesset committees, to writing position papers and to meeting with community leaders, Kariv has conceived of an effective combination of grassroots and high politics that can place the Reform Movement at the forefront of Israeli society. “On the one hand, we are players in setting Israel’s national agenda,” Kariv explains, “On the other hand we reach out to Israeli Jews in the grassroots, insisting that they be more socially and politically aware. We create a connection between Jewish heritage and social action and responsibility for our modern life here in Israel.”
Bridging social projects with spiritual endeavors, Kariv proves the embodiment of his ideals. Whether it is bringing food packages to poor Muslim families in Shfaram (an Arab city in Israel) or aiding former Gazan settlers in Nitzan (an area near the Gaza Strip), he demonstrates both through his work and through his convictions the “relevance of liberal Judaism to the Israeli reality.” Rabbi Gilad Kariv is a man who ties our Jewish heritage to our present life and emboldens the Jewish community to strive for a socially active future.