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Israel

One of the most meaningful things for me to do on Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, is to look at videos of Israel observing the holiday. Across Israel, loud sirens stop all traffic, business and activity for one minute as people stand at attention and remember. (If you haven’t seen this phenomenon before, I highly suggest you watch one of the videos.) This time of year asks Israelis to reflect on more than just the destruction of the Shoah as Israel turns to Yom HaZikaron (Israel’s Memorial Day) and Yom HaAtzmaut (Israel’s Independence Day) just next week.

The past few months have been eventful for Israelis and those who care about Israel, in more ways than one. At Consultation on Conscience (April 26-28), there will be an opportunity to discuss current issues in Israel on Monday evening at 7:15 PM. The event will feature Rabbi Rick Jacobs, President of the Union for Reform Judaism, Dr. Natan Sachs, a fellow at the Brookings Institution and Rabbi Noa Sattath, Director of the Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC). Earlier in the day, we'll also have the opportunity to hear from Wendy Sherman, Under Secretary of State Foreign Affairs and the chief United States negotiator for the Iran nuclear negotiations. Tune in for the livestream at youtube.com/racrj.

By Shira and friend of the RAC, Ronit Zemel, incoming Assistant Director of Harlam Day Camp

In the front hallway of our home growing up was a picture of our great grandfather, Rabbi Solomon Goldman, standing next to Chaim Weizmann at one of the gatherings of the World Zionist Congress in the late 1930s. This picture is a hallmark of our upbringing as liberal Zionist Jews. We heard lore of our grandmother’s grade school education at the Riali school in Haifa. Our dad told us stories of his first time in Israel as a thirteen year old, peering out into the still forbidden Old City from a lookout tower in Jerusalem. Then we had the opportunity to see Israel for ourselves; to see the vibrant Jewish life in cafes and the shuk, on buses and in kibbutz fields. Israel is a part of the fabric of our family.

As we start to move into the final round of negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program, this week has provided us with an opportunity to gain some perspective on the framework deal announced on Thursday between Iran and the P5+1 (the United States, United Kingdom, France, Germany, Russia and China). Reform Movement leaders issued a statement after the framework deal’s announcement on last Thursday that praised the work of diplomacy while expressing concern over Iran’s ability to obtain nuclear weapons.

In an historic press conference Thursday, the countries in the P5+1 (the United States, United Kingdom, France, Germany, Russia and China) reached a framework agreement with Iran over Iran’s nuclear program. The agreement will, according to United States’ negotiating team, ensure that Iran’s “breakout capacity,” or the time that it could take Iran to develop a nuclear weapon, is lengthened to more than a year for the length of the agreement.

The framework, and the issues that it raises, is highly technical. Yet, we can say generally that Iran has agreed to place significant curbs on its nuclear program (by dismantling many facilities and making its uranium material less usable for nuclear weapons) and agreed to intrusive inspections of its nuclear facilities in return for sanctions relief from the United States, European Union, and United Nations. To learn more about the framework agreement, check out the White House fact sheet and the Washington Post summary.

In response to yesterday's joint statement of progress announced by the P5+1 and Iran, the leaders of the Reform Jewish Movement issued a statement saying that “a negotiated resolution … will be difficult to reach but all the alternatives to such a resolution are grim.”  Nevertheless, the leaders concluded that “we still have grave concerns about the ability of a potential deal to ensure that Iran does not obtain a nuclear weapon.”

As an 18-year-old I spent a year living and studying in Israel. In one class the teacher talked to us about his aliyah experience. He told us that by moving to Israel he could have a say in the Jewish future, because he could vote in the Israeli elections, and that we, in the Diaspora, could never have the same direct influence on Israeli society, or by extension play the same part in our shared Jewish future.

He was right that I wasn’t able to vote in this month’s Israeli elections, but he was wrong about the fact that I can’t have an influence on where Judaism or Israel is going.

Israelis went to the polls to elect a new Knesset for the 20th time in its history on Tuesday, in what was supposed to be one of the closest elections in years. When voting ended at 10 p.m., exit polling predictions showed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s party, Likud, in a dead heat with the center-left Zionist Union opposition party. When Israelis woke up Wednesday and the votes had been counted, it became clear that Netanyahu’s Likud had won a decisive victory, with 30 seats in Knesset compared to Zionist Union’s 24. Isaac Herzog, the leader of Zionist Union, who had been hoping to become Prime Minister and form the next Israeli government, called Netanyahu earlier Wednesday to concede the election.

Earlier today, Anat Hoffman, the Executive Director of the Israel Religious Action Center, called on American Jews to stand with her as she votes in Israel’s elections by voting in the World Zionist Congress elections. To vote in the World Zionist Congress elections, click here, and to learn more about the elections and what’s at stake, click here. In addition, we’ll have coverage of the Israeli elections on the RACblog on Wednesday, so stay tuned!

Israeli citizens will elect a new government in just five days, in what many have called Israel’s most important election ever. Israelis find themselves at a crossroads, with real debates about whether the Jewish state should expand settlements, engage in peace negotiations, ensure protections for women and members of the LGBT community and treat all religions equally.