President Reuven Rivlin met with leaders of the Israeli and American Reform Movements on Tuesday and called for unity in Judaism and in Israel, in what appeared to be his continued effort to mend ties with non-Orthodox Jewish groups he had criticized in the past.
At the meeting in his Jerusalem residence, Rivlin said, “I can say to all of you, we are one family and the connection between all Jews, all over the world, is very important to the State of Israel.”
The delegation included over fifty members of the Board of Governors of the Hebrew Union College, Reform Judaism’s training seminary which has campuses in Jerusalem, New York and Los Angeles. Rivlin noted that “I know so many Jerusalemites now that are grandfathers and grandmothers, and only came here to study at the Hebrew Union College, but have now been here for three generations.”
Before his ascent to the presdiency, Rivlin had come under fire for his criticism of non-Orthodox Jewish streams. He opposed granting equal status to the Reform and Conservative movements and drew outrage in the past for calling Reform Judaism “idol worship” and refusing to address Reform rabbis as “rabbi.”
However, since becoming Israel’s head of state in July Rivlin’s approach appears to have softened, and he has sought a policy of inclusiveness rather than isolation. In September he told Conservative Jewish leaders that he respected and recognized “lovingly and genuinely, people who have chosen a different Jewish identity than my own.
Delegation leader Rabbi Aaron D. Panken told the president the group wished to express soldiarity with Israel and its people.
“In your days as president, you have shown true leadership in the areas of rights for the Arab citizens of Israel, reconciliation between diverse groups, and consideration of those in Israeli society who need help,” Panken said. “We are, after all, one people and our beloved State of Israel must continue to value each and every one of its citizens to the greatest extent possible.”
JTA and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.