(RNS) — It has been a foreboding few weeks in Israel. Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, the largest, most powerful force in American Jewish life, was there to witness much of it.After a Palestinian gunman killed two Israeli settlers, mobs of Israeli settlers living in the occupied West Bank retaliated against four Palestinian villages, burning down homes and cars and beating Palestinians with metal rods and rocks.
Amid this extraordinary spasm of violence, Israel’s far-right government, which includes several settlers, is finalizing plans for a judicial overhaul that would effectively eliminate the independence of Israel’s high court. Israelis have taken to the streets to oppose the changes, mounting the largest protest movement in the country’s history.
Jacobs, who attended three separate meetings in Israel, including a conference of some 250 Reform rabbis in Jerusalem, also spoke at one of the mass demonstrations against the government in Tel Aviv.
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The Reform movement is tiny is Israel and unrecognized by the Orthodox establishment. But it is the largest North American Jewish denomination, with some 850 congregations in the U.S. and Canada. It leans liberal, as do most American Jews, prioritizing social justice and what Jews call “tikkun olam,” or repairing the world.
Many American Jews are looking to Jacobs for guidance on how to approach the ongoing crisis in Israel.