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Rising Streams: Reform and Conservative Judaism in Israel

The third aspect relates to the gradual exposure to and awareness of alternative forms of Jewish expression. This has grown, in part, through the spread of Reform and Conservative Judaism, and pluralistic Judaism in general, in Israel. The movements claim to reach hundreds of thousands of Israelis each year through their educational work and alternative life-cycle events attended by tens or hundreds of family and friends, or large public events on major Jewish holidays. The 2009 Hermann – Cohen study backs this up, noting that nearly a third of Israeli Jews said they had attended an event or function led by a Reform or Conservative rabbi at some point. The more recent 2017 Dialogue Institute study conducted for the Reform Movement found that over half of secular, a third of traditional, a fifth of Dati and even a tenth of Haredi Jews had attended a wedding or bar/bat mitzvah ceremony conducted by a Reform or Conservative rabbi.

Furthermore, in an age of hyper-globalization, it is realistic to assume that more Israelis travel abroad, especially to the United States, and for extended periods. There, whether they relocate for business, or academia, or a myriad of leadership or other programs, they encounter local, mostly non-Orthodox communities who offer a new and different approach to Jewish practice detached from the pressures of Israel’s social reality. Additionally, tens of thousands of Israeli soldiers have accompanied Birthright groups in Israel and been exposed to mostly Reform or Conservative Jews from around the world. This has made non-Orthodox Jewish practice less foreign to Israelis than it may have been before.48

Therefore, we can summarize this section by saying that most secular Israelis are not secular or atheists and largely seek to engage with Jewish practice around holiday commemoration and life-cycle events. However, as they are turned off from Orthodox Judaism, and are increasingly exposed to non-Orthodox alternatives, we witness a gradual process whereby over the past few decades, secular and traditional Israelis see the non-Orthodox Jewish movements as increasingly legitimate, and at times, a more legitimate framework for these expressions than Orthodox ones. These three elements combine to help explain why anywhere from half a million to 850,000 Israeli Jews self-identify, in survey after survey, as either Reform or Conservative when “no stream” or Orthodox also appear as options.