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As we celebrate both Martin Luther King Jr. Day and Tu B’Shevat on January 21st this year, it is a double reminder that we should strive together to be God’s partners in perfecting the world. Had he lived, Reverend King likely would have wholeheartedly supported the Masorti Movement’s initiatives to work through a democratic system in Israel to create a more just society that is a model of social justice, pluralism, egalitarianism, and environmentalism that will truly inspire the world for generations to come.

Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.
Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

Dr. King surely would have applauded the Masorti Movement’s ongoing efforts to fight for the rights of the Abayudaya Ugandan Jews to live and study in Israel. The Masorti Movement, which converted Ugandan Jews under Conservative auspices, will not rest until the day comes when the wishes of Ugandan Rabbi Gershom Sizomu that Israel give Ugandan Jews the same right afforded to Jews worldwide becomes a reality.

The Movement will continue to provide legal guidance to Yosef Kibita as he fights in the courts for his rights to study in Israel and the right of every other Ugandan Jew to do the same. If needed, the Movement will intensify its legal efforts as the decision nears for the Kibita case and its ramifications for the status of the Ugandan community.

MLK Day is a time to remember the deep and abiding friendship that Martin Luther King had with a giant of the Conservative Movement – Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. They both viewed the “Promised Land” as more than an actual place. To them, Israel is also a vision, a dream and a responsibility. This uplifting vision is why their words of justice and compassion for those who are oppressed continue to make our hearts soar even in these most cynical of times.

It is also why there is a greater recognition today of the values that Heschel espoused, which at its heart called upon all of us to be partners with God in bringing about the equality of all human beings and creating a world imbued with holiness. The Masorti Movement reflects these values every day, when it leads the way for full women’s rights to prayer at the Kotel without harassment, when it opens up opportunities to children with special needs to fully participate in Jewish youth programs and camping experiences and know the joy of having a Bar/Bat Mitzvah, and when we invite Jews of all backgrounds to Israel with wide open arms and fully respect how they choose to connect with Jewish values. These are among the reasons why 800,000 Israelis are now seeking our type of open, embracing Judaism that is welcoming to all Jews.

If he were to be in Israel this Tu B’Shevat, Heschel most definitely would have been thrilled to see how three Masorti communities – Kibbutz Keturah, Kibbutz Hannaton, and HaKrayat in Bialik – are among the country’s leaders in incorporating Jewish teachings to sustain the local environment.

Kibbutz Hannaton

HaKrayat in Bialik

Kibbutz Ketura

Kibbutz Keturah, home of the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies, is at the forefront of Israel’s green technology and entrepreneurship boom. It would have surely given Rabbi Heschel great joy to see Masorti’s NOAM youth group members working cooperatively with Kibbutz Keturah to study the region’s environmental challenges and find ways to better protect the land. Yet again the coming together of MLK Day and Tu B’Shevat focus us on core issues – justice for all and protection of our environment – that will determine the world we leave our children and grandchildren.

The Masorti-Conservative Movement in the US and Israel urge you to join us in 2019 to heed the teachings of King and Heschel to take action against racism and anti-Semitism wherever they raise they ugly heads, and stand with those who are seeking to create a more just and environmentally safe world. Let’s once again be inspired by them to be leaders in these righteous causes.

This is a Masorti Foundation blog by Alan Grossman, Assistant Director of Development for the Masorti Foundation for Conservative Judaism in Israel.