Rabbi Michael Graetz of Omer, Israel, was one of the founders of the Masorti Movement in Israel, and its first Executive Director. Born in Lincoln, Nebraska, he received ordination from the Jewish Theological Seminary in 1967, making aliyah to Israel the same year. After serving as an IDF chaplain during the Yom Kippur War, he became rabbi of Magen Avraham congregation in Omer, serving as its rabbi for 31 years. He was also a teacher of Bible and Jewish Civilization at the Kaye State Teacher’s College in Beer Sheva.
Creating the Masorti Movement required a true sense of mission and great perserverance. Rabbi Graetz possessed both and in 1978, he launched a successful drive to expand the Movement. Appointed president of the Rabbinical Assembly of Israel, he undertook the broadening of the Masorti base by reaching out to like-minded American Jews affiliated with the Conservative stream.
In the words of Rabbi Harvey Meirovich, in an article, The Shaping of Masorti Judaism in Israel, “the success stories of organized synagogue life were the pioneering efforts of… Michael Graetz in Omer…a passionate believer that the synagogue…had a fruitful role to play in the evolution of a Jewish identity in Israeli society. Although… early efforts brought … regular confrontation with Orthodox officialdom…the ethos of the synagogue was an attractive feature, not only for American olim but also, given sufficient time and investment, for some native Israelis. For example, Graetz’s synagogue in Omer, which began with ten families after the 1973 Yom Kippur War, grew steadily, peaking at 150 families twenty-five years later.
Rabbi Graetz was also founder and spiritual leader of Mercaz Shiluv Educational Institute in Omer and Beer Sheva, founded in 2000 to provide Israelis with a wider array of possibilities for spiritual enhancement than those currently available to them. His liturgical works include editing, translating and writing a commentary for a Passover Haggadah, published in English, Russian and Hebrew; and he was the chairperson of the Masorti Siddur Va-ani Tefillati, published in1998.
Rabbi Graetz is unable to attend the Gala in person; he will be sending his remarks and thanks by video to the event.