Decade in Review For Israel’s Reform and Conservative Jews, an Uphill Battle With Some Reprieves

The best proof that something fundamental has shifted in the mind-set of folks in Galit Cohen-Kedem’s hometown is that she no longer has to explain her title.

It has now become second nature for neighbors and acquaintances – “including my mechanic,” she points out – to address her as “Raba” (the Hebrew term for a female rabbi). “And that’s major progress when you consider the fact that people here used to tell me there was no such thing as a ‘raba,’ or that I must be confusing myself with a ‘rabanit’ or ‘rebetzin,’” says Cohen-Kedem, 43, using the respective Hebrew and Yiddish terms for a rabbi’s wife.

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It has been 10 years since she and her husband Adar Cohen, 46, left Jerusalem and founded the Reform congregation in Holon, a largely working-class city south of Tel Aviv. It was hardly a natural place for the Reform movement – still widely perceived in Israel as an American form of Judaism – to plant roots.

After all, as Cohen-Kedem notes, Holon is the “quintessential” Israeli city: Very secular with a large traditional component and, until their arrival on the scene, not even a hint of progressive, egalitarian Judaism.

Galit Kedem-Cohen teaching a class of preschoolers in Holon. “When we first arrived in town, we felt like Martians. Today, we are a fact on the ground.”Tomer Appelbaum

But a decade down the road, Kehillat Kodesh V’Chol is by most counts thriving. Close to 90 families are due-paying members. The Kabbalat Shabbat service held two Fridays a month is attended by dozens of local residents. The congregation runs – in partnership with a well-established network of schools and preschools that emphasize Jewish culture and heritage – two local day care centers, one kindergarten and a special Jewish studies track for grades one through six within the public school system. Nearly 200 preschool and school-age children are enrolled in these programs, while another 24 high-school graduates from around the country attend the pre-military gap year program affiliated with the Reform congregation.

In addition, Kodesh V’Chol runs various benevolence projects in Holon, including a boutique-style “gemach” for used clothing and knickknacks where Cohen-Kedem regularly volunteers.