An Open Letter to NFTY and the Reform Jewish Movement

57 current and former Reform Jewish youth movement leaders take a stand against the Israeli occupation.

June 4, 2018
Beit Shmuel-Mercaz Shimshon, the Jerusalem headquarters of the Reform Movement in Israel. Jaime Silva via Flickr.

ON MAY 14TH, Donald Trump moved the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a unilateral action that further entrenched the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands. At the same time, just 60 miles away in Gaza, Israeli soldiers opened fire on Palestinian protesters, killing over 60 and wounding thousands; more than 100 Palestinians have been killed and tens of thousands wounded since March during largely nonviolent protests. This week, we have seen Hamas and Israel exchange rockets and air strikes, another reminder of the violent status-quo for both Israelis and Palestinians. The recent attacks on Palestinian protesters illustrate the reality of the occupation, a system of violence and separation by which Israel denies Palestinians civil, political, and economic rights.  

We are writing as current members and alumni of the Union for Reform Judaism, as current and past North American Federation of Temple Youth regional board members, and as participants of many Reform summer camps and Israel programs. Growing up in the Reform Movement, we have been taught that Judaism and social justice are deeply intertwined, and we have taken pride in the social justice work that we’ve done in Jewish spaces. We have learned about the Jewish values of tikkun olam (repairing the world), and b’tzelem elohim (that all people are created in the image of G-d). These values were nurtured through “mitzvah projects,” interfaith dialogue, and Jewish learning in our summer camps and synagogues. As leaders in NFTY, we have appreciated being part of a Jewish community that allows young people, women, and queer people to lead the way, and where we have been taught to think deeply and critically about the world around us.

As current regional board members and alumni, we have a strong sense of pride when we see NFTY students mobilizing around the March for Our Lives and other progressive causes. From standing up for women’s rights by supporting Women of the Wall, to encouraging young people to take political action through the Religious Action Center, the actions of the Reform Movement show that that we can, and must, continue to be a strong voice for progressive Jewish values.  But while the URJ has a deeply important role in the landscape of the American Jewish community, we know that we cannot truly claim to show up for social justice without fighting for freedom and dignity for Palestinians.

We know the power of our community to mobilize around important issues, but we also have seen the ways that our progressive values get checked at the door when it comes to Israel/Palestine. It saddens us to remember things like “Israeli army day” at camp, when we pretended to be soldiers for fun, without really understanding what the soldiers in the IDF do to maintain control over Palestinians. Some of us went further, learning to shoot assault rifles at human shaped targets in Gadna, an Israeli military boot camp simulation for Jewish teens. It is disappointing to think about how, in our progressive Jewish spaces, we learned about Israel on countless occasions, without ever learning about the occupation. It saddens us that our institutions make excuses when unarmed Palestinians are shot dead, when Palestinian homes are demolished by the IDF, and the countless other ways in which the occupation rears its ugly head.

The Reform Movement and Rabbi Rick Jacobs published one official statement on the embassy move, and a separate statement on the deaths of Gazan protesters. In his remarks, Rabbi Jacobs applauded the opening of what should be called the Embassy of Occupation in Jerusalem, and elided the role of the IDF in the deaths of Gazan protesters. As young leaders in our communities, we are horrified at the violence caused by the occupation, and we are disappointed that our institutions celebrated the opening of the Embassy alongside racist and antisemitic Evangelical pastors, far right Jewish leaders, and the corrupt and authoritarian duo of Benjamin Netanyahu and Donald Trump.

It is with a deep love for our community and a belief that our morals and values call us to take action in this moment that we invite the leadership of the Reform Movement to join us in condemning the violence in Gaza, the embassy move, and the occupation. Just as the Reform Movement has led the way in the fight for social justice, we know that the Reform movement can lead the way for American Jews in condemning the occupation. If we do not offer bold and powerful action, we are missing an opportunity for our community to stand on the side of freedom and dignity for all people, and we are betraying the values that our tradition taught us.

We represent a growing movement that emphasizes progressive Jewish values and tradition. And we are not alone—hundreds of other young Reform Jews have joined us to voice their outrage. As past and future leaders of the Reform Movement, we invite our institutions and its members to join us as we grieve lost lives, educate ourselves, and end our community’s support for the occupation.


Alex Rogers, URJ Staff 2012-2016, NFTY NEL President 2007-2008, NFTY NEL Communications VP 2006-2007

Aliza Abarbanel, NFTY SoCal Religious and Cultural VP, 2012-2013

Aliza Gazek, NFTY North American President 2009-2010, NFTY-CWR President 2008-2009

Alli Lesovoy, NFTY CWR Treasurer 2008-2009

Amanda Karl, NFTY CWR Social Action VP 2004-2005

Annie Brodsky, NFTY NEL Programming VP 2012-2013

Anya Riddell-Kaufman, NFTY CWR Social Action VP 2008-2009

David Schenirer, NFTY CWR Programming VP 2009-2010

Devorah Levy-Pearlman, NFTY CWR Social Action VP, 2014-2015

Elaina Marshalek, NFTY North American Religious and Cultural VP 2008-2009, NFTY CWR Religious and Cultural VP 2006-2008

Elizabeth McElheney, NFTY CWR Membership VP 2012-2013

Emily Eliash, NFTY SoCal President 2008-2009

Era Steinfeld, NFTY SoCal Social Action VP, 2009-2010

Gabe Marx, NFTY CWR Treasurer 2009-2010

Hanna Carr, NFTY PAR Religious and Cultural VP 2015-2016

Hannah Villhauer, NFTY SoCal President, 2004-2005

Jonah Silverstein, NFTY NW Religious and Cultural VP 2018-2019

Jonathan Edelman, NFTY SAR Religous and Cultural VP 2009-2010

Joshua Pepper, NFTY CWR Religious and Cultural VP 2004-2005

Juliana Matz, NFTY CWR Communications VP 2014-2015

Lauren Greenberg, NFTY CWR President 2004-2005

Leanne Gale, NFTY NAR Religious and Cultural VP, 2008-2009

Lillie Benowitz, NFTY NO Social Action VP 2011-2012, NFTY NO Programming VP 2012-2013

Maddy Winard, NFTY SoCal Religous and Cultural VP, 2010-2011

Michael Whitesides, NFTY SAR Religious and Cultural VP 2012-2013

Michelle Cravez, NFTY North American Social Action VP 2008-2009, NFTY STR Social Action VP 2007-2008

Molly Schulman, NFTY NE NFTY Representative, 2011-2012

Nina Heller, NFTY CWR Social Aaction VP 2018-2019, NFTY CWR Communications VP 2017-2018

Noah Wolf Prusan, URJ Staff 2015-2016, NFTY North American Programming VP 2008-2009, NFTY CWR Programming VP 2007-2008

Sarah Edelstein, NFTY SoCal Religious and Cultural VP 2009-2010

Sophie Trauberman, NFTY SoCal President 2010-2011

Tyler Benjamin, NFTY North American Programming VP 2009-2010, NFTY-STR President 2008-2009

Zack Robinson, NFTY SoCal Programming VP 2010-2011

Hayley Sakwa, URJ Staff 2009-2011, NFTY-MI Social Action VP 2009-2010

Emilia B. Diamant, NFTY NE Social Action VP 2002-2003
Bryan Scheinkopf, NFTY CAR Religious & Cultural VP 2013-2014
Samuel Joseph Greenstein, NFTY MAR Religious & Cultural VP 2009-2010
Adria Palinsky, NFTY MI President 2008-2009, NFTY-MI Finance VP 2007-2008
Michael J. Drexler, NFTY OV Social Action VP, 1988-1989
Aaron Fenster, NFTY NEL President 2005-2006, NFTY NEL Communications VP 2004-2005
Micah Sienna, NFTY NEL Religious & Cultural VP, 2011-2012
Rebekah Planto, NFTY TOR Religious and Cultural VP 2000-2001 and Social Action VP 2001-2002
Peter Luck, NFTY CAR Social Action VP 2011-2012
Lauren Mislove, NFTY SW Social Action VP 2009-2010
Rachel Vogel, NFTY TOR Social Action VP 2007-2009
Miranda Siler, NFTY MV Religious and Cultural VP 2012-2013
Amy Weinstock, NFTY MAR Communications VP 2013-2014
Adam Lavender, NFTY NE Recording Secretary 2012-2013
Channah Powell, NFTY NE Social Action VP 2016-2017
Mica Brenman, NFTY CWR RCVP, 2008-2008
Matt Emmer, NFTY NAR Religious and Cultural VP 2011-2012
Jordyn Jacobs, NFTY North American Social Action VP 2005-2006, NFTY SoCal Social Action VP 2004-2005
Maggie Lowenberg, NFTY MV Social Action VP 2007-2008
Adam Weingast, NFTY NAR Religious & Cultural VP 2018-2019
Jeremy Carlson, NFTY North American Communications VP 2007, NFTY CWR Communications VP 2006-2007
Izzy Wellman, NFTY GER Communications VP, 2015-2016
Rebecca Guiney, NFTY CWR Religious & Cultural VP 2005-2006


NEL - Northeast Lakes

CWR - Central West Region

PAR - Pennsylvania Area Region

NW - Northwest

SAR - Southern Area Region

NAR - New York Area Region

NO - Northern Region

SoCal - Southern California Region

STR - Southern Tropical Region

NE - Northeast Region

MI - Michigan Region

CAR - Chicago Area Region

MAR - Mid Atlantic Region

OV - Ohio Valley

MV - Missouri Valley

TOR - Texas Oklahoma Region

SW - Southwest

GER - Garden Empire Region

IfNotNow is a movement to end the American Jewish community’s support for the occupation.