The dedication of a new synagogue is a joyous event in the life of every community. It is a day on which the gates of heaven are open and our hearts are full. But the heart of Ilana Dothan, head of the Reform congregation Darchei Noam in Ramat Hasharon, which will soon dedicate its permanent sanctuary on Yavneh Street, has been shrinking of late. That is due to ugly occurrences of suppression of women and incidents of intolerance coming from the Orthodox sector.
“The phenomenon of repression and attacking of women awakens within me deep revulsion,” she said this evening. “This country of ours is becoming increasingly extremist from day to day. To my chagrin, the Orthodox fanatics are multiplying daily and they stain Judaism and endanger the future of the State of Israel.
Certainly, the fact that they do not serve in the armed forces of the State of Israel and they do not enter the work force is injurious to the strength of the society. I support the proposition that everyone lives by his or her faith, but not at the expense of another person.”
As the conversation progressed Dothan continued to present a powerful position against the Orthodox community in Ramat Hasharon. “The thing that most irritates me is that in their synagogues women are not permitted to approach the Torah, the same custom that applies to people with defects or disabilities, such as deafness or blindness. In our community, there is no separation and everyone is equal in the eyes of God.”
In Ramat HaSharon there are 54 registered Orthodox synagogues and by contrast there is one structure that is not yet finished for our congregation. If this is not discrimination, then I do not understand the concept. We have fought for 18 years with the Supreme Court in order to merit a plot on which we can erect a dignified synagogue. In a city with the majority of the population is secular, this did not need to happen. I think it would have been fitting to provide greater funding and building for the Reform community.”
Dothan first came to the Holy Land at the age of 16. (She is now 64) “Our family was always Zionist,” she openly proclaims. “In every conversation Eretz Yisrael came up and it was clear that one day we would make aliya.”
Dothan, who is a retired IDF Major General, grew up going to synagogue only during the holidays, but when her daughter decided to have a Bat Mitzvah at a Reform synagogue, she fell in love with the congregation. In 1996, Dothan became a permanent member of Darchei Noam, at first serving as treasurer and, later, as president – a position which she holds to this day in a volunteer capacity. “I am responsible for the congregation’s day-to-day management – from the chairs in the prayer hall to providing support to a member going through hard times.”
“At Darchei Noam, the prayers are in a clear and fluent language and include modern singing. Often we also include songs written by Hebrew poets such as Leah Goldberg or Chaim Nachman Bialik – which would never happen in an Orthodox synagogue. Our prayers follow a contemporary spirit and include a prayer for peace in Israel and for the safety of our soldiers, which are supreme values for us.”
Congregation Darchei Noam in Ramat Hasharon currently counts around 80 families, but Dothan expects this number to grow considerably in the next few years. “Most of the citizens of this country, including those who are secular, are looking for a connection to Judaism and to their roots. This is where Reform Judaism enters the picture. I believe that in the next few years the status of Reform Judaism in Israel will improve. My biggest dream is that it will be the leading stream, as it is in the U.S. Reform Judaism has a huge potential in Israel and on the day when that potential will be fulfilled, Ramat Hasharon and the entire country will greatly benefit.”
The Ramat Hasharon City Hall’s response was: “The charges which were ostensibly directed against the City are very peculiar, and we would like to remind Ms. Dothan that Mayor Itzik Rochberger, Ramat Hasharon’s current mayor, is the one who helped promote the construction of Darchei Noam’s new building. City Hall’s management is proud of the good relations between the secular and the religious and of the status quo which has existed in the city for many years, and rejects any claim or intimation concerning any sort of discrimination against any of the congregations in the city.”
This article appeared in Hebrew in the Maariv newspaper and in English on the Darchei Noam website.