Prominent Area Rabbis Return
from UJA Mission to Israel

By Stephen E. Lipken


A diverse group of 24 prominent Rabbis, Orthodox, Conservative and Reform, returned from a March 13-20 special UJA mission to Israel, meeting with politicians, journalists, and thought leaders across the political spectrum on key issues including judicial reform and rise of social divisiveness.


The group from Westchester County encompassed Rabbis Jeffrey Arnowitz, Westchester Jewish Center, Mamaroneck; Sasha Baken, Assistant Rabbi, Westchester Reform Temple, Scarsdale; Aaron Brusso, Bet Torah, Mount Kisco; Chaim Marder, Hebrew Institute of White Plains and David Schuck, Beth El Synagogue Center, New Rochelle.


As Rabbi Schuck embarked on the trip, he wrote, “I am grateful to UJA Federation New York for having the wisdom, foresight and commitment to strengthen the relationship between the Jewish communities of the Diaspora and Israel. As ever, they continue to model the critical importance of investing in Jewish peoplehood, which we must never take for granted.”


An exclusive virtual conversation on the Rabbinic reflections from the Westchester Rabbis was moderated by Hana Gruenberg, Managing Director, UJA Federation, and took place March 27.


“We recognize that there is so much in flux, things getting more tense in Israel,” Gruenberg noted. “We met with politicians from the Coalition and opposition. The most moving thing for me was meeting Israeli Rabbis ‘on the ground.’” 


Rabbi Arnowitz said that he found the mission to the Rabbis on the ground “incredibly humbling. One takeaway that I want to share was that I went to Israel thinking that it had a governmental problem and left Israel thinking that it had a societal problem.”


“I went into this trip thinking that I had a voice and needed to shout loudly and bring the opinions of America to Israel to those on the ground,” Rabbi Baken said. “I found that I really had to listen more rather than having something to preach…”


Brusso averred that societal differences required weaving and bridging to be brought together, comparing it to Parsha Nitzavim when the next generation that wasn’t slaves had to commit to the original vision that the Israelites had at the beginning.


Marder pointed to James Madison and the Federalist papers, representing checks and balances, with fear of democracy challenged at its very core, stressing legislation cannot solve this problem but rather a higher, deeper form of dialogue.  “We are seeing the unfinished business of the birth of a nation,” Marder concluded.