(By Rabbi Uri Themal,OAM)
A colorful procession wound its way through a hilly part of Kiryat Tivon, a small, leafy town just south east of Haifa with a view to the Carmel Mountain range. Musical instruments accompanied the cheerful singing of traditional Hebrew songs, many of them with words from Psalms and other traditional texts. The Centre of attention were the two Torah scrolls which were passed on from one person to the next as the procession made its way along the two kilometre route from the Public bomb shelter to a brand new building- the Ma'alot Tivon Progressive Congregation's new Synagogue.
This small congregation was founded about thirty five years ago and for the past 9 years was granted permission by the Municipality to use the public bomb shelter as their temporary synagogue (talk about a sheltered community!).
Then something extraordinary happened: The Israel Government's Ministry of Public Housing agreed to fund the building of six non-orthodox synagogues throughout Israel of which Ma'alot Tivon is one, and a sign displaying this fact is proudly displayed at the entrance to the building.
Of course this breakthrough for the Progressive movement was no miracle: It was earned through hard work by the Israel Religious Action Centre (IRAC) which fought a groundbreaking case in Israel's High Court accusing the Government of "discrimination in the allocation of funds for the construction of synagogues…"
Consequently the Government had to act. The first reform Synagogue funded by the Government was inaugurated at the beginning of May in Modi'in followed by Tivon at the end of the month. Within the next few months another four reform and conservative congregations will be able to occupy their permanent homes.
Whilst these are not elaborate buildings, the congregations accepted them with a great sense of gratitude and joy. Moreover, they are celebrated as a symbol that the non-orthodox streams of Judaism are moving towards better acceptance, that the Government can't afford to ignore the needs and aspirations of these movements anymore and that a greater sense of justice must prevail in all strata of Israeli society.
To the sound of several shofars heralding a new era in the religious life of Israel and Tivon Rabbi Corrie Zeidler affixed the Mezuzah to the doorpost, Mayor Alon Navot cut the ribbon, President Michal Gavri'eli led the congregation into the new building, the Torah scrolls were placed in the Ark and appropriate speeches were made by representatives of Government, the Reform movement and the Congregation.
The move from the public bomb shelter to a reform synagogue given to the congregations means ownership, recognition and presence in the religious spectrum of Israel. Although the Government had to be dragged through the courts, justice prevailed and this reform congregation could move from the underground shelter to their plot on the hill, from darkness to light, from obscurity to visibility: Another small step on the long road to equality and recognition. Shehecheyanu indeed!