Rabbi Dov Lipman: Attempting the impossible

Rabbi Dov Lipman

Rabbi Dov Lipman speaks at Temple Chai in Phoenix during a Valley Beit Midrash program on May 7. Photo by Joel Zolondek

When Rabbi Dov Lipman was growing up in Silver Spring, Maryland, he attended a rally to free Soviet Jews when he was 13 years old. Each protester held a sign with a name on it; his sign had the name Yuli Edelstein.

Flash forward about 30 years, after Lipman becomes the first American-born member of the Knesset since Rabbi Meir Kehane was elected in 1984. Lipman is now an MK in the 19th Knesset; and the speaker of the Knesset is Yuli Edelstein.

At that time – when he was a young teen in Maryland and Edelstein was in a Russian prison — the idea of them both serving in the Israeli Knesset would have seemed impossible, Lipman told the attendees of a May 7 Valley Beit Midrash lecture at Temple Chai.

After Lipman became a member of the Knesset, his grandmother traveled to Israel and visited him in the Knesset building. She is a survivor of Auschwitz who entered the camp in May 1944 (70 years, to the month, before the Temple Chai lecture). When she visited her grandson in the Knesset, his grandmother said that it would have seemed impossible when she was younger to imagine that there would be a Jewish state and that she would be there with her grandson serving in its government.

Lipman, a member of the Yesh Atid party led by former journalist Yair Lapid, said his dream to have Israel become a leader in tolerance, equality and the environment ­­– to truly be “a light of the nations” – may also seem impossible, but “the founders of Israel did the impossible,” too, and he is hopeful that he can help lead the country to that point.

(One thing, however, that he wasn’t optimistic about was the peace talks: The Palestinian Authority joining with Hamas makes it impossible to have peace talks, he said.)

Before entering Israel’s government, Lipman was an educator, and shifted his career choice to politics after becoming active in the 2011 haredi conflict in Beit Shemesh, after haredi men harrassed schoolgirls on their way to their Modern Orthodox school because they felt they weren’t dressed modestly enough. His new book, “To Unify a Nation: My Vision for the Future of Israel,” was published earlier this month.

Some of the issues that the party has tackled so far are proposing to legalize nonreligious marriages in Israel, with a civil union bill. Currently, all Jewish marriages are under control of the Orthodox Chief Rabbinate and about 9,000 couples each year leave Israel to get married in Cyprus, Lipman said; their marriages are recognized when they return to Israel.

But “Israel has to be a place where every Jew can say, ‘This is my home,’ ” he said. The bill is scheduled go in front of the Knesset this summer.

Lipman’s role seems to be an Orthodox voice in the  secular Yesh Atid party. “I feel that if we work together, we can solve many of these problems together,” he said.

Another issue Lipman’s party is working on is  a bill designed to increase haredi enlistment in the IDF and participation in the workforce. Not only will haredi and secular Jews have to work together to accomplish their tasks, but such an effort would also help people get jobs and get off charity, he noted.

He said that Lapid told him that they’ll never agree 100 percent on how the country should look, but they should work together on the 80 percent they do agree on and discuss the 20 percent they disagree about. “In the end, the country will not look 100 percent like he wants it to look and it won’t look 100 percent the way I want it to look, but let’s find a way to do it together.”

Another pressing issue concerns agunot (“chained” women whose husbands won’t give them Jewish divorces, leaving them unable to remarry). Steps are being taken to change the law to state that men who won’t grant their wives a divorce won’t be able to obtain passports or driver’s licenses – and other means of coercion without violence. (The audience at Temple Chai cheered that one.)

Questions from the audience included the response the Orthodox have in Israel to the Reform and Conservative presence there (that will take time, Lipman said, because these movements are so new in Israel) and the way Ethiopians are transitioning into Israeli society (the most important thing right now is helping the children with their education, Lipman said, because their parents didn’t grow up going to school and are unable to help them).

Lipman emphasized that an understanding between Israel’s secular communities and religious communities is crucial for the country’s future.

The Temple was destroyed because we didn’t get along with each other and we can’t rebuild it unless we get along, he said.

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