Rabbi Ari Goldstein said that many believe that Reform Jews are less invested in Israel and in Zionism than other, more traditional denominations. But at Temple Beth Shalom, the Reform synagogue in Arnold where he serves as a spiritual leader, that could not be further from the case.
“Our congregation has been passionately and unwaveringly Zionist since the moment I arrived,” Goldstein said. “We have so many Israel-related programs every year that you’d think that it’s the only thing we ever talk about.”
As Israel continues to wage war against Hamas, the synagogue’s staff hopes to assuage members’ worries about rising antisemitism and to show support for Israel through community events and education.
Goldstein has been Beth Shalom’s rabbi for nearly 20 years. He has been leading the synagogue’s biennial trips to Israel since he started, and even before the events of Oct. 7, much of Beth Shalom’s programming focused on Israeli history, culture and current events.
Since Hamas’ attack on Israel, the synagogue has been working to keep its members informed about what is happening there and support those with roots in the country.
“Some people have family members there, who may literally be on the front lines,” Goldstein said. “Others may just be lovers of Israel, and some just know that Israel is important. People’s reactions and how they respond to what is going on will vary from person to person, and we’re doing our best to address the emotions that are coming out of everything and trying to address them individually.”
In addition to holding a vigil for the victims of the Oct. 7 attacks, Beth Shalom has been creating interactive opportunities for congregants to engage with current events and show their support for Israel.
Recently, Beth Shalom members sent hundreds of their favorite photos they had taken on trips to Israel, which were then compiled into a larger collage that is now displayed in the synagogue’s building.
Goldstein has also started teaching classes for congregants who are interested in the Israel-Palestine conflict and its history, with different curricula that focus on adult and family audiences. In one class designed for families of older-grade children, Goldstein and the students go through major moments in the conflict’s history and discuss what they would have done in these situations if they were Israel’s leadership.
“You have to put yourself in that role and see what you might have done in these same circumstances,” he said. “People have the capacity to be critical and to question Israel’s choices, but the truth is that I don’t think anyone would have done anything differently from what Israel did to handle the conflict.”
Currently, the synagogue is also planning an oneg Shabbat aimed at college students who may have concerns about anti-Zionist activism on campus in order to give them a space to process their feelings and discuss them with clergy members.
The synagogues also plans on participating in the March for Israel rally in Washington, D.C. this upcoming Tuesday, which is set to have a massive turnout rivaling the pro-Israel rally held there in 2002.
Goldstein cautions people not to underestimate the Jewish populations of smaller towns like Annapolis and Arnold, and especially how much they can contribute to advocating for social causes.
“It’s true that we don’t have the same kind of infrastructure as bigger towns and cities like Baltimore, so there’s a sense that people don’t care as much,” he said. “But each and every person I’ve talked to is consumed and deeply troubled by [what’s happening in Israel]. Annapolis may be smaller, and may not have the Jewish community that Baltimore does, but we have very deep hearts when it comes to this.”