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Dream Big

Posted on Wednesday, January 30, 2019 by Bill Lipsey

Bill Lipsey is in the center of the above photo with participants of The Honey Foundation.

האיש שרוצה לשבור את המונופול של הרבנות בישראל

“…the man who wants to shatter the Israeli Rabbinate’s monopoly.” 

This quote was a recent headline in a Ynet article (article available here in Hebrew,) about The Honey Foundation, describing our mission and our dreams. The headline is right; I do hope to help break their monopoly. Monopolies abuse power. In Israel, that abuse has become so destructive to society and to the Jewish people that we decided to act. 

Just a couple points of fact: the Rabbanut’s budget currently exceeds $1 billion US (out of a total national budget of approximately $70 billion), more than 95 percent of which is dedicated to the support of the Orthodox and Ultra-Orthodox (Haredi) populations who make up less than 20 percent of Israeli Jews. Further, the “business” of kashrut in Israel is a monopoly under the control of the Rabbanut and generates an estimated $3 billion in annual revenues. As a guy who grew up in Chicago, this kind of abuse of power would impress even the most cynical of that city’s politicians.

So, what can we American Jews do? And, what can we Israeli Jews do? The answer is: a lot. The Honey Foundation is working to make change happen in Israeli society. Real change. Change is hard to come by, but nonetheless, change is often necessary. Rabbi Tarfon’s wisdom recorded in Pirkei Avot seems ever so modern: “you are not required to complete the task, but neither are you free to desist from it.” The absence of Jewish religious equity in Israel infuriates so many of us today, but seeking to tear down ultra-orthodoxy as the response only weakens our community. Building up, not tearing down - that is the secret.

We started the Honey Foundation on that principle - to help build up. We are making it possible for more Israelis to find a spiritual home. That’s what The Honey Foundation does: provide direct compensation, professional skills development and support, peer professional conferences and strategies for helping to develop an active lay leadership. Building up.

The Honey Foundation is filling a core need in Israeli society in helping to turn the role of Community Rabbi from an avocation into a full-time profession. Today the Honey Foundation is engaged in supporting nearly 50 Community Rabbis and Spiritual Leaders across the entire religious spectrum through seven community networks. “Honey” Rabbis include Modern Orthodox, Sephardi, Ethiopian, Ashkenazi, Masorti/Conservative, Reform, EretzYisraeli and Chiloni Spiritual Leaders. When we say pluralism, we do not only mean Reform and Conservative Judaism, we mean everyone. True open access! 

In each of these networks we are providing the three elements that we have learned are critical to support the work of the rabbis and spiritual leaders:

  1. Direct Compensation – The professional occupation Jews around the world know as “Community Rabbi” is rare in Israel. Those who are Rav Kehilla in Israel generally have other jobs that provide their primary financial support. That means of course that the amount of time these folks can dedicate to supporting their community is severely limited. We are seeking to change this current reality.
  2. Ongoing Professional Training and Support – We provide access to mentors and service providers who provide professional development opportunities on topics including marketing, social media strategies, lay leadership development, fundraising, pastoral counseling and more.
  3. Professional Network Development – The role of Community Rabbi can be a lonely life. Our support includes creating and nurturing the idea of a network of Community Rabbis who share ideas, challenges and solutions with one another. We accomplish this through conferences, bi-weekly meetings with colleagues and mentors, and for the first time this year a Honey Foundation conference bringing together rabbis and spiritual leaders from across the religious spectrum.

Recently I heard from a close friend of mine who has known me since we were kids. He knows about the Honey Foundation and he knows about the investments we are making in Israeli society. He’s a thoughtful guy and a caring Jew, and he said to me, “you know, you’re spending a lot of money. You could pass that money on to your children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren.” I responded to my friend: “I am. That is exactly what we are doing.”

My father, Jack Lipsey z”l, who was called “Honey” by his 10 grandchildren and is the source of our Foundation’s name, offered me the following guidance throughout my life: “Dream big, take risks, seek great outcomes.” I think of this guidance every day. And I ask each of you reading these thoughts to join me in that mission. Together, we can do a lot.  

Wexner Heritage Alum Bill Lipsey’s (MetroWest 1) primary passion is centered on the issue of religious pluralism in Israel. He dreams of an Israel that accepts multiple approaches to Judaism while offering Israeli Jews access to religious choice. He is a Trustee of The Jewish Theological Seminary, a past President of Congregation Agudath Israel in Caldwell, NJ. Bill and his wife Amy are Founders of The Honey Foundation for Israel. Their daughter, Sarah Lipsey Brokman, is the President of the Foundation. Bill is President and a founding partner of Pzena Investment Management, a global value investment management firm in New York. Bill and Amy live in Livingston, NJ and have three children and three grandchildren. Bill can be reached Bill can be reached here.