Israeli voters poised to send first Reform rabbi to Knesset Palestinian Israeli Jewish Boston LGBT community

In years of going against Israel’s religious and political mainstream, Rabbi Gilad Kariv has learned to handle conflict. He has argued controversial civil rights cases before Israel’s Supreme Court. And as an activist, he has lobbied at the Knesset the 120-seat parliament for a country facing its fourth election in two years.

So after locking up a spot that put him on the brink of joining the Knesset, it did not rock Kariv’s world when powerful Orthodox lawmakers responded by threatening to boycott him.

The 47-year-old lawyer and father of three is poised next week to become the first Reform movement rabbi to hold a seat in parliament, a political ascent that marks a key victory for religious pluralism in Israel and for the millions of American Jews who practice liberal streams of their religion.

Kariv’s rise to the fourth-highest seat in the center-left Labor party would also put the Reform movement closer to the center of power inside Israel, rather than remaining a feature of the far-flung diaspora. The politically powerful Orthodox establishment has treated Kariv as a threat, suggesting he is the face of a “clownish” and “illegitimate” cult of pretenders.

Kariv shrugs off the hostility.

“If an Israeli politician and politicians in general need to have the skin of an elephant, a thick skin,” Kariv said in an interview at Labor headquarters in Tel Aviv “Then an Israeli Reform rabbi needs the skin of a mammoth.”

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