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Mon, 04.22.1929

Israel Dresner, Rabbi, and Activist born

Israel Dresner

*Israel Dresner was born on this date in 1929. He was a white Jewish-American Reform rabbi and global activist. Israel Seymour Dresner was born on the Lower East Side of New York City.

He was raised in Brooklyn, attending an Orthodox yeshiva (day school). At the age of 13, he joined Habonim Dror, a Labor Zionist youth movement, and in his teens, he became one of its leaders. He was a card-carrying, dues-paying Zionist since 1942. He studied at Brooklyn College and the University of Chicago and got a B.A. and an M.A. in international relations. Dresner spent 1951 and 1952 working at a new kibbutz, Urim, in the Negev. He then spent two years as an enlisted man in the U.S. Army, the first year of which was the last year of the Korean War.

He studied at the New York School of the Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion for the next five years, where he was ordained as a rabbi. His first year in the active rabbinate was as an assistant in Danbury, Connecticut. He then spent 12 years as rabbi of Temple Sha'arey Shalom in Springfield, New Jersey, and 25 years as rabbi of Temple Beth Tikvah in Wayne, New Jersey. He was an important rabbinic participant in the American Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s; Martin Luther King Jr. spoke on two occasions at Dresner's congregation in Springfield.

Dresner was one of the first rabbis arrested in an interfaith clergy Freedom Rides protest of 1961. He served for short periods in four prisons in Florida and Georgia from 1961 to 1964.  Dresner et al. v. Tallahassee reached the U.S. Supreme Court in one of his cases. In 2013, President Obama honored him at the White House on the evening before the 50th-anniversary celebration of the March on Washington. He was a rabbinic leader against the war in Vietnam, the rights of the poor; women; immigrants, gays, and lesbians: disabled people; and racial, religious, and ethnic minorities. He served on the Social Action Commission of Reform Judaism for almost 44 years and was one of its few lifetime members. He was an early (1966) leader in the struggle for Soviet Jews.

Criticism of Israel.

He was the president of the Education Fund for Israeli Civil Rights and Peace (now Partners for Progressive Israel). He was one of the first rabbis to oppose the policies of the Jews in Israel and the U.S. They advocated annexing the Palestinian territories occupied by Israel during the Six-Day War in 1967. He opposed the settlers' movement from its inception in 1968, as have the nine U.S. presidents who have served since then. He was a dovish leader of Zionism by advocating a peace agreement with the Palestinians for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian and Arab-Israeli conflicts. He was elected twice as a delegate and as an alternate to the World Zionist Congress. Dresner was a critic of the Netanyahu government and was active in the peace movement in Israel. He visited Israel in 1951 on 36 occasions and lastly in October and November 2013.

He supported the policies of Israeli Prime Ministers Rabin, Peres, Barak, and Olmert and Israeli ministers such as Sarid (education), Beilin (justice), and Livni (foreign affairs). For a quarter-century, he was a leader of an American Zionist organization for peace, justice, pluralism, and democracy, Partners for Progressive Israel, serving as its president for three years in the 1990s. He was a member of J Street since its founding. Dresner raised his son and his daughter in Hebrew, as he was raised in Yiddish. His son has both American and Israeli citizenship is a veteran of the Israeli Defense Forces, and did the first year of his M.A. at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. His daughter was a volunteer in Kibbutz Yotvata and married a kibbutz member.

He served as president of the Education Fund for Israeli Civil Rights and Peace. In December 2021, Dresner announced he was in stage four colon cancer in the final days. Israel Dresner died from the disease on January 13, 2022, at 92.



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