Israel S. Dresner

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Israel S. Dresner
Israel Dresner with Martin Luther King Jr.
Born United States
Occupation Rabbi

Israel Seymour (Si) Dresner is a Reform rabbi, and past president of the Education Fund for Israeli Civil Rights and Peace.[1] He was instrumental in the Civil Rights Movement, and a close friend to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Family and career[edit]

Rabbi Israel S. Dresner was born in April 1929 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, a Labor Zionist youth movement, and in his teens became one of its leaders. He has been a card carrying, dues paying Zionist since 1942. He studied at Brooklyn College and the University of Chicago (B.A, M.A. in International Relations.) He spent 1951-1952 working at a newly established kibbutz, Urim, in the Negev and then spent 2 years as an enlisted man in the U.S. Army, the first year of which was the last year of the Korean War.

The next 5 years were spent studying at the New York School of the Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion, where he was duly ordained as a rabbi. His first year in the active rabbinate was in Danbury, Connecticut as assistant to Rabbi Jerome Malino. He then spent 12 years as rabbi of Temple Sha'arey Shalom in Springfield, N.J. and 25 years as rabbi of Temple Beth Tikvah in Wayne, N.J. He was elected Rabbi Emeritus of the latter upon his retirement.

Civil Rights Activities[edit]

Rabbi Israel Dresner was once dubbed, "the most arrested rabbi in America."[2]

Rabbi Dresner was the foremost rabbinic participant in the Civil Rights struggle of the 1960s, and was one of the three rabbis who was closest to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Dr. King spoke on two occasions (1963 and 1966) at Rabbi Dresner's congregation in Springfield. Rabbi Dresner was the first rabbi arrested in the freedom struggle in 1961 in an interfaith clergy freedom ride. He served for short periods as a prisoner on four occasions in southern prisons in Florida and Georgia mm the years 1961-1964. One of his cases, Dresner et al. v. Tallahassee, reached the U.S. Supreme Court. President Obama honored Rabbi Dresner at the White House the evening before the fifty year anniversary celebration of the March on Washington.

Rabbi Dresner was one of the outstanding rabbinic leaders in the struggle against the war in Vietnam, and for the rights of the poor; women, immigrants, gays and lesbians, the disabled and racial, religious and ethnic minorities. He has served on the Social Action Commission of Reform Judaism for almost 44 years and is one of its few lifetime members. He was an early (1966) leader in the struggle for Soviet Jewry.

Views on Relations with Israel[edit]

Rabbi Israel Dresner is a critic of the Netanyahu government, and is active in the peace movement in Israel.[3]

Rabbi Dresner was President of the Education Fund for Israeli Civil Rights and Peace (now Partners for Progressive Israel).

Rabbi Dresner was one of the first rabbis to oppose the policies of the hard-line right wing Jews in Israel and the U.S, who have advocated annexing the Palestinian territories occupied by Israel in the Six Day War of 1967. He has opposed the settlers' movement from its first inception in 1968, as have the nine American presidents who have served since then. He has been a leader in the dovish peace camp of Zionism for 44 years, advocating a peace agreement with the Palestinians, which will result in a two state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and to the Arab-Israeli conflict. He has twice been elected a delegate and twice an alternate to the World Zionist Congress. He raised his son and daughter in the Hebrew language, as he was raised in the Yiddish language. His son has dual American and Israeli citizenships, is a veteran of the Israeli Defense Forces, and did the first year of his M.A. at Hebrew University of Jerusalem. His daughter was a volunteer in Kibbutz Yotvata and married a member of the kibbutz. Rabbi Dresner has visited Israel from 1951 to now on 36 occasions, most recently in October–November 2013. He has supported the policies of former Israeli Prime Ministers Rabin, Peres, Barak and Olmert, and former Israeli Ministers such as Sarid (Education), Beilin (Justice), and Livni (Foreign Affairs). He has been a leader of an American Zionist peace, justice, pluralism and democracy organization, Partners for Progressive Israel, for a quarter century, serving as its president for three years in the 1990s. He has been a member of J Street since its founding.


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Selection of Articles, Speeches and Blog Posts[edit]

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