Milwaukee Community Shaliach Uria Roth is concerned, but looking forward to going home – to a changed Israel | Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle

Milwaukee Community Shaliach Uria Roth is concerned, but looking forward to going home – to a changed Israel

This moment is not an easy one for Uria Roth, the Milwaukee community shaliach, affiliated with Milwaukee Jewish Federation.  

Roth is to bring his family back home to Israel this summer, after his four years on the job here in Wisconsin. He’s looking forward to it, and yet he’s stressed. He’s worried.  

He knows he’s returning to a changed Israel, with hundreds of thousands of Israelis protesting in recent weeks in opposition to proposed changes for the Israeli Supreme Court. He winces as he talks about it.  

“It’s the biggest issue we’ve had in Israel ever, I think; more than the conflict with the Palestinians, because it’s a conflict within ourselves,” he said in an interview with the Chronicle. “We are a liberal, Western democracy …. it’s just real danger to the future of the state of Israel.” 

With support from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the move would increase his coalition’s power over choosing judges for the Supreme Court. Israel’s parliament would be able to override Supreme Court decisions with a majority vote. Critics say this would shift Israeli democracy into the likes of a dictatorship.  

Soon after this interview with Roth, Netanyahu announced he would delay the Supreme Court changes, but he has not said the plan is canceled. In fact, many view Netanyahu as a political genius and a master at the art of the comeback – a conclusion that the proposal is now dead could arguably be premature. 

Wants to go home 

Despite years of his family growing and thriving in America, Roth said he wants to raise his children as Israelis. Roth was born and raised in Kriyat Atta, a small town outside of Haifa. When he was 15, he went to a boarding yeshiva outside Hadera in Kfar HaRoeh. He feels very much Israeli. He’s a self-described Zionist, even as his country’s choices are challenging him.  

“I know my bubble in Jerusalem. I know the art community, our neighborhood, our schools, our synagogue. I know where we are going,” he said. “I’m just so worried that I’ve just lost touch with what Israel beyond my bubble really is.” 

Roth consumes media reports, in Hebrew. He said those are more up-to-date than the English ones and he’s noticed an emerging third camp. One camp in the discourse is for the proposed changes, another terrified by them. A third camp wonders where compromise may be found.  

Wait and discuss 

“I think the number one solution is, first of all, to wait and have a discussion about judicial reform before it actually happens. The elections were just two months ago. People are still trying to process it,” he said. “And it’s literally changing the whole concept of our Supreme Court.” 

“In Israel, usually legislation takes months. It’s just unbelievable that within eight, seven weeks, this can go through.” 

But Roth asks Jewish Wisconsin to not lose faith and to maintain its bond with the people of Israel.  

“If you’re going to Israel, that doesn’t mean you support the Israeli government, but it does mean that you support the Israelis. It is important to distinguish between whatever the Israeli government is doing, versus the everyday Israelis that you meet along the way,” he said. “I just want people in Wisconsin to keep going to Israel, whenever they can, meet family, to meet friends; you have to go to Israel and listen to people in person on the ground.” 

Watching from Wisconsin 

“Most of my friends are super active right now. With the protests, they’re on the streets every week at least twice.” 

It has been frustrating to watch from the other side of the world, he said.  

“Also, I feel like I don’t understand Israel 2023. And part of it is because I lived in Wisconsin for the last four years,” he said. “I really do not understand the political climate, after four or five, six elections, and after a pandemic, and whatever Israel was going through the last four years.” 

“It’s hard because I’ve been away for so long.” 

He, his wife Moria, and children Nadav, 13, Ronnie, 10, and Yuval, 7, are to relocate to Jerusalem on Aug. 15.  

“I want my kids to grow up in Israel to be Israeli. I want them to have an Israeli education. I want them to have an Israeli life.”