Israel - Day 2
I awoke early to get some exercise in before a day of amazing meetings and people's narratives. After a quick run on the renovated train line, past the King David Hotel, the YMCA, Yamin Moshe and Cinameteque, I got in some yoga and breakfast, all before 8:00 a.m. and on 4 hours of sleep.
A little correction from yesterday, we are staying at the hotel part on HUC's campus, Mercaz Shimshom, Beit Shmuel is the Youth Hostel :). These accommodations are great.
Some other wonderful people on the trip, Nancy Fuchs Kramer who grew up at RSNS as well. Our next year's rabbinic intern, Georgette Kennebrae met us for the night, she is studying in Jerusalem for the summer. My dear friend Jason Klein who goes to camp with me each summer is with us, too. And, I saw my Amy Bernstein (she is leading a trip) and she is the mother of my Naomi's close friend from Camp JRF, Eliana! Although there are so many people I know, the city feels very empty.
We were on the bus to our first meeting by 8:00 a.m. We went to Mevakshe Derech, the congregation that Rabbi Jack Cohen was part of. We learned about their community, Masorti (Conservative). The interesting thing is that they struggle with many of the same issues that our congregation does. How to build partnerships and make Judaism relevant for people to want to join. They collectively made the decisions to form partnerships with outside organizations to create the evolving Jewish community center. An outside Gan (Nursery School), an after-school program, exercise classes . . . they see themselves as the umbrella organization, helping to create communities within communities. So very Kaplanian (the philosophy of Mordecai Kaplan, founder of Reconstructionism).
We had taken the tour, had the discussion about the similarities between our communities, when we heard that there were negotiations for a cease fire. It felt somehow right to hear the news right before shaharit (morning services) and then be able to join in prayer together in a progressive synagogue in Jerusalem.
We went straight to the Hartman institute in the German Colony. It is a center for addressing the major challenges facing the Jewish people in the goal of elevating the quality of Jewish life in Israel and around the world through study. They have a summer Rabbinic study track (I think Lee would love it). We got a little taste when we studied with Yossi Klein HaLevi. He wrote the book "Like Dreamers." I would definitely recommend it!
He began immediately addressing the intensity of events that happened in a short time period.
The killing of the 3 Jewish boys, 1 Arab boy . . .
He feels that Israelis experience trauma as cumulative, collectively like an archaeological tell (dig) of trauma. Unresolved trauma that gets layered on top of each other.
He asked us to look inward at all different parts of the Jewish people.
1. Self congratulatory Jewish people. After the burning alive of the boy we have given up the right to say "Jews don't do that." It is an extraordinary loss for the Jewish people.
-shocked that it happened
-not shocked that it happened
2. Jews that indulge in self criticism.
He feels that there now has to be a 2 track Jewish conversation.
1. Internal Jewish conversation
Confront ourselves without self pity, can not let ourselves off the hook, could we have done better
2. External Jewish conversation
We will no more be the axis of evil.
Jews should not be pouring out their angst about the occupation in external structures.
HaLevi's last time in America he felt like he was in a time warp. The Orthodox were living in the 1980's. The first intifada has not happened.
The Progressive Jewish communities, we are in the 1990's. In the second intifada, we are reconciling how we can be a Jewish democratic state and occupy people.
He stated that now 70 percent of Israel feels that they want a Palestinian state. Yet they feel;
1. Existentially yes (shouldn't occupy)
2. Existentially no (dangerous to israelis to pull out of the occupation)
Now in Israel there is a centrist majority. Not divided evenly between right and left. They are asking the question again how can Israel remain a democracy and occupy another people. He feels the main unresolved issue is that the Palestinian organizations do not legitimize Jews right to exist.
HaLevi challenged us with this question, what do we do in the meantime when there is no chance of a negotiated agreement. (Neither side is prepared to take that ultimate risk)
HaLevi feels that Israel shouldn't make it more difficult to pull out in 5-10 years.
1. No more settlements.
2. 20 percent of Israeli population is Arab
Arab Israelis are a minority in Israel, however Jewish Israelis are a minority in this region. Difficult to reconcile.
How does Israel start taking responsibility for their majority status. And how do you make American Jews more effective?
Left and right say "it is only up to us". However there is another player!!
He ended with asking us to hold the two texts in your hand-two voices...
1. "Remember Amalek (the ancestor of Haman)"
I am forbidden to be naïve
2. "Remember that you were a stranger, don't oppress the stranger"
I am forbidden to be brutal
Neither of these can be the totality of the conversation. We need to internalize the debate. The negative of this is paralysis. We are asked to stand at this place, an unbearable place, the prophetic place.
WOW! He was insightful and thoughtful and we then had time to process in small groups.
Rabbi Lee, Jonathan (a rabbi friend) and I ate on Emek Refaim in Caffit, my favorite. It is right near my apartment from Rabbinical School and it brought me back. We ate halumi salad, fried cauliflower and soup (all vegetarian based, my dream).
Off to the Knesset. We had to give in our passport numbers months ago and we were able to bring in our phones and passports, it made security easier. This meeting was supposed to be earlier but due to the negotiations, we were meeting with a member of the Knesset later. We learned that it is greenest parliament, solar panels and glass water bottles. I would bet one of the most causal in regard to dress too.
We met with Ruth Calderon, a Jewish pluralistic knesset member. For her opening statement to the parliament she quoted Talmud. Pretty unbelievable. We learned how she incorporates study of traditional text and politics. Next year will be the celebration of Shmita (the 7 year sabbatical of the land and the forgiving of debt). 105 million shekels will be spent on it. Calderon invited 5,000 families that are in debt and helped them enter into economic reconciliation. 1/3 bank will forgive, 1/3 family will pay, 1/3 the knesset members fund raise. Every 7 years she would like to institute this program aligned to the celebration of shmita.). Her theory is to do the same job as past text spoke about with new tools to get it done. By the way, E years ago Eric and I had a grant to study shmita texts with the head of Teva (an organization that focuses of Jewish education through the lens of nature).
Calderon compares the Knesset, to studying Talmud with decision making! Yet interestingly, no matter what her party decides on an issue she needs to vote and align with her party. When talking about the negotiations and the cease fire she made the point that as Americans we use the English word compromise, we see it as a good word, however in Hebrew it is a negative word, it means to settle. That shift in definition says it all.
Calderon has introduced in her tenure in the Knesset a weekly Beit Midrash (study session). We were able to part of it. It was amazing to witness her connect text to current daily law. She wove the ancient with the present and added the future impact of the decisions made as well.
While all of our meetings and study had been going on we learned that Israel accepted the terms of the peace fire and Hamas rejected it. Rockets were still being launched into Israel. In Jerusalem life appears to be going on as normal. The streets, the restaurants and the store are empty. The shop keepers are so happy for our business.
With this comes millions of changes in our itinerary. What I love is I just follow along and I don't have to deal with the changes! It is great to NOT be in charge for a change. The educator and organizer is doing a wonderful job trying to juggle the needs of 20+ rabbis and the changing political climate of the country and how it effects the places we can go.
We did not have a minute to rest, straight back to HUC and we met with the head of the Masorti movement-Conservative movement in Israel. He discussed issues of who is a jew and how life cycle events are dealt with in a Jewish state that has an orthodox rabbinate. Interesting issues that our congregation has contemplated for years. I loved this guys voice, but I was getting a bit antsy. We had our last meeting presenter Joel Oseran from the World Union of Progressive Judaism. He was actually the rabbi in Hong Kong when I lived there with Peter before kids. It was funny to reconnect. This organization works with communities in the world affiliated with Reform/liberal congregations. They could help us with building a twining program and/or a community trip to these congregations. It was interesting to see the scope of progressive world Jewry.
We were notified of a world wide event that was being promoted as a stand for peace. A day of fasting together, or in the language of civil protest: a hunger-strike day, when the Jewish and Muslim calendars are united in a day of fast: the fast of 17 Tamuz and the fast of Ramadan, Jews and Muslims will unite in a day of fast.
“For both traditions/cultures – this is a day designated for soul-searching, an opportunity for people to take responsibility, for self repair and for self and communal purification and for repentance.
“This is an attempt to direct the consciousness of both peoples to this day as a “peak day” "in which each man and woman in their home and in their communities will be invited to take part, to fast in solidarity with the suffering, violence and pain of self and others, to ask how to end the cycle of bloodshed and draw a horizon of hope and vision.
“Afternoon gatherings and classes will be held between the two communities – sharing stories, studying and praying together, and by the appearance of the stars the people gathered will share an "iftar" – breaking the fast with a delicious meal."
Lee and I joined some of our colleagues who were going into the Old City to the Interfaith Center for Sustainable Development and Jerusalem Peacemakers for a joint break fast and Iftar celebration.
We met Cantor Michael Kligfeld's son Rabbi Adam Kligfeld from LA at this "rally." Cantor Kligfeld was our high holiday cantor for 2 decades. Small world!
There were about 60 people there from all over the world, Muslims, Christians, Jews. Observant and secular. From around the world. We were asked to introduce ourselves and to say why we there. Each narrative was a minute and was insightful. We heard them in Arabic, English and Hebrew. We sat outside in a graden in the Old city learning with each other. It did feel like a blessing. The sounds of chanting and fire crackers to end the fast of Ramadan was both soothing and unsettling all at once.
We rushed back for a nighttime workshop with Nava Tehila, "beautiful praise" is an emerging prayer and study group in Jerusalem. Their prayers are egalitarian and inclusive. The ensemble from Nava Tehila does concerts in Israel and around the world. We sang and clapped and joined together in song and prayer.
It was 10:15 pm and we hadn't eaten dinner! Lee took me to a more local Caffit and I let myself have a cheese bagel, what a treat.
This was a long and emotional and insightful day. On our way home from our late night out we saw a chameleon on the Jerusalem stone, it was white, you could barely make it out. What did that mean? Off to sleep.