Short-term rental in the Germany Colony in Jerusalem

May 2, 2016

We have a newly renovated basement apartment (10 steps down) which is perfect for short-term stay in Jerusalem.  It is locate on Emek Refaim, the heart of the German Colony, one of Jerusalem’s oldest and most beautiful neighborhoods.

You cannot beat the location!  You can reach the Old City walking 40 minutes, bus/walking or by bike 20 minutes, or by taxi 10 minutes.  Easy access to downtown – We are next to the bus stop with direct buses to Hebrew University Mount Scopus, Talpiot shopping area, the Central Bus Station, downtown/Ben Yehuda pedestrian mall, the Jerusalem stadium, and Ammunition Hill,  Other buses in the neighborhood go to the Israel Museum, Malcha Mall/ train station, and Mount Herzl/Yad VaShem.

Behind the house is the bike path/Railway park which runs from downtown to the Biblical zoo (you can rent bicycles at the First Station nearby)

The apartment is a few steps away from cafes, restaurants, boutiques, a public swimming pool,  drug store, a variety of synagogues, delicatessens, bakeries, health food stores, laundromat/dry cleaners, parks and playgrounds.  A cinema and theaters are also close by, including the Jerusalem Theater with plays, dance, the symphony, and more.

There is urban noise, but the apartment is in the back, faces a spacious garden/yard and gets the light of the morning sun (faces East).

It is a fully-furnished one-and-a-half room apartment – a bedroom (no door) with a queen-size bed.  The salon has an American pull-out couch.  It is ideal for a single person, couple, or couple with 1-2 small children (travel baby crib available).  It has a kitchenette with microwave, office fridge, two-burner hot plate, electric kettle, and basic kitchen utensils.  We live upstairs and it is directly across from a large minimarket that is open 24/6.

The non-smoking apartment has free WiFi (no TV),  a table that seats up to four, air condition/heater unit.

The cost is 250 shekels/night for a single person.  50 shekels/night for each additional person.  Stays of 5 nights or more are 15% discount.

You are welcome to contact me!  rabbi.stacey@yahoo.com  972-54-2487476.

Pre-Pesach in Jerusalem (where does the bus bomb fit in?)

April 19, 2016

There was a bus bomb yesterday in Jerusalem.  Albeit, it happened on an empty bus and the parshanut that I read in Haaretz this morning noted that it was a relatively small blast and doesn’t seem to be connected to any organized terror organization.

I heard about the bomb when I was paying for my groceries after standing in line for half an hour at the checkout, together with, as we say, Kol Am Yisrael (with the whole Jewish people), everyone with their shopping carts filled to the brim in anticipation of the Pesach seder  this Friday evening.  The checkout guy said, “What?  Line #12?  That goes right by my house” and immediately got on the phone to call family.  We all paused for a moment, I am quiet, but I don’t want my kids to hear about it.  Then we all keep going, smile, wish each other Chag Sameach!

On Facebook in the evening, I see many Jerusalem friends sending general messages “We’re OK”, messages of hopes for the end to violence, links to articles that tell about what happened.  And an outpouring of messages from people (many rabbinic colleagues) in the US sending support and prayers.

And the news is terrible – 20 wounded, some very seriously.  Full body burns.  My daughter’s friend is a resident doctor – she received some of the wounded at Shaarei Tzedek hospital.  Each personal story is heartbreaking.

I think to myself, should I write a post also that says that I am OK?  I had already talked to my mom in Cleveland that evening and she hadn’t even brought it up, so probably she didn’t hear about it.  Do I need to write that I am OK?  If I wasn’t OK, then people would probably be know.  If I was dead, it would have been publicized.  Is this something that I should add to my routine?

I think how does it look, this scene in Jerusalem?  Because if someone were to call me up and ask me right this moment, how are things in Jerusalem?  I would answer, everything is fine.  There’s the atmosphere of chag (the holiday). Everyone is doing their shopping, wishing each other “happy cleaning” and Chag Sameach (happy holiday).  All of our older kids are now on tiyulim (hiking trips) with their youth movements, mainly up north in the Galilee.  The weather is absolutely gorgeous right now.  The flowers are blooming, the birds are singing.  Our neighbors got a puppy.

I then think about the existence of violence in the world.  The world is full of violence.  I grew up on the suburbs of Cleveland, one of the quietest and safest places to grow up, in my opinion.  A fifteen minute drive from my parents’ house is the city where violence is an almost daily reality.  For us, it might as well have been another time zone.  If I got on a plane, I could be in Cairo in half an hour.  I can go up to the Golan Heights and see the smoke rising from the destruction in Damascus of the Syrian civil war which has become also the breeding ground or the over-the-top violent Islamic State.  My point being – that people can say that I live in a violent place.  Or people can say that they’re afraid to visit Jerusalem or Israel because of the violence that they hear about or see on the TV or the internet.  And then they come to visit, and they feel quite safe, and they understand quite distinctly the difference between the media and reality. Could I possibly dare to suggest that  the situation in Jerusalem is a bit like the situation in Cleveland?!

But I cannot ignore the fact that there is indeed violence in the 60 km radius from where I live in the heart of Jerusalem (and if I lived in Cleveland, I imagine that I would get involved with the issues there).  There are lots of people propagating violence.  On the one hand, there is a giant will to live here – among peaceful Jews and Arabs.  On the other hand, I am afraid that we are dulled to the pain of violence, the pain of the Other alongside the pain of our Brother.  (I just noticed that Brother has the “other” in it)

Violence is ever present in the human condition.  A survival instinct?  A genetic mutation?  G-d’s test of humanity?  Or perhaps G-d’s joke? Or, heaven forbid, G-d’s failing?

I have always said, and I will continue to say: How blessed I am to live in Jerusalem.  How blessed are we to live in a time when people can visit freely in Jerusalem.  The city of my ancient past and the city in which I am building a beautiful future.  A city full of culture and intellectual ambrosia.

Jerusalem = Yerushalayim.  It has the word shalom in it.  It has the word yerusha, heritage.  The aspiration of Jerusalem is to be a heritage of peace.  Peace is not for one person or another.  Peace is universal.  Three major religions made Jerusalem a sacred place for themselves.  The reason must be connected to the peace that we must make here.  That is the hope for peace in the world.

And now, having written all of this, I ask myself again – Am I OK?

Purim, Purim and More Purim

March 27, 2016

We have just finished the holiday of Purim in Israel.

Did I write holiday?  I meant month-long festivities..

For me, it started on Rosh Chodesh Adar – the first day of the month in which  Purim takes place.  This is a leap year for the Jewish calendar so it was actually Adar II.  So songs like  “mi’she, mi’she mi’she, mi’she, mi’she mi’she, mi’she nichnas Adar…marbim b’simcha!” (When Adar begins, we increase our joy!) had already been playing for a little while.  I have to admit, I wasn’t feeling particularly joyful this year at the beginning of Adar.  However, I was at a store when I overheard a young guy telling his co-workers that when he got on the bus that morning, the driver was wearing a clown hat.  As people got on the bus, he explained “It’s  Adar!  We’ve got to be happy!”  I smiled overhearing the conversation.  I even thought of Rebbe Nachman who said that the best antidote for feeling unhappy is simply to start feeling happy.  So, I did.  

In my children’s school, for the week preceding Purim, there was pajama day, funny hat day, kids teach the teachers day, longer recess than class day.  And the pinnacle of it all – two days before the actual holiday, all the kids come in their real costumes, exchange mishloach manot (lately the trend is each family gives 10 shekels and every child receives the same thing – so there won’t be competition or hurt feelings), there is a school-wide assembly with games and prizes.  In fact, most Israeli think this is actually the holiday of Purim, the three days following are simply vacation from school.

In my congregation in Tzur Hadassah, we had much pre-Purim activity also in the direction of community caring.  First of all, with the visit of a few rabbis earlier in the month, we received from our partner congregations Temple Sholom of Vancouver and Temple Beth El in Madison, suitcases full of costumes which we donated to local after-school programs for children from challenged families.  (Along with art supplies, clothes, and games donated by visitors from Temple Isaiah of Los Angeles)

We offered congregants to buy packages for mishloach manot from Or Shalom, an organization that helps at-risk children, and a few wonderful congregants made home delivery of mishloach manot to every member of the congregation and also brought to the pre-school that we are helping to support.  

I baked hamantaschen with the participants in our mother-daughter bat mitzvah group. (they couldn’t believe I had found a good parve recipe!)  They, together, with our youth group members of Noar Telem and some of our pre=school families, delivered mishloach manot to over 20 elderly/lonely people who live in our area.  Each family/group received a name and phone number and the delivery included a visit, exchange of stories, lots of smiles and even some requests for a return visit soon..  

The Big Event was erev Purim, the megilah reading in our congregation.  Our tradition notes the connection between the names Purim and Yom HaKipurim (Also known as Yom Kippur). In Israel you really feel the connection between the two holidays.  They are the two days a year that the an incredible amount of secular Israelis come to synagogue – the most  solemn day and the silliest.  Over 100 people of all ages filled our hall.  I have to say that I invested quite a lot of energy in the production!  Our theme was based on a recent TV show “The Next Rising Star – to Eurovision”, a musical contest show with judges and home audience participation picking the best talent.  Our teens decorated the entire hall with stars and scenes of Shushan.  They put together short videos poking loving fun at our readers/”contestants”.  People got really into it and made their reading (which was the traditional text) come alive in hysterical ways.  I gave my kids dominion over a basket of prizes and candy which we distributed as freely as possible in Purim song contests, recruiting judges after each chapter, and for every kid who got up in front of everyone and showed his/her costume.  Accompanied by a wonderful musician Boaz Dorot on keyboard.  And a congregant even served as barman.

The next day, I was on Masada officiating at a bar and bat mitzvah ceremony of families from North America.  Our cable car operator had teddy bear ears.  I brought all kinds of hats, wigs, animal , ears, etc., for a mini megila summary reading.  In my taxi the way back, the driver (wearing a crazy pink hat from his daughter’s costume) had left me a chocoate bar on the seat.  That night, we were celebrating at a Purim party in Tzur Hadassah.  My costume had started to wilt – whereas Wednesday night I was a star, that night I was a falling star.  

The next day was Shushan Purim, the day Purim is celebrated in Jerusalem as it is a walled city.  My kids were not interested – I think they were Purim’d out!  I put on a green clown wig and headed out for coffee with my sister-in-law visiting from Haifa.  She was full of enthusiasm  as people passed by in fabulous costumes – “Jerusalem is so much better than Haifa!  Here the adults dress up and everyone’s into it!”  We met the beggars who knew it was their day and freely distributed matanot la’evyonim (the mitzvah of giving gifts to the poor on Purim).

And that’s not to mention parades that took place in cities around Israel “Adloyada” (after the Talmudic command to drink alcohol on Purim “until one doesn’t know” the difference between Haman and Mordecai), and the Purimon purim carnivals in the Scouts and in synagogues and other neighborhood gatherings, the stages of children’s entertainment.  

I invited a pre-school parent to a congregation meeting that we had Saturday night (not connected to Purim)  The next day I got a text apology – “I was ready to come, I put my kids to bed and I fell asleep with them.  This Purim has exhausted me!”

And lest I believe that it is all over…I just got the invitation to a Purim “after-party for parents” next week!  At least it’s a fundraiser for the new school yard of our kids school….

Though I’ve already gotten some frantic phone calls about Pesach…do you know where you’re having seder yet??

Me, You and the Kotel

February 8, 2016

Last week, the Netanyahu cabinet voted to officially create a third section at the Kotel (Western Wall) in addition to the existing men’s and women’s sections.  This new section is designated for egalitarian prayer with the option of creating temporary mechitzot for occasional Orthodox prayer, such of that of Women of the Wall.

In actuality, there is already a section of the Kotel that is designated for such prayer.  It is called Ezrat Yisrael (The Israel section) where the Western Wall meets the Southern Wall.  It has a separate entrance from the other sections but it is open and available for prayer 24 hours a day, seven days a week.  However, it is not equal in size and facilities to the other sections.  According to the new plan, there will be access to the egalitarian section through the official entrance to the Kotel so that those who come to the Kotel will see automatically that there are three sections from which to choose, the egalitarian Kotel will be a size comparable to the Orthodox sections including access to the wall itself, and it will be administered by a council consisting of representatives of the Reform and Conservative Movements, Women of the Wall, and perhaps others.

One could write a doctorate about the course of events that brought us to this historic decision.  This decision entails the unexpected cooperation between unlikely partners, Reform Jews and Ultra-Orthodox Jews, and the use of interesting strategies by all of the sides.  What began as the demand of a group of Orthodox women 25 years ago to conduct a women’s prayer service once a month in the women’s section of the Kotel became the cause célèbre of the Reform and Conservative Movements in North America.  However it started, this end result is a sweeping recognition of Reform and Conservative Judaism as legitimate interpreters of Jewish tradition and partners in the Jewish public space in Israel.  For me, this is the most important news and a great advancement for the movement in whose principles I strongly believe.  I echo the aspirations of our leaders that this recognition is part of the groundswell of the embracing of Reform and Conservative Judaism throughout Israel and acts as a cornerstone to preserving the Jewish, democratic and pluralistic State of Israel.

But we came to talk about the Kotel, right?

(By the way – over the years, I have come to understand that most Israelis are not really interested in the Kotel aside from a very rare visit in Jerusalem perhaps for a bar mitzvah or in the framework of a school trip.)

Let’s think for a moment about the Western Wall and put it all into perspective.  It is one of the retaining walls of the First and Second Temple complex.  Since the destruction of the Second Temple, the closest one could get to the Temple was a small section on a narrow street edged in by houses.  I have a photograph from the 19th century which shows Jews in this place, no mechitza, men and women engaged in prayer.  In 1967, when Israel claimed sovereignty in the entire Old City and we “returned” to the Kotel after a disengagement of almost 20 years, the State of Israel tore down those houses and created a giant plaza in order to turn the area into a central place – in addition to enabling prayer, to also hold official State ceremonies.  At this time – as had been going on since the 19th Century – the archaeological work continued in the southern part of the Western Wall area (known as “Robinson’s Arch”) and of the Southern retaining Wall of the Temple.  There was discovered there the original Herodian Street from the time of the Second Temple, hundreds of mikvaot (ritual baths) that served the multitudes of pilgrims’ and also the remains of the original stairs and gates that led into the Temple complex itself.

I have written before about my “relationship” with the Kotel.  I will add here that, for me, it is a place where I connect with my history – I caress the stones polished by the caress of hundreds of thousands of hands over the generations.  I connect with my people and their faith throughout the ages.  I feel a buzz in this place, a special energy that I believe comes not from the rocks but from the intentions of the people around me that are praying and from the prayers that are being directed to where I am standing from all around the world.

I am moved by the historical statement that we were witnesses to this week.  I salute the ranks of our Reform Movement and the leaders of many Jewish organizations and our political leaders in Israel who dedicated themselves to arriving to a solution through negotiations and dialogue — participating in countless meetings, spending hours poring over wording and nuance, finding the inner strength to demand and also to yield for the good of the peace of the Jewish people.

I have always seen my place in this dialogue as being the advocate for egalitarian/family gatherings at the Kotel and taking part in them myself.  I have officiated at over 150 ceremonies (mainly bar/bat mitzvahs, but not only) at the section of the Kotel which is currently designated for egalitarian prayer.  I am part of the landscape of passersby – including our movement’s leadership — that shows a thriving, vibrant egalitarian prayer at the Kotel.

Certainly as far back as my rabbinic ordination nine years ago, there was the possibility to conduct ceremonies on the Herodian Street beneath Robinson’s Arch and on a small platform that was adjacent to about ten meters of the Kotel.  It was possible to reserve a Torah through the Conservative Movement which has about 3-5 Torah scrolls and to enter the site for free until 9:00 a.m., at which everyone must pay entrance to the Davidson Archaeological Park.  The Davidson Center also, over the years, received a Torah that is encased in a beautiful wood box in the Sephardic style that is possible to reserve.  The only way to hold a ceremony was by making a reservation.  In October 2014, a platform was built in this area that was set back from the Kotel, including the small platform next to the wall, and a separate entrance was created that is accessed from the place where people stand in line to go up to the Temple Mount.  It was named Ezrat Yisrael (the Israel section) with its own security guard open twenty-four hours a day and seven days a week for egalitarian prayer.  It has tables, sun umbrellas, and benches.  The guards are careful to make sure that tour guides are not simply entering and conducting tours there but that it is indeed used for prayer and contemplation purposes.  You can still make a reservation to borrow a Torah from the Conservative Movement and it helps to do so even if you don’t manage to get one of their Torah scrolls, in order to get an idea of how crowded it’s going to be during the busy season.  But you don’t have to – you can show up whenever you want and you can bring your own Torah and table.  (Anyone who wants more details about how it works is welcome to contact me)

I have also conducted tefilin ceremonies for my congregation’s bar mitzvah course and private Israeli ceremonies.  I have participated in prayers organized by the Conservative Movement  namely in the wee morning hours of Shavuot and the late evening of Tisha B’Av.  I have seen school groups hold ceremonies there and I have been a guest at the tefilin ceremony of “Modern Orthodox” Israeli families that want to hold a “family minyan” that everyone stands where it is comfortable for him or her as a completely Orthodox ceremony is conducted.  This past High Holiday season, I visited the Kotel after midnight for selichot.  I went only to Ezrat Yisrael – I was joined by mainly Orthodox people there – including an Ultra-Orthodox couple, a man and a woman, each one holding a prayerbook and praying quietly sitting side-by-side.

I don’t believe that the Kotel has any cosmic powers in and of itself  I believe that the Kotel has tremendous symbolism for Jews and for all peoples.  The Kotel offers us an opportunity to infuse our celebrations with additional meaning.  It is a place that designated for prayer.  But even if prayer is not your thing, it can be a place of meditation and introspection.  A moment of communing with the generations.  There is no part of the retaining wall of the Temple Mount – the western southern, eastern, or northern — that is “holier” than other parts in their physical manifestation.  I almost don’t want to share my little secret – I feel more holiness on the side of Ezrat Yisrael.  It is a place of peace and quiet.  There is no pushing and shoving.  No one is judging me or coercing me. There is mutual respect and acceptance.  People talk to each other and ask if they can come into a space or if they would like to share space, we decide together.  When I see the actually places where my ancient ancestors visited, it comes alive for me.

Our job — all of us — is to contribute to the kavod, the dignity, of the Kotel.  The existence of Ezrat Yisrael gives people access to the experience of this place — there is no modesty police, no judgment, and no coercion.  It is a place for all, as it says in Isaiah (56:7), “For My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.”  This includes all streams of Judaism, this includes all traditions and ethnic groups. 

Throughout the years, I have been witness also to disrespect for the place.  While the authorities forbid the use of musical instruments during prayer services at the men and women’s section as well as at Ezrat Yisrael,  the shofar blasts,  clarinets, drum beats by paid players fill the entire area and disturb that peace and tranquility that I wrote about above.  A life size blow-up toy of a stereotypical shtetl rabbi greets visitors in the entrance.  Men who visit the men’s section are harassed by Chabadniks who press tefilin in their face even if they are told “not interested.”  Women act as “modesty patrol” and chase after other women with outrageous demands. (I write all this from personal experience)

I can imagine this upgraded egalitarian section.  Do you want to lay tefilin?  We can help you with that.  Do you want some quiet time alone?  We know how to do that too.  Do you want to sing?  We want to sing with you.  Here, the State can conduct army ceremonies and the women soldiers can speak and be honored for the great responsibility they take on side-by-side with their male counterparts.  Here, the Jewish Agency can conduct welcome ceremonies for new immigrants just off the plane with both men and women’s voices as we know that both men and women will contribute equally together to the prosperity of our nation.  The egalitarian section is not the exclusive property of card-carrying “Reform” or “Conservative” Jews.  It will serve the entire Israeli society, the Jewish people who visit from around the world, and pilgrims of all nations.  You can count on that.

Now, more than ever, it is important that you come and visit in Ezrat Yisrael – to see where it is and what it is.  We have to organize more ceremonies and events there, to let everyone know that this place exists and it is a place for them.  I call on the leaders of the Reform and Conservative Movements in Israel and abroad, and our partners in the Jewish Federations, to organize as many of these events as possible – when conferences are in Jerusalem, organize a group prayer.  Every congregational group should pray there once – during the week or on Shabbat.  When hundreds of rabbis visit Jerusalem this summer for study, when youth groups fill the streams of Israel, let us all gather together and make this achievement a reality.

In conclusion, perhaps the true celebration is the act of cooperation and compromise.  These are the spiritual tools for bringing about Peace.  And Peace is the highest value in Judaism. Netanyahu’s government arrived at its decision through the merit of the ability of the different parties involved to look each other in the eye, to recognize the humanity of each other, to understand the other at least a little bit better, to overcome fear of the other and to demonstrate acceptance.  This act proved the power of the unity of the Jewish people – Ultra-Orthodox, Reform, Conservative, Israeli, American, men, women that succeeded in speaking with one another – demanding and conceding.   They reached a solution.  Halleluya!  Come, let’s all do it — let’s meet, let’s get to know one another, let’s argue and let’s learn together.  And that’s how we will realize the prayer which I hope is shared by us all:

עוֹשֶׂה שָׁלוֹם  בִּמְרוֹמָיו הוּא יַעֲשֶׂה שָׁלוֹם עָלֵינוּ וְעַל כָּל יִשְׂרָאֵל וְעַל כָּל יוֹשְׁבֵי תֵּבֵל וְאִמְרוּ אָמֵן:

May the One who makes peace in the high places make peace on us, and on all of Israel, and on the inhabitants of the world.  And let us say: Amen.

Prologue

January 16, 2016

Every day is a new day.  Here is a censored follow-up – some personal details are not relevant to the rest of the world.

Today, I am more or less fine with a lingering cough and laryngitis (The sign from G-d: You’ve been speaking too much.  Time to be quiet. Hence, I write.)

My son…is quite pleasant to have around on his own.  He learns English on the computer more or less independently.  He helped me shop at the supermarket. (We saw a new item – fresh beef (kosher) imported from Poland.  The elderly woman next to me at the counter raised her eyebrows, looked at me, and said “Poland?”  Shrugged and walked away)  We bought him shoes (the old ones had a hole worn through each big toe).  He solves math puzzles on his own while I step out for a coffee date. Has no problem spending the afternoon reading books.

Today, happily, the husband and wife were on the same page.  We joined forces against the ….  NAME took the information we shared and only tried to convince us that we needed to do something else.  And even tried to say that we weren’t sure of what we had decided and we still ought to reconsider.  We said (jointly!) that we are quite sure of what we want right now and asked if she was willing to help us with it.  NAME said, more or less, time is up.  Let’s talk about it again next week?

I had a lovely afternoon with my daughter alone baking a chocolate cake that has spinach hidden inside.  And she even ate one piece of it.  We walked in the light rain together down our street to her gymnastics chug.  I love the lights on the trees on Emek Refaim – like giant flashes of rain falling down the trees.  That morning, I had a flier on my car that I was parked illegally in a place I have parked for a few years saying that it is actually sidewalk and if I continue to park there I will be fined, signed by the municipality.  I even saw a man who sort of looked like a meter maid looking at cars.  But for the rest of the day, I saw many cars parking there and no more signs.  Am I delusional?  Following.

The children went to bed peacefully. (Holding breath)

The husband and wife resume the discussion.  We agree – this…was not for us.  We think what to do. We come with some ideas.  It is I who will make the phone call to the person we know who also works there.  It is I who will call….  It is I who will reach out to….

My husband, poor guy, got sick the next day.  But he still made Shabbat dinner and set the table.  He came with me to the congregation.  He helped take care of the kids, and he tried to play with them as much as he could until it was very clear he needed to go to bed.

I took the smaller ones today to Shabbat lunch at my husband’s uncle’s house in a neighborhood near ours in Jerusalem.  He is Orthodox and his daughter and her family who joined are Orthodox too.  Their three youngest (of five) were there.  Amazing, intelligent, warm, loving people.  Our conversation starts as it usually does: Inquiries into my rabbinic duties over Shabbat, what is new at the congregation, how many members are in the congregation, What is the difference between Reform and Conservative?  Reform believe that G-d is a human invention, right?  (no, that’s humanistic or secular) What is Shira Hadasha – Conservative or Orthodox?  I always promise to bring the Reform platform and go over it with them.  The division of the Jewish people into “secular” and “religious” as a fictitious and erroneous division.

In conclusion, I go back to my conclusion of the previous blog.  I write this knowing a good number of men who love peace.  But that brings to another thought before the congregation – The Northern American organization for Reform Rabbis (the CCAR) just published a survey showing that male rabbis still make much more money than women rabbis on average in the same positions. I wonder: Do my male colleagues feel invested in doing something about that?

Here is the conclusion I wanted to add to the last blog’s conclusion:  As I think about it, we must also remember that most of the wars in the world are driven by men.  ISIS is led by men.  Syria, the battling groups within Egypt, Hizbolla, Hamas, all led by men.  Anyone know a war/aggression being advocated by a woman?  Imagine if every country or entity was run by a woman.

Reflections and Questions of Just Another Woman

January 13, 2016

I got sick this week. My first real sickness of the season.  All three of my kids have been hit already once, my little one about multiple times (still building his daycare immune system).  I had managed to avoid it (my healthy eating?  My careful avoidance of their snotty tissues?), but now it cut me down. With 38.9 degree Celsius fever, I slept for 14 hours.  It was AMAZING.  When my husband saw me getting out of bed around 4 in the afternoon, he imagined I was good enough to go and went back to work until the wee hours of the night (he had picked up the kids that day at 2 and fed them and entertained them to that point).  I woke this morning with 37.7 degree temperature.  My husband says, “That doesn’t count!  You’re all better!  Back to life!”  I hesitated.  I did do my daily duty of taking the little one to daycare.  But I was not feeling full energy.  I needed to be at home, so I went back to the computer and the phone, but I did not feel up to the commute and canceled things.  And I had another child at home on suspension from school.

I did work today.  I also spent part of the day in therapeutic conversation with suspended child.  I think we progressed, but you can never tell exactly.

I took him to a friend’s birthday party and met a mom who came to help out holding her toddler on her arm who is falling asleep.  She pitied my illness until she heard about my 14 hours of sleep.  Almost with tears in her eyes, she said, “I can’t even imagine….I so need a day to myself, to even go see a movie, read a book.”  So, why not?  “I…just don’t have the courage.”  Did she really mean “courage”?  I tried to think of another word that surely must be more of what she meant, but I couldn’t.

I shared about the suspension.  We talked about the different ways to help our kids.  We agreed that parenting counseling was the best route to go.  We agreed that our spouses are very ambivalent about it and sometimes take part actively and sometimes resist.  I can’t say how many men I’ve heard about that resist going to counseling regarding their children.  Can someone explain that to me?

I bought a small closet over the internet.  It arrived today.  I put it together.  (My husband held up the last part as I screwed it in)  The younger two children took turns crying for Mom or Dad for a good half hour between getting into bed and actually falling asleep.

Then I read the op-ed by the woman who was sexually assaulted by Marc Gafni as a 13-year-old girl.  I have also read in the newspapers in Israel over the past month on an almost daily basis about sexual improprieties, alleged and proven, of elected officials.  I don’t know if I should be shocked at the depths of despicable behavior in my society or optimistic that justice is beginning to be served.

I think of my friends in the United States who had to pay to give birth and did not get one day of paid maternity leave (using sick days does not count!).  I feel blessed to live in an “enlightened” society that sees universal health care as a right that goes without saying.

I watched my first episode of Games of Thrones (I understand that can happen to people when they’re sick) and I didn’t know whether to describe it as an accurate portrayal of the Middle Ages or of a sick excuse to show excessive violence and sexual ludity on the screen.  I think both, equally sickening.

I think of my children, and I wonder if I am sending them the right messages in life.  If I am being the role model that I ought to be for them.  To what kind of life am I setting the foundations for them.

If I had a well-balanced hot meal prepared every day, would my daughter eventually eat everything that I prepare?

Would it be worth it to prepare said meal, and thus give up other things like time spent with them or down time to myself at night?  Or should I be paying someone to do it?

If we ate together every evening as a nuclear family at 6:30 on the dot, would this give them good manners and a sense of routine and responsibility?

Does therapy provide the answers, or is it involved, active parenting, or do things just straighten themselves anyway? (The answer is, of course, dependent upon who you ask)

And, in any case, wouldn’t the world be a lot calmer, safe, and more peaceful if all the state leaders were women?

Yom Kippur 5776 – We must raise high the flag of Pluralism

September 23, 2015

(These words were delivered during Kol Nidre in my congregation, Kehilat Tzur Hadassah)

Last year at this time, we were still recovering from Tzuk Eitan.  Our eyes scanned the sky for rockets and our ears were attuned to the cry of the air raid siren — ready for the threat that came from the outside.
This past summer, sadly, the threat came from within.  Tu B’Av, the Jewish “Valentine’s Day”, started out as a celebration of love to a day of tragedy and morning when an Ultra-Orthodox man stabbed six people during the Gay Pride Parade in Jerusalem. The next morning we woke up to even more horrible news of the arson of the home of the Dwabshe family in Duma with the tragic results known to all (the toddler was killed immediately and the parents died from their wounds within weeks).

Aside from the mourning I felt for these people whom I did not know, these horrible events implanted in me a deep and more urgent concern about the future of the State of Israel.  I have always been taught and so taught myself – Judaism places the greatest sanctity on life.

One who takes a life it is as if he has destroyed an entire world.  (Sanhedrin 23:1)

The most basic commandment – Do not murder. (Exodus 20)

I do not believe that the murderers are “lone wolves”.  They are symptoms of agendas, ideologies and dogmas that pervade sectors of Israeli society. One can read the fascimile signs that are posted in public spaces: “We are outraged to the depths of our soul that the abandoned and despicable people are scheming to carry out the March of Impurity and Abomination….We turn to anyone who has in his power the ability to act and has the ability to prevent this grievous danger.”  One can read the “writing on the wall” of Tag Mechir (Price Tag), some examples: “Good Arab = Dead Arab….Arabs out!….It’s either racism or assimilation.”

My feelings get hurt when I hear statements that my Judaism is not authentic.  But now I need to be afraid that someone will kill me for this?!  It is very frightening indeed.

If the events of the summer clarified anything for, it is that we, as a society, must be united on this issue: Pluralism.  Our tradition teaches:

There are seventy faces of the Torah (Numbers Rabbah 13:15)

Beit Shamai and Beit Hillel disagreed for three years, each one saying, “The law is according to me.”  A voice came down from heaven and said, “These and these are both words of the living G-d.” (Eruvin 13b)

There are a plethora of ways to be Jewish and a human being and, as a matter of principle, your way doesn’t have to contradict my way.  Maybe it will sound now like I am contradicting myself but I must be “Orthodox” about this  – We must raise the flag of pluralism, raise it high, and carry it forward in an intentional way.

What do I mean when I say “pluralism”?

I draw on the teachings of the leader in the field of Jewish Pluralistic Education, Dr. Michal Muszkat-Barkan, that wrote an article with Rabbi Dr. Michael Marmur on the subject.

First, we recognize that “plurality..is also a feature of human personality.”  Every person has multiple facets.  Opinions change as you receive information.  Values and skills evolve as we acquire life experience.

Second, being pluralistic means you have the ability to be self-critical.  To be human is to err (Alexander Pope).  Pluralism means that you are in a constant state of improving and perfecting.

Finally, recognizing that there is a “range of potentially valid positions” does not prevent a person from “expressing preference and making choices.”  I can co-exist with you in the same society even when we disagree – if we both have empathy and the ability to compromise.

One could argue that Orthodoxy by definition cannot compromise.  But according tot he Orthodox thinker of the 20th Century, Rabbi David Hartman, “Keeping the mitzvot from the perspective that ‘the reward of a mitzvah is a mitzvah’ helps a person that not feel threated by people with different world views.  Serving G-d in happiness prepares the ground, in a psychological way, for the amazing possibilities of religious pluralism” (Gili Zivan, p.) In other words, if my feel good in my faith and my deeds, what you think and do shouldn’t bother me.

I view the community as the central actor in the advancement of pluralism.  According to Muszkat-Barkan and Marmur, “Community is the laboratory for pluralism.”  A community is a place in which “searching individuals  constantly examine (their) direction, identity, and boundaries. ”  Michael Rosenak describes two types of community – a community based on a covenant of fate versus a community based on a covenant of destiny.  A community based on a covenant of fate is issue-oriented – this is the event that happened and what brought us together and is the reason for our cohesion today.  It is a static community.  A community based on a covenant of destiny is people-driven – we build our community through sharing our visions and also having points of disagreement.

I believe that the purpose of community is to create a safe space in which people can connect together to derive meaning, to give and receive support in times of joy and in times of difficulty, to nurture the soul, sometimes to deal with challenge and discomfort – but to always feel a sense of belonging.

Most people here work outside of the town and they chose to live in Tzur Hadassah for the feeling that, at the end of the day, they are coming home.  Kehilat Tzur Hadassah, in my eyes, is meant to be exactly this – a home. A home for the exploration of their Jewish identity without judgment or coercion.  These four walls are dedicated fully and completely to pluralism – a traditional yet renewing approach to prayer, but also through dynamic study, music, lectures, storytelling, art, book talks, Noar Telem, children’s activities, yoga, lifecycle ceremonies, empowerment workshops for young women, support for new mothers and for the children of aging parents, welcoming local school classes and hosting visitors from abroad, collective food for the needy, facilitating the donating of blood, visiting the elderly and infirm.

This year, especially, our members saw Kehilat Tzur Hadassah as the home base for dialogue with members of the Orthodox congregation Kehilat HaTzur VehaTzohar.  In addition, a group of parents saw Kehilat Tzur Hadassah as the home for starting a public kindergarten based on our values of equality, pluralism, and tikkun olam.   And with our partners in regional council, Ministry of Education, the Israeli Reform Movement and the Tali fund (for liberal Jewish education in secular schools), we did it!  I am looking forward to my weekly meetings with the children beginning after the holidays.

Do not look at the jug but rather at what is inside it. (Pirke Avot 4:20)

The building is a means.  The main thing is the people who are there.  This community has people who dedicate themselves to advancing the values I have spoken about.  There are people who worked hard to receive all of the guests tonight.   Every single person is a partner.  Hear, we search, we investigate the way we have chosen, our identity and our boundaries over and over again.  The more we invest in cultivating and caring for this building, the more we will get out of it.

This past Shabbat, I went on a wonderful hike with my husband and children to the spring of Nahal Kefira (whose name is like kippur!).  As we rested under the shade of an Ela tree, looking up at the mountain before us, I asked them: What are you thankful for today?”  They didn’t want to answer me at first.  Finally, my daughter answered, “That I had the energy to climb the whole way.”  My son answered, “That we had this way to go together – up and down, some parts easy, some parts hard.  But we did it.”  Truth be told, on the way, as they ran ahead, I walked by myself feeling the vastness of nature and creation, feeling my smallness.  From a simple question, a simple turning toward them, and not giving up until they responded, I received the answer for myself – Going forward takes energy.  The path has ups and downs.  Some things come together like that, and some things take some really hard work.  In the end, it is the going together that makes it meaningful, makes it all worthwhile.

I wish us a year of being together, thinking and doing together, as individuals, as families, and as a community to design our home in Tzur Hadassah that is filled with righteousness and compassion, a home that is filled with respectful dialogue, a home which is safe, and in which there is room for all, where its guiding principle is: We can agree or not, but we hold the discussion together in partnership.  The future of our community, in Tzur Hadassah, in the Land of Israel depends upon it.

Jerusalem Day 2015 – The Neighborhood

May 16, 2015

As Jerusalem braces itself for the annual observance of Jerusalem Day, I want to share a story that could only happen in Jerusalem. It happened to me this past week.

The story is prefaced by a dinner party of people of my parents’ generation in their 60s. One woman, of North Africa descent (Jewish) spoke about the problem of Arabs moving into the neighborhood (not Jerusalem – a different Israeli city). She recalled it happening in her neighborhood many years back, “One family moves in, then they bring another. Then they bring their whole village…and they really bring down the whole neighborhood.” On the one hand, this comment makes me feel uncomfortable as it sounds racist. Imagine a white person describing black families moving to his neighborhood in the United States. On the other hand, I thought later, perhaps she really means something else. Perhaps what she meant was that here we are, working so hard to building a Jewish state, trying to create an environment that is conducive to a Jewish lifestyle and society, a unique experience that can’t be found anywhere in the world. When the neighborhood becomes mostly Arab, then I risk losing that identity and I lose my sense of community. I could more identify with a statement that says: Yes, Arabs live here. I demand that they be treated equally – educational and economical opportunities. But let them live amongst themselves and Jews will leave amongst ourselves. If all of my neighbors were Arab, then perhaps Shabbat wouldn’t feel as much like Shabbat, as they do not share the holiday.

The next day – Here, the story begins — my parents visiting from the United States and I decided to go to a tourist attraction off of the beaten path in Jerusalem : the Rockefeller Archaeological Museum. My parents didn’t realize it was in East Jerusalem until we were well on our way in the taxi. The driver wanted me to make sure it was open. He advised, in Hebrew, “It is not safe for us in this part of town. They can throw rocks at us.” I demurred. He insisted that it happens a lot. He continued in English, for their benefit, “You should never go through Damascus Gate (to the Old City). It can be very dangerous if you go through the Flower Gate (to the Muslim Quarter).” I protested, saying that my husband had worked in East Jerusalem and was always fine. We had walked with our children through East Jerusalem and Damascus Gate. We’ve done the walk on the Old City Walls from Jaffa Gate over the Christian and Muslim Quarters ending at the Lion’s Gate, right next to the entrance for Muslims to the Dome of the Rock. All fine. The driver just shrugged.

Though we were skeptical at first, we thoroughly enjoyed our visit at the Museum. The history and the architecture of the building was interesting, and it houses some amazing artifacts that were found in Israel from different periods all the way back to the prehistoric time up to 200,000 years ago.

Back on the street, we had to get a taxi back. I couldn’t figure out how to work Get Taxi. Finally, at the big traffic circle, we flagged down a driver. He was a young Arab guy. Instead of following the wall of the Old City toward downtown, he drove in the direction of the heart of East Jerusalem. For those who haven’t been, East Jerusalem feels like another country from West Jerusalem – like you have entered an Arab Middle Eastern country. I asked how he was driving. He said furtively, “There is a lot of traffic along the Old City. This is better. Let me do my job in peace and quiet.” I mumbled something, and started to get a little nervous. I played it light. But also in this direction, we sat in heavy traffic. After awhile, I asked, “Can you please just help me to understand how we are going?” And he told me the route, which was familiar to me. He became impatient with the truck in front of us which apparently was causing the whole traffic jam. As he finally sped past it, he honked at it and made as if he was spitting on it. I started to get more nervous.

Then we crossed over the road and the traffic flowed. But then we got stopped at a traffic light. There weren’t any other cars coming from the other direction. He inched forward, and finally, shouting “Fucking Israeli traffic!” ran the red light. For all I knew, this was like saying “Allah Achbar!” and I told him that we wanted to get out now. He quite calmly pulled over, took our money, gave me a receipt, and even took a shekel less than the meter. I played it off to my parents, started talking about the Musrara neighborhood and the Russian Compound which we walked through on our way downtown.

As we walked past the downtown police station, a taxi pulled up slowly next to me. The driver called out to me (in Hebrew), “Excuse me!” It was our taxi. He called me over and said, “I really want to apologize for my behavior. I think I was quite agitated and it was not right. I am very sorry.” I was floored. I looked at him and said, “Really?”

He answered, “Yes, I had just gotten news that my mother is sick. I was very agitated. I am very sorry.”

I was still incredulous – I couldn’t believe this conversation was happening. I said, “I really appreciate that you wanted to tell me this.”

He said, “Yes, b’ezrat Hashem, she will be OK.”

I smiled and answered him, “Inshallah, she should only be healthy.”

He smiled, and sort of blew me a kiss (in an appreciative way, not offensive) and then drove off.

I do not support the reckless driving of any taxi driver. But people are people are people. The people who live in the city of Jerusalem – on the east and on the west – have families, celebrations and challenges. All I know is that a young Arab man cared enough about what I think about him to take responsibility for his actions and to explain himself.

Israel’s Independence Day 2015 – The Responsibility of Independence

April 23, 2015

The Talmud teaches (Sanhedrin 21b), “And (the king) writes himself a Torah scroll so as not to seek credit (for one written by others).” This text wants to teach us that the leader has to know the Torah himself without hitching a ride with others who take responsibility.

I think that every one of us have to ask ourselves the question “Why am I here in Israel?” at every opportunity – and not to allow others to proscribe the meaning of our existence here. The Bible reminds us over and over the conditions for living in the land: carrying out G-d’s rules and commandments which includes prescriptions for social and environmental responsibility (mitzvot between people and concerning the land) and a spiritual life (mitzvot between humans and G-d).

When the Temple was destroyed, the State of Israel and the people’s responsibility as citizens became once again a dream, a hope, and perhaps a fantasy.

And then along came Theodore Herzl who called to the Jews of Europe in 1896 in his book “The Jewish State”, writing:
“….Here it is, fellow Jews! Neither fable nor deception! Every man may test its reality for himself, for every man will carry over with him a portion of the Promised Land — one in his head, another in his arms, another in his acquired possessions.
…Prayers will be offered up for the success of our work in the synagogues…Therefore I believe that a wondrous generation of Jews will spring into existence. The Maccabees will rise again…”

There were around 600,000 Jews in Israel in 1948, a similar number to that which was said to have left Egypt more than 3000 years earlier. These Jews – with the help of Jews abroad – fought and won the independence. And there have arrived over two and a half million Jewish immigrants since then. But today, most Israelis are native to the land having been born and grown up in Israel. When a baby is born (especially a boy), the countdown begins to his army service, the ultimate assuming of responsibility.

But it doesn’t end with army service. Every one of us has to take responsibility everyday. I am still inspired today by Herzl’s vision –
–To be proud that we are a part of the Jewish people with a common history and common values
–To dedicate ourselves to each other, to our heritage, and to the future of our people in this land and in the world, everyone with his/her own talent and energy.

I feel that I have a special mission in this land and in the world. To be an advocate for the preservation of life. To seek out meaning in everything. To always act for the sake of peace — in my heart, in my family, on the streets and highways, behind closed doors and in public. “We did not come to this world for argument and strife” prayed Rabbi Nachman of Breslav. Our responsibility is to build a society whose strength lies in its ability to keep the peace – as it is written in Proverbs (20:3), “Honor goes to the man who keeps away from strife.”

What is true victory? According to the prophet Zecharia, “Not by might and not by power but by My spirit.”

True victory is not achieved by weapon or through force.

And that is how we will achieve the dream of Herzl and so many like him.

As he summarizes in his book:
“The time has come – We shall live at last as free men on our own soil, and die peacefully in our own homes. The world will be freed by our liberty, enriched by our wealth, magnified by our greatness. And whatever we attempt there to accomplish for our own welfare, will react powerfully and beneficially for the good of humanity.”

A Modest Post-election Perspective

March 18, 2015

For what it’s worth. Here’s my take –
I have read with interest people’s reactions on Facebook today. There was a lot of emotion there. I had a meeting in Haifa today so I spent a good amount of time listening to the radio pundits and MKs recapping the election and making further prediction. There were a lot of intelligent commentary there that made me see things in many different ways.
My disclaimer: I am not a political animal. I am not afraid to express my political opinions but I also don’t feel the need to wear them as a badge. I feel myself on the forefront of many battles as a Reform Rabbi in Israel which is fine. But when it comes to elections, I like to make an informed decision but I will admit that I am not an active campaigner for any particular party. For me it’s too much sloganism and endless chatter and WORD games. I am a very tachlis (pragmatic) person by nature.
Two things which are important to know about Israeli politics: Here, politics is most certainly personal. The decisions of any given government most certainly do affect every single person’s life here. Whether it is entering into a mini-war with our closest terrorist neighbors. Or dividing the budget pie let’s say on education – my children now get free education from age three (7:30 a.m. – 2 p.m. six days a week) but the national religious public schools get a much bigger piece of the budget pie than my kids regular secular public schools.
Some takeaways from this election:
• Get to know the voters of Israel. Approximate percentages: 23% of the Israeli population voted for the Likud. The right wing national parties altogether got 34%. The Zionist Camp got 18%. The left wing altogether got 34%. The middle ground parties got 16%. The Ultra Orthodox parties got 11%. Our leaders are not the country. The people who vote for them are the country. Let’s get out there and understand who are the people who vote for Likud and who are the people who vote for Labor.
• There are different ways to vote in Israel. You can vote ideologically – vote with the party whose platform most fits your world view. You can also vote strategically — with the high number of parties, you are thinking how to most make your vote count by whom you choose.
• Likud went up from 20 seats to 30 seats. Labor/the Zionist Camp went up from 15 to 24 (or up from 21, if you count also the seats of Tzipi Livni’s The Movement. The losers it seems, are the middle-sized parties – Yesh Atid went down from 19 to 11. The Jewish Home went down from 12 to 8. Shas went down from 11 to 7. And everyone is trying to ignore the 13 seats that the Unified Arab ticket received. Each seat is about 26,000 voters.
• I understand it thus – Israelis still represent a wide political spectrum. There remains much to be seen in the coalition building which is to be done in the next few weeks, the deals that will be made, concessions, and I believe there are more surprises to come.
• I understand the fears that were played upon, especially in the home stretch of the campaigns. Many Israelis are existentially afraid. Remember – less than 75 years ago, 6 million of us were exterminated. Every year or so a chunk of the population spends a significant amount of time in bomb shelters. The reports from Europe are not promising. Many feel that the world is against Israel (not connected to the policy of any Israeli government). In a way, much of this is true. BUT, we are mistaken to let fear be our guide in making decisions that will decide the fate of the Jewish people in the Land of Israel. I am saddened and disgusted by the use of fear that inflames racism and panic. Fear mongering is not leadership.
• The Israeli population is extremely diverse. Just within the Jewish population, there are a wide range of ethnic backgrounds, each with its own story and concerns. In a Jewish society there are rich Jews and poor Jews. There are natives and there are immigrants.
• In our tiny country, each and every vote counts. Each and every person counts. We all need to make noise. We need to reach out to each other. We need to understand each other. We need to talk together about how we are going to make this place better for ourselves and for our children. We must understand that disagreement is a part of life. For every winner there is a loser. We must ensure that our leaders are always sanctifying life. We must hold them responsible. They will do their job better if we do ours.


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