About a year ago, the Partnership Together of the Mateh Yehuda region put out a call for projects in which different populations work together. A congregant called me right away and said, “We have to apply for this grant – and do a joint project with Congregation HaTzur VehaTzohar”. That is one of the Orthodox congregations in Tzur Hadassah. I cautiously said Yes. From the perspective of our Reform congregation, pluralism is a given, but not so much from an Orthodox perspective. She put out some feelers, as she is actually a member of both congregations, and found someone who was interested in representing the other congregation. We got some people together in someone’s living room and had a lively discussion. To be honest, I wasn’t sure what we would manage to do. But we put together the proposal and sent it in.
Lo and behold, in the summer we were invited to present the project. And in December, we got the final green light – we had funding and a project! Now the hard work of making it happen. Let us add the factors of our mainly middle-class community – mostly families in which both parents work, kids whose schedules are full of school and other activities, where most people commute at least half an hour for work and basic shopping.
We held another smaller meeting with a few activists from both of our congregations to plan the first events surrounding Tu B’shvat which led to renewed discussions of what this partnership must be about, what people really think, what do we think will interest people, what is the true nature of the holiday, etc. Very interesting, but not practical in planning events that were supposed to take place in a few weeks.
Finally, we made decisions, reserved a well-known Israeli artist and performers, convinced members of our community to help with advertising, recruited the local town council to join the partnership, spoke with the leaders of the youth movements, and went down from grandiose ideas of dialogue to moments of recognition of this historic gathering.
Enough chit-chat – here are the results:
A week of Tu B’shvat Programming for the entire Tzur Hadassah and “mazleg” settlements. I will preface by saying that all of these events and meetings of different groups is unprecedented in Tzur Hadassah and I am fairly confident that such meetings occurred for the first time in the history of the State of Israel:
— Thirty members of Tzofim (Scouts), B’nai Akiva (Orthodox) and Noar Telem (Reform) gathered for a workshop from the renowned caricaturist Hanoch Piven in the public-religious elementary school. I opened the gathering telling a story and quoting the Talmudic maxim “Do not be hard like a cedar but rather always be flexible like a reed”. Piven continued that line talking with the youth about developing creativity through flexible thinking, learning from mistakes, and experimentation and engaged them in a workshop in which each created a portrait using recycled objects.
–Around sixty adults gathered for a presentation by Piven in the town library. Rabbi Levi Cooper, the rabbi of the Orthodox synagogue, opened with remarks about love of the Land of Israel and our need to live together in community and be accepting of all the people who are in our greater community. He then introduced me, addressing me as “Rabbi Stacey Blank.” I spoke about the the symbolism of the seven species of the Land of Israel, their strength being in their diversity. Piven’s talk only strengthened our statements in telling his life story, his love of Israeli society, and his view of creativity and creating.
–Over 100 parents and children filled the hall of the Reform congregation Kehilat Tzur Hadassah to participate in a program of Tzlilim Yerukim (“Green Notes”). They built musical instruments made out of recycled materials and then used their instruments in a lively concert led by the amazing musicians. I opened speaking about the Psalm which instructs us that all the land needs to sing a new song. Thus, we are supposed to sing together and make sure that we treat the land appropriately so that it also wants to “sing” with us. A representative from the Reform congregation and a representative from the Orthodox congregation also shared a few thoughts about Tu B’shvat as part of the program.
Points of Pride:
In all of the programs, we noticed that the participation was evenly divided between members of the Reform congregation, the Orthodox congregation, and people who were not affiliated with either one. We had succeeded in bringing together a cross-section of the general community. This partnership showed how easy it is to get along, to do things together, and how many common values we share. A kind word, a nod of acceptance and partnership among the leaders of the different groups in the community can go a long way.
Thank you to the members of leadership of Congregation Tzur veHaTzohar and Congregation Tzur Hadassah. Thank you to the leadership and staff of the town of Tzur Hadassah and the youth movements. Thank you to the staff, leadership, and funders of Partnership Together of the Mateh Yehudah Region.
Our next partnership activities will be surrounding Purim. May we continue, in our own little way, to bring some happiness and joy to the Jewish people!