A little piece of the tapestry of life in Israel in this beautiful springtime and almost Pesach….
A few weeks ago I took my children aged 9 and 6 to see a performance of Mulan, a Chinese legend made famous by Disney about a young woman who pretends to be a man because she wants to fight in the Emperor’s army. It was a Shabbat morning and the performance was a part of the series called “Shabbat Morning”, a monthly family program at Beit Shmuel, which you and I know is part of the World Union for Progressive Judaism complex. That week, the news were filled with the incitement by Rabbi Yigal Levenstein, who teaches at the army preparation yeshiva in the settlement of Eli, who said that women should not be allowed to serve in the army. You can read about it here:
The theater was completely full for the performance by the enchanting Orna Porat Theater (they are simply excellent – quality children’s theater). Mulan disguises herself as a man so that she can join the army. In the end, of course, her true identity is revealed but she manages to save the day also as a woman. Then the other soldiers accept her. Her commander praises her abilities and she concludes saying that she saved the day not in spite of being a woman but because she is a woman. The entire theater erupted into applause and cheers – just as much from the parents as from the kids.
Who knew the timing would be so impeccable for such a message for my son and my daughter. Not that I want either one of them to be fighters, but they should know that their ability to fight, or anything else, is not determined by their gender. And how comforting to feel hundreds of people around me sharing my sentiments…and seeing the parents and children taking notice of the photographs lining the walls of Reform Jewish life and talking about them as they left the theater.
Moving on….This time of year in Israel is delightful. People are so happy – Jerusalem/Judean Hills winters are chilly. They are beautiful as whenever we drive from Tzur Hadassah to Jerusalem we are driving through the clouds, as the mist always settles around this altitude. But now, the rains have almost completely gone, the sun is shining, every corner of the country is green and blooming (except the deep desert, I imagine). We are singing so many songs
Everyone is cleaning out their homes. The kids in school are asked to bring sponges as they are doing Pesach cleaning in their classrooms. All the pre-schoolers are practicing “Ma Nishtanah”. In our monthly story-hour at the congregation, some little ones stood up on their chairs when I asked them all to sing with me! As Pesach vacation is 2 1/2 weeks here (don’t ask), all of the 8-18 year-olds are off on camping tiyulim with their youth movements…our Noar Telem youth will spend two nights camping in the Golan. I am jealous…
I was asked to come teach the third grade classes at a secular elementary school in Tzur Hadassah about “Slavery and Freedom.” In third grade, all the curriculum for the secular schools is to learn the book of Exodus. I spoke with them about the meaning of remembering the exodus from Egypt, why we remember in the seder “Avadim Hayinu”, what modern slavery is today, and what we can do about it. Of course, my lessons begin by talking with the kids about what is a rabbi, what is a female/Reform rabbi. And I say to them very purposefully, “I am a rabbi for anyone – whether they consider themselves religious, traditional, or secular.” Because oftentimes, secular kids think that anything that sounds religious is off-limits to them.
This week we in Kehilat Tzur Hadassah will hold our 14th year of our twice-yearly blood drive. Our community building turns into a blood clinic filled with beds as over 100 people from the area donate blood and enjoy donated Ben and Jerry’s ice cream. In Israel, there is a shortage of blood during the holiday times so this blood drive is critical.
And then what will be on the actual holiday of Pesach? We’ll wish everyone Chag Sameach! Everyone will be either hosting a seder or traveling to one. Having lunch with my son today, we discussed our Pesach seder. I can’t say how pleased I was when he suggested – inspired by our Kabbalat Shabbat service before Purim honoring Esther and Vashti in which we did the entire prayer in the feminine construct (remembering that Hebrew is a gendered language and our entire prayer refers to G-d and ourselves in the masculine) – that we also play with the gender of our retelling of the Hagaddah, that we imagine a female heroine saving the Jews. We thought of different symbols for the ten plagues – ketchup for the blood, raisins for the lice, dark chocolate for the darkness, ice for the hail, etc. And we still have a whole week to plan…
As for the rest of the holiday, many people will be taking vacation with their families during chol hamoed, whether around Israel or abroad. We’ll gather as a community in Tzur Hadassah on the eve of the 7th day of Pesach, the end of the holiday, to read the Song of Songs and celebrate the day on which the Israelites crossed the Red Sea – not very far from where we sit today. And I personally will give thanks – With all the frustrations and with all the challenges of leadership and what feels like a constant battleground for religious freedom and democratic values, we are indeed a free people in our land. Maybe if we focus more on the love, we can defeat the hate.
This past Shabbat, we hosted complete strangers in our homes who are visiting with their North American Reform congregation. It amazes me every time how we form instant bonds, and this experience gives us this sense of love and we feel a great strength in being part of the entire Jewish people. It reminds me of Pesach, that time when we all crossed the Red Sea together, when we were the most unified people that we would ever be. We left jubilantly singing, dancing and playing music. Let us seek the unity and strive to speak only words of healing.