Back at the Western Wall – And the Bigger Picture

November 2, 2016

I just returned from the Kotel.  After dropping my 3-year-old son off at pre-school, I got on my bicycle and pedaled to the Old City.  I was told the egalitarian tefila for Rosh Chodesh was going to start at 8:30 at Ezrat Yisrael, the section of the Western Wall that is designated for egalitarian prayer.  However, soon I saw some friends who said that the plan had changed – the egalitarian prayer was taking place in the general Western Wall Plaza.  I took a deep breath, mentally bracing myself for the shouting, the shoving, and the overall words of hate of ultra-Orthodox by-standers.

I went up close to the center of the prayer so that I could hear the prayer leader and join in.  I am here to pray in the place that is the heart of the Jewish people with others who share my joy in prayer, a number of whom I know personally from my neighborhood in Jerusalem, liberal Jewish circles around Israel, and visiting colleagues from abroad.  I put on my talit.  I smiled seeing men and women holding Torah scrolls.  I happily took a picture of a friend and his mother, she holding the Torah scroll.  I felt semblances of a  spiritual experience.

When I came to the egalitarian prayer-protests at the Western Wall plaza over the past summer, it was very hard for me.  I stood there and I cried.  Tears ran down my face.  I felt tremendous pain as I experienced the shouting, the fists, the degrading expressions.

Near me, as I prayed, there were little boys running around, about nine or ten years old, shouting degrading things.  I suddenly knew what I had to do.  I knew what we need to do, all Jews.  I turned to them and I said “shhh” very gently.  I smiled at them.

On our way out, they were standing in a line, shouting.  A friend asked, “How can they say such things at such a young age?”  I answered, “They don’t know what they are saying.”  As I passed them, I reached out my hand to pat them on the shoulder, just as I would do to my own son who is the same age.  I smiled at them.  I said, “May you find goodness, happiness and blessing in your lives. May all your ways be ways of derech eretz. (being a good, nice person)”  They hesitated for a moment.  An Orthodox woman stood behind them, watching quietly the interaction.

I will not be a part of hatred.  I will disagree, I will speak my mind, I will practice Judaism the way that I believe – the way that perhaps G-d has inspired me to do.

Indeed, the Western Wall struggle has become symbolic of a larger issue.  It is not just about prayer.  It is about legitimacy, acceptance, and how we make it work as the Jewish people when we have complete sovereignty over ourselves.  It is about making Judaism once again about study, family, meaning, and spirituality for all the people, and not as a tool for political power and financial gain for a pushy narrow-agenda minority.  It is about reminding everyone that the Jewish tradition is a tradition of geographic and ideological diversity.

For me, it is about the families who are found around the world, like the families in my community.  The young mother who, in a meeting of other parents who want to provide liberal Jewish education for their children, in reaction to another parent who expresses the possibility that other parents will oppose the presence of a woman rabbi (which goes against tradition) or of a rabbi at all (the symbol of religious coercion), says, “That’s exactly why we need this.  I don’t want my children growing up afraid.  I want them to have this education exactly so that when they grow up, they will know how to live in a pluralistic society, that they will have a strong, positive Jewish identity.”

I will return to the Western Wall plaza for egalitarian prayer when I am called and am able to join.  Along with my talit and my siddur, I will come armed with a smile, a warm touch, and words of love for all of my fellow Jews.


The Intimate Connection Between Social Responsibility and Spirituality

October 12, 2016

(I delivered this drasha in Kehilat Tzur Hadassah, Yom Kippur 5777)

I spoke last year about the imperative of pluralism, of acceptance, and tolerance, and I called for us to act.  A number of us gathered to discuss these issues throughout the holiday and on into the year.  So, the good news is that we have done some wonderful things in the past year:

  • The friendship of members of our congregation and Kehilat HaTzur va’HaTzohar (Orthodox) has led to new initiatives like co-sponsorship of this recent blood drive which brought a record number of donors
  • In the shadow of the past year’s “knife intifada”, we began working to raise our awareness about some of Tzur Hadassah’s closest neighbors. We have opened an Arabic course to begin to try to literally understand.  We are exploring possibilities of encounters/dialogues to help so many of us who have never met a Palestinian, and Palestinians who have never met an Israeli who is not a soldier to hear with our own ears, and know for ourselves the different narratives. (And on the table are thoughts of a dialogue with our neighbors in Beitar Ilit)
  • We marched as a delegation of Kehilat Tzur Hadassah and Noar Telem in this year’s Gay Pride Parade. We joined over 10,000 people (the usual number of participants is 2000) of every possible religious background, age, and gender persuasion to make the largest, most beautiful statement about love and understanding that I perhaps have been a part of.
  • We host Jewish groups and individuals and non-Jewish tourists from all over the world in our community, explaining to them about our tradition and showing them a warm, welcoming Israeli Judaism.

These are great initiatives, and I send a big yishar koach to the organizers and the participants.  I am sure that everyone here does good things in their lives.  But this is the hour of cheshbon nefesh, a personal accounting. I especially ask myself – as I ask all of us to do –  Am I really doing all that I can?  I have some dilemmas, but perhaps they will resonate with you.

Almost every day, I see the horrifying pictures of the destruction in Syria, and the heart wrenching stories of the refugees, Especially the children.  It is estimated that over 400,000 people have been killed, 4 million have fled as refugees, and 6 million are displaced within Syria.

In North America , there are Jewish communities adopting Syrian refugee families.  I know we are in a complicated position as Israelis – Syria is Israel’s enemy!  We can say that our government provides humanitarian aid to Syrians.  We can join the efforts of an organization called Amaliah that is helping to coordinate Israeli humanitarian efforts.

And then, as happened this Sunday in Jerusalem, there is a terror attack, which hurts so badly.  And the talkbacks begin: Don’t help Arabs, they just want to kill us.  Anyone who helps an Arab is a hater of Israel.

The reason not to help: They are not my people.

I received a call last week from a man in Beit Shemesh.  He was asking for financial help with a long list of personal tragedies.  I asked, What about your community?  He said, they are busy raising money for the synagogue building.  I call his rabbi.  He verifies the situation, describing the man as someone who tries very hard.  The welfare system is not helping this family enough.  Any help that can be given would be a blessing.  I talk it over with our congregant who has been spearheading our efforts to help those in need as a community.  She said, “This is hard because it is out of our area/demographic.”  We decide that we will make a general appeal to people to give tzedakah, (You are welcome to leave tzedakah in the kupah) and we will try our contacts in Beit Shemesh to find someone who can be in a better position to help.

The reason not to help: This person is not my neighbor.

We are in touch with the regional council’s social workers responsible for the Mazleg.  We ask them what they need help with, and then we as a community decide what we are capable of doing.  Over the past six months, we supported as a congregation a single-mother by providing weekly meals.  We invited the local schools (and our Gan Tiltan!) to participate in food collection for needy families in Mateh Yehudah, providing boxes and publicity and coordinating pick up.  When I spoke at a local classroom this month whose pupils spearheaded their school’s food drive, and really when I speak with any group, they are always shocked when I tell them there are people in Tzur Hadassah who are struggling to put food on the table.

The reason not to help: I don’t know my neighbors.

Why have I shared all of this when our topic chosen this year is Spirituality?  What does social responsibility have to do with spirituality?  Everything.

Spirituality is about connectedness.  It’s what tells me I am part of something greater than myself.  There are a number of things which are greater than me – my tradition, my ancestors, humanity, creation, and G-d/Divine force.  The G-d that I believe in is the greater force encompassing humanity, this world, and the universe.  This force runs through all of us, through all of the world.

My credo is: G-d is one.  One is all.  All is G-d.  This is connection – we are all part of a unified whole, and it is what tells me that caring is my obligation – for my neighbor, my fellow Jews, the other peoples with whom we share this land, people around the world that I will never meet. For me, spirituality is celebrating the uniqueness of the separate parts and recognizing them as part of the whole. 

When I was a child, I was taught for the first time a concept called Tikkun Olam, which has become the guiding principle in my life.  I remember as an eight-year-old, instead of regular classes, my synagogue brought us all to rally to free Soviet Jewry, telling us to call out “Let my people go!”  Every Rosh HaShanah, they gave us empty supermarket bags, and on Yom Kippur we brought the bags back full with food to donate to the needy.  At the time, I didn’t fully understand what we were doing, but the experiences planted the seeds for these values.

What is Tikkun Olam?  Actually, it is a very spiritual concept.  The origin of the term in the Talmud.  In certain instances when a ruling was made that might go against general principles, the reason given was מפני תיקון העולם – for the “better ordering of society.”  Meaning, sometimes we do things just because they are the right thing, not connected to the Torah itself.

According to Isaac Luria, (the Kabbalist) in Tzfat in the 16th century, Tikkun Olam is an inherent part of creation.  He tells that G-d created the world by retracting the light that filled the universe into one point in the middle.  The light spilled into vessels he called the Sefirot.  The bottom sefirot, closest to humanity, could not contain the light and they exploded (a la Big Bang?), mixing up “good” and “evil”.  Thus was created the task of humanity to do Tikkun Olam, by doing good we bring good to the world.

Action is shaped by consciousness.  I find the balance in the principle of (Pirke Avot 1:2), “The world stands on three things – Torah, worship, and loving kindness.”  I quote this text all the time.

“Torah” is study and ongoing discussion of texts and tradition – in the widest sense of the words – alone and with others.  The Talmud teaches that G-d’s presence of the Shechina rests even on two people who are engaged in Torah study together.  Thinking ignites the sparks of the synapses in the brain.  I leave every study session energized.

” Worship” is contemplative communing – sometimes guided by the themes of the prayerbook, sometimes uplifted by melodies and music, sometimes lost in thought.  The moments of thanks and petition, and mainly the opportunity to consider this entire miraculous and challenging existence. Or just to sit quietly and breathe.  Prayer was not meant to be a yoke or a burden!  Let us reclaim it for ourselves and return to the essence of prayer.

“Loving kindness” is the result and the action, caring for my fellow creatures and creation.  As Abraham Joshua Heschel said as he marched with Martin Luther King for civil rights of Black Americans, “I pray with my feet.”  As the Jewish-French philosopher Emanuel Levinas claims, Our existence is wholly to feel my responsibility for the other and to do so with a positive approach.  (Levinas, p. 95)

Therefore, today on this time that we aspire to renewal and self-improvement, I humbly suggest that: Every day, we try to learn something new.  Every day, we try to find a moment of contemplation.  Every day, we find a way to give to others – whether it is for our neighbors, for our people and our land, or if it for the rest of humanity and our world.  I, for my part, will also try to identify opportunities, suggest thoughts, and support your initiatives.

Maybe you noticed this shell necklace that I am wearing.  I collected the shells last week before we performed Tashlich at the beach.  I made this necklace with my daughter. I find that I can’t get  myself to take it off.  Wearing it, I retain the feeling of being near the sea, which connects to the spirit of these ten days of repentance –  the vastness of nature over which humans cannot triumph.  The waves which also lap shores of other lands and wash over other people I do not know.  The waves who are influenced by the gravitational pull of the moon.

Elie Wiesel, one of the illustrious souls who left us this year, Holocaust survivor, international lecturer and outspoken humanitarian, including his repeated cries to the world to help make a solution Syria, said, “Indifference creates evil. My humanity derives from my efforts with others.”

In conclusion, not an answer but rather a question.  As Hillel put it best: If I am not for myself, who will be for me?  If I am only for myself, who am I?  And if not now, when?

Chodesh Av – Jerusalem, Prayer, and Love

August 10, 2016

I think often about prayer.  What is the purpose of prayer?  What is the purpose of set prayers?  What is the difference between praying in a group or on one’s own?  How often should one pray?  Does it matter really?  Why do so many people (or at least Jews) have a strong aversion to prayer?  Why is prayer the definition of religiosity?  Most people I know (at least in Israel) say that prayer is a religious act.  For example, in my children’s secular elementary school, they learn texts from the Bible and from rabbinic literature.  However, the principle said that there will never be prayer in the school.   I find  that many secular Jews in Israel run away as fast as they can from any event that sounds like it will have prayer.

However, I also find that what the majority of Jews, including secular, do feel very strongly about is lifecycle events.  For four times in a person’s life, he can tolerate a prayer experience – birth ceremony, bar mitzvah, wedding, and funeral.

I live in Jerusalem  – which means that here, we have any kind of Jew that you could imagine existed.  Here, all Jewish roads meet, intersect, and inevitably clash.  While Jerusalem is the hot spot and the conflicts of the Jewish world are felt most poignantly here, what happens in Jerusalem has a ripple effect to the entire world.  And let us not be mistaken, what happens in the world also affects what happens in Jerusalem.

In Jerusalem, we have – as in other places in Israel and some parts of the Diaspora – a large concentration of Ultra-Orthodox.  Prayer, among other things, is  a central act for them in their lives.  And prayer, as for other things, in their opinion must be done in a certain way.  Only led by men, separated between men and women, and a very lengthy text that is not amenable to change.  I know Ultra-Orthodox people personally who are kind, gentle people.  However, I have seen in my opinion too many situations of violence instigated and carried out by Ultra-Orthodox men and women.  And there are too many incidents of incitement to violence by Ultra-Orthodox, as well as “religious Zionist” rabbis in Israel.  In contrast, I can’t think of one incident of a call to violence or act of violence in the name of Reform Judaism (readers are welcome to correct me).

This brings me to my experience last week.  I officiated at a bat mitzvah ceremony of two sisters from abroad.  We were at the Western Wall, on the Herodian Street below Robinson’s Arch.  I, a Reform rabbi, led the gathering which was a mix of prayer, Torah reading, and beautiful readings, songs, and personal tributes to the women in their lives by the young women.  In the group was their rabbi from home who is Orthodox.  The rabbi’s wife’s  was explaining to her eight-year-old son that I was the rabbi of the ceremony.  She said to me, “It’s hard for him to understand.  He’s never met a woman rabbi before.”  I said, “I appreciate your openness and wanting to tell him.”

As I was waiting for the family, I brought out the Torah scroll we would use – a beautiful Sephardic style Torah – it is upright in a wooden case.  A small group of men and women which I would describe as Orthodox (but not ultra-Orthodox) passed and some stopped to touch their hand to the Torah and kiss their hand, as is a custom.  One of the women began berating me (in Hebrew) – “How can you give such disrespect to the Torah?  How can you be here alone with the Torah?  It is disgraceful!”  I have to admit, she pushed my buttons, and I quickly answered her (in Hebrew), “How can you judge?  You have no idea who I am, why this Torah is here.  Why would you begin a conversation with me in such a way?  Where is your human decency?  It would be better if you would say, ‘How lovely!  A Torah!  How are you?  What is your name?  What are you doing here?  I’m curious because it is different from what I am used to.  Perhaps there is a celebration, a happy reason for taking out a Torah scroll – Mazal tov!'”  I concluded,  “You ought to speak to me with respect.”  Obviously, the woman did not agree with my words.  However, one of her companions, a dark man with a long salt-and-pepper beard and a knit kippah on his head was smiling kindly the whole time I spoke – I want to believe that he agreed with me.

During the service, there were other small groups wandering around most of them different degrees of Orthodox, both touring the Davidson Center archaeological site, and visiting Ezrat Israel, a platform set back from the Wall designated for egalitarian prayer 24 hours a day, seven days a week.  I saw many gazing at our ceremony – I imagine what kind of sight it was for them of a woman in a talit standing next to a Torah scroll and then reading from it.   At one point, a small group of Ultra-Orthodox men appeared above us on the platform  What were they doing?  They stood around.  They looked down.  They looked at us, of course.  On the one hand, I felt frightened – would they make problems?  On the other hand, I felt happy that they could see facts on the ground.  I looked up a few times at them and gave them a big smile which I’m not sure if they noticed.  I almost waved at them.

The ceremony was, of course, lovely.  I especially remember the young ladies’ words about the love of sisters – as demonstrated by Leah and Rachel, also Miriam as a sister.  That evening we began the month of Av, marking the approach of Tisha B’Av, the day of mourning for the destruction of the Temple, very close to where we were standing at that moment.  It brought to my lips the story of the two brothers who had a great love for each other and thus were extremely generous with each other.  Because of their ahavat chinam (baseless/unconditional love), that is the spot on which the Temple was chosen to be built.  And the tradition teaches that the Second Temple was destroyed because of sin’at chinam (baseless hatred) among Jews.

When the ceremony was over, I got into a taxi (after a first taxi driver refused to put on the meter).  As we drove, I saw a text from my mom which brought a smile to my lips.  The driver asked what happened.  I began to explain that I had sent my father a bottle of wine for his birthday, how much he likes wine, how we visit wineries when he visits in Israel.  He tells me that he is also a tour guide and that in Har Hevron (in the West Bank/Judea-Samaria) there are wonderful wineries, how the grape grows differently there than in the Golan, how they use the grape leftovers afterwards to make all kinds of dishes which sound delicious.  I ask if the dishes are from the Jewish or Arab tradition.  He says, “Both.  You know, Jews have always lived in Har Hevron.”  We begin speaking about Jerusalem, I try to explain what I am and what I do.  He says, “The Ultra-Orthodox are dangerous, they are the biggest threat to our society.  They commit sin’at chinam (baseless hatred)”  Here he was echoing the words sin’at chinam that I had spoken earlier and felt their threat around me, while feeling the love of the people in our group so strongly.  I begin speaking about the complexity of religion and state, the dynamics of being a Jewish and democratic state.

He then got a phone call and began speaking in…Arabic.  I had been debating issues of religion and state with an Arab?  When he hung up, he apologized, “Somebody has passed away and there will be a funeral.”  I hesitated  and then asked, “Are you Christian?  Muslim?….” not quite sure if even either of those options was the answer.  He is Muslim.  So I asked about the Muslim Sabbath and how it works. And indeed,  I learned a lot of very interesting things from his answers, and other things he had to say.

Things are not always what they seem.  We will never agree on everything or even most things.  But we can always have ahavat chinam – unconditional love.  And unconditional love doesn’t cost a thing*.



*In Hebrew, chinam means “free” like saying something doesn’t cost anything.

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!  972-54-2487476.

What visitors have said:

“This is a great apartment to stay at! It is private, comfortable and has everything an individual or small family needs. The area is great: lots of restaurants, grocery stores less than a block away, walking distance to the Old City and a bus right outside the door.”

“The apartment is great!  It is homey and comfortable.  Thanks for your hospitality.”


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.


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 “ 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.