Thursday, April 23, 2015

Israel Experience 5: Life in a Moshav

The paced eased a little yesterday as we stayed up north in the Galilee and took in another rich and diverse set of experiences. We began up on the Golan Heights at one of the northernmost points of Israel, looking down directly on Syria. Damascus was a mere 30 miles from where we stood. UN peace keeping observers are stationed up there to keep an international eye on the border. From this viewpoint, our guide Noam shared the amazing story of Israeli spy, Eli Cohen, who went deep undercover in Syria from 1963-5 and provided Israel with invaluable intelligence until he was caught, tried and hanged in Syria.  While up there the 11am morning siren rang out for Yom HaZikaron. From this position the experience was quite different to the night before. We could hear the sirens from other areas behind us but nothing in front of us as, looking at Syria, we had a viceral and stark reminder of what Israeli soldiers have fought and died for.



From there, we spent the afternoon visiting two moshavim. A Moshav is a small community that shares some characteristics with a kibbutz but from the outside was based on individual ownership of homes and separate incomes and livelihoods. This is what differentiates it from a kibbutz. At the first moshav, we visited a leather-making factory, where leather is shaped into bracelets, belts, bags and more. We all had a go at creating a plaited leather bracelet that we got to keep. Another delicious lunch was served, courtesy of Nir and his catering crew. From there we went on to a religious moshav that runs a dairy farm. We learned about their history, got to bring water for the newly born calves to drink (much cuteness ensued), and watched an incredible robotic machine milk cows. This machine feeds, bathes, and monitors the cows while milking them in a way that is comfortablel and precise. The extremely bright cows line up to enter the milking machine when they want to be milked - approx. 4 or 5 times a day. They have learned that they will be fed and cooled in the hot months. The young cows soon learn to follow once they see all the other cows going in and coming out.


On our way back to the wonderful accommodations at Vered HaGalil, we stopped for one more special act - we planted an olive tree in memory of Sandra Haley's mother who died earlier this year. It was a touching act that moved us all, and was indicative of the love and compassion that our tour guides have shown to us as they learn about us during this trip.

We had some rest time before dinner that some used to walk on the wonderful site we were staying at, with views over the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee) and some used to get a massage! The night ended with a delicious celebratory meal for Yom Ha'atzmaut at the steak house on site at our hotel.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Israel Experience 4: A Change of Landscape

Today began in the wilderness landscape of the Judean Desert and ended in the lush, green landscape of the Galilee. An incredible view of the Jezreel Valley, mentioned in the Tenach as the place where Elijah challenged the Priests of Baal to a sacrifice competition, provided our first sense of just how different this new landscape was.
We were treated to another lunch in situ, courtesy of Nir. Today was make-your-own wraps, with lafaa bread, goats chees, parsley, and zatar, which is Hyssop. Dessert was also wrapped up, but this time we were spreading Nutella and Halva onto the lafaa - yum!

From here we continued to experience the valley via another mode of transportation - ATV! Along the route we stopped at a naturally occuring watering hole - a popular kind of place found all over the northern hills around the Galilee where Israelis (Jews and Arabs) come to swim, eat, drink and hang out. In our short stop we saw a microcosm of the local society. Israeli arabs smoking a water pipe, an Israeli boy- and girlfriend picnicking togeter, and then a youth group of cyclists who came to take a break in their bike ride. Their leaders demonstrated how to leap into the pool and then gently encouraged all the children to have a go. So much fun!

We ended the afternoon, prior to an early dinner (where I had a brief reunion with my sister-in-law and brother-in-law, Shharone and Shlomo, who visited CBS and presented to our congregation lst year at Erev Sukkot), with some team games. I think we've discovered that our group likes games (and some of us are quite competitve!)

The day ended with a change of tone as we entered Yom HaZikaron with a very moving ceremony inthe region of Misagv, where our tour company owners, Nir and Guy, are from. They connected with friends and family and we bore witness to a very moving ceremony that brought out a very large % of the whole town. We stood together in silence while the sirens could be heard al around. This was followed by poetry, family  reflections, and music and the names of all those from Misgav who had died serving their country. As each name was read, along the date that they died, they were listed as 'father of so-and-so', 'brother of so-and-so' and more. This is how it is in Israel. Every soldier is someone's brother, sister, father, friend. And almost every single Israeli personally knows someone who died while serving. Memorial day is an emotional and heart-felt observance for all. We felt priveleged to stand witness to get some sense of what this day is all about from within.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Israel Experience 3: A day in the desert

3 a.m. That was the wake up call for most our group this morning. Those of us planning to hike up Masada in time for sunrise had to leave Jerusalem bright and early. A 20 min uphill hike up a flight of stairs paralleling the ramparts built by the Romans when they laid siege and eventually broke through the wall around Masada and we arrived at the top as the sun had just made its appearance and was slowly beginning to rise in the sky.


Baruch ata Adonai Eloheinu Melech HaOlam, ma'asey bereshit - Blessed are You, Eternal our God Ruler of the Universe, Source of Creation. This is the traditional blessing to recite upon seeing the sun rise. This was how we began on top of Masada, followed by some morning blessings of gratitude for bodies that work, strength to rise and climb, and then added our own morning blessings of gratitude to the list.

 With photos snapped (views, sunrise, and a family of Ibex - a kind of deer - who had made their way to top of Masada too), our guide, Noam, then transformed himself into the Roman King Herod. He explained how Masada came to be built, what life was like there, how water was brought up, food was stored and more. And then, after the death of Herod and the later destruction of the 2nd temple in Jerusalem, we learned of the band of Jewish zealots who escaped to Masada and then survived an eight month siege before the Romans finally captured Masada, and found the Jews had martyred themselves rather than be taken.


 After much needed coffee, we made our way to Nahalat David - a short hike along a naturally occurring spring with small waterfalls along the way. We splashed and refreshed ourselves and then headed to the Ein Gedi Spa by the Dead Sea where we were treated to a truly delicious freshly grilled lunch by Nir, one of the co-owners of Puzzle Israel (our tour company) and owner of Margolis Catering.

 Due to changes in the ecosystem, the Dead Sea has been shrinking at an incredible rate in recent decades. Now a vehicle takes us down what must easily be a half mile journey from the Spa facility to the Dead Sea. The water itself is not particularly clean looking but we gamely waded in to float and get the photo op! Several added to that with the Dead Sea mud treatment too. Back at the top some tried the Sulphur pools which are warm and wonderful but smell of pungent bad eggs! I know, I'm making it sound so appealing! It is quite a unique experience, but a challenging one.


 A winding drive brought us to the Bedouin-style accommodations for tonight - charming, rustic cabins, more delicious food, and a camp fire with grilled pineapple and marshmallows.


 Oh... and 'the surprise' that was not on our itinerary - the camel caravan. A good proportion of our group braved the camel ride and it was quite a thrill. One of the big themes of today, but also somewhat of a continuation from the water tunnels yesterday, was shifting from our zone of conflict or panic to our zone of comfort. This was Noam's way of asking us to try things outside of our comfort zone and seeing if we could shift our perspective through our experience. For some, wading through narrow water tunnels was that experience. For some it was climbing Masada. For some (this Rabbi being one of them) it was getting up on a camel (and back down again!) Over our campfire we shared a few more examples of shifting through these zones by being willing to take on an uncomfortable experience. No doubt, there will be more to come. It is yet one more rewarding aspect of this trip experience we are having together.

Finally, a lovely photo shared by another Conbgregation B'nai Shalom family - the Feldmans are on a separate tour this week and  they were the host family for our emmisary, Ziv Zamir back in Worcester. They managed to fit in a great reunion in Israel!

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Jerusalem past and present

For our second report from Jerusalem we begin outside the walls of today's Old City at the archeological site believed to be the original city of David. While the possibilities of what is being discovered in the layers beneath the surface are exciting, arriving at this site we see that the archeological park abuts and cuts into the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan where people living today are in communities upon that surface. Here again we are exposed to the multi-faceted and complex nature of every site in Jerusalem.

Up here is also the entrance to the ancient water tunnels that were dug to bring water into the walled city. For this part of today\s report we turn to Andrew, Ben and Lily Rosenfeld who wrote up this report on our morning adventure:
Our first adventure of the day was exploring Hezekiah’s tunnels. These tunnels were constructed almost 3000 years ago to transport spring water to the City of David. This was used as a military tactic to provide water even when the city was under siege. We walked down several flights of stairs as we headed towards the beginning of the tunnel, and as soon as we entered the tunnel the cold (but refreshing) water quickly got to almost 2 1/2 feet deep. This may not seem like much for most, but it was quite adventurous for our youngest, 7 year old explorer! We proceeded though the dark 1750 foot tunnel only able to see with the help of our headlamps and flashlights, wading through the narrow and twisting tunnel which at times was less than 5 feet high. We really enjoyed this adventure and found it amazing to think that this underground tunnel was built so long ago without the conveniences of modern day technology.

Some of our group opted for a drier route, but below are the brave souls who waded through, celebrating their victorious exit at the other end!
From here we made our way via the Dung Gate (so called because this was the means by which the Romans removed their sewage from the city) back to the Kotel plaza and into the tunnels that take us the length of the Western Wall underground, revealing the amazing scale of the supporting wall that Herod built to create the temple mount, along with remnants of that time such as a pavement, columns and additional water systems. 

We had two incredible guides today. Both were Orthodox women. The first shared that she had close to 40 grandchildren! She brought Jerusalem of 2000 years ago to life as we walked through the Kotel tunnels. Her passion was evident and this was yet another important voice for us to hear, even if we might dispute some of what we heard presented as history. This trip is all about taking in ALL of the narratives and encountering all of the people of Israel and this was an importnat voice for us to hear too. And there was no question that she left us with a feeing of pride and wonderment and deep sense of connection to our ancient past.


A short lunch break was enjoyed at Machaneh Yehudah - the Jerusalem outdoor food market. Blocks of Halva were aquired, borekas and rogelach enjoyed, spices smelt, and more. 

We ended the afternoon with a very powerful and emotional visit to Yad Vashem. One of our group, Jeff Govendo, saw the same of someone who shared the same last name in the very first exhibit we saw -- someone who occupied a place somewhere on his extended family tree. Our excellent guide emphasizd personal connectioons and individual stories throughout our tour. The museum was packed full - we saw members of St. Stephen's there too, as well as a large group of female IDF soldiers. We learned that it is a requirement for all IDF soldiers to visit Yad Vashem sometime during their service. What makes this Holocaust museum experience unique is the deep sense that is strongly communicated that Israel is the response to the Holocaust. It is the way that, as a Jewish people, we have the ability to make 
Never again mean that we will never again rely on others to provide safae haven to the Jews of the world when trouble strikes.  We ended our visit with a brief reflection circle, El Malei, Kaddish, and our gude, Noam, gave each of us a card with the name of someone who perished in the Holocaust whose name bore some resemblance to our own.

After a break back at the hotel, we had the enormous pleasure of spending a delicious meal wth Joe Federman. Joe grew up at CBS, the son of Toby and Mike who are founding members of the congregation. He is now Bureau Chief for the Associated Press covering Gaza, Israel and the Palestinian authority. We had a wonderful conversation, learning about the nature of the news business in this complex part of the world, post election analysis, the US-Israel relationshiip, the Red Sox, NE Patriots, and more!

Today's blog post has been written on the bus at 4 am as we make our way to Masada in time for sunrise. Forgive any blurry eyed typos!

Saturday, April 18, 2015

A Post Shabbat Update from Jerusalem

Shalom!
Our Congregation B'nai Shalom Israel trip is off to a great start. It is hard to believe that we have only been here since Friday evening - we have already seen and experienced so much!
We had very smooth and straightforward flights. Once we'd met our tour guides we were taken straight to Jerusalem. The first thing that we notice is that one truly ascends to Jerusalem - the bus began to climb the winding road about 2/3rds into our 1 hour ride to the capital city. Entering from the west of the city, we were taken to the Tayelet for our first amazing view. There we had our own brief Kabbalat Shabbat service as the afternoon began to transition to dusk.

After checking in to our hotel in the heart of downtown Jerusalem we had a short walk to a delicious, muti-course meal - an opportunity to taste some of the best that Jerusalem has to offer and a wonderful time for our group to really start to connect with each other.

Today - Shabbat - we started off the day after an incredible breakfast spread with another amazing view - this time from the Mount of Olives. This gave us an opportunity to drive through some of the Arab neighborhoods of East Jerusalem. From our viewing point we could see the gravestones of all those buried on the sides of the Mount, and we learned about the location of the original City of David and how the current walled Old City came into being and slowly took shape.  Our wonderful lead guide, Noam, engages us all every step of the way with the help of Ben and Lily - the two youngest members of our tour - renacting a biblical scene between the Jebusite King and King David when David acquired the land to begin to build his city.

From there we entered the Old City via the Damascus Gate into the Muslim quarter and we immediately had all our senses bombarded with the sounds, smells and colors of the market. The city was bustling with energy - while the Jewish quarter remains quiet on Shabbat the rest of the city is open for business.  Traveling by foot from the Muslim quarter to the Jewish quarter our group began to get a true sense of the geography and what it truly means when people speak of dividing the city - a task that seems quite impossible as one narrow, winding street in one quarter leads directly in the narrow streets of the next.

We arrived at the Kotel - the Western Wall. We took a little time in the area of the wall divided for men and women and prayer notes were placed in the cracks. Then we walked over to the continuation of the wall in the excavated Robinson's arch area - an area now designated for egalitarian prayer services. We were there alone and took the opportunity to have a short morning service together. Both on Friday night and Shabbat morning, our melodies, poems and readings highlighted the Jerusalem we were experiencing right before us through our liturgy.

Lunch brought us back to the Muslim quarter for some of the best falafel and hummous that Jerusalem has to offer.  Then a tour of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre - by far the most crowded site we visited all day, reminding us Christian pilgrimage to the Holy Land is an enormous source of tourism to Israel, far outscaling Jewish travel by dint of being such a large world population.

In the afternoon, some of us stayed with Noam to explore more of the old city and some of us headed over for some time at the Israel museum. Both groups had an amazing experience - some wonderful exhibits at the museum, including the Dead Sea Scrolls and findings from the Cairo Geniza.  In the old city we took in more views, and had a chance meeting and conversation with a Jewish Israeli of Yemenite descent and a Palestinian Arab from Haifa who were making a documentary about their friendship and the challenges of identity and who were gracious in sharing some of this with us. With this exchange, as with so much of what we saw today, the complexity and many faces of Israel were brought to us in very real and concrete ways. We also stopped in at a 200 year old functioning tehina factory - the smell of sesame for several hundred feet around was incredible!


Perhaps no clearer example of this was our closing program, which we shared with member of St Stephen's Church who are also traveling from Westborough. Two members of Seeds for Peace - a Jewish Israeli and an Arab Muslim from East Jerusalem - took us through a very intense experience of the challenges of truly listening to each others' narratives. They left us with a sense of great sadness at how few Israelis and Palestinians have these opportunities and how remarkable their friendship is. There is still much to debrief from this experience, not only for our group but also, I hope, with the church group back in Westborough. Pictured below is Father Jesse Abell of St. Stephen's Episcopal Church and Micali Morin, who is in Israel for a High School Semester program with NFTY -it was wonderful to have her join us for the evening (and I had an opportunity for a catch-up over an early dinner before the program).

All this... just one day!  And as I finish typing this update, the downtown streets below my window are still buzzing with people who come out to eat, drink and socialize once Shabbat ends - and it is now 1 am!  Time to get some shut-eye before we launch into the next full day that lies ahead.
Rabbi Rachel Gurevitz

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

On the eve of our Congregational trip to Israel

Well... I'm (nearly) all packed and ready for my first congregational trip to Israel with Congregation B'nai Shalom. We are a group of 17 heading out tomorrow evening and expecting to land in Tel Aviv on Friday afternoon, in time to celebrate Shabbat in Jerusalem.

Our group ranges from age 7 to mid-70s. Many have never been to Israel and, of those who have, most haven't been for over 20 years. It has been about 8 years since I was last year - the longest gap of travel to Israel that I've had for a while.  For our group this is a great adventure as we prepare to see, experience, and taste the great variety that exists in Israel. Our tour company owners are chefs, so we know we are going to eat well, and we have some quite special fresh food experiences lined up.

- We'll be traveling as far South as Arad and traveling North all the way up to the Golan Heights.

- We'll be meeting up with Israelis, Bedouins, and Arabs, and learning about Israel from many different perspectives.

- We'll be grappling with the political, historical and ecological complexities that we find as we journey together.

And we'll be recording our experiences here on my blog as often as we can.

I hope that you'll join us on our journey. Feel free to leave messages here on the blog or email me with private messages (such as those you would like us to offer a prayer for healing for, or a brief prayer message that you would like me to place at the Kotel (Western Wall).

Thursday, March 26, 2015

How Do We Talk About Israel


Last Shabbat, following the elections in Israel, Rabbi Michael Swarttz and I gave the following sermon at our joint annual Congregation B'nai Shalom/Beth Tikvah service. The presentation was followed by discussion and comment from the congregation. We are sharing our text to stimulate further conversation - perhaps around Seder tables at the upcoming festival of Pesach.


Rabbi Rachel Gurevitz:
Rabbi Melissa Weintraub writes, ‘In rabbinic circles, one increasingly hears sentiments like, “I’m not going to get fired for my politics on gun control or health care, but I could get fired for just about anything I say about Israel.” Rabbi Scott Perlo has coined this, the “Death by Israel Sermon.”

And yet, 4 days after the Israeli elections, bringing together our two congregations, how could we not speak about Israel together? And more than anything, when we speak about Israel together, whether in a formal community gathering or on each other’s Facebook walls, we want to bring care, love, and genuine deep listening to how we speak about Israel with each other.

In his book, ‘Relational Judaism’, Rabbi Ron Wolfson discusses our relationship with Israel as one of the vital aspects of relationship building that needs to be deepened in Jewish communal life. He reports on the impact of ten years of programming in one congregation in St. Louis that sent their 15 year olds on a Summer-long program to live with Israeli youth in a Moshav in the 1970s. At the 30th reunion of those who had participated in the program, they surveyed the more than 300 people who had participated over the years.  This revealed that the experience had created a ‘reference relationship’ with Israel that many respondents claimed was one of the most important influences in their lives, evidenced by many of the now-adult participants maintaining regular contact with their Israeli ‘families’.

For those of us who have been to Israel, for those of us who have Israelis in our families, for those of us that have hosted an Israeli in our homes (such as our wonderful Israeli emissary program)… these are personal ways of engaging with Israel and forming a multi-faceted sense of relationship with the land and her people.

For others, we rely on what we can learn from the media. We rely on various Jewish and Israeli organizations, each with their own set of perspectives, principles, and policies to inform us. They frame the stories of Israel, the peace process, and all we try to grasp from the outside for us. But from where do we learn how to interpret this information and how to critically examine the presentation of a particular set of perspectives? How do we contribute to the conversations about Israel, whether within the Jewish community, in broader communal settings, on college campuses, and on the political stage?

How do we talk about Israel? The answer to that question might depend on what our goal is, and with whom we are speaking.

·         For some, the goal is to make the case for a very specific kind of policy or position with regard to Israel.
Photo: Davos Dorf, Davos, Canton of Graubunden
When Netanyahu spoke to Congress 2.5 weeks ago, there was very little of ‘on the one hand’ and ‘on the other hand’. He had a very specific hand to deal. If you a politician, you stake out your ground. Whatever you may be feeling about the outcome of these elections, there is no doubt that Netanyahu clearly articulated where he stood.

·         For some, speaking about Israel has become a not-so-subtle hiding ground for anti-semitism. 
I was speaking with a Christian minister who recently returned from a trip to Israel that was designed to educate ministers about both sides of the conflict. She remarked that she now saw and understood how so much of the focus on Israel’s ills in the media and the international stage is so clearly a manifestation of anti-semitism.  Recently on a British TV show, Question Time, a politician was taken to task by some members of the audience and other panelists for his virulent anti-Zionism. He denied that he was responsible in any way for increases in anti-semitic attacks in the UK, parsing the difference between his anti-Zionism and anti-semitism in ways that simply don’t stand up to scrutiny. We have to speak up and hold those who misuse Israel in this way accountable.

·         For some, speaking about Israel is about working to ensure that the US has Israel’s back.
This is an important role for all involved in political action in DC. But sometimes this role is conflated with never publicly criticizing or questioning Israel’s decisions. This is a delicate subject. Some believe that we risk weakening that support if we introduce nuance and complexity into this political forum. Others believe that if we truly wish the US political system to support Israel and help it achieve a lasting peace with the Palestinians that we are obligated to speak when we perceive Israel to be doing something that is not in its long-term best interests.

For most of us, Rabbis included, we speak about Israel because we care about Israel. We speak about Israel because we want to better understand Israel. We speak about Israel because we want to learn more about the people and the land. And we want, we desperately want to find a path forward for peace. And we struggle with how complicated that is.

I have always made it my mission, when visiting in Israel, to find opportunities to speak with Arab Israelis and Palestinians. I spent a year in Israel, arriving there shortly after the 2nd intifada began. The old city was quiet, and the shopkeepers had plenty of time to chat. I spent extended visits over mint tea with some of them, listening to their stories of what was happening in the West Bank, and the conversations taking place in East Jerusalem. I even traveled into the West Bank and two refugee camps, led by one of those who I had befriended over time, to see things for myself. It opened my eyes to another perspective that, when we only do ‘Jewish Israel’ we can never find. And, whatever you may think of that perspective, my understanding of what the conflict is about and what both sides want was enormously deepened by having taken the time to sit down and have those conversations.

Back in the US, it also gave me access to the Arab Muslim population that was involved in interfaith work with my congregation and others in my last community in Bridgeport. They invited me to speak about the Jewish and Israeli perspective on the peace process, because they knew that I had listened to their perspective, and we had a mutual respect and, eventually, love for each other, even though we disagreed when new events in the conflict arose. The bridge building we were able to do locally was built on friendship and trust first.

One cannot help but emerge from these kinds of discursive and relationship-based conversations with a very different kind of personal connection to Israel and the people of Israel.  One gains entry into the diversity of perspective and experience of Israel’s citizens. There can be no two-dimensional analysis or understanding of what is happening or what will happen – it is complex and multi-dimensional, and ever-changing.  And perhaps most of all, when one is tempted to make statements about Israel, the perspectives gained from relationship-based conversations with different people brings about a little more humility – an awareness of what we know and what we don’t.

Rabbi Michael Swarttz
In her remarks Rabbi Gurevitz used the descriptors “nuanced,” “complex,” “multi-dimensional,” and “ever-changing.”  These very appropriately describe virtually everything about the Israeli situation—its people, its politics, its culture, its security.  These aspects of the situation often get lost in the highly charged arena of Jewish communal discussion and debate about the Jewish State.  In their place there is an attitude of “If I am right, then you must be wrong” that characterizes the discussion.  It is a shame that Israel, which at one time united us, and which should continue to do so, is that which so often divides us.  It polarizes us. Why?  So much at stake, we care so deeply.

My reflections this evening come from two contemporary thinkers.  Yossi Klein Halevi is a journalist and author who was American-born and who made Aliyah as a young man.  Rabbi Brad Hirschfield is the President of CLAL, a national Jewish organization committed to building bridges across communities to encourage pluralism and openness and to promoting inclusive Jewish communities in which all voices are heard.  Rabbi Gurevitz is a CLAL Associate, by the way.

Tonight we find ourselves mid-way between the holidays of Purim and Pesach.  A few years ago Yossi Klein Halevi wrote a piece that has stayed with me in which he describes the Jewish community as divided between Purim Jews and Pesach Jews.  Each of these groups identifies with a different biblical commandment of Zachor, telling us to remember. 

The first voice commands us to remember that we were strangers in the land of Egypt, and the message of that command is: “Don’t be brutal.” The second voice commands us to remember how the tribe of Amalek attacked us without provocation while we were wandering in the desert, and the message of that command is: “Don’t be naive.” You may recall that the Shabbat before Purim is Shabbat Zachor, and we read the Torah passage commanding us to remember what Amalek did to our ancestors.

The first Zachor is the voice of Passover, of liberation; the second is the voice of Purim, commemorating our victory over the genocidal threat of Haman, a descendant of Amalek. “Passover Jews” are motivated by empathy with the oppressed; “Purim Jews” are motivated by alertness to threat. Both are essential; one without the other creates an unbalanced Jewish personality, a distortion of Jewish history and values.

Klein Halevi suggests that one reason the Palestinian issue is so wrenching for Jews is that it is the point on which the two commands of our history converge: the stranger in our midst is represented by a national movement that wants to usurp us.

And so a starting point of a healthy North American Jewish conversation on Israel would be acknowledging the agony of our dilemma.

Imagine an Orthodox rabbi, a supporter of the settlers in Hebron (a Purim Jew), delivering this sermon to his congregation: “My friends, our community has sinned against Israel. For all our devotion to the Jewish state and our concern for its survival, we have failed to acknowledge the consequences to Israel’s soul of occupying another people against its will.”

Now imagine a liberal rabbi, a supporter of J Street (a Pesach Jew), telling his or her congregation: “My friends, our community has sinned against Israel. For all our devotion to the Jewish state and our concern for its democratic values, we have failed to acknowledge the urgency of existential threat once again facing our people.”

As Klein Halevi asserts, when North American Jews internalize or at least acknowledge each other’s anxieties, and the legitimacy of the other’s Zachor, the shrillness of much of the North American Jewish debate over Israel will give way to a more nuanced conversation.

I thought of Klein Halevi’s analysis in light of my day yesterday.  In the afternoon I attended via my computer a webinar sponsored by the rabbinic organization T’ruah. T’ruah is the North American wing of Rabbis for Human Rights, an organization focused on the civil rights of minorities in Israel, including, but not limited to, Israeli Arabs and Palestinians.  Both groups consist of what most of us would refer to as “left of center” rabbis.

In the evening my wife and I attended a lecture at our local Chabad in Newton by Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby.  Jacoby spoke about U.S.-Israel relations in the aftermath of the Israeli election.  Needless to say, this was a different crowd than I had been with during the webinar, with different views and different assumptions.

Yesterday afternoon I was with Pesach Jews.  In the evening I was with Purim Jews.  My problem is I have commonalities with both groups.  Points of agreement and disagreement with each. Even though I consider myself slightly left of center, I do understand and share many of the concerns of the Purim Jews.

I now turn to Rabbi Brad Hirschfield, the President of CLAL. In his book You Don’t Have to Be Wrong for Me to Be Right (this is what this is all about), Hirschfield describes an experience he had in 2006 when he created a television series called Building Bridges: Abrahamic Perspectives on the World Today.  He created the series for Bridges TV, the American Muslim network based in Buffalo, New York.  The show is a weekly roundtable with different imams, priests, ministers, and Hirschfield trying to use the wisdom of their faiths to find spiritual solutions to contemporary problems and demonstrate that disagreement doesn’t always have to be about demonizing the people with whom they disagree.

Hirschfield was asked by the people at Bridges TV to invite an Iranian Imam in Detroit, Mohammed Ali Elahi, to appear on his show.  Elahi had taken numerous positions publicly with which Hirschfield vehemently disagreed, but he met him and spent a good deal of time talking with him.  Neither changed the other’s opinion, but they came to like and respect each other nonetheless.  Hirschfield writes that the fact that they had deep disagreements was “precisely why I was open to having him on the show. It is most important to talk with those people with whom we most disagree.”
He not only agreed to have Elahi on his show, but Elahi invited Hirschfield to come to his mosque, speak from the pulpit, and then view the premiere of the show at the mosque with his congregation.  This generated outrage from both Jewish organizations and general political groups. He was told “You can’t talk to him,” that he would be punished and that his career would be in jeopardy.  People would see to it that he “would be finished in Jewish life.” He was called a traitor.  His love of Israel was questioned, along with his commitment to the Jewish community. He writes, “I was shocked. I began to realize that my ‘sin’ lay in the claim that disagreement was no excuse for not talking. I had touched that raw nerve that says you do have to be wrong for me to be right.”

There are lessons to be learned from Rabbi Hirschfield’s story about how we, internally in the Jewish community, speak to and listen to those with whom we disagree about what Israel does, who it elects, and how it goes about its business. Some of us are Purim Jews; others Pesach Jews. Some, like myself, are a combination of the two. I believe we are a stronger and healthier Jewish community when we can have respectful relationships and civil dialogue with those who differ with us. “Azeh hu chacham? Who is wise?” He who learns from every person, including, and perhaps especially, those with different viewpoints. Given how much is at stake, and how invested most of us are in the Israeli enterprise, it is often easier said than done. But it is a goal well-worth striving for.