Shabbat In Israel

The last two Shabbats, Danny has been with me which has been really nice. Shabbat in Israel is special because it really is a day in which everything slows down and people take time to rest and be with family and friends. Even in Tel Aviv where more things are open, Shabbat has a more relaxed feel than other days of the week. The Friday before last, Max Antman came from Jerusalem, where he is studying at the Hebrew Union College (HUC) for his first year of rabbinic school, to spend Shabbat with us. Friday night we went to services at Beit Daniel which is a large Reform congregation in Tel Aviv that has buildings in north Tel Aviv and Jaffa. The one in Jaffa is a two-minute walk from my apartment.

The rabbi that evening, Mira Raz, immediately spotted me as a rabbi because I was wearing a kippah and seemed comfortable with the liturgy. She asked me to lead Kiddush at the end of services and was very friendly. She told me her story of how she became a rabbi. She was living in a suburb of Tel Aviv when she saw an ad about the Reform Movement in Israel. She had a degree in Talmud and was interested in spirituality, but had never been engaged with Jewish religious life (for most Israelis, the only religious life they know is Orthodox). The ad intrigued her so she called the Reform Movement and asked if they could establish a congregation in her town. They told her if she could get a group of people interested in worship, they would send her a rabbi. She did, and that small group grew and became a congregation. Mira, who had been working as a teacher, eventually went to HUC and became a rabbi. I often hear this story from Israeli Jews who consider themselves “secular” because they never knew there was another option for Jewish expression. When they experience Reform Judaism, they find it appealing.     

After services, we had dinner at Noah Efron’s apartment. Noah has a podcast about Israel called “The Promised Podcast” in which he engages in conversation about culture, politics, and society with two other guests. In between each segment, he plays contemporary Israeli music.  This is how I became familiar with the music of Maureen Nehedar who came to Beth Emet last December to play a concert in celebration of my 18th anniversary at Beth Emet.  I highly recommend hist podcast if you want an insiders’ view on what’s going on in Israel and what Israelis are thinking about. Noah came to Beth Emet a few years ago as scholar-in-residence. We had a nice time with Noah and his family and then walked back to our apartment which was an hour-long walk along the Tel Aviv beach on a beautiful evening. What a way to celebrate Shabbat!

Last Shabbat, Danny and I went to Jerusalem.  On Friday morning, I went on a tour of East Jerusalem with a group of J Street U students who were learning about the political and physical landscape of Jerusalem. We saw where the wall cuts off some Palestinian neighborhoods from other parts of the city, and they learned that the status of Palestinians living in Jerusalem is different than Jews (Palestinians are residents of Jerusalem, but not citizens of Israel.) We ended the tour in a Palestinian owned bookstore in East Jerusalem. The owner of the store told us that he thinks the one-state solution is the best resolution to the conflict because Israel is too entrenched in the West Bank. He believes that the window for creating a two-state solution has been shut. I’ve heard this view from Palestinians before. They’ve watched the increase in settlement activity in the West Bank and don’t see how dividing into two states is possible. As Sam Bahour, a Palestinian-American businessman who lives in Ramallah, puts it:  “We used to see the settlements as the holes in the swiss cheese of a possible Palestinian state and now we see them as the cheese and the Palestinian territory as the holes.” I understand the frustration and despair faced by Palestinians, but this article shows how the two-state solution is still viable. (If you don’t have a subscription to Ha’aretz, I highly recommend it. It’s the top Israeli source for intelligent and comprehensive news about Israel). Without any positive movement in the direction of peace, however, it’s understandable that people will want to keep all options on the table in the hope of finding a resolution that will give Palestinians civil rights and citizenship.

We had Shabbat dinner that evening with a group of young Americans from the Chicago-area. Some of them are students and others have fellowships or are working in Israel. It was a fabulous evening with young people who care deeply about Judaism and are passionate about human rights in Israel. One is studying at the Conservative Movement yeshiva in Jerusalem and was injured by settlers when he went into the West Bank to help Palestinians with the olive harvest. He was picking olives when masked settlers from a nearby settlement attacked the group. He ended up with four stitches in his head. Another woman is working for an organization called Omdim B’yachad—Standing Together, an organization of Jews and Palestinians working to create a shared, equitable society together We concluded Shabbat by attending a protest (with some of these young people) on Saturday evening against police brutality in a Palestinian neighborhood of Jerusalem. As we were shouting our slogans, some cars drove by and shouted Rak Bibi—only Bibi in support of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who had just been indicted on corruption charges. They were confusing the issue we were protesting with another protest that was taking place just a few blocks away in front of the Prime Minister’s residence demanding Netanyahu resign from office. It was great to see and be part of such passionate activism for justice in Jerusalem!

Next Shabbat we’re going to Haifa to spend Shabbat at a Reform congregation there. Stay tuned for my thoughts on that experience.

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