Danny and I spent last Shabbat in Haifa with Congregation Ohel Avraham. Ohel Avraham is part of the Leo Baeck School which is a private Reform Movement day school. One of the rabbis, Gabby Dagan, was at Beth Emet a few years ago and Cantor Jeff Klepper spent a year there before he came to Beth Emet. The last time I was there for worship was in 2002 when Danny and I brought Liora and Yonah to Israel for the first time. Liora was 4 and sang the whole service at full volume. When our friend who brought us to services asked Liora how she knew all the tunes, she replied, “It’s just like at Beth Emet!” At that time, most of the service was Jeff Klepper and Debbie Friedman melodies. The service last week was a little more mixed—a combination of familiar American Reform Movement camp tunes and Israeli melodies. It was a very spirited service, and there was a youth group lock-in that evening so a lot of teens from the Reform Movement’s youth movement—Noar Telem—were there, adding to the energy.
The next day, Danny and I attempted to take a hike the Carmel Forest just outside of Haifa, but since there were very few buses running on Shabbat, we were not successful. I have many fond memories of hiking in the Carmel from the year I spent in Israel right out of college. During that year in which I was volunteering in communities in many different areas of the country, I was given an “adopted family” to be my home base for many Shabbats and holidays. My family lived in Haifa, and they were very outdoorsy and athletic people. We usually spent Shabbat hiking or at the beach in the nice weather or swimming indoors during the winter. When our attempt at a hike failed, Danny and I wandered around a predominantly Arab neighborhood in Haifa called Wadi Nisnas, visited the Bahai Temple gardens (the Bahai Temple in Haifa is the second largest one after the one in Wilmette), and hiked from the German Colony in Haifa to the Carmel neighborhood. Unlike Tel Aviv-Jaffa where we are living, Haifa is on the Carmel mountain range and is quite hilly. So, in the end, we got our hike in!
Haifa is the most mixed city in Israel. It is not only Arab Muslim and Jewish, but Bahai and many different Christian groups live in Haifa as well. In case anyone in the U.S. was concerned that I might be missing Christmas, Haifa has lots of Christmas decorations up! Also, Haifa has a fair at this time of year that is called, “Hag ha’Hagim—the Holiday of Holidays” in which all of the different cultures that live in Haifa are celebrated. Perhaps instead of our fighting in the U.S. about how to greet each other at this time of the year, we could also hold a joint celebration of cultures, show respect and learn about each other, and wish each other Happy Holidays! One can dream!