I got back from Israel two weeks ago already. Everyone asks, “did you have a good trip?” They are excited to hear about my adventures and I desperately want to give them an uplifting and life-affirming response. But the truth is that it’s taken me a while to process everything I experienced. And it’s difficult to answer with the expected, “yes! What an amazing experience…I had such a good time!” My answer is more like, “well, things are crazy right now. The situation is upsetting. The congress was nuts. Yes, I was there when Bibi spoke. No, it didn’t really stand out to me at the time as all that crazy in the context of all the other crazy sounding things he said.”
As a community, we feel deeply the recent acts of violence in Jerusalem and the West Bank. It is painful to see these senseless attacks being repeated day after day. Many of us feel both angry and sad as these events continue to unfold. As fears and tensions rise, the outcry is getting louder and the filters that keep discourse civil are being peeled away.
The Talmud (BT Gittin 55b-56a) records a fascinating but very relevant debate between the Rabbinic leaders and Rabbi Zechaiah b. Abkulas. It occurred in 66 BCE when Judea was under Roman control. Bar Kamza, a Jew, felt slighted by Judea’s Rabbinic and political leadership and was determined to avenge this insult. He thus informed Emperor Nero that the Jews were not loyal subjects and as proof he proposed that Nero send a calf to be sacrificed as a gift offering in the Temple. Bar Kamza delivered the calf but not before he had made a slight cut on its lip that the Jews regarded as a blemish but not the Romans.
This blog is based on a Dvar Torah that I shared with my Hartman Cohort last Shabbat. It feels even more relevant on this Shabbat just before Tisha B’Av that begins on Saturday evening.
This week’s blog brought to you by Rabbi Shoshanah Conover and Orr Shalom (Temple Sholom Youth Group) Social Action Chair Sydney Baer
In the second of this week’s double Torah Portion, Matot-Masei, we read the recounting of the Israelites’ journey through 42 stations on their trek toward Israel. Many commentators puzzle over why the Torah enumerates each of these stops—some of them preferring to simply dismiss this enumeration as superfluous. Yet, as sixteen year-old Sydney Baer has become part of our family in Israel, joining us in Jerusalem as our babysitter, we have realized the importance of recounting the minor moments in our days that accumulate into one powerful experience. While many of the places recounted in the last parashah in the Book of Numbers are ones of strife, we have taken the time to recount the moments of joy and appreciation in our own journey. We hope you will enjoy reading about some of these moments and what we’ve learned from them.
I have just returned from spending time in our nation’s capital with 2500 people, many but not all Jews, and quite a number of them diplomats and representatives of more than thirty nations. A number of Temple Sholom members were in attendance. The Chicago contingent from the AJC local chapter numbered more than one hundred!
I first attended the Policy Conference in 1983, as a callow college student. It was very impressive, with 1500 supporters of America and Israel crowded into the Capitol Hilton.
This year, there are 15,000 attendees. AIPAC is very savvy when it comes to production values as well as management at a conference, so the large crowd is inspirational, not a cause of ceaseless inconvenience.
Temple Sholom members in attendance include Richard and Gloria Reifler, Robert Gordon, and board member and tireless AIPAC advocate, Stuart Litwin. There are over 600 rabbis and cantors here as well, from all denominations.
Yesterday we heard a moving speech by Isaac Herzog, the new head of the major opposition party in Israel and we were treated to a rousing sermon by Pastor Chris Harris of our very own Chicago’s Bright Star Church.
Ari Shavit, while speaking at the Standard Club on Monday December 9, said lots of things about Israel and its people that I continue to think about, but his comment about American Jewry really caught my attention. It arose during the Q and A portion of his presentation on his recently published My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel. Near the end of the address, Shavit expressed a profound concern over the relationship between Israel and Jewish American youth, especially those from secular, non-orthodox communities. What he said had nothing to do with synagogue participation, intermarriage, or the like. It had to do with the political behavior of Jewish American adults.
In early November, I came across the first of several reviews of Shavit’s My Promised Land. In this book, Shavit, an Israeli author and columnist for Haaretz, embarks on an exploration of Israel’s history from the early Zionist movement (of which his own grandfather played a significant role), to the present, in order to understand the source of Israel’s state of “duality” and his own fears about Israel’s survival that have dogged him since childhood. By “duality,” Shavit explains, “On the one hand, Israel is the only nation in the West that is occupying another people. On the other hand, Israel is the only nation in the West that is existentially threatened. Both occupation and intimidation make the Israeli condition unique” (xii). All of the reviews I read convinced me that Shavit had compelling things to say, so when I heard that there would be a Temple Sholom presence at the Standard Club to hear Shavit speak, I signed right up.
Very rarely would a person walk the streets of Jerusalem on Tisha B’Av (the 9th of the Hebrew month of Av) and hear the sweet Kabbalat Shabbat niggun (melody) of:
Zamru Adonai b’kinor, b’kinor v’kol zimrah.
“Praise Adonai with harp, with harp and voice of song.”
Yet from under an open tent on the outdoor grounds of a nature museum in Jerusalem, these words wafted gently over a mourning city. On Tisha B’Av, we commemorate the many calamanities that befell our people, especially aching over the destruction of the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem. A week ago, I sat on cushions in this large open tent and listened to the chanting of Eicha (Lamentations) interspersed with modern poetry. Afterward, I raised my voice with others in the singing of kinot (dirges). The vivid images of the destruction of Jerusalem and the brokenness of the people who dwelled there inspired those around me to share spontaneous reflections and meditations on shattered souls. An older man shared a story that his uncle once told him when he was a boy.
Milat Hayom: Misibah
Word of the Day: Party
Yesterday was my first full day here. That seems weird since I left home four days ago. It has been really nice to hang out with my friends who live here and be a part of their daily routine. I am staying with close friends of mine from OSRUI, Mara and Josh and their two daughters, Noa and Ella. Noa is almost 3 and goes to Gan just down the street at the Reform Synagogue in Jerusalem, Kol HaNeshema. Josh and I walked Noa there in the morning (well Noa ran most of the way). Jay walking is a serious offense here so when we got to the cross walk and the man is red, he asks Noa, who is that? She answers, Esav (Esau) and when it is green? I thought, Yaakov? (Jacob?) but no, Gumby. Ha!