Saturday, February 28, 2009

Bli Neder*

*no promises

Jewish law codes spend a lot of time on the concept of vows. They are not to be made lightly. This is why you will often hear someone say "I'll do that, bli neder" - meaning, "I'll do it, but I'm very carefully not making a vow." So this post is definitely bli neder!

It is 5:30am Israel time and as I prepare to leave my hotel room to head back to the United States, here is a list of things I want to tell you about from the rest of my trip since my last post:

- my tour of the spice market in Tel Aviv (possibly one of the best tours - we got samples!!!) and walk thru the Carmel Market. I bought Yael a Dora the Explorer costume for Purim!

- our viewing of a performance by NaLaga'at - Please Touch - a deaf/blind theater company.

- my dinner with Robin (and Jay) from - awesome.

- Friday morning's pluralist Beit Midrash at the Israel convention center. We were joined by israelis in a morning of study and conversation. It was really great.

- lunch at Mahane Yehuda at which I was told by the retaurant's proprietor that there was no shakshuka on Fridays, of course.

- buying hot Marzipan chocolate rugelach and eating it right there.

- taking a taxi home because it was hailing.

- celebrating Kabbalat Shabbat at kehillat Har-el and sharing dinner with Rabbi Ada Zavidov (and others) in her home

- attending two Shacharit (morning) services - the first at Shira Chadasha, an egalitarian Orthodox minyan at which 10 men as well as 10 men are required for a minyan. We were early enough that my presence mattered. The second in Mercaz Shimshon, the headquarters of the World Movement for Progressive Judaism, overlooking the Old City. While the service was long and not entirely to my taste, it was really incredible to witness the aliyah to the Torah of Rabbi Harold Kudan, Am Shalom's Founding Rabbi, in honor of his 50 years in the rabbinate. It was also incredible to witness our incoming president, Rabbi Ellen Dreyfus, read from the Torah to accept the mantle of leadership.

- getting into the Old City in driving rain and gusting wind only to find out that the Arab Quarter was on strike and no shops or restaurants were open.

- getting soaked walking down Ben Yehuda shooping for gifts and getting a latte at the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf on Jaffa.

- making new friends amongst my colleagues and re-kindling old friendships. Now we don't really exchange cards - we just say "friend me on Facebook"! Talking about blogging and technology was one of my favorite parts....go figure.

- trying to absorb the constant state of change and growth in eretz yisrael. And wondering if the light rail system which is being built will ever be done...and wondering if downtown Jerusalem will ever feel the same.

- packing to go home after 6 days in which I arrived with carry-on luggage only. Everyone thought we were so laudable to only pack that way....and yet I still overpacked and didn't wear it all and I had to really cram to get it all in the bag to return....oh well, you live and learn, right? I'm all packed and ready for my last breakfast followed by the cab ride to the airport.

Reading back over this post, I realize that I did tell you now, so I think I don't have to worry about revisiting. Whew, I'm safe from the neder :-)

Back to our regular blog programming later this week!!!!

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Keyn, anachnu yecholim*

*yes, we can

Today we spent the morning in Tel Aviv, a city that is truly modern Israel's reality. I haven't spent much time in this city, wandering, as I have in Jerusalem. Later we have walking tours that I'm quite excited for!

But back to my headline. I'm quoting Rabbi Meir Azari of the Israeli Reform Movement. "Yes, we can" make Reform a living and vibrant part of the landscape of Israeli religious society. Sitting in Mishkenot Ruth Daniel, a large and beautiful facility in the heart of Jaffa that serves many purposes for the Tel Aviv Porgressive community. One is really able to believe in a living and rich Israeli Reform movement when sitting here.

We heard from Mayor Ron Huldai of Tel Aviv, who was called a great friend of Reform Judaism by Rabbi Azari.

He spoke of the sand dunes of Jaffa, in 1909, when 66 families stood and lotteried the plots of what was to become Tel Aviv. Here now, this major city bears little resemblance to those early years. Sky-scraping luxury hotels line the beach and old blends with new....but how to shape the identity of the Israeli future? Mayor Huldai believes that Reform plays a large part in that identity and that future.

Rabbi Azari also pointed out Rabbi Miri Gold (go sign the petition and join the facebook group) who is the public face of the fight to recognize Reform rabbis by the State of Israel. to a tour of Tel Aviv's markets....

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Women of the Wall

This morning was the 20th anniversary of the Women of the Wall. Today, Rosh Chodesh Adar, the beginning of the month of great joy, we davened (prayed) together at the Kotel, the Western Wall, in quite a large group, Israeli women and many women rabbis from the CCAR convention and also rabbinic and cantorial students studying in Jerusalem.

We stood near the back of the women's section to pray the morning service, including the Hallel psalms, in quiet but proud voices. Many of our male colleagues came too and stood behind the wall, joining our prayer in almost a reverse mechitza (separation barrier). We wore tallitot and kippot. Young girls wearing long skirts stared and giggled and debated what they saw. "They're not Reformim," a girl told her friend. "They are something different."

Policewomen, guarding the "sanctity of the place" shouted and gestured for us to stop. "No singing!" And in typical Israeli fashion, continued to stand and yell even as the praying continued. A male policeman was brought in (why was this ok?) to help quiet us down....but it didn't work and we finished the praying relatively peacefully. (I took video, which maybe I will be able to upload later today or else when I get home.)

Then we walked together to the Southern part of the excavation of the Western Wall. Standing under Robinson's Arch we read Torah, the reading for Rosh Chodesh, sharing aliyot and singing in a loud voice, joined by our male colleagues whose voices mingled with the female ones.

The Torah used by Women of the Wall is carried in a duffel bag (a very holy and sturdy green duffel bag) and after it was placed in the bag it was passed around to kiss before itwas spirited away to someone's car. Many torah scrolls live on the men's side of the Kotel but only this one is used by the women and it is carried back and forth.

I had the honor for a few moments of carrying the Torah in its canvas bag. Its weight felt perhaps even more heavy than a usual Torah scroll, bearing the weight of so many women's years of striving....

Mish'nuchnas Adar marbim b'simcha
As Adar comes in, our joy increases.
And so it was a truly joyous experience.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Nir Barkat, Jerusalem's Mayor

Tonight we were greeted by Jerusalem's mayor, Nir Barkat. After he welcomed us home, he shared some of the scary statistics about Jerusalem - it's the poorest city with 50 percent of its children under the poverty line.

People are leaving Jlem in droves. Why? Usually due to the economiv situation, price of housing is high, schools aren't top notch and quality of life isn't the highest here. But he doesn't want to focus on the negative.

He noted that there are four consituencies to jlem - residents, israel, jewish community and world comminity. We are all shareholders in the benefit of Jerusalem.

Two million visitors (tourist) to Jerusalem each year. This is, Mr Barkat explained, paltry compared to other world cities - and we have a 3000 year old "brand" to sell! One of his goals is to increase tourism - through promotion of culture and economic opportunities.

He brings his "business approach" instead of the "army approach." Army works against enemies. Business works for customers. Obviously it would make sense to change away from the army approach and treat citizens like customers. It also gives an opening to shared collaboration....he's built quite a coalition of various viewpoints that will hopefully transcend politics.

He takes only a dollar a year salary. You gotta believe that someone with that much commitment has something going for him....right?

Monday, February 23, 2009

On our way!

We're on our way to Eretz Yisrael. My colleague, Paul Kipnes ( calls this Aliyat haNefesh - a going-up of the soul. I do feel that the chance to reconnect with the land and people of Israel refreshes and rejuvenates me. To be able to travel to Israel regularly is one of the best parts of the rabbinate!

This time, the trip holds a special significance. My husband proposed to me in Israel about 2 hours before the end of our Year in Israel program (literally - as we were waiting for our taxi to the airport!) just about 10 years ago. We left Israel engaged but haven't returned together to the country since. (We've each been separately.) Three kids later, we travel together to make this journey today! I am beside myself with delight.

Also, we are going to be attending the annual convention of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, our professional organization. Three hundred friends and colleagues will be there with us and I can't wait to see old friends and catch up with them.

Truly, my travel cup runneth over today as I type this at O'Hare airport....see ya in the Holy Land!