Our Colleagues in Israel: Rabbi-ing Under Fire
“There was a siren as we readied for Chupa… and after breaking the glass the sirens sent us back to the shelter…”
“I am gripped with fear for my son in Gaza, yet I must serve the needs of my community members too…”
“Our Oneg Shabbat was filled with emotion – we give spiritual power to one another…”
“Can you imagine? We need to move our 700 children from summer camp into a shelter and yet our work is to stay calm…”
“Our Beit Knesset became the Gan (preschool) because it is closer to the shelter…”
“Our society is more united than ever…. And we must not allow the extremist groups to define us…”
“I am distressed over the loss of human life on both sides…. I know many Palestinians in my work… Hamas holds these people as hostages.”
“Many of my community feels isolated, alone… one of us being strong helps another be strong…”
“We move from funeral to shiva to shelters….”
“I will not thank you for coming to Israel this week. What you are doing is a Mitzvah and we do not thank someone for doing a Mitzvah…”
It is impossible to capture in writing the emotions of the many people with whom we engaged during the CCAR’s Israel Solidarity Mission this past week, let alone the voices of our Rabbinic colleagues serving in Israel. It was a moving moment to simply sit with the Rabbis of MARAM – the Council of Progressive Rabbis in Israel –who are also members of the CCAR, and to listen to their stories.
Serving as a Reform Rabbi in Israel presents its own unique set of challenges for sure. Yet, like rabbis in North America and throughout the world, our Israeli colleagues regularly serve as teachers of Torah, religious leaders, pastoral guides, community organizers, fundraisers, and advocates for a just society that includes pluralistic voices and the right to practice Judaism as Progressive Jews.
But these past few weeks our Israeli colleagues have had to reach deep within themselves in ways that few of us in North American have ever experienced. They must rely upon their own spiritual and emotional anchors to find the strength to serve as rabbis to their congregations, communities and Israelis in general. They are caring for those who run to shelters, who fear for their children and grandchildren on the front lines, and are concerned for the future of their country, even as carry their own worries and fears.
Israeli Reform Rabbis serve as leaders in building sacred and safe communities Israeli society; in established locations in Tel Aviv, Modiin, Jerusalem, and Haifa, as well as emerging towns like S’derot, Ashkelon, G’dera and more. They lead the way in creating an Israeli society based upon Jewish values through Jewish education that extends far beyond the Hebrew language to the essential teachings of Jewish tradition; by creating holy places where men and women are equal in ritual matters and daily living; by welcoming new Jews into their community through their conversation and beit din; and importantly by educating the next generation of Israelis in the meaning and practice of Judaism.
And in these challenging weeks these rabbis provide the religious spiritual and emotional leadership that will enable Israel to move past this war as a healthy and fulfilled society.
The Israeli Reform Rabbinate is making significant strides in the religious life of Israel, and we must all commend our seminary, Hebrew Union College, Jerusalem, for its visionary work ordaining Reform Rabbis in Israel. Once ordained, these rabbis are members of MARAM, which continues to support, encourage, unite, and empower these rabbis as leaders in Israeli society. Of course, MARAM plays a significant role in this work, especially in cultivating new Reform communities throughout Israel and in partnership with the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism (IMPJ).
Amidst all this, it comes down to the human side of the rabbinate and our rabbis. Last week, we sat with Rabbi Nir Barkin and Rabbi Kinneret Shiryon to study texts. With Kinneret we studied the Akedah, looking at through poems of Yehudah Amichai and relating it to the current situation in Israel. Kinneret spoke of her own tremendous fear for her son who had just been called up to serve in Gaza as a reserve soldier. With Nir we studied about Tisha B’av and were challenged by him to rethink the meaning of the Tisha B’av. During our study session, Nir revealed that their middle child, Omri, was somewhere in Gaza, and that they had gone days without hearing from him. (See what Nir wrote about this experience at Rabbi Nir Barkin Relates His Experience as the Father of a Soldier). A few hours after saying goodbye to Nir, we learned that Omri’s unit had come under attack and suffered devastating losses with three people killed and fifteen injured. Omri survived, others did not. Within hours it was Shabbat; a Shabbat for Nir’s congregation and community, but not a Shabbat of Shalom for Nir, his wife Anat, their family, friends and country.