It has been 12 years since I was a first-year student on the HUC-JIR campus in Jerusalem, but the moment I walked up the steps to 13 King David Street this morning, it felt like I had never left. There were familiar faces, and new faces, but the stones felt the same underneath my feet, a walk through the library brought many memories to mind, and the music of tefillah stirred my soul.
I started the day by joining in prayer with Israeli rabbinical students for Shacharit. I did not attend very many services with Israeli rabbinic students during my Year in Israel, so I was grateful to have the opportunity to do so today. After tefillah ended, we were treated to talks by two up-and-coming scholars from the Jerusalem campus. Dr. Yifat Teharani taught us about biblical archaeology, focusing on the surprisingly multicultural nature of the desert society during the First Temple period (i.e. between the 6th and 8th centuries BCE). Dr Dalia Marx taught us about the Cairo Geniza, and the ways in which some of the Geniza’s liturgical texts have begun making their way into contemporary uses. Although the talks were different in tone and field of study, the themes were similar – reflecting on what we know of the past and how a deeper understanding of it can enrich the present and future of the Jewish state and the Jewish people.
We ate lunch with the Israeli rabbinical students, and I had the pleasure of connecting with several different students. It turns out that one of them – Noa – is planning to do her final project at HUC on the intersection of dance and Judaism, and that is a topic that I’m particularly passionate about, too. In fact, part of what brought me to Israel for this trip is a project I’m doing as part of the Covenant Foundation’s Pomegranate Prize. I am spending a few additional days in Israel exploring the role of dance in modern Israeli society, including taking a Gaga class – not the children’s game we call “gaga,” but a unique dance form that was developed in israel and is now taught around the world. I also spent a day at the International Dance Village, which is home to about 80 dancers from Israel and around the world who have come there to live and to dance. It was exciting to meet Noa at HUC and discover that we share an interest in the integration of dance into Jewish life!
After lunch we were treated to more inspiring speakers and teachers, as we learned about the work of Dr. Ruhama Weiss and the pastoral care program on the Jerusalem campus, along with Dorit and Vivian of the amazing inter-religious “Healing Hatred” program that is sponsored by HUC. Dorit is a (Jewish) Israeli woman and Vivian is a Palestinian woman, and they help to lead an innovative year-long pastoral training program that brings together Israelis and Palestinians to address conflict-related trauma with the tools of spiritual care.
When I felt like there couldn’t possibly be anything more inspiring than the work of Healing Hatred, we were introduced to two students who are almost finished with their studies in the Israeli rabbinic program. Tamir Nir grew up in a Sefardic masorti (traditional) family in Jerusalem and then moved with his parents to Gush Etziyon (i.e. a Jewish settlement in the West Bank) when he was 10 years old. He is now not only a soon-to-be Reform Rabbi – which is remarkable enough given his background – but he is also the current Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem. He spoke beautifully about the challenges faced by Jerusalem’s city council, including the challenges inherent in trying to provide provide better municipal services to residents of East Jerusalem, and the connections he sees between his role as a liberal / Reform rabbi and his day-to-day work as the Deputy Mayor. We also met Yael Karrie, who works with Jewish and Arab communities in the Negev, along the border with Gaza. She has created a number of programs to build bridges between people, including InLight, in which congregations throughout Israel joined hands with their Arab and Bedouin neighbors last December to “bring in the light” through a variety of programs meant to promote a shared society.
Overall I feel like this blog has been one big info-mercial for various people and organizations, but the truth is that today felt like a giant dose of inspiration as a result of what is happening at HUC in Jerusalem and by HUC’s faculty and students. The first two professors who gave talks about their academic specialties also spoke about how their work is linked to outside projects that are aimed at bettering Israeli society (Dr. Teharani founded a Scouts program in South Tel Aviv for children of immigrant, refugee, and migrant-worker families; Dr. Marx is working on the creation of a new liberal siddur for Israelis). We closed the day with a mincha service led by the first-year cantorial students, and a rousing, uplifting rendition of Oseh Shalom captured my feelings perfectly – that although I came to Israel feeling great despair over the state of affairs in this country, today’s experiences at HUC gave me a renewed glimmer of hope and optimism about the possibilities for the future.
Rabbi Nicki Greninger is the Director of Education at Temple Isaiah in Lafayette, CA. This is Rabbi Greninger’s first CCAR Convention.