Tuesday started off rainy but still beautiful in the Galil. After another incredible Israseli breakfast buffet at the Pastoral at Kibbutz Kfar Blum we set off for Tzfat, where we trekked between rain drops to the Karo and Luria synagogues, and had a short visit in an artist’s studio. Of course Jewish geography played a role as it always does in Israel, and it turned out that the artist is originally from Denver and knew Rabbi Steve Kaye from childhood.
We then headed down to Tel Aviv and grabbed a quick lunch at Aboulafia in Yafo, a nostalgic visit for some members of our group. From there we had a great tour of the Levinsky Market, where we met with different shopkeepers originally from Salonika, Turkey, and Georgia to name a few. We heard the stories of their families and their businesses, and happily tasted their wares: pickles, cheeses, burekas, lemonade, a yogurt drink, and spiced couscous. At one shop we also got to touch and smell ambergris, a form of concentrated whale musk, apparently used as a homeopathic aphrodisiac (who knew?).
From there we went to the newly redone Independence Hall, speaking about the history of Tel Aviv as we walked over there. Once there we got to sit in the actual Hall where it all happened, and hear a recording of Ben Gurion reading the Proclamation of Independence in May, 1948, followed by the singing of HaTikvah. It was a surprisingly moving moment for some of the group.
After we checked into our hotel in Tel Aviv, we met with Gershon Baskin, the co-chair of IPCRI, the Israel Palestine Center for Research and Information (an Israeli- Palestinian public policy think-tank) and columnist for the Jerusalem Post. He provided an interesting, and at times challenging, perspective on the recent situation in Gaza, including his sense that recent events have only empowered extremists on both sides rather than helping foster moderation, bringing about, in his words, “a mutual hurting stalemate.” He also spoke about the Area E-1 controversy, and on the interdependent relationship between Israel and the West Bank Palestinians, giving examples of economic partnerships happening beyond the headlines. He also spoke about his role in the securing the release of Gilad Schalit.
We ended the day with a delicious dinner at the Yemenite restaurant Maganda, and little socializing before crawling into bed, exhausted.
The last two days have been border-filled, nothing surprising of course when traveling in Israel. After a short tiyul in Jerusalem yesterday morning, starting at the City of David excavations and ending up at the Robinson’s Arch area and the Southern Wall excavations, we got on the bus and headed south, to the area near the Gaza border.
Our first stop was at Moshav Netiv HaAsarah, where we met with Raz. He is a second generation moshavnik who grows tomatoes and works in genetic engineering of vegetables – in his free time he is also a guide with ARZA/Da’at. We toured the moshav, which is right up against the Gaza border near the Erez Checkpoint. We stood on a hill overlooking the border and looked into Gaza. Raz spoke of the hardships the moshav has suffered in the long drawn-out “situation” that so many of the communities in the south have faced, in which they never know when a missile is going to come down from the sky. He showed us how they have reinforced the roofs and walls of the preschool, and pointed out the many bomb shelters and safe rooms that dot the otherwise pastoral landscape.
He spoke of growing up knowing people in Gaza, and spending time there, explaining that when he was a child, it was the nearest big city, a place that they often went for a meal or to go to the sea. We ended our visit there by helping him weed in one of his greenhouses – because of the barrage of missiles over the last weeks, he and his workers have not been able to go into the greenhouses and are very behind schedule with their work. So there we were, a group of CCAR rabbis, on our knees picking weeds among the rows of tomato vines.
From there we traveled to Kibbutz Kfar Aza, also on the border, where we met with Chen, a second generation kibbutz member who works in the IMPJ in Jerusalem. We toured the kibbutz as Chen spoke about the emotional and psychological toll of living in that area with the constant trauma of missiles, especially on the children. She described a life for children in which getting to play outside is too often a rare event, because of the fear of missiles. She spoke too about living a split existence, in which most of the country goes about their normal daily lives while on the kibbutz they live with constant fear, running in and out of the bomb shelters. Yet she ended the conversation speaking about hope for a better future some day.
After that we went to Shaar HaNegev Regional High School to meet with Shem and Nati, two members of the newly formed Reform congregation that meets in the school there, where Shem is a teacher. They spoke about their connection to Reform Judaism – Shem encountered it first while living for several years in Sydney, Australia, where his son became bar mitzvah, and Nati encountered it in her native Argentina, from which she made aliyah 14 years ago. They are working hard to establish a Reform presence in that area and have great enthusiasm if not tremendous resources. They spoke of their need for a rabbi even as they try to grow their community and do outreach in the area. They also spoke about living under constant siege, and how the school in which we were sitting was designed to give the students a sense of emotional safety and security, as well as of course building for physical safety and security, including a bus drop off area which is part communal bomb shelter, should missiles come down as children are getting off the bus on their way to school. It was, as he explained, “the safest school in the world.”
It was a very long day, but for most of the group it was the first time that we’d really engaged with the communities in the south that have been on the front lines of rocketfire from Gaza. It was profoundly moving and enabled us to put a human face and real-life experiences to the newspaper headlines.
We began today with a meeting with Anat Hoffman of the IRAC, the Israel Religious Action Center. She described their current court battles and all the ways that they use the legal system in Israel to fight religious and ethnic discrimination for Reform and Conservative Jews, women, converts, and Arabs, to mention only some of their important work. She also spoke about her work with Women of the Wall. In Anat’s own words, “Our mandate is to kick ass in our movement.”
Next we joined HUC students for t’filah, which was a special treat as the students from the Israeli program and the American program were praying together. We saw some old friends and many of our future leaders.
We took off after that, leaving Jerusalem and driving along the Jordanian border as we made our way toward the Golan. Along the way we stop to visit the poet Rahel’s grave at the Kinneret cemetery, and discussed the struggles and aspirations of the early Zionist settlers. As we continued to climb north, we learned more about the history of the wars in 1967 and 1973, stopping at several key lookout points toward Syria and having a bumpy but exhilarating jeep ride through Golan cattle country. We ended the day at Kibbutz Kfar Blum in the Galilee, where we had a provocative conversation with Dubi, a member of the kibbutz, about the enormous changes that are transforming the kibbutz movement.
Most of the group is exhausted but excited about our learning and experiences, trying to take it all in as we write blogs, tweet, facebook and email to friends, family and congregations back home. There is something truly unique and powerful about experiencing Israel with colleagues. Time for sleep, as tomorrow is another day of learning….
A great day of learning and being in Jerusalem. The weather here is glorious – sunny and warm. After a slow morning of t’filah adventures and lunch on our own, we set off together for the Israel Museum which is conveniently open on Shabbat. Most of us had not been there since it was redone. We had a fascinating walk through select sections, including the Israeli art wing and a permanent exhibit devoted to Jewish life. We had some stimulating conversations along the way about Jewish identity, Israeli identity, the purpose and design of museums, just to name a few of the ideas discussed. Since one of the goals of this trip is to teach rabbis how to lead groups in Israel, many good ideas were presented about how to take different kinds of groups through the museum. Coincidentally, as we entered the museum, we coincidentally ran into our colleague from Mevasseret, Rabbi Maya Leibovich.
From there we went to a beautiful site near the Tayelet, overlooking Jerusalem. Instead of the regular tourist discussion of what’s where, we focused on the security wall barrier, visible from where we stood, and discussed the geopolitics of Jerusalem specifically and Israel in general. Our guide was a great model of how to lead a sophisticated, nuanced conversation about these issues, in all their complexity, with our groups.
Next we went back to the hotel for an interesting program led by David Leichman, from ARZA, in which he modeled the kind of mifgashim he leads for groups. Along the way he made us do some thinking about identity and other issues related to Israel. That was followed by Havdalah, led by Rabbi Miri Gold. As Rabbi Leah Berkowitz tweeted earlier this evening, Rabbi Gold was the third of the first generation of Israeli women rabbis we’d met over the course of 24 hours.
Our final program for the evening was a meeting with Tali Levanon, from the Israel Trauma Coalition. She gave a disturbing but powerful presentation about trauma in Israeli society, focusing on what has been happening in the S’derot and other southern areas but also talking about the impact of terror and war in general on the population. It was interesting to learn that in addition to the important work she and her colleagues are doing within Israel in terms of educating the government, the medical system, and the education system about treating the needs of those who experience trauma, they also take their knowledge abroad and share it in other crises. She spoke of traveling to Haiti after the earthquake, Japan after the recent events there, and most recently to New York after Hurricane Sandy to help train first responders and community leaders about how to respond to trauma.
It was hard to transition after that presentation, but we know we will speaking much more about this tomorrow as we head down south. With a great deal of new information and questions to think about, we set off to experience Motzei Shabbat in a reawakening Jerusalem. Lilah tov!
[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’]http://ccarravblog.wpengine.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/12/hp_photo.jpg[/author_image] [author_info]Rabbi Hara Person is the Publisher & Director of CCAR Press. [/author_info] [/author] No matter how many times I travel to Israel, the actual entry into the country never ceases to move me. From the moment we enter Israeli air space, to the actual landing on Israeli soil, I am still filled with a sense of awe at what it means in the scope of Jewish history to arrive in the State in Israel.
Today is officially the first day of the CCAR Israel Fam Trip and Solidarity Mission. The original purpose of this trip was to teach rabbis ordained in the last ten years how to lead a congregational or community trip to Israel (hence “Fam”, short for familiarization). Because of the events of the last two weeks, we also opened up the trip to colleagues who wanted to come and support Israel at this challenging time.
I am excited to get to know this diverse group of colleagues, who come from around the country, and represent many different ordination years. Rabbi Michael Weinberg, of Temple Beth Israel, Skokie, IL, is our group leader and I am honored to be the CCAR staff leader. We are also joined by Rabbi Jonathan Stein, CCAR President, from Temple Shaaray Tefila in New York City. I am also looking forward to learning from Uri Feinberg, our wonderful madrich from ARZA World/Da’at.
Even though I have been to Israel over thirty times since I first came to Israel with NFTY’s CAY program in 1983, I know from my experience on the previous CCAR Fam Trip that I will learn much and get to see Israel anew.I am also looking forward to using the new CCAR resource for Israel trips, Birkon Artzi: Blessings and Meditations for Travelers to Israel, edited by Rabbi Serge Lippe. This fantastic resource will help deepen and enrich our experience as we travel around the country. As we opened with our first discussion this afternoon, we began with a beautiful reading from the book, which helped set the tone for what will be an intensive, emotional and thought-provking time together.
Now we’re off to Kehilat Yotzma, to pray with our colleagues Rabbi Kinneret Shiryon and Rabbi Nir Barkin, and then to Shabbat dinner at our madrich‘s house.
Welcome to Ravblog, the blog of the Central Conference of American Rabbis.
The world in which we live continues to change rapidly, including shifts in the Reform Movement and broader Jewish community. This includes changes in demographics, finances and religious practice, as well as the way we gather as communities.
The CCAR itself is changing, as are the 2,000 rabbis who make up our membership, and the 1.5 million Jews we now serve in all walks of life including congregational and community settings. The CCAR’s mission, as it has been since 1889, is to strengthen and enrich the Jewish community. We do this in many new ways be it through life-long learning, liturgical and Jewish practice publications, as well as cutting edge digital publications and Apps. We are also anchored in tradition as we apply Jewish principles to contemporary issues.
One way we continue to learn and grow is through engagement — engagement with our own rabbis, with other Jewish professionals, lay leadership in the Reform Movement, and with members of the broader Jewish community.
It has been great to hear from you and engage in conversations when we see each other in person at CCAR Conventions, national Biennials, professional conferences, congregational visits, universities, and even on military basis (yes, our rabbis serve Jews in the military).
To talk more often, we¹ve created Ravblog, as an ongoing space for us to interact. Together we¹ll look at issues facing the CCAR, the Reform Movement, Israel, and the Jewish world as a whole. We¹ll look at issues of today, and of tomorrow. What are we all thinking about? What are we working on? What challenges are you facing? What are the big ideas on our minds?
Some of our staff members will blog, as will CCAR leadership, and you¹ll also hear from a number of guest bloggers. To our members who are great bloggers, and others who participate in this great online Jewish conversation — you have inspired us and set the bar high.
Let us know what you think and keep teaching us.
Rabbis Steve Fox, Hara Person, Debbie Prinz, Alan Henkin, and Dan Medwin