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The People of Israel Are Living

Today felt like the longest day of my life. Maybe it was, actually. Today was two days for the price of one, thanks to 18 hours of travel time. Today was also the first time I’ve ever had rockets fired my way, the first time I’ve experienced seeking shelter, and certainly the first time I’ve had a super-high-tech Iron Dome destroy the rockets heading my way.  A long day indeed.  Israelis are experiencing these things every day. I came here to Israel on a CCAR Solidarity mission to learn about the everyday amid this conflict, to understand what is happening in person, rather than on a computer screen. One of the questions I’ve pursued as I’ve met Israelis throughout the day: how are you coping with this? Growing up in in synagogue one of the first songs I ever learned was “Am Yisrael Chai,” which I usually translate, “the Jewish people lives!” Witnessing the people of the State of Israel enduring this tragic period, I’d now translate it slightly differently: “the Jewish people is living” or “the people of Israel are affirming life.” Amid this conflict that is negating so much life, here are three snapshots from today reflecting how Israelis are living and affirming life.


1. We met with an Yael Karrie, an Israeli Reform rabbinic student in Shaar Hanegev. Yael noticed that every single day their lives are bombarded by red, the red sirens, the red ambulances; everywhere is “conflict red.” So instead of lamenting, or allowing the color to drift into permanently dreadful connotation, she decided affirm a more positive notion of life. She started a campaign called “Reclaiming Red,” inviting people all around the world to “send us happy pictures with the color red.”  What a statement, a powerful artistic expression reminding us of what our prophets knew so well- that no matter what our situation is, we have the power to transcend, to find beauty, to reach out to each other and live.

MatthewSofferBlog22. One of the realities of life here is that at any moment, a siren can sound, meaning that there is a rocket headed in your direction. Israelis have as little as 15 seconds to find shelter. We experienced this twice today in Ashkelon. People in this part of Israel experience this for prolonged periods of time, getting stuck in shelters. We made packages for people stuck in these places; supplies that will get them through longer periods of sheltering.

MatthewSofferBlog33. This is a playground in Sderot. Look closely and you’ll see that this playground is also a bomb shelter. It’s the only one in the world– unsurprisingly, since Sderot is the “bomb shelter capital of the world.” Not a badge to be worn with pride, to be sure, but what pride they take in this playground. It sends a message: we will let nothing stand in the way of our children’s happiness and well-being. No wonder the 7 wedding blessings culminate with the imagery of joyful shouts of children at play. We are pained by the knowledge that this conflict has taken more than a thousand lives. Nothing can diminish that; I have written elsewhere about this ubiquitous anguish.  But today was about more than anguish, more than conflict and death. Just as the Mourner’s Kaddish is a prayer that affirms life, so do the Israelis here in the South: the Jewish people here are busy living.

Matthew Soffer is a rabbi at Temple Israel of Boston, where he directs the Riverway Project, an initiative engaging individuals in their 20’s and 30’s in Jewish life. At Temple Israel he leads Ohel Tzedek, the social justice arm of the community, which practices congregation-based community organizing, through the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization (GBIO). Matthew serves on the Board of the Jewish Alliance for Law and Social Action (JALSA). This blog originally appeared in The Times of Israel. Follow the CCAR Solidarity mission on twitter at #CCARIsrael14.

CCAR on the Road Israel News

CCAR Delegation in Ramallah: Learning, Listening and Questioning

Our CCAR delegation had the unusual but rewarding opportunity to travel to Ramallah, the capital of the Palestinian Authority, to talk with Palestinian business and political leaders.  Each rabbi in our group took away something different from the day. I’ll begin with my own general impressions and then fill in the details. What I took away was: 1) we do indeed have partners for both economic and political engagement; 2) Palestinians are thinking creatively about building a sustainable economy in their emerging state and have been working successfully in mutual engagement with Israelis in universities and other settings; 3) Restrictions imposed by the Israeli occupation such as freedom of movement of both goods and people are severely hampering economic development; and 4) Women are an emerging and strong force in the Palestinian work place.

Our leaders who arranged the meetings were Felice and Michael Friedson, founders of Media Line.  They first took us to meet with Kamel Husseini, the Managing Director of The Portland Trust.  Founded in London in 2003, the Trust is a “British non-profit ‘action tank’ whose mission is to promote peace and stability between Israelis and Palestinians through economic development.” Husseini is an ideal director for such a trust. For much of his life he has reached out to Jews and Israelis, moved by our shared humanity.  Husseini wrote a moving article about Hadassah Hospital as a model of humanity that we would all do well to emulate.  He spoke from personal knowledge, having taken his mother there for oncology treatments for 12 years.

The goal of Kamel Husseini and the Portland Trust in Ramallah is to work on 5 areas of economic development (tourism, energy, construction, information technology, and agriculture) that are realistic given the restrictions of the Palestinian reality under occupation.  It would not be realistic, for example, to work on manufacturing, since that requires access to resources and control of imports and exports through borders that are not available at this time.  His hope is that by focusing on things they can do, they can help prepare the Palestinian economy for a time when there is an independent state.  He is very eager to work with Israelis both now and in the future on economic projecCaryn Broitman 2ts.

Our next meeting took place at the beautiful new coffee house in Ramallah called Zamn.  The second of an Starbucks type chain, Zamn was started by the impressive and articulate entrepreneur and business woman, Huda el Jack. El Jack, who moved to the West Bank from the United States in 2003, went to business school at Tel Aviv University.  She wanted to go to a university where Palestinians and Israelis were together.  Watching the students work together, she learned learned that it is “amazing what Israelis and Palestinians can do together when they are free”. El Jack wanted to make a difference in the economy and she certainly has.  The food and coffee at Zamn were delicious.  She wanted to make sure we understood, however, that she was able to do what she did in spite of the situation (occupation).  “Don’t think there are a lot of opportunities here.”  Taking advantage of her education abroad, however, she is creating opportunities for others.

While enjoying our lunches we were given the unexpected opportunity of hearing senior Palestinian official, Nabil Shaath.  Shaat is a close advisor to Mahmoud Abbas and has been one of the key negotiators over the years.  Shaath expressed great respect for John Kerry and his efforts, however was dissatisfied with the direction of the negotiations.  While Palestinians, in his view, would overwhelmingly favor a plan of two states with 2 capitals and open trade between the two countries, what is being offered, in his view, is a state that is neither contiguous nor independent, and would not alleviate the restrictions of movement that he and other Palestinians suffer now.  He expressed the frustration that Secretary Kerry seemed to be negotiating with Bibi Netanyahu and Naftali Bennett, rather than with Netanyahu and Abbas.

Finally, we visited the planned city of Rawabi, not far from Ramallah.  We were greeted by a woman, one of their engineers, who told us that there are 23 neighborhoods planned, 2 of them already completed with their 650 apartments already sold.  The city will include a hospital, many schools, an amphitheater, mosques and churches, a convention center and much more.  The building is on an almost unimaginable scale.  Its visionary, Bashar Al-Masri spoke to us of his desire to make a difference in the Palestinian economy.  He passionately explained that he does not want Palestine to be a state dependent on donations of other nations.  He wants to help build a self-sustaining economy of his emerging country.  Rawabi has become the number 1 private sector employer of Palestinians.  And while it is an expression of Palestinians’ independent spirit, it also is a model of engagement with Israelis and Jews around the world, who have come to both learn from and offer their help and experience.  While restrictions of movement and road building due to the occupation has been a major obstacle, Masri is still optimistic, and has received support from many in the Israeli public who can hopefully influence government officials to allow him the access to water and roads that the project requires.

We were all grateful to Felice, Michael and the CCAR for a day packed with opportunities for learning, listening and questioning.

 Rabbi Caryn Broitman is the rabbi of Martha’s Vineyard Hebrew Center.

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CCAR Start Up Israel Trip: Learn What Makes the Impossible Possible

Walking through the late afternoon in Maktesh Ramon, breathing in air that is simultaneously warm and cool the way air in the desert in the late afternoon tends to be (but not at all the way the air in New Jersey tends to be), I overheard a colleague say: “if I’m not enjoying it, I’m doing the wrong thing”. I wasn’t really part of his conversation, more wandering alongside lost in my own moment, so I’m not entirely sure what “it” was. But whatever he meant, he got me thinking.

It is easy to throw around sentences like that one when you are on vacation and the only decision to be made is which of two equally gorgeous hikes to take through the desert. We can love either. But what about loving to do what we’re about the rest of the time: when the sun is not setting over the crater and the sky turning to colors we’ll never see in Princeton, or Joliet or wherever.

I don’t know well the rabbi who was speaking but from what I can tell he certainly seems passionate about the work of his rabbinate. And another rabbi on our trip told me today that she actually was prepared to hate the form her rabbinate had taken until she discovered that she loved her work with the people with whom she engaged day by day. The CEO of Friends by Nature, Nir, got involved in the Ethiopian community when in his post army wanderings he fell in love with an area, met the people there and loved those people even more than the surroundings themselves. He has dedicated his life to that love. Miri Eisen started our day talking to us about the geopolitical reality of Israel given the world in which it exists. She is a woman whose passion for the people of Israel, her love for them and the need to protect them is evident in all she says. In other words, what struck me today was the power of love.

When you love what you do and who you do it with, the impossible sometimes becomes less so. I know we don’t live our lives on vacation where loving what you’re about is easy. I understand that there are plenty of things that all the love in the world is not going to make possible. But I came here to Israel with the CCAR Start Up Israel trip to learn what makes the impossible possible. A MARAM colleague who met with us for lunch and is building in Caesaria one of the newest congregations in Israel — a place where she herself declared there could never be a reform community — told us that she didn’t let herself focus on what couldn’t be. She focused on what she knew in her heart there needed to be. And she shared that love with others. Guess what? They had 100 plus people at the high holidays last year.

My questions then: how do we make the impossible happen? And what’s love got to do with it?

Rabbi Carolyn Bricklin-Small serves Congregation Beth Chaim in Princeton Junction, NJ.
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Discovering Israeli Patience during the Start-Up Israel Tour

People keep saying that Israelis don’t have any patience. Maybe not for the inconveniences of daily life, but everyday of this Start-Up Israel tour convinces me more and more that In the long run Israelis are tenaciously patient. Consider Daniel and Anat Kornmehl who began raising goats in 1994. It took them three years to find the right home to make cheese and sell it at their restaurant. They find their home in the Negev but are still waiting for a long-term lease from the government so they can build permanent housing.

High-tech entrepreneur David Guedalia, along with a variety of colleagues, including brother Jacob, has developed at least a half-dozen software products. Now the group is part of Qualcomm. The group, based in Beit Shemesh, credits its success as a startup to working with people from a variety of cultures; their background in the army — which taught a strong reliance on each other, improvisation and the ability to take risks; and letting the best innovators take the lead with others carrying out their vision.

In Be’er Sheva’s old city, we met university students who are taking a cue from their grandparents to create a new Zionism for the 21st century. These 20 students make up just one of the 14 villages of Ayalim dedicated to improving the lives of residents of socio- or economically challenged areas. In Be’er Sheva, the students are focused on providing residents mostly in their 20s with cultural activities, including music and art. But the students want to do more. Once they are done with school, many plan to settle in the area because they love it and they want to be part of helping the community continue to improve. Ayalim’s Deborah Waller said the area has already been rejuvenated as business activity has increased.

As the day drew to a close we neared our final destination of Jerusalem but stopped first to enjoy the patient work of Tzora Vineyards where we tasted a variety of delicious wines. We then concluded our day with a “Shehechiyanu” at the Haas Promenade overlooking Jerusalem — the golden city Israelis have been patiently guarding with their lives to keep and protect every day of the past 65 years.

Sara Goodman is a hospice chaplain in Los Angeles, CA.

CCAR on the Road Israel News

Marketing 101: The Product is…Israel

As our CCAR Rabbinic mission, “Start-Up Israel” started today, we asked two key essential questions:

1. How do we understand the changing face of Israel and bring that back to our communities?

2. How do we capture the spirit of entrepreneurship and use that in our communities?

We began by meeting a dynamic woman, Joanna Landau, the Executive Director of Kinetis, an organization whose mission is to market Israel to non-Jews who fall in the undecided category about Israel (in America this number is 69%, meaning they have not positive or negative feelings towards Israel).  What they have discovered is that in this generation as people decide what has meaning and value to them as individuals, Israel is in fact a product that can be “sold”. They have taken influential bloggers on various subjects, food, art, dance, music, sports, environment etc. brought them to Israel and have shown them that what Israel offers is among the best in the world.  These bloggers then share their experience, giving tangible stories about Israel.  These stories change the images that people have about Israel from concrete, barbed wire, a bunker to one that is more authentic.

As rabbis, we could not help but think how this applies to our own youth who fall in that undecided category about Israel?  We all know so many youth who see Israel as a far off place, that is inaccessible. What can we do to give them images about Israel?  We can find out what interests them and bring that face of Israel alive for them.

To that end, we took a VIP gallery tour, with art critic Vardit Gross, who showed us the beauty of the modern art scene.  Including how Israel can engage in Design Art and take concepts, design them and even manufacture them on a small scale.  What an incredible face of Israel to show art lovers!

Our meeting with Reuven Marko and Lior Ben Tzur (both IMPJ members in Netanya) further helped us connect with the notion of Start-Up as an engineer and a businessman, have teamed together to accelerate start up ideas.   They were involved early on with the PillCam and as well as the first “iPhone” an idea that came about that would use touch screen technology to surf the web.  The idea was born in 1994 and the iPhone produced then was roughly the size of a desktop computer with a phone attached to to it.

As we learned, the spirit of “Start-Up” is built on bringing people with different expertise together to create ideas.  This notion of teamwork is forged from the greatest teamwork experiment in Israel, called the Army.  It leaves us to wonder how we can capture that creativity. We should not be afraid to disagree, fail 2 or 3 times before getting it right, and focus on a key idea rather than a far reaching idea. (Reuven also mentioned how excited he was about the new 6 points Sci-tech academy, the URJ’s newest summer camp opening this summer that will put kids in a communal society and help them discover the tools towards ingenuity.)

Our challenge is how can we capture that innovation in our own communities? Perhaps some of the ideas mentioned above can be helpful and perhaps others will come to fruition.  As Joanna Landau taught us, Israel is built on a creative energy.

Rabbi Rick Kellner serves Congregation Beth Tikvah in Worthington, OH

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Rabbi-Hacking IV: Hacking Our Teaching

One of our colleagues wrote a humorous and thoughtful “rabbi’s” version of the ahl cheyt. One of them was “for the sins we have committed by relying on ‘Rabbi Google’ rather than the sacred texts in our study.” I can relate. The extent of Jewish teaching resources available online is extraordinary. Websites for texts, commentaries, and community continue to grow. A contemporary Kohelet could say, “Of the making of websites there is no end.”

How do we separate the wheat from the chaff? Personal preferences play a role. So denomination and ideology, along with usability and relevance. We all know of the excellent URJ site. What follows are some of my favorites. Please leave some of your favorite resources in the comments section so we can all benefit.

1. Jonathan Sacks recently retired as Chief Rabbi of Great Britain. Yet, he has maintained a website filled with Torah commentaries, essays and lectures, and it is filled with wonderful ideas and chomer l’drush.

2. A lay leader brought this to my attention. It gathers texts from the Tanach to Maimonides to Midrash Rabbah in Hebrew and English, in a format where one is able to create a teaching source sheet. The site is still developing, and the available texts are a bit haphazard. Yet, this site is beginning to prove eminently useful.

3. Maintained by the American Jewish World Service, this site has a similar concept as Sefariah, but is more developed and focused on social justice. It also has the benefit of providing users with access to source sheets put together by others.

4. JTA is a great source for Jewish news, opinion and blogs.

5. I am biased, as I blog regularly for the Huffington Post, but the range of writers and topics is phenomenal. I’ve found many good ideas for lunch and learn and other adult education classes on the site.

6. Mosaic is the successor the Jewish Ideas Daily. Though its selection has a clear conservative bent, Mosaic offers articles on topics in Jewish thought and history difficult to find elsewhere. Its articles lend themselves to good discussion.

7. Tablet is a bit more pop-culture orientated than Mosaic, but it also offers excellent essays on Jewish life and thought, and it is frequently updated.

8. This site has nothing to do with Judaism or Jewish life. In fact, its author is a devout Christian and former head of a major Christian-orientated publisher. But the insights on leadership and productivity are better than can be found anywhere else. He gives insights into blogging, organizational leadership, and how to get more done in less time. That’ Unknownsomething we can all use.

 Rabbi Evan Moffic is the rabbi of Congregation Solel in Highland Park, IL.

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Why I’m Going On the CCAR “Start Up Israel” Trip

In January, the CCAR is leading a rabbinic trip to Israel focusing on the culture of entrepreneurship in the country.  This trip is part of CCAR’s Leadership Travel Series and provides a learning opportunity for rabbis so that they can return and teach their communities.   

When I hear about the brilliant technical advances being made every day in Israel, I am fascinated how such a little country can be such a powerhouse when it comes to problem-solving and innovation. For example, ever since my year-in-Israel, I couldn’t understand why every house and apartment building in America didn’t have a dud shemesh (solar-powered water heater) on its roof to heat its water … which means I am excited to meet our colleague Rabbi Susan Silverman’s husband Yossi Abramowitz, President of Arava Power Company, Israel’s leading solar developer which is working to bring solar power to developing nations.  (I’m also looking forward to meeting him because I used his and Susan’s book, Jewish Family & Life:  Traditions, Holidays, and Values as my Intro text for years.)

I’m also taking this trip because it includes a trip to Ramallah, which I was never able to visit during my year-in-Israel because of the second Intifada.  I’m excited because we will speaking with an entrepreneur who founded a chain of coffee shops to discuss her challenges and successes, as well as a side trip to the first master-planned Palestinian city, Rawabi, which will ultimately consist of 10,000 housing units for 40,000 people.  Having lived in several master-planned communities (and several that weren’t), I look forward to seeing how the planners prioritized different aspects of communal living and learning about their challenges and successes as well.

74019_455668595821_4837872_nLastly, I’m going on this trip because I want to come back to my synagogue with a plan for leading an “out of the box” trip that won’t be focused on “first-timers.”  As someone who works with a congregation where many of my congregants have been to Israel multiple times (who have seen and done all the “usual things”), I believe that this trip, with its focus on technology and innovation, will connect me with Israel in a way few get to and I will be able to bring this back to my community … “or chadash al Tzion ta-ir” – I will get to share the many ways a new light shines on Zion.  Won’t you join me?

Rabbi Cookie Lea Olshein is rabbi of Temple Israel of West Palm Beach, FL

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Home Again: After the Women of the Wall Rabbinic Mission

I am home again, missing Israel.

In the time since I returned from the CCAR/WRN Women of the Wall Rabbinic Mission, I have been asked a number of times – ‘did it go well?’ and ‘was the trip effective?’ Yes, and yes.

Why did I go? As I have noted in earlier posts, the Women of the Wall have been meeting for 25 years to engage in prayer in honor of the new moon. Yet, month after month, they have been met with catcalls and violence. The reason? Many of the women are wearing a tallit and/or tefillin and are praying out loud. These practices – though normative among female Jews in many parts of the world – offend the ultra-orthodox, who seem to believe that they have the last word when it comes to Jewish practice.

Recently, the Women of the Wall won an important court victory that allows them to pray at the Wall. This victory is why our prayer service was so peaceful this month. We were surrounded by a ring of female soldiers and given protection on our way out of the plaza.

Even more important than the court decision, however, is the fact that the Women of the Wall have been invited to the table to negotiate an arrangement with the Israeli government to bring peace to this holy site.

RabbiTulingOn the table: a proposal to move them an area adjacent to the Western Wall plaza, an area that is larger. Also on the table: a demand that this plaza be visible from the security entrance, a demand that it be given equal treatment in everything from signage to budgeting, and a demand that it be fully accessible 24/7, even to those in need of a wheelchair.

Some of the original members of the organization have objected, on the grounds that they have been fighting for the right to pray at the Western Wall in the manner that they are accustomed.  From their point of view, this arrangement is a capitulation rather than a compromise.

But I think that the board of the Women of the Wall are taking the right steps toward realizing their dream. I back them 100%, for the following reasons:

  1. They are not moving until satisfied, so nothing changes right away.
  2. The end result would let visitors see both prayer options (ultra-orthodox and egalitarian) in one view after clearing security. So for the first time, Israelis would have the opportunity to see both options and make a choice.
  3. Mixed-gender bar/bat mitzvahs will be possible there.
  4. The WoW could continue to pray as a women-only group in the egalitarian section using a moveable mechitzah.

Our pressure from abroad has been highly effective, for it has helped enormously in bringing us to this watershed moment. Therefore, we should continue to let the government of Israel know that the eyes of the world’s Jews are watching. Our message: help bring us closer to Israel by creating a place where our modes of prayer are welcome.

Rabbi Kari Tuling is the rabbi of Temple Beth Israel, in Plattsburgh, NY.

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Remarks from the CCAR Rabbinic Mission to Berlin

Rabbis and spouses on the CCAR Rabbinic Mission to Berlin
Rabbis and spouses on the CCAR Rabbinic Mission to Berlin

Remarks from Dedication at Memorial to German Resistance with Christian Schmidt, member of the Bundestag and Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Defense

Secretary Schmidt, Prof. Tuchel, revered rabbinic colleagues and friends, it is an honor to represent the Central Conference of American Rabbis at this ceremony of commemoration today.  We are a group of rabbis and spouses from across North America, here to explore this wonderful city and to learn about Jewish renewal in Berlin. In our few days here, we have visited cemeteries and museums, memorials and monuments. We have stumbled over Stolpersteine, read and heard the stories, and seen the signs and landmarks that record the dark history of the destruction of European Jewry at the hands of those who ruled Germany from 1933 to 1945. Some of us are descendants of Jewish refugees from Germany and other parts of Europe, and all of us have known survivors of the death camps and the Nazi terror.  For some, this is their first trip to Germany, which they anticipated with trepidation and at best mixed feelings.

We have also visited Jewish schools and synagogues, seen children at play and students engrossed in learning. We have witnessed a rebirth of creativity by rabbis and lay leaders and volunteers who, despite tremendous obstacles, are rebuilding Jewish life in this scarred and wounded land and society. They have taken up the challenge of the phoenix rising from the ashes of a destroyed community, and what they create will be something new and different, but we hope and pray, something worthwhile and a solid successor of the glorious history of German Jewish life.

Now, in this difficult week, we remember with our sisters and brothers around the world, the 75th anniversary of the November pogroms of 1938, which marked the beginning of the end for German Jewry.  From the 9th of November and on, Jews knew in a way they may not have acknowledged before, that the government that they had defended, paid taxes to, and served as proud citizens; that government would no longer defend them, their persons or their property. Whatever illusions Jews might have held, that this was just another wave of anti-Semitism to be endured like those of the past; that this civilized country could not possibly follow the ravings of a maniac; that this, too, would pass and quiet would return – those illusions were shattered like breaking glass, as government and its forces became the enemy of Jewish people.

There were as well those few who spoke out, who resisted, who attempted to stop the bulldozers that crushed human rights and human decency and civilized behavior.  There were those Christians and other people of faith, who at great risk to themselves, defied the inhumane rules, saved Jews, and tried to stop the madness.  Today we commemorate that courageous resistance.  They were too few and too late; their voices and their actions drowned out by the thunder of absolute power. Had they spoken up in 1933 or 1938 instead of 1944, we might have seen a different course of history. Hindsight is 20/20, and we regret what might have been.  But still, we honor those who tried, who resisted, and who paid for it with their lives.  They, among the righteous of all nations, are the sparks of light amid the darkness.

It is tremendously moving for us, American rabbis, to see the extent to which Germans have taken responsibility for their past, and devoted themselves to educating the populace of the dangers of repeating history. May these memorials serve as witness to future generations, of the human potential for evil, and the human potential for goodness.  We pray that goodness will prevail.

Rabbi Ellen Weinberg Dreyfus is a Past President of the CCAR, and is the Rabbi Emerita of B’nai Yehuda Beth Sholom in Homewood, IL

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My Tallit Is from Israel: CCAR/WRN Women of the Wall Rabbinic Mission

My tallit is from Israel. It is the tallit that I wore daily during my year in Israel, wore when I was ordained, stood under when I was married, and used to swaddle my son during his bris. It is the one I use it regularly now when I lead services at my congregation. It is a gorgeous handwoven black and white Gabrielli.

But I had not ever worn it at the Western Wall – until now.

I did not wear it out of fear. I was afraid of being heckled, of being spat upon, of being arrested, of having a chair thrown at me. I was afraid that if I practiced Judaism according to the norms of my community – the community that I lead – while standing in this holy place in Israel, I would be harassed or hurt.

I had, in fact, quietly stayed away from Israel for this reason: it hurts too much to go to the very center of the Jewish world and find yourself marginalized and invisible. I did not advertise my sorrow: I just turned away.

But (as I explained in my earlier post), I came to realize, as I was writing my Yom Kippur eve sermon, that I really needed to be there when the Women of the Wall celebrated its 25th anniversary. Merely preaching my agreement with their cause would not make the same powerful statement as standing with them in solidarity.

So, on Monday, I proudly joined my sisters in prayer, engaged in this moving, wonderful service, wearing our tallit and singing in full voices. We were praying together in the women’s section, surrounded by female soldiers who were protecting us. Scattered through the crowd were cantors with earpieces connected to our central sound system who could help lead the hundreds upon hundreds of women who came to pray, enabling us to sing with one voice.

For the third aliyah, in fact, all of the women there were invited to recite the blessings. And to include us all we raised our tallitot above our heads, creating a safe space for all of us to encounter this palpable sense of God’s protection.

So here is my own dream, my own vision of the future:

We know, from numerous studies, that visiting Israel cements Jewish identity in a way few other things are able to do.

But the marginalization of liberal Jews has been an enormous obstacle for us: the holiest sites are alienating to us, due to the insistence that we conform to the orthodox interpretation of the tradition.

So this is my plea and my prayer: we need the state of Israel to help us, to work to fix the situation, negotiate with the Women of the Wall, and change the facts on the ground, so that it might be possible for us to bring our congregants, our families, our friends, and let them fall in love with all that Israel might possibly become.

Members of the CCAR/WRN Women of the Wall Rabbinic Mission
Members of the CCAR/WRN Women of the Wall Rabbinic Mission

Rabbi Kari Tuling is the rabbi of Temple Beth Israel, in Plattsburgh, NY.