Tuesday, December 6, 2011

And now a teaching from a page of Yaakov’s life…

This past week’s Parsha opens as follows (Bereshit 28:10):

וַיֵּצֵ֥א יַֽעֲקֹ֖ב מִבְּאֵ֣ר שָׁ֑בַע וַיֵּ֖לֶךְ חָרָֽנָה:

So, we begin with the words “And Yaakov went out from Be’er Sheva and went/came to Charan.” Rashi and others pose the question of why the first four words are needed. Why, that is, do we have to worry about where Yaakov came from at this point, as if we have been paying attention we know his location from the previous text? The only real information we really need is his next location, right? What is the significance of these words as we know that they cannot be extraneous, not according to the good teachings and voices of our classical commentaries?

So, we look at this as we consider Yaakov as a person. We are taught that Be’er Sheva was the place and history and heritage of Yaakov and that it will be in Charan and the environs where Yaakov will move on and become Yisrael, claiming a new and distinct destiny as the father of a nation, of which we are a part. We all understand this in terms of our own lives which are increasingly mobile and filled with so many chapters of different professional activities, relationships, locales of where we live and so on.

I often repeat the saying attributed to Madame Chiang Kei Sheik, who said something to the effect of the following: We are all the sum total of everywhere we have been, everyone we have known and everything we have done. I think that this lesson can be found in the inclusion of these four little words at the beginning of this particular Parsha.

We all have many chapters of our lives that go with us wherever we go as part of our baggage – the real baggage, not the clothes we wear, but the experiences and challenges that form our personality in the most fundamental way. While some of those experiences may indeed be painful, they are part of the reason we become who we become. To be sure, in the earlier chapters of Yaakov’s life there are some actions that could be seen as questionable at best and deplorable at worst. Yes, we know that G-d conveyed the relationship between her two sons to Rivkah and that destiny’s purpose was to be served as envisioned as G-d, but we learn, as Pirke Avot teaches, G-d knows all and the human being chooses. That is to say, that we believe in the gift from G-d to the human being of free choice and our ability to choose is in no way limited or mitigated by the notion that all is revealed and known to G-d. These two elements of our reality are simultaneously operative and not causative. Looking at some of these choices in Yaakov’s life and his later position of being the father of our people and named Israel as such, there are clearly incidents that reflect prices to be paid for misdeeds in his life. Some commentators and many people who learn the text of these stories cite that, for example, maybe Laban switching Rachel and Leah was deserved (payback?) for Yaakov “switching” who he was and taking advantage of Yitzchak’s impairment to procure the birthright.

We often ask the question, but wait, if G-d intended such and such to be so, and if one acts in a less than honorable way and G-d’s plan is realized, doesn’t this justify all actions? You know, this is “the end justifies the means argument” with which we are all so familiar. This, to be sure, is a difficult and complicated question – trust me, I spend hours, days, weeks, and months mulling this over with my high school students on a regular basis as well as in my own head.

That being said, maybe we do need to look at our motivations for doing what we do. What if we KNOW we are fulfilling some greater good yet forgiving ourselves simultaneously for the less-than-honorable means we use to do so? As we learn, G-d does know all, the omniscient being that G-d is. Further, maybe our wrong intentions come from some type of lack of maturity, thinking about our contemporary society and all the buzz about how the brain development in young adults is not complete until their mid twenties (and many question that) and yet decisions that are life changing and formative are made before this point.

So, Yaakov, foolish, flawed Yaakov came from Be’er Sheva to become the much more mature and respected Yisrael of Charan and later of an entire people and region. Yet, those experiences from his younger and formative years helped to make him such. May our experiences from our past, wherever we came from and whatever we did, do the same for us and may we remember the important lessons they bring us!

Monday, November 7, 2011

Advice from the Avraham Stories on Parenting

We have just read Parshat Lech Lecha and now are in the week of Parshat VaYera. During these Parshiot, we see Avraham making difficult decisions, taking important initiatives in interacting with others and determining that he wanted a completely different life for himself, his household and his children. He wants to set a new tone for living and does so intentionally and carefully, with the guidance and under the instruction of G-d. His household has to know about these things – his faith in G-d, his taking of initiatives, his gracious hospitality, his desire to fight the causes of those who cannot fight their own in the case of Sodom and Gemorah and so much else. According to more than a few of our classical commentaries it is this very taking of initiative that sets Avram (later to be called Avraham) apart from the generations that preceded him. While Noach, whom we are told is a righteous person in his generation, is told by G-d that all people will be destroyed due to their corrupt nature and that he should go build an ark and save himself, his family, and specified animals, he does exactly what he is told – no less but no more either. Avram, on the other hand, challenges and bargains with G-d for the possible souls of Sodom and Gemarah that are not tainted, and begins the well known passage of “Will you save 50 souls? 45 souls? 40 souls? 30 souls? And so on until it is clear that there are not even 10 worthy souls to save in these misguided communities.

The very wording of “Lech Lecha,” meaning “go for your own sake, for your own benefit” is telling (and this same formation will be used this coming week in the narrative of the Akeida). G-d WANTS Avraham, it might seem, to take this initiative and try to build a better world as a result of his novel attempts to change and see things differently. To be sure, this must have had a most profound effect on his household – on his children and the future generations that would come from him. After all, we still use these stories to teach many important lessons about how we should live.

Additionally, we have to acknowledge that even Rashi reluctantly relents that Yishmael is ultimately blessed in his life and with an inheritance due to the fact that he lived in Avraham’s household and must have learned something from the positive behaviors and values that identified this family. Rashi acknowledges the value of this parenting, even within his clear dislike for Yishmael.

One of my favorite books is “The Sibling Society” by Robert Bly, who speaks about the trend in American culture and society to abdicate responsible parenting by not working to set examples nor acting in a way that will set a constructive tone for how our children will act in the future. Bly suggests that we all relate to each other as “siblings” and not as “parents who teach by example and children who learn by watching and engaging.” Our children often agree that this is the case, indicating that “respect and awe” for parents, teachers, and authority are no longer really treasured or practiced values in our lives today, in too many cases. How are our future generations supposed to learn how to be responsible and take appropriate initiatives if they are not part of households in which this is intentionally and specifically modeled and taught?

This, I think, is a most important lesson of Avraham Aveinu, translated as Abraham our Father. Abraham takes these chances in his life to do better and to want better – for himself, his household and his children. We should use the lessons of Avraham’s life lived, our Father, to rethink how we take initiatives to parent and prepare our children for the life they will live. We should remember this as a most important aspect of our Jewish teachings and heritage and consider the ramifications for ourselves and the children we are in the process of teaching and educating.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

What do Bergholz, Ohio, Ramat Beit Shemesh, Israel, and Anderson Cooper have in common?

So, on Sunday morning after Yom Kippur (which I really do hope was meaningful for everyone), I sat with my coffee and caught up with the news. First I looked at my new issue of Jerusalem Report (still my favorite magazine of all!) and read about what is going on in Ramat Beit Shemesh, specifically with the new Orthodox girls school that is located in proximity to a group of self identified ultra-Orthodox Jews who also have taken it upon themselves as self identified judges to watch and guard the level of religious observance and specifically modesty of all that walk within their view. There are wars going on in this community and this has been going on for some time with the “Burka ladies” who have decided to don this Moslem-identified garb claiming that no one is dressing modestly enough, even in the Orthodox circles. Now, parents are worried about the safety of their children and there has to be ongoing guards around and in proximity to the school property to protect the children and their families from potential abuse and harm. These parents are members of families that lived in the larger Beit Shemesh neighborhoods long before the influx of the new self identified ultra-religious element began to appear here. Now, these initial residents of Beit Shemesh are feeling that they cannot live the life they came to live in this wonderful community they helped to build up. This is Orthodox Jews against Orthodox Jews. Let us all sit for a moment, breathe, and digest the enormity of the problem here.

I have written often about the ongoing “gallop to the right” and the increasing extremism and radicalization of all of our religious and observing communities. We see it in the Moslem world; we see it in the Christian world; and from where I sit, live and pray, I see it most in the Jewish world. How sad! Didn’t we all just spend 25 hours admitting our flaws to G-d, undressing our souls and crying out for forgiveness….. for, among other misdeeds and wrongdoing, for embarrassing others, for haughtiness, for not seeing the pain of others, etc.? Did this mean nothing?

So, shaking my head and crying inside, I opened the Sunday newspaper, only to be confronted by a headline from Eastern Ohio concerning a conclave of 18 families who left the Amish fold within the general community and moved to Bergholz, a neighborhood in Jefferson County, Ohio. Members of this conclave have been breaking into Amish homes in the larger Amish community of which they were once part, and vandalizing. The worst of what they are doing is the extremely shameful act of cutting men’s’ beards and cutting the hair of their wives. The growing beard and hair of the woman do not get cut in the Amish world once people are married. One man stated that he was so ashamed of this act of violence against him that he wished his attacker had killed him. The community is reluctant to press charges against their attackers as it goes against the grain of their beliefs. They are now living in fear and feel that their daily rhythm of life has been harmed significantly. This too is within the Amish world, though in this case, the perpetrators no longer see themselves as part of the sect.

Then to top off my day, I watched an Anderson Cooper special on Bullying at night. This was about children who are afraid to go to school, who are damaged for life and how the school systems and the professionals who are supposed to keep the children entrusted to their care safe and out of harm’s way are at a loss. Towards the end of the hour, it was agreed by all members of the panel that Cooper had assembled that parents need to parent, and cannot NOT look at what their children are doing in bullying other children. The Columbine incident was evoked with the question, how can a teenager have an arsenal of weaponry under their bed or in a garage in the home IN WHICH THEIR PARENTS LIVE and the parents do not know? As a parent, I myself have no idea about this and remember reacting exactly in this way when it happened.

Of course, when the parents are the ones terrorizing other members of your Orthodox community and girls cannot attend their schools without fear of being attacked; and when parents are the ones who break into homes and embarrass and humiliate members of their own community as is happening in Easter Ohio, we begin to understand that parents of those that bully may be passing on the tradition of exactly the behaviors that their children exhibit.

What a sad statement for our society. Of course, it is not so rampant that this is in front of all of us, but if we believe in our connection to all Jews and to all human beings, then we MUST be concerned and not keep our eyes closed to such actions.

Monday, October 10, 2011

HaPoresh Sukkat Shelomecha -- Spreading the Tent/Sukkah of Peace

Sukkot is approaching! I love Sukkot, I mean really LOVE SUKKOT, in the same way that I absolutely LOVE PESAH! You could say I am a Yom Tov junkie, and I am particularly enamored with the calendar when it gives us three days of Yom Tov and Shabbat tied together. Good bye world, I say, for the next 72 hours! Wow, who gets to do that in this day and age?! While my friends are often ready to throw things at me and wish some sort of (not too serious) bodily harm because I am all smiles when they are often at the eye rolling stage, I just cannot think of any reason to not be so in love with extra time with my family, hanging out with friends, preparing and eating great food, and so forth. My greatest challenge during this time is to not put on weight – not such a bad life, really!

So, we build and eat in (and some of us, literally reside in to the best of our ability) these temporary huts, which are to remind us simultaneously of G-d’s protection of us and our fragility as human beings who create and build things that are themselves fragile, as any one of us who have had our Sukkah fly down the street know all too well!

We are taught that the SCHACH, the roof of the Sukkah should be sturdy and thick enough to “protect” us but at the same time allow us to see the stars in the sky. What a beautiful way to think about who and what we are as human beings and remember that
G-d and all that G-d created are part of our lives and so much bigger than we with our human limitations are. Looking at the stars during our shared and festive dining experiences really communicates that to me.

I also think about how peaceful the stars look, notwithstanding the times we race through Kiddush and Motzei and then retreat to our beautiful dining rooms inside our comfy houses because rain, thunder and other natural elements – also much bigger than we are – make it so that our starlit dinner will not happen! We are taught that when G-d promised Avram (later to be renamed Abraham) that his children and generations that will come from him will be as multitudinous as the sands of the shore and as glorious and numerous as the stars in the sky, the sands speak to who we are as a community and collective while the stars are meant to gaze at and consider ourselves as individuals and the sparkle that each of us individually can bring into the world.

We say the phrase used in the title of this post as part of a Bracha in our ongoing dovenning (prayers): Blessed be G-d, Lord of the Universe who spreads the tent of peace over us. Notice that the same word SUKKAH is used here. Our huts and coverings, our SUKKOT, that we use and in which we dwell for the duration of this glorious holiday is to allow us to gaze upon the stars, not the sands. We look into the beautiful sky to see peaceful and lovely twinkling. May all of the SUKKOT we build this holiday be filled with this sense of peace and well being AND may we all remember the blessings of our “tents of peace” as we exit from this series of celebrations in the Jewish calendar and enter the rest of the year, beginning with Mar Cheshvan (called bitter Cheshvan because of no specific or special celebrations except for Rosh Hodesh and Shabbat), bringing and spreading the tent of peace in our own way, through caring and bringing peace in every way we can into the world (that really big tent) that G-d created for our benefit.

Chag Sameach to all!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Between Tisha B’Av, Elul and Rosh HaShanah ... and Yom Kippur

By the time I write these words and you read this small piece, we are all preparing for Rosh HaShanah and the onslaught of fall Hagim. Now how exactly did this happen? And keep in mind that this year the holidays are coming “late” though, of course they are always right on time!

Nonetheless, last year at this time we were already in the middle of the very season that will begin in yet another week and a half. Along with this extremely pensive time in the Jewish calendar, we also begin many new undertakings – new school years, new academic goals, new rhythms of life while we leave the more relaxed pace of the summer behind and so on. It seems so fitting that this should be the time of self examination and taking accounting of what we want from life and what life wants from us.

As we proceed through Elul and listen to the call of the Shofar each morning, we are reminded of our own need for the preparations necessary to approach the about-to-come awe inspiring days. We have moved from mourning over the community calamities associated with Tisha B’Av and are now concerned about our own lives and our personal goals and hopes for growth and improvement.

Judaism clearly teaches that these are not antithetical to each other nor are they mutually exclusive of each other; rather, how we function as a community and how we live as individuals are inextricably tied together. For, we as individuals join together to make a community! Even in the ongoing language of the Torah and Prophets, we see this as there is a continual dynamic between the use of the plural as well as the singular to refer to ALL of Israel – we are simultaneously a collection of individual and distinct parts while simultaneously all joining to form a larger and more effective single entity.

I am always aware that on Yom Kippur I retreat into a bubble, while the community and those around me move further away and I turn totally introspective. Nonetheless, as I do this, so much of the focus of all of the prayers and readings in which I am totally immersed is about community. The reading of Jonah during the afternoon of Yom Kippur when we are totally depleted and empty in so many ways, reminds us that we CANNOT escape the group and our responsibility to it. I think that this is one of the most powerful reasons that we remain to make a minyan for Maariv and run to begin building our Sukkah right after we finish the serious and lengthy experience of self evaluation that Yom Kippur brings. We begin our new individual year by being an active and contributing member of our community.

Community building and cooperative ventures are the end goal for the Three Weeks that culminate in Tisha B’Av during the heat of the summer when we commemorate the destruction of our Second Temple because of the lack of such. Similarly, that last Shofar blast at the end of Yom Kippur brings us out of our individual pensive cocoons and reminds us that as individuals we will only be truly strengthened and effective as members of the collective – the community.

May G-d, The Creator of All, strengthen and bless us all in the coming year, both as individuals and as members of the wonderful collective that binds our destinies as one. Shanah Tovah U’Metukah.... and by now, I should say Gimar Hatimah Tovah to all.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Thoughts about the Mechitza – a Religious and Cultural Entity

We have these friends, Ari and Stacy Goldberg who raised an amazing daughter Rina. Unfortunately Rina was a very sick child and yet her intelligence, both the intuitive reactions of a child and the wisdom of an old soul was beyond incredible. At her funeral this past winter (Rina was 15 when she died), Ari told the following story. When the Goldbergs moved to our community in Elkins Park, Pennsylvania some years ago, for a variety of reasons, they decided to call the Young Israel of Elkins Park their shul. They proceeded to explain to Rina that there would be separate seating of boys and girls and that she would sit with Ima while Abba would sit with the boys, as this was not the case in their previous dovenning (prayer) community. They then explained that there would be a divider, the Mechitza. Ari continued that they were unsure of how Rina would respond to this new phenomenon. After she saw it, she was exuberant and claimed that she liked the statement of “Girl Power!”

This story has stayed with me and added an important dimension as I have watched the continuing drama of the Mechitza unfold in our various Orthodox congregations. I want to specify that for the purposes of this discussion I am not discussing the Yeshiva or the Right (more Haredi type) part of Orthodox spectrum, but rather those of us in the Modern Orthodox world in its widest breadth.

Having grown up as a clearly observant Halachic Jew in the Conservative movement (yes, many communities like this existed pre 1975), I remember Conservative shuls that had separate seating options, the low and reasonable (meeting the standards of Halacha) Mechitzas in the Orthodox shuls in which I found myself and of course have very specific memories of the “Mechitza-in-the-round” of Lincoln Square Synagogue during my college years. My world was NOT the world of Ner Yisrael, Black Hats, and floor to ceiling separations between men who were active and women who were passive and barely present. Rather we were all observant of Halacha while interacting with each other as appropriate. This is my history; this is my context!

So, today I am somewhere between amused, confused, and just plain baffled regarding the increasing height and separation wielded by the Mechitzot that people build….. and I am NOT talking about the Yeshiva world! I once had the experience in a Community Jewish Day School where a few young men wanted to build a “bigger and better” Mechitza than the one that was there and as a result the Mechitza in this school now separates and divides more than the one at the local Orthodox Jewish High School in the same community.

People want the most and the biggest and the thickest Mechitza! People hate the Mechitza! People are confused about the Mechitza! Is this political, religious, historical, cultural or some combination of all of the above?

So, now I will continue with a story about a very different Mechitza. In Yerushalayim, the shul of choice for most of our family is Shira Hadasha. They have what we affectionately call “the moving Mechitza.” After so much thought and scholarly study and exploration and learning, this congregation makes the distinction between those things that we do because of obligation (chiyuv) and who has the obligation in certain aspects of the service such as Kaddish and other Devarim she B’Kedusha – thus requiring the needed Minyan of men, davening Shaharit, and so on. In such situations, one is halachically bound to make a distinction between those with the chiyuv (in this case, men) and those who do not have the same level of chiyuv (women). This makes sense in terms of the Mechitza.

True, there are many other explanations – women and men should not look at each other (definitely a problem those years ago at the Mechitza-in-the-round shul in New York), people will talk (don’t even get me started on the lack of success the Mechitza has on this score!) and so many others, some legitimate issues and others, well…. Let’s just say some of the explanations have as much to do with Halacha, I mean actual Halacha, as the decision made in one Israeli community for women to wear Burkas to practice the modesty that is part of our law!

So, in dovenning at Shira Hadasha, given that they push so many limits within the frame of Halacha in terms of what women can and will do in the public domain (i.e. participate in those part of the service dictated by minhag more than chiyuv, give Divrei Torah, make announcements – which by the way, one President of a Modern Orthodox shul recently told me was against Halacha, you can imagine my surprise on that one! --, and just be present and visible and valued as part of the Kehilah), I wonder sometimes about the moving Mechitzah, closed when chiyuv separates the group and open appropriately when it does not.

And then I finally got it, after 10 years of dovenning in this wonderful space. It’s Rina’s voice in my head saying “Girl Power!” Yes, we can come together as men and women, both separate and equal, respectfully and halachically. This was the original idea I grew up with when Modern Orthodox (just called Orthodox in those days, plain old Orthodox!) and Halachic Conservative Jews learned, prayed and lived together in shared Jewish spaces. Funny enough, I meet some of those people from my long ago past in Baltimore from time to time. Guess where… Yes, you guessed, at Shira Hadasha on Emek Refaim in Jerusalem!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Remembering AND NOT FORGETTING 9/11 in our Jewish community

I was absolutely stunned this weekend. Through personal experience and a few questions asked, three Orthodox shuls within a few miles of each other in my larger community made ABSOLUTELY NO MENTION of the Tenth Anniversary of 9/11. The Rabbis did not include any reference in their Divrei Torah nor was anything said in the announcements. It should be stated that in one other Orthodox shul in the area, I know mention was made. I am fairly certain this was not even a question in the non-Orthodox shuls in our larger community; it clearly was not in the communities I know about. My concern is that there are probably too many examples of other shuls (whatever the number, it is too many) in the first category and not the second in the larger Orthodox world.

I really do not understand this and would love for someone to explain this so I do not feel so badly. Here we are living in the United States of America, free to worship as we please, free to write, think, vote and do as we please and on September 11, 2001, our freedom and relative sense of well being were profoundly threatened by radicalists who will and do give their very lives in their attempts to take all of this away. Their influence is felt and threatening throughout the world and the catastrophic result of their coordinated efforts on this particular day (and it must be said this is not to the exclusion of too many others, to be sure) cannot be underestimated. Is everyone simply not as shocked, not as concerned and not as horrified as I and others I know are?

I have always been taught and have taught my children that as observant Jews, they also have responsibilities to this country and to the life it has allowed them to live. Our wonderful and amazing son, Brian, who is adopted from the Former Soviet Union, is acutely aware of this and voices his gratitude to this country as follows "You (that would be me, his mommy) and Abba adopted me and brought me here, but the United States has allowed me to have a life that I never would have had in Russia" or words to that general effect.

I feel strongly and know that so many others do as well that we as observant and conscientious Jews have an obligation to be just as careful about who we are as Americans and as human beings. On ALL THREE COUNTS, something incomprehensible and terrifyingly horrible happened during a bit over an hour on the previously beautiful sunny morning of September 11, 2001 - and that CHANGED our lives irrevocably. I do not believe I am being overly dramatic. I know people who died -- they were relatives of friends, former students of mine, friends of friends, parents of students and beyond that, they were Jews, Christians, Muslims, members of other religious communities, Americans and members of other nationalities, and most of all they were all members of the HUMAN FAMILY to which I belong. I still feel shivers when I think of what happened, when I drive by the site of the former Twin Towers, when I hear or see a reference to this event.

I remember exactly where I was and what happened when we heard about the Six Day War in 1967. I know people older than me feel the same about the Declaration of the State of Israel. Those of us who remember the death of President John F. Kennedy as the loss of our innocence are defined as a generation -- with a significantly different memory bank that those who are but a few years younger than us.

I know for a fact that September 11, 2001 is such a generation divider and as the years continue to go by, there will be a marked differentiation of the loss of innocence of those who do remember it and where they were and those who are too young to do so. If those who do not find this event significant enough to mark and remember need something to mourn, then how about this -- the loss of innocence, security and sense of well being of our own children and younger community members.

I do mourn the losses of so much and so many ten years ago on September 11, 2001 and I personally am disappointed in those community leaders who let the ball drop on this one. May we continue to remember those who we lost on that horrific day and May Their Memories Continue to be a Blessing for us all.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Three of our Children went on a Road Trip

I always say that I get to live with my five favorite people in the world (and of course, my amazing son-in-law and his and my daughter’s adorable twins have upped the number to nine in our happy group). Don’t get me wrong, there are many friends and people in my life whom I love ever so deeply, but our family … well it just ROCKS!

So Rachie (23), Talie (23) and Brian (15) went on a road trip. Ken and I packed them up, made sure the car was in great condition, made sure they had enough money, asked them for their itinerary, sent them off and advised them not to stay in motels (where they stayed only two nights of the entire time) where hourly rates were posted. They were in 16 of these 50 states, leaving Pennsylvania through Ohio then going through Tennessee and on to New Orleans, looping around through Georgia, Texas and then back up through Maryland. They came back trying on their new (fake but exuberant) southern accent and regaled us with their stories. They went to the Ohio State Fair for a return appearance (our family was there about 16 years ago and we purchased our hot tub there that we still have and enjoy – a rather hysterical story in and of itself!), saw a minor league baseball game in Memphis, Tennessee in what is reported to be the nicest minor league baseball park in the United States, saw and stayed with family and friends in Ohio, Tennessee, New Orleans, Houston and Austin, Texas, and Maryland along the way, spent Tisha B’Av in quiet prayer and contemplation on a Christian Kibbutz in Americus, Georgia (known for the birth of Habitat for Humanity and its worldwide network of such wonderful work), met interesting people, spent Shabbat in NOLA (New Orleans, Louisiana) – Rachie’s home from two years ago, ate well and in general really seemed to have a wonderful time. They even learned that MOST states do not charge tolls on their roads, something we who drive along the Northeast corridor would definitely appreciate. Maybe we have what to learn from our non-Northeastern states!

What is really amazing about all of this is that people are blown away that our 15 year old son and 23 year old twin daughters wanted to do this together and spend two weeks exclusively together – doing lots of driving during quality “in the car” time and just experiencing all of these new things together. I was actually going to go with them but decided it was more important for the sibs to have this as their own time! Once again, I find myself explaining to people how incredibly close we all are and how much we enjoy being together.

In fact, as I write this, our family – the members that are here, that is – are planning to go up to Cape Cod for a week of quiet and relaxation, if Hurricane Irene does not thwart our plans. Then we all plan to be in Israel together this coming December. We all speak to each other by phone, email, SKYPE, in person or any combination thereof daily. We now tell our daughter Yoella and her husband Jeremy, that our prayer for their own new family – with their two daughters, almost one year old – is that this pattern will continue.

I know fully well that the peace and calm and love in my family life are such huge blessings – we truly live Shalom Bayit every day. I let my husband and children know how much this means to me daily. This is a haven for all of us when we are finished work, school and dealing with the world. I know how blessed we are to have this gift and of course, each other. The real journey that we are all on together is the daily trajectory of our lives as individuals and knowing that we can come back to each other and find solace and joy in our love for and towards each other.

I really do have the family of my dreams! I thank G-d every day for this!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

And finally, The Shanti House – You Really Must Go There If You Can

The fourth and final stop on our “I am so proud of Israelis and what they are doing” tour is at Beit HaShanti, also located in Tel Aviv. Beit HaShanti is located in Tel Aviv and a second Beit HaShanti is now located near Be’er Sheva and is named Beit HaShanti BaMidbar. It provides family, warmth and so much else for at-risk youth who had nothing else.

This amazing place began as the brainchild of Mariuma Klein with her three children and her then partner, Dino Gershuni in 1984 with, of all things, a Shabbat dinner. Mariuma, observing the mitzvah of Hachnasat Orchim, began to just invite street youth into their home for Shabbat Dinner, and the invitations just kept going out and more and more young people kept accepting and joining this family. The weekly check point of Shabbat Dinner in which all members of this remarkable family talk about their lives, challenges, and strides made remains critically important in the life and rhythm of Beit HaShanti. Through food and stories and hugs and sharing, an amazing magic did indeed begin and continues to cast its glow for so many – both the residents and extended family of Beit HaShanti and all those who have come to know about this amazing place where magic really does happen daily.

To say that this home is beautiful would be a pitiful understatement. It is a home to all who come, whether for a day to a week, as most do, for a week to a month as some do, or for the major part of their growing years from ages 14 – 21 as yet another group does. Oh and by the way, I HIGHLY recommend that you purchase the book Not by Food Alone. My daughter, Talie and I both returned home from Israel with our own copies (a well spent $25 each) and even used several of the recipes for our first Shabbat dinner back in Philadelphia. (I am definitely considering an order for Hannukah gifts for friends and family.) In so doing, we added Mariuma and Michael’s family and warmth and beauty to our own. WOW does not even begin to capture it.

THIS IS HOME in every way imaginable and Mariuma and her husband, Michael, are the loving, doting, caring parents of all those in their charge. To hear Michael with whom we met tell the stories of the youth in his care was magic. To see the beautiful pictures from their wedding which was attended by ALL OF THEIR CHILDREN was beyond belief – I don’t think there was a dry eye in our group!

And the place is breathtakingly beautiful. Really, there is such pride when Michael and Mariuma speak of the home they have built for all of their children. Looking at these beautifully and lovingly decorated rooms and listening to these wonderful parents, one can imagine how a child who is not wanted or has no place to go will feel when coming here. Listen to their painful stories and look at their faces and see the healing process at work.

Go to their web site at www.shanti.org.il It is in Hebrew, but do this. It will inspire you and just make your day. Go all the way to the left at the top where the word GALLERY appears in Hebrew. Choose the video gallery – Galleria Video. Click it and watch the clips. There are English subtitles for some of these videos; others will be self-explanatory if you do not understand the Hebrew. [Remember that your arrow to move up and down the page will be on the LEFT.] Now, enjoy some of these films and pictures. This will give you a sense of Beit HaShanti and the members of this remarkable family. We met some of them and were just blown away!

LISTEN TO THEIR STORIES!!!!!! Look at the faces and hear their voices when you can and notice when both are shielded to protect these children. One particular piece of the puzzle I noticed was that children from Haredi families who are thrown out come here as well. One of the girls from such a family tells her story on the first tape. There is a young man from such a family on another one of these films. There are so many UGLY CORNERS of Israel from which these children come and they just want…. to be children!

In the first tape there are many emotional moments, as there are in all of them. I do want to point to the moment when Mariuma talks about how she chose the place in which Beit HaShanti BaMidbar is located and she explains that it was chosen because it is on a bus line. But, it turns out it is right across the street from Ben Gurion’s grave and she finds this meaningful in that at Beit HaShanti, they are continuing the work of Ben Gurion in a better vision and hope for all that Israel can and should be.

At several points, the members of Beit Shanti invite all of us to come visit them. Next time you are in Israel and can do so, GO, I promise, you will not be disappointed. At another point in one of the videos, there is a statement by one of the members of this incredible family that “we want to be part of our people, our nation, OUR ISRAEL!” And they are … and I felt so proud of Israel and Israelis and what they are accomplishing here!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Dealing with Poverty and At Risk Populations in Tel Aviv - This is part of Israel too!

Today, I want to introduce you to the problem of poverty and homelessness in Israel and how an amazing group of Israelis in the Tel Aviv area are creating, supporting, and maintaining programs to address these challenges.

The third program I want to bring to your attention is La Sova House in Tel Aviv. This major operation was the first soup kitchen in Israel and remains the only homeless shelter system in Israel. Today in the Shapira neighborhood in Tel Aviv, known for its abject poverty and hub for “undesirables,” this center is situated with a restaurant located here, three additional Soup Kitchens in Akko Nahariya and Carmiel, and the Gagon Homeless Shelters and the Kadima Youth Centers as part of its large complex here in Tel Aviv. La Sova means “until one is sated/satisfied” and this is the goal of this wonderful complex in serving its “customers and clients.”

Note these introductory words that articulate the problem and explain the work of this remarkable organization from their English web site (which I highly recommend you visit) at http://www.lasova.org.il/page315.html?amp;

"Israel is home to thousands of people who do not possess the means to fund their basic daily survival needs. It is our duty to ensure that hungry people do not walk our streets. With that mission in mind, the LaSova foundation established in 1990 a restaurant dedicated to serving the needy in Tel Aviv. The restaurant is located in the main floor of "LASOVA HOUSE- Multi Services Center for Needy People" 18 Tchlenov St. nearby the troubled area near the Central Bus Depot, where thousands of needy people reside, many of whom are immigrants, unemployed, disabled, or elderly. In 2003, we established two more such restaurants, one in Acre and one in Carmiel.

At LaSova restaurant, every customer receives a nutritious, filling, kosher hot meal, and may eat as much as he or she desires. We serve all people free of charge, with no questions asked, no criteria for admission, and no referrals or paperwork. Contrary to the somber and often humiliating image of soup-kitchens, any person can come to LaSova restaurant to dine in a respectable manner, while sitting at a clean, well-lit and spacious venue.

LaSova Foundation feeds 2,300 needy people everyday at our various venues: soup-kitchens, shelters for the homeless, as well as 1,000 children and youth at 20 “Kadima” centers for kids and youth at high risk. In addition, we operate a free used-clothes distribution center near each one of our locations.

LaSova restaurants employ 4 people in full-time positions, as well as two employees with disabilities, who are referred to us through the Social Security Administration. All other workers are either volunteers or those sentenced by the court to community service."

Please note exactly how remarkable this system is. First of all, the place where people eat is called a restaurant. We saw it. There is dignity, concern, calm and caring in this place. There is no money exchanged though a one shekel donation is recommended for those who can afford to give it. The food is tasty, well prepared and served with respect and regard to the “customers.” This is a great place and really makes me proud of Israel and what Israelis have decided to do through their volunteerism and caring for others. What wonderful volunteers we met and the pride with which the restaurant and the shelters (homes for those who reside there) are kept was just awesome (really, I mean it, AWESOME)!

We also saw where the women and men live in Gagon, the homeless shelter system. What we observed were beautifully created and maintained living areas which reflect and breathe the notion that this is indeed a HOME and not a HOMELESS shelter at all. People stay at these homes for various periods of time as needed and receive an array of services and support including clothing, food, shelter, the dignity of being part of a group, counseling, detoxification programming, and whatever else is needed. The residents know that they always have a home here, helping to maintain it themselves as they regain their own dignity.

The work of the Kadima Youth Centers is extensive as well in their work with all those at risk, as explained on the website (cited above) in these words:

"In distressed neighborhoods all over the country, there are thousands of children and teenagers at risk. Many of them come from families of new immigrants, and their parents are unable, for various reasons, to provide them with basic needs, such as: nutritious meals, monitoring and assistance with their homework, enhancement of values, etc

These children become part of the dangerous margins of our society: few of them will graduate from high school, fewer will join the army, and they are less likely to find a profession and on the other hand, are more likely to deteriorate to criminality and drugs.

[Our goal is] to promote and nurture children and teenagers at risk from disadvantaged families, prevent their dropping out of school, and ensure their integration in the future into the normative society and not into its dangerous margins."

This wonderful place is a haven for used up prostitutes, homeless individuals, youth without a place to go, immigrants of questionable status, and so many others. Even the use of prisoners (non-violent) who are doing their community service here is yet another remarkable part of the entirety of the amazing work done here by volunteers and only four paid employees. The chairman of this wonderful organization is Gilaad Harish. As with the other efforts in this series, this was begun by private initiatives and private money, only receiving state support later once a proven track record was established. This place made me proud to see the best of Israel and Israelis in addressing some of the most pressing internal problems in its society that so many others may not even think of when considering Israel.

We are taught by our prophets and in our Torah that our poor and vulnerable ARE our responsibility. The amazing people we met at LaSova are taking these words to heart and living them. We can join their work as we can with all of the organizations here. Educate everyone you can about these wonderful places and consider adding them to your Tzedakah recipients in your schools and communities.

Monday, August 1, 2011

More Amazing Israelis who are Helping Israel Be and Do Better

In my last blog post, I introduced you to some of the wonderful work being done by individuals in Israel to address problems that are indeed part of the Israeli landscape, though not necessarily what so many (both visitors and residents) generally see when they are in Israel. Nonetheless, remember that this too IS ISRAEL being REAL! This blog post will introduce you to another wonderful effort, this by an urban kibbutz.

I want to introduce you to the work of the members of the Urban Kibbutz of Reishit in the Kiryat Menachem neighborhood of Jerusalem. The phenomenon of urban kibbutzim is a continually growing movement in Israel, a new generation of collectives in body and soul. There are seven such urban kibbutzim in the immediate Jerusalem area alone.

In this case as in others, the members of Reishit are involved in education and social action projects. These particular families came as a group from generations of their families that had lived together, tracing their beginnings all the way to the tent cities or Ma’abarot and separately identified neighborhoods or Shechunot that have been part of the history of Medinat Yisrael since its beginning stages. They are primarily self-identified as religious and practicing Jews. Some years ago, a group of these families moved to one of the poorer neighborhoods in Jerusalem, in this case, Kiryat Menahem, and opened a school, camp and youth center for all members of the community. This larger neighborhood does not have such an identified religious population. The members of Kibbutz Reishit have addressed challenges within their own community as well as the population of the larger host neighborhood in which they live. The school they have started and run has won national attention and is recognized as the Israeli version of a “school of excellence.” We actually saw the summer camp in action and it was organized, kids seemed happy and involved and it looked like what we would think a summer camp in an urban setting might look like. Kids of different heritages were playing together and hanging around in that relaxed summer camp way! It was not lost on us that what looked normal and unremarkable was actually quite amazing and remarkable, for many of the individual stories of the campers who live in the larger neighborhood involved poverty, prejudice, a history of crime and delinquency and many other such challenges. It was also not lost that those taking on the resolving and correcting of these problems are just fellow Israelis who care …. so much!

In this case a major goal of the Chaverim of Kibbutz Reishit is to use the school and camp as well as other programming they provide to integrate the residents of the larger neighborhood, many of whom are Ethiopian and virtually all of whom are poor, into the larger Israeli society. While we saw happy and laughing children there, we were told that there are many stories of pain and sadness that go with those faces.

If you want to know more about this program and the achievement of its goals, go to http://www.haaretz.com/print-edition/features/student-teachers-use-games-to-teach-kids-about-ethiopian-culture-1.248935

In this work, the people who are the teachers and facilitators SEE and validate the children they are working with and their cultures, recognizing their celebrations and customs as well as those of the Israeli/Jewish collective. The members of Kibbutz Reishit are well educated and bring a wealth of skills and resources to this task. The chaver (member of the Kibbutz) with whom we were speaking talked about how their own sense of connectivity to Israel and their own roots have been tested by the chapters of their history and they are hopeful that their children and families will benefit as well by this involvement with others and sharing what they have – that is by giving, it is the hope of the adults that their own children will be enriched and better human beings.

Clearly there are so many lessons for all to learn here. This experience made me feel SO proud of Israelis and what these wonderful members of Kibbutz Reishit are doing for themselves, for their neighbors and others. This is another example of Israel and Israelis at their best, and I am so proud of all involved.

Please note that this is the second of four entries about amazing programs and efforts in Israel that are addressing daily challenges that are also part of ISRAEL. These entries are adapted from portions of lecture material I created for a Graduate Course I teach for Gratz College.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

What do the Bedouins have to do with Security Concerns in Israel?

For the next few posts, I want to introduce you to four new amazing places and groups of people that are part of Israel, trying to make Israel the best it can be in body and soul. My daughter Talie and I had the privilege of being in these places recently in Israel.

The first group I want you to meet is the Bedouins of El-Arakib (aka Al – Araqueeb). We met with the Sheik that headed the community on Friday, July 8, 2011. He spoke with us in a gentile and respectful manner. Rabbi Arik Ascherman, who has a friendship with the Sheik and took us there to meet with him and some of his fellow community members, remarked that usually he speaks much more about his community and his hopes for his children and grandchildren when he meets new groups. This time he spoke so much about his frustration about the repeated demolitions that have occurred in their village during the past year as a result of orders of the Israeli government. It is not difficult to observe that the time that has passed has worn him down and demoralized him on many levels.

The unrecognized Bedouin villages such as El-Arakib do not receive services from the State of Israel. This means no water, electricity, transportation, paved roads, schools or social services. Children have to walk miles in frigid weather as well as terribly and dangerously hot seasons to get their education. Their connection to their land is palpable. Their land, according to the Sheik that spoke with us in articulate Hebrew, IS their identity and their raison d’etre. Yet, this land and all that has been built on it has been destroyed and demolished 26 times during the past year. The residents have either had to flee to Rahat, a nearby recognized Bedouin village or have stood their ground, at one point, residing in the cemetery attached to their land with graves that date back as much as 100 years.

The Bedouins were once serving in the IDF, proud and loyal members of the Israeli state, and able to sustain themselves in a meaningful and respectful manner. Now, they are the poorest population in Israel, no longer serve in the IDF and feel angered, betrayed and bewildered. The problem cited by many is that somehow, containing this population and taking their land is related to Israeli concerns about external security. Sometimes, it feels as if all human rights issues are cast as an “external security threat” and that many in our community will not challenge this broad brush regarding how Israel is and should be held accountable regarding certain issues, this one regarding El-Arakib being one of them.

We were in the village one week after the twenty sixth time it was dismantled this year. I was thinking of the fact that these people who once considered themselves part of the fabric of Israel find it now nearly impossible for them to continue thinking of themselves in such a manner. There was anger, frustration, lack of understanding and despair as more and more of the people who had been tied to this land for so long had to go elsewhere, to Rahat and to other areas that would provide them with shelter, but not with THEIR land, the source of THEIR dignity and being.

The Bedouins are clearly struggling and this struggle is showing its signs in their own weariness and their own lack of understanding of how this present situation came to be. Yet, within the context of this, after hearing from the Sheik, we were introduced to three remarkable young Bedouin women who are involved in a college program with Israeli and Bedouin women who are working together to make a difficult situation better by addressing real problems within the Bedouin community. They are undertaking wonderful projects to better their community and strengthen its members. In one project, women were being taught to read and write and take care of daily business matters in their own lives. Formerly, these Bedouin women were not able to do things as simple as make a bank deposit, negotiate a utilities bill or complete other simple transactions we take for granted. In another project, a magazine is being produced that will inform, educate and empower the community. In a third project, children are being guided and educated in modern technology and means of communication. These projects are all to empower and to give skill sets to members of the Bedouin community. We were truly inspired by these three remarkable young Bedouin women, all from Rahat, and are sure we will hear more from them. I am proud to have met them, proud to have shared a few hours with them, and hopeful for their future and for those who will benefit from their work, their initiative and their inspiration. My prayer is that as time goes on and these young women empower others, those who have lost their own sense of purpose and being will be able to reclaim it and that Israel will “do better” by facilitating this.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Talie Says That We Need to Stop Thinking about Israel in Binary Terms

Please note that portions of the following post is an abridged form of part of
a lecture for a graduate school course I am teaching on Methodologies for
Teaching about Israel.

So, here I am at Café Hillel on Emek Refaim sitting across the table from my 23 year old daughter Talie, whom I admire so much (and she is definitely part of our younger generation filled with hope and new ideas and energy for our world). She has lived in Israel three times, once in high school, for the gap year between high school and college, and now for four years of Medical School at Ben Gurion University, in addition to joining our family with our ongoing commute here twice each year. She is educated, observant, and dedicated and committed to Israel and really amazing! We should all be able to feel this way towards our children. Amen!.

We always talk about and consider our connections to Israel in our family. Obviously, as Talie and I are together in Israel for three weeks and spending lots of time together, we are having these discussions constantly with each other as well as including others. One of the things that I am very aware of right now is the effect generational differences and various narratives have on how we each see and consider Israel in our lives. In addition to this being an ongoing thought that occupies me generally, it is a hot topic of discussion amongst my colleagues in my seminar at Machon Hartman. My frustration is that I think that too many people see Israel as black or white, right or wrong, having to be solely concerned about external security or internal human rights practices, and so on. Too many of us think of Israel in binary either/or terms. I am, as you well know by now a both/and person so I often joke that I spend half my time defending Position A (Whatever that is) to people who hold Position B (Which is against A) and the other half of my time defending holders of Position B to those who subscribe to Position A.

Regarding this, Talie says that she wants all of us to know that:

I find it kind of unfair for your generation (that’s me and the rest of us, who are parents of these aged children and younger) to be critical of people in my generation for taking on critical positions in the Israel conversation and not feeling as connected as you do to a place that often falls short of the values and expectations we have been taught to have; to respect and view everyone as made in the image of God, to comfort and provide for the vulnerable in our society, to understand that conflicts are complex and should never be reduced to a black and white depiction and to constructively challenge when we see wrongs.

She says this while acknowledging where my generation and those before me come from, because for us Israel was not a reality and there were so many threats against both Israel and Jews constantly being made. She accepts and is grateful for the fact that as she has grown up and matured, Israel has never been a question mark but rather a given reality – that is, an exclamation point! Here is, I think, what allows Talie and her contemporaries to speak of and think about and feel loyalties to Israel in other than a binary system.

So, she has the luxury of loving and caring for Israel while simultaneously being honest and reminding all of us of the ideals and values on which Israel was founded and that these need to be reclaimed and present in the Israel of today.

I get this! Do all of you? As for myself, I have always encouraged my children and my students and those around me to look at and consider all sides of a given concern, and while doing so, remember to be the best they can be and to ask this of those around them. So, this response from my daughter is a direct result of this orientation and I own it as well. I guess sometimes, I might just be in the wrong generation. I suppose this is not the only issue that makes me feel this way.

Further, Talie knows fully well and offers as a disclaimer that “for me Israel has always been a given” and that she has always grown up and experienced (from both sides of the pond) Israel as a strong leader in the world and in the “power seat” so to speak. Our parents and former generations who approach Israel through the prism of pogroms and Holocaust experiences do not have the luxury of this viewpoint. Those of us who lived through the fears and threats of war in 1967, 1973 (as well as before and after) and questions regarding the viability of Israel often do have fears and concerns about Israel that inform how we approach this place; I think it is stamped onto our souls. These are our “war wounds” so to speak. Our children, both for good and perhaps naïve reasons, do not see this and do not feel this. THE STRONG ISRAEL THAT IS THAT EXCLAMATION MARK FOR THEM has many responsibilities and possibilities regarding their place in the world and in helping those in need that older generations only dared to hope could be part of our expectations of Israel.

One of the coordinators of our seminar, Rabbi Dr. Rachel Shabbat Beit Halachmi stated the other night with simultaneous simplicity and profound insight, “I am so proud of Israel 95% of the time and 5% of the time, I am not and expect so much more from Israel.” This statement has been repeated in many different venues around many different discussions these two weeks in this place of honest exploration and discussions about Israel – what it is and what it should be! As for me, I agree both with Talie (who would by the way argue with the actual %s given) and Rachel – I am so proud AND I want so much more for Israel! I hope that those of us that can hold this BOTH/AND position can forge ahead in a way that Israel deserves and that Israel can work towards being the place that all those connected to it in an honest and genuine way deserve.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

What I learned at the Israel Museum about colors of clothing at weddings and “gentrification” of our Jewish community

I know, it’s a really strange title, but totally appropriate for one of the very compelling lessons I learned during the day long field trip I took myself on this past Wednesday to the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. It was really quite a wonderful day. I was able to stop at exhibits as long as I want, read the explanations as carefully as I wished and really take it all in – I went alone just so I could do this. By 5:15 p.m. when I was ushered out of the museum with the last visitors for the day, I was mentally exhausted – I think my brain cells were sleeping.

I loved going through the archeology and ancient cultures sections and learning about tens of thousands of years ago, the beginning of civilization as we know it, the earliest life of man, of Jews, of Egyptians, and others. I was, as always, particularly enthralled by the glass and the beautiful workmanship of reclaimed bowls, columns, mortars and pestles and such.

After three and a half hours in this exhibit I went into the next one, the one about Jewish life through the ages. There was so much to see and remember (from what I know and what I recall from being here before and elsewhere as well) about customs, celebrations and the observances that have marked our people for so very long.

Now we come to the part that is the centerpiece of this post. THE WEDDING DRESSES! Wow!! So much color, so many different styles, headdresses, jeweled broaches that covered from the neck to the waist of the bride, beautiful materials and it was all just a magnificent feast for the eyes. Each exquisite costume came with a wonderful explanation of the land of origin and the meaning and symbolism of the various parts of the outfit. These colors and styles dazzled and I just could not pull myself away from them to go on except that the next bridal outfit and its various accessories was just as bewitching and inviting to stare at! Then, after about fifteen of these amazing bridal outfits, there was one long lacy white dress and a long explanation of how the Ashkenazic Jews had assimilated the European habit of wearing white as a sign of purity, which is attributed to Christian roots, and how this took over and eventually eclipsed the native bridal wear of the many lands included in the display. I was struck by this, I mean like hit between the eyes! This was about much more than the different colors and styles for me.

It has been an interesting history of color in my life in the Orthodox community part of my life. I have noticed less and less colors worn by women. At weddings, virtually all of the women except for the bride are in black and she of course is in white. There have been many times when I am practically the only one in the room with a splash of color. Now, in shul as well – the accepted colors are black, navy blue, very deep purple (not too bright now!), dark green and white with splashes of pink (still an acceptable girl color)! What is going on here?

I love color and I wear lots of it. I LOVED, I mean was totally taken by the beautiful colors and textures of those bridal outfits in the Israel Museum. I know that some families do still have ceremonies with these customary bridal costumes, but generally, we do not see this kind of color at our weddings, regardless of the various lands of origin from where the families trace their roots. As I left the museum, I remember feeling somewhat melancholy about the loss or paucity of color in our lives. As we become more gentrified and more muted and more LIKE EVERYONE ELSE and wear bridal white instead of the colors and styles of our lands of origin, eschew a variety of beautiful colors because they are not “modest” and in general “look like everyone else and wear the uniform” on the outside of our body, I fear what this trend represents on our insides --- are we losing our unique and special and DIFFERENT souls for the sake of fitting in and being like everyone else? How wonderful it would be to bring back all these different ways of coming to the bridal canopy and celebrating our Jewish lives.

I’ll tell you what – go (and run do not walk after your flight of course) to the Israel Museum and go into the Jewish Life exhibit and look at these beautiful bridal outfits and then see what you feel. Now I am going to put on one of my colorful outfits and go to shul. Shabbat Shalom!

Monday, June 27, 2011

The People Are Revolting… or are they???

So, as we are in the season of Sefer BeMidbar, we have to ask what is going on here. We are in the midst of reading these stories about the rebellion of the people of Israel regarding the manna that they are eating and their stated desire to go back to Mitzrayim. Then there is the story of Miriam, Aaron and Moshe with its many lessons about Lashon HaRa – that use of language that gets us into big trouble. This lesson is further amplified
by the experience of the Meraglim – the scouts that were sent to Canaan/Eretz Yisrael to find out the “lay of the land,” if you will, and then report back. As we know this did not go so well either. Then of course there is Korach, the rebellion that ended up by being swallowed by the earth, so to speak.

It is not lost on this Jewish Educator that we hit these stories as the school year ends, summer begins and people might be thought to REBEL against the rhythm of their lives. So, what lessons do we extrapolate from these stories. We could say it’s not a good thing to rebel against or fight G-d. That’s an easy enough lesson, to be sure. However, maybe it’s a bit too easy and quick.

There is a wonderful text in Baba Metzia (59b) in which Rabbi Eliezer is in conflict with the majority of the Rabbis and calls on several phenomena to prove that he is right regarding the Kashrut of Achnai’s oven. Many of you may be familiar with the story. First he calls on a carob tree to move to prove he is right. The tree moves but we are taught that one cannot prove that an argument is correct based on this. Then he indicates that if the water changes the direction of its flow, this will prove him correct. This too happens but is deemed insufficient to make his argument. The story continues with the argument between the Rabbis and Rabbi Eliezer, as he asks for the Bat Kol, the voice of G-d to prove his argument. The story ends with the teaching that no such proof or any other is needed to prove any argument as the Torah is here on earth and should be used. The “punch line” as I like to call it goes like this, “G-d says, Ha! My children have outsmarted me! My children have outsmarted me!”

Without going into the content of this sugya (this part of the discussion in the Gemara) suffice it to say that I am not sure that rebellion within the context of our reality is a bad thing (even if it is directed against G-d?!). We generally think of rebellion as upsetting the system. However, as we have seen in our world, rebellions are often needed to retain a sense of balance and set ourselves back on a constructive course.

I love the notion that the Yetzer HaRa, usually referred to as the “bad inclination” is also the creative energy within us. Also in the Gemara, we learn that when there was a desire to destroy the Yetzer HaRa, G-d warned that without this creative energy that responds to our reality when something is missing or awry, there would be no products of creativity to be found, not even an egg, as the Talmudic text teaches.

Our creative energy is what spurs us on to be better and to inspire others to improve as well, hopefully bettering our world as we go along. Maybe this is what is going on in BaMidbar along with the discontent and the pushing of limits and all else that is found here. This is not to say that within this desire, there may be missteps and we have to be accountable for them. Look at the lessons we extrapolate from here –

• In the story of the siblings, Moshe shows compassion, we learn the unintentional negative results from inappropriate use of language – Avak Lashon HaRa, and our leaders are real people with real problems and conflicts.

• In the story of the Manna, we learn that people have a hard time adjusting to
change, even a good change like moving from slavery to freedom. We also learn the value of the adage, “If something is truly worthwhile, it will not be completed in one generation.” These were freed slaves and this is not the same as free people who have to begin an entirely new entity and chapter of history. Besides that, we are not immortal as we learned long ago on the first pages of the Torah.

• The Meraglim/scouts teach us about communal panic and remembering what your
mission is and to stay the course of action. Further, we learn that we have to look past challenges in order to move forward. Ramban makes the point that these scouts were human beings doing what human beings do and should not be the recipients of our full force of anger, or that of G-d either.

• Korach teaches us that there are always many sides to the story and that it is important to realize that our perspective may not be the same as yours.

Were there painful consequences in these situations? Was there in fact wrongdoing? Many of us would agree that of course this was the case. That being said, let us look at these narratives in terms of the human condition – we are all flawed human beings doing the best we can, whether Korach or Moshe, Miriam or the Meraglim, you or me. While there are clearly exceptions to this generalization, I think most of us would agree that it is through rebellion, through creative energy, through challenging the norm or the expected situation that some of our greatest strides have been made.

Rebellion, Revolutions and Creative Energy – these too were and are part of G-d’s plan, I believe. The trick is to use them well -- this is for me an important lesson of the years of desert life we read about in BaMidbar.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

I am so sad ...

I am so sad ….

Disclaimer: I know that there are many thriving and healthy Jewish institutions all around but …

I just recently heard that a wonderful Jewish Day School (Rambam) in Baltimore is closing the end of this year. In recent years, other day schools (including two others I have been aware of most recently) have been closing, in more than a few cases, schools with which I had worked as a consultant some years ago. Other schools are having their backs broken by the mortgage on their show place buildings and administrators who are getting the types of salaries that we find in the private sector business world while the teachers are still earning way too little for doing increasingly more and more work. I am sad about this.

I also just read that a well loved Modern Orthodox Rabbi in Baltimore is leaving his congregation because he feels that he cannot grow the community any more as he explains that finding Modern Orthodox Jews in the increasingly black hat Greater Baltimore area is like looking for a needle in a haystack. This is certainly a dynamic felt in more than a few communities, thus widening the rift between the very observant and the not-so-much ritualistically observant though involved in so many other ways groupings. Those of us in this widening center of Modern Orthodox – Observant Conservative – Committed within any denomination Jews are finding ourselves out in the cold even with the coming summer. I am sad about this too.

We, that is our family, belong to a shul that we joined almost eleven years ago when we felt a bit like being “run out of town” from our former community (though we maintain many warm and caring friendships there, with people we truly love) and were assured that “we will never be a black hat shul.” Yet, many people in our present community are concerned about just that. I, in fact, was recently informed by a self identified “Modern Orthodox” leader in this shul community that it is against Halacha for a woman to speak in public giving announcements, a Dvar Torah or read Tefillah L’Medinat Yisrael (not even read anyway here, another problem for another time) during services. Imagine that, after all these years, this is totally new to me in my non-Yeshivish observant and committed Jewish upbringing and world. I am sad about this too.

I am most probably shortly leaving the world of Jewish Education (or at least many aspect of it) because I feel ethically compromised by too much of what I see. We have lost our barometer of who we are. We are not the fancy and exclusive private schools but when our Jewish Day Schools see themselves as being such, well… that is why our fourth child is not in Jewish Day School but in our amazing public school with my continued home schooling in Limudei Kodesh. So, now, I fear that after all these years, are we going backwards about 40 years to when it was Orthodox Yeshiva or something else (that is public or private school), without the Jewish Day School phenomenon as we know it? We blame the economy, which is clearly a factor, but let’s be honest – this is way too easy and there is something much more insidious going on here. We have lost our way. We are not doing values based education in these schools in some instances and kids are not even feeling safe physically; and this is not to even discuss what is (or is not) happening academically in too many, though thankfully not all, cases. I am sad about this too.

I am told by a very good friend and others that Jewish Day Schools are booming in the south and the west. I have not heard about these closing and this is a good thing. I know many Modern Orthodox Rabbis that are doing quite well in places in which new communities are sprouting up. Rabbi Avi Weiss’ Yeshivat Chovevei Torah is putting out a new brand of Orthodox Rabbi. Funny, this new brand is what I REMEMBER SO WELL from my youth. This new brand is not unlike Rabbi Landau who will be taking leave of his congregation in Baltimore. Yet, these Rabbis who are this “new brand” do not find positions so easily.

Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz once said at a lecture I attended some years ago as he opened his presentation: Congratulations American Jewry, you are catching up to Israel. You are becoming more black or white and this is not the way to go.

I fear he may be right about our larger Jewish community in too many ways and this too makes me sad!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Thoughts as we complete the book of VaYikra

So, this week is Parshat BeHukotai, the last Parsha of the book of VaYikra. Chazak Chazak, VeNitchazek!

As a professional Jewish educator, I am acutely aware that too often this is the book that many members of our community know the least about. The stories of Bereshit and Shemot – from the story of Creation through Moshe and the crossing of the Red Sea and the Ten Commandments are usually part of people’s general knowledge as are the stories of rebellion found later in Shemot and through BaMidbar. Devarim is the review lesson – whatever we did not pick up earlier we repeat here, and of course the source of the Shema. But VaYikra – come on, Kohanim, purity of community, the Mishkan and its use for Karbanot (sacrifices), forbidden relationships, and so forth…. Too many of us put on the snooze button around the Parsha of Terumah after all of the good stuff in Shemot and don’t wake up until after this book has passed.

So, I want you to join my Let’s Revive Interest in VaYikra campaign! Read on.

Consider this – so many years ago, children studied this as the FIRST experience of Torah learning. Can you imagine that?! Why would that be? So, I think I can encapsulate all of the reading I have done related to this phenomenon in three words ….. TO TEACH DISCIPLINE! Yes, I know, many consider this to be a dirty word, maddening to many and trivial nonsense to others. But, we need it, really!

Remember in our wonderful democracy, discipline can make the difference between giving time to all for everything they need to say and propose (though remembering that 100% of the people will NEVER be 100% happy 100% of the time) and chaotic anarchy! Discipline may limit ME a bit but it will also give me a certain security and grounding that will enable the fulfillment of important goals and desired outcomes for us, or WE!

VaYikra, this is the book in the middle of the Five Books of the Torah. Parshat Kedoshim (chapters 19 – 20) is the Parsha right in the middle of the Five Books of the Torah. And lo and behold, VeAhavta LeReacha Kamocha – Love your neighbor as yourself – is the teaching right in the middle of the Five Books of the Torah. So, how exactly do we begin to do this – to love, accept and appreciate others? We do it through discipline, that’s how!

This is the book in which we learn about all types of Ritual Purity. We learn about Kashrut, you know that system of laws that allow us to eat food that is permitted to remind us that we are to enjoy the products of our environment within a DISCIPLINED context. We learn about health matters and the “isolation” of those that have certain growths on their skin. Remembering that this was BH (that is Before Hospitals), this notion of isolation which may not sound like loving that neighbor so much is really about keeping all healthy. One of my students many years ago, when learning this Parsha – that was a non-leap year so this was Tazria-Metzora – remarked that he understood why those with leprosy were isolated. He explained that maybe this was to protect those that were sick and suffering from the disease from the looks and ridicule of others (this was in second grade, so he was thinking of coming to school with chicken pox and how horrible this would be for him never mind the infectious issue!). A most interesting notion to be sure. Now, clearly we are given all types of reasons for these rules, many of which are Chukim, which are the laws that fall into the category of “I am G-d and I said so!” That being said, we are given many laws throughout VaYikra governing how we are to function in our economic dealings, how we are to act in our marital relations, how we are to interact with others, what we are to eat, and so forth. These laws DISCIPLINE our actions and limit excesses, which is NOT a bad thing. Remember as Jews, we do NOT take vows of chastity, poverty, humility and not speaking. We speak, we have intimate relations, we speak, we eat and drink, we speak some more, we wear nice clothes, and of course we DEFINITELY speak LOTS. So, the point of VaYikra is to remind us that these actions are fine as long as we do not overdo what we do!

Now are you ready to join my campaign? The sign up sheet will be following shortly!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Amalek: Some New Thinking about an Old Problem (with thanks, as so many other times, to Brian)

First, my disclaimer! I am a strong adherent of the philosophy and well articulated dictum expressed in the book of Kohelet, namely “there is nothing new under the sun.” When we think we observe something new, it really already happened and perhaps we just were not paying attention (Kohelet, chapter one). So before I even begin with my newly formulated observation, I must assume that it is out there and in here, and I just forgot or lost it on the RAM (there is so much there!).

So, with that being said, Brian and I were learning last evening. We are in the middle of Shmuel Aleph (Samuel, Book I) and we are learning Perek (chapter) 15. Here we are … with the war against Amalek and the very clear instructions to destroy ALL that is Amalek – you know, just like we are taught in Chapter 25 of Devarim/Deuteronomy and as we read on the Shabbat before Purim to remind us of this age old enemy and its presence in our lives throughout history.

So, the text explains that the Jewish nation under the leadership of Shaul/Saul was to utterly destroy all that was Amalek – man, woman and child – and not take anything with them when they were done. That is, they were to, as instructed in Devarim, chapter 25, to obliterate them from the face of the earth.

Now, many of us have a hard time with such texts and such instructions. For example, I have friends who DO NOT read the verses of Megilat Esther that explain the destruction that the Jews instituted after they were saved. How can we, wonder many within our ranks, teach our children such abject hatred? Don’t we much prefer to focus on the very middle of our Torah – which we just read this week, by the way - (Five Books of Moshe) that teach us in Chapter 19:18 of VaYikra/Leviticus to “love your neighbor as yourself?’ And further, don’t we go ahhhhh when reading the explanation that the words “your neighbor” have the same root as the word “bad” in Hebrew? And don’t we just quell so much our stomachs are about to burst when we read that we are to love each person as our self, both the good and the bad that is in each of us, for as human beings, we need to and indeed have both and should recognize that factor about all wonderful human beings created by G-d?!

So, how do I understand the texts about Amalek and the punishment that, by the way, comes to Shaul/Saul as a result of this infraction of the rules? How am I supposed to not bristle at the notion of continuing generational hatred of Amalek, much less be sure who that is?

Is there a conflict here? You bet, I always thought…. But this morning I woke up and thought, Perhaps “lo kushia” as we read in Gemara. Maybe there really is not a problem per se or a contradiction here. And now imagine you were sitting with Brian and me at our kitchen table with our books and texts open and discussing….

The war with Amalek is G-D’S WAR and we are to implement it whether or not we like to. The question is not do we agree; the question is how do we make sure we are doing this correctly and appropriately? Why is this G-d’s war? So, to begin to understand this we have to go back to what precisely Amalek did. They struck from behind and this sneak attack was on our weakest members of community as we were traveling through the desert after leaving Egypt. What cowards we might say! But G-d has MUCH MORE to say about this.

G-d created all people and all nations. That is one of the many reasons our scholars explain that the story of Bereshit/Genesis begins with the Creation of the world and it takes us a few Parshiot and more than a few chapters to even get to what could liberally be called the beginning of the Jewish story. Further, before we get to that we read about Dor Noach – the generation of Noach where there was so much horrible abuse of each other that the land itself had become corrupted and ALL had to be destroyed by a flood. We are taught that G-d steps back at this point, and says something to the effect of “Maybe I am expecting too much from this being I created.” We will not have whole scale flooding again (though in our own current situation, this image has been evoked for all of the obvious reasons).

G-d is quite clear on how we are to treat each other as the Torah continues – we are not to abuse human beings, we are not to embarrass each other for G-d created each of us and in doing so, we embarrass The Creator as well as The Created! We are taught within our own community that we are to take care of the widow, the orphan, or G-d will kill us and then our wives and children will need others to take care of them (Shemot/Exodus 22: 21 – 23). This is stated in the context of our code of civil law as indicated in Parshat Mishpatim. Amos for his part shows how all of the other nations have not acted as G-d wishes and NEITHER has Israel; because of this all will be punished.

So, what do we do with all of this? Brian and I decided that what Amalek did was wrong as a “crime against humanity,” a phrase we reserve for specific types of horrific deeds that are undertaken against the innocent, the vulnerable, the needy one who is looking to us for help. THIS IS precisely what Amalek did that was wrong. They did not engage in honest battle but destroyed G-d’s vulnerable ones just because….. And this war was now G-d’s war, not ours any longer. Think, for example, of when a case of murder is not brought by the injured party but criminal charges are filed by the government on behalf of society. This may be what G-d was doing – telling the Jewish people to eradicate this type of abuse in our society. We should NOT have compassion or look back when those that are vulnerable and innocent are the victims. The one who makes them victims is not deserving of our compassion and G-d commands us to remember this! This may be the meaning of Zachor et Amalek/Remember Amalek, and what they did to you…. to you and to all of mankind.

Well now, at least I feel better thinking of it this way.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

So in this season of FOURS… Thinking about the Seder as good education

Pesah is coming! Pesah is coming! Practice your fours… you know, four questions, four questions, four ways in which G-d worked to help us help ourselves to change our destiny, and so on… so here are A FOURSOME OF “NEW FOURS” for you to consider.

Remember those FOUR SONS and their FOUR WAYS of learning and our FOUR WAYS of bringing them into our conversation. I think about this a lot, after all I AM AN EDUCATOR… would you really expect anything less from me?

How do we teach and how do we learn? How can we make this year’s seder experience even more meaningful as we repeat our annual educational and dramatic simulation of our most critical and central YOU WERE THERE experience… seeing ourselves as we had been the ones that G-d took out of Egypt, because, clearly by association, we ARE included!?

I have a formula I always use when discussing education and its mission. This formula has been coming up a lot these days as I am working with a wonderful group of people to begin a new charter school entity. My magic formula for good and meaningful education is as follows (and of course comes in FOUR STEPS – you weren’t expecting anything else, were you now?)

• Inspire – Our main task when teaching, sharing, learning, handing over some great idea is to inspire those around us about the exciting nature of that idea and the amazing results that can come from its implementation, that is how we can change and improve our world, our existence, our reality in whatever way, big or small;

• Enable – Once those around us are inspired, we should enable them to become actively involved by their own activities of teaching and sharing and learning and handing over this great idea. We are to help them acquire the necessary skills so that they will become meaningful partners in our ongoing mission to better our world. This is insuring their OWNERSHIP and buy-in to what we are trying to excite others to do;

• Inform – Now that we have others excited about what it is that we are sharing, they need to be knowledgeable and have the necessary content and context to be able to use their acquired skills in an appropriate and informed manner to join and be part of a collective effort to change the landscape of our lives; and

• Empower – We must remember that our role as teachers and educators in whatever venue we take on that role is as FACILITATORS, that is to say, that once we hand over ideas, we WANT others to take ownership and feel empowered to actively disseminate and share what they have learned. We are not the owners of these ideas, but their transmitters. Now, the goal is, for those to whom these ideas and this information have been transmitted (by us), to be empowered to become transmitters to others.

This can actually be the way we see the program of our Seders and every other interactive educational dramatic simulation in which we participate. We inspire by the beauty and excitement of the environment. We enable by example and role modeling. We inform by sharing and providing information as appropriate and needed. We empower by insuring that all who sit at our table walk away with something new to share.

Maybe this is just another way to look at our FOUR SONS, our FOUR WAYS OF LEARNING, our FOUR WAYS in which G-d handled us…. By INSPIRING, ENABLING, INFORMING AND EMPOWERING.


Friday, April 8, 2011

What I learned in Catholic School about Jews and Prayer

This week, I went to Catholic School for the second time in my life. I accompanied some of my wonderful students, whom I love and respect dearly, to a new program that is called Friends in Faith, focused on building new and healing relationships between Catholics and Jews. This particular program focuses on students in High School, specifically in Eleventh Grade. The emphasis of the day was on some history of the Catholic Church and its well known Nostra Aetate, presented within the Second Vatican Council on October 28, 1965 under the papacy of Pope John Paul II. In fact the school we were at is named for him, considered for his remarkable strides in acknowledging and befriending Jews by many in our community and considered suspect or less than positively for not doing enough by others. The day was informative and interesting but this is only to provide context and some background information for the venue in which the subject of this post presented.

There were several presentations and then we met in small groups with students from the Pope John Paul II Catholic High School and students from an area Jewish Day School (Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy) and a facilitator. I was a facilitator of one of these small groups. We were given questions and prompts to aid in having a meaningful discussion and fairly early on, the following discourse occurred.

There were questions about prayer! Why do we do it, what does it mean and how is it handled in our schools. Now, having worked in Jewish Education for my entire professional career spanning 36 years (EEKS, has it really been that long?!!!!!), and specifically focusing for so much of that career on Day School education, Prayer has always been a hot topic of debate, especially in Community Jewish Day Schools that are pluralistic and not under the arm of any single denomination. Going through many types of programs, mandatory as well as voluntary, daily as well as monthly (connected to Rosh Hodesh), readying for weekly observances of Shabbat, so many questions come up. How can we have compulsory prayer? How do we make prayer meaningful? How do we create a prayer community? Which Siddurim do we use; which denominational model do we use? Mechitza or no Mechitza? Separate sitting or mixed seating? Do women lead or only men; who is counted in the Minyan? Do we take time to do something that is not meaningful? On this journey in one particular school with which I have had a long association, we have had kids plan the prayer experiences. This model has been shared and utilized in other schools as well. For anyone in education reading this, I highly recommend this model as it was the most successful of any I have observed.

I, as well as so many of my respected colleagues, have written tomes on the topic of Prayer. Personally, I created a significantly extensive and well developed Prayer Curriculum published by the Sholom Hartman Institute in Israel, incorporated Tefillah/Prayer in other curriculum projects published and utilized in schools across North America and elsewhere and conducted workshops on how we negotiate sets of experiences that are meaningful to our students, as well as follow spiritual developmental models for children and youth of different ages. There are creative services, meditation models and a plethora of opportunities including everything from Orthodox Prayer Meditation for which Aryeh Kaplan z’l was an important mentor to Jewish Renewal’s many different colorations of Prayer experiences.

So many questions about whether or not we believe in G-d, do we feel comfortable in a prayer community, the need for a meaningful prayer experience, why do we use a repeated script and so forth dominate these discussions. There is no end to these deliberations and many of us are greatly and increasingly perplexed, directly proportional to the amount of time dedicated to this topic.

So, what did I learn at Catholic School? The Jewish Day School students tried to explain their problems and their questions and their concerns about prayer in the conversation I had the honor of facilitating. The Catholic School students listened and then one girl just simply said, “We all go to Mass. We have to. It’s meaningful to some but many of us just sit there. That’s it.” The Jewish Day School students, in expected style, began to ask questions. Don’t you study the prayers? Do you discuss what they mean and try to figure out how they are relevant? Is there an alternative to the one Mass? And so forth….. The Catholic School students just shrugged. One particularly articulate young man explained that there is one way and either you do it or you pretend to do it. The Jewish Day School students were shocked!

So, here is my lesson. We as Jews expect so much – we expect LOTS from ourselves, from our religion and from our prayer! We want meaningfulness! We want to feel connected to something and do not want to go through meaningless motions (and will fight valiantly for this cause!). So much of our Jewish learning teaches us to do exactly that. In fact, so many formulated prayers that we include are the experience of others who have found this meaningfulness. We are frustrated, yes. We keep working to make our prayers meaningful, yes. Precisely because we WANT to feel something genuine and meaningful, we work at it; we don’t want to just go through the motions. This is one of our greatest collective gifts as Jews and it is also no doubt one of our GREATEST challenges! This is the lesson that was confirmed for me during my day in Catholic School.

My blessing to all: May we each find a meaning appropriate soulful way of dovenning – communicating with G-d in our community and within our own beings. Amen!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Loving Israel!

I LOVE ISRAEL! Really, I do! I think that Israel is in many ways the most amazing place in the world. We ask things of Israel, and Israel asks things of itself that no other country in the world would accept as viable requests. Look at what is going on at present with its needs for reasonable defense, addressing the aftermath of the Carmel devastation, the many issues in its own economy, and then the Sudanese and others who want refuge there, the illegal immigrants who want rights there, and on the list goes.

I think often that Israel is the neighborhood to which everyone that no one else wants in their community comes. And Israel is expected to be hospitable, support all who need support and provide whatever is asked of Israel, both from its own citizens as well as anyone else who voices such expectations. As I state in one of my lectures in a Graduate Level course I am teaching at Gratz College in Philadelphia:

Many feel that too much is asked from a nation so young and so small. Yet, that is irrelevant both to its critics and many of its supporters. If the Jewish story of Exodus from slavery and oppression is so archetypal and it is, and the State of Israel is the homeland for the people who are the focus of this story, then how can we and how can Israel NOT respond to such cries for help that come from within as well as to its borders? Clearly, we are aware of this thinking, both from a social justice point of view in our world today and from our Biblical roots in which we are adjoined 36 times in the text of the Torah to “not oppress or ignore the cry of the stranger” precisely because we were “strangers in the land of Egypt” and know fully well how such treatment felt.

So, how can Israel survive? It does and it even thrives as well… It is really all quite amazing. Israel IS AMAZING! That is not to say that I agree with every single thing that happens in Israel. That is also not to say that Israel is above and beyond reproach. No human or human institution in the world is! Clearly there are problems and issues that make us step back and say, “What are you thinking? What are you doing?” No one claims “foul play” when we do this for our own countries in which those of us outside of Israel live and SO MUCH has been written on exactly this very right and privilege of free speech. BUT, somehow we are expected to have undying and unconditional love for all that Israel does and never consider that anything done in Israel is not 100% correct by too many people.

We were taught in this past Parsha (Shmini) and the previous Parshiot HaShavuah the various types and details of the different types of sacrifices that we were to bring to G-d so long ago. While all of the details and points of differentiation are indicated regarding all of the different types of offerings, it is indicated that the Shelemim – the well being sacrifices – are supposed to represent our togetherness – our coming together as one unit that is well, after or aside from different agendas and senses of purpose that are completed. I love that message and think that it is highly instructive for us today. Can’t we all come together and agree that the well being of Israel is critically important and dear to our hear – so much so that it unifies us?

My daughter is presently living in Beer Sheva and going to Medical School there. We have family and friends all over the place. We ourselves are constantly in Israel. We want all or the people we love and all others safe and sound. That is our agenda and we acknowledge that others have different agendas and desires and needs regarding Israel. We want all Israelis, and yes, Palestinians, Druze, Bedouins, Arabs, Christians and all others within its borders to be able to depend on a safe and consistent environment. This is not too much to ask. Yet, it is much harder to achieve.

And when we note that there are those who are not accorded the same rights in our beloved Israel, whether they are those who have been converted to Judaism by legitimate means and are not accepted under newer and more narrow dictates, we ask, WHAT IS WRONG ISRAEL? When we note that rules are changed daily for those not accorded full rights as citizens we want to know HOW CAN ISRAEL DO BETTER? When we look at the need for further cooperation between different factions at historical and religious sites such as the Kotel HaMaaravi, I JUST SHAKE MY HEAD AT WHAT GOES ON IN ISRAEL. When the many groups and peoples who are working cooperatively to live together are not given their rightful place at the table of discussing the future of Israel, I AM SO DISAPPOINTED IN ISRAEL.