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.


Monday, March 7, 2011

Breaking my teeth on Parshat Pekudei

I often say that after all of the great stories and events of Sefer Bereshit and the first half of Shemot, once you hit Parshat Terumah, I am honestly not all that interested, as embarrassing as it may be for me to admit this. Except for, of course, the story of the Egel HaMasecha (you know, the Golden Calf) which is definitely provocative, interesting and provides many teaching opportunities, but… Really, how many times do I have to be reminded of the inventory of the furnishings, materials, amounts, colors, dividers, carrying rods, and the myriad of other details regarding the various elements of the Mishkan? Personally, I am much more interested in the people stuff and all the BIG LESSONS that come from so much drama, and clearly there is plenty of THAT throughout the Tanach. That being said, I never thought of this topic and these chapters as being part of that category.

So, you know how they say that in cartoons and animated cute little renditions of stories, the pictures are for the kids and the words are for the adults. One of my students in my fabulous Twelfth Grade Tanach class, which I just love, introduced all of us to a great set of tellings of the Parshat HaShavuah in this lovely little easy format… cute pictures, a few special effects, and well chosen and SIMPLE words. And thanks must be offered to the creator of these wonderful little video clips of G-dcast, Dov Weinstein. This particular Parsha video can be found at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QpvnmeCOrGo

So what did I learn? After basically glossing over all of the details of the Mishkan and its contents for several weeks (remember, that the last two Parshiot of Shemot are basically a repetition of earlier listings of all of the contents and furnishings of this special place), a statement caught me in this Parsha video. It is explained in this G-dcast production that we have to look at these Parshiot as evidence of the great love story between G-d and us. So the example that Mr. Weinstein used that really spoke to me was when a bride and a groom set up their first home or a couple, their dream home, and carefully pick out the tiling, the bedroom furnishings, the kitchen backsplash, the appliances, just the right color of paint…. Well you get the idea. So, this couple is more than happy to show all they know (and maybe even some wayward strangers walking by) their dream home and all of its carefully and LOVINGLY chosen contents.

This is the way it is with the MISHKAN, the special dwelling that brings G-d and the B’nai Yisrael together in their special and lovingly put together space. It is the chupah – that first special dwelling shared by G-d and the people of Israel. So, of course we want to go over the details again and again – exactly what is there, where everything is placed, how the space looks and so forth. This I get. I love to walk through our home in a quiet moment and look at each of the rooms that we have so carefully furnished and decorated, especially since I was and remain the decorator. THIS IS WHAT I AM SUPPOSED to feel when I read Parshat Pekudei and most of the text of the second half of Sefer Shemot.

Ironically enough, this same Shabbat of Parshat Pekudei, I decided that I have had enough of Kabbalat Shabbat deprivation and carted my son Brian along to a lovely Conservative synagogue in our community. (This is definitely one of those times that I feel that coincidences are simply G-d’s way of staying anonymous!) While I do very occasionally go to this particular synagogue (and am warmly welcomed, for which I am so grateful and appreciative) from time to time on Friday nights, I really had a need for a beautiful Kabbalat Shabbat this Friday night and got what I had come for. In addition, this was the first opportunity I had to spend any amount of time in the redone main sanctuary of this particular synagogue (Kabbalat Shabbat is usually in a smaller and also beautiful chapel) and was COMPLETELY TAKEN by the beauty of the new Aron and just the magnificent ATTENTION TO DETAIL that was obviously given to this important and meaningful makeover not so long ago.

Parshat Pekudei came to life for me, you might say, during this Kabbalat Shabbat, and now when I read it and remember Mr. Weinstein’s words about why we give such attention to the details of the Mishkan (and later to the Beit HaMikdash) I will indeed have a new and heightened level of appreciation for its meaning as emblematic of the loving relationship we have with G-d and how we want the home we share with
G-d to be completely representative of that loving relationship in every detailed way!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Are You My Community?

I am fairly sure we all remember this cute children’s book called “Are You My Mother?” This lovely little story explains that there is this young being, which both my friend and my son recall as being a duck, who is searching for his mother. He takes a stroll and comes across many members of the animal community, always asking “Are you my mother?” and alas, they are not. Children love this story and of course, in the happy ending, the adorable duckling finds his mommy. Great ending!

So sometimes, I feel like this duck. Let me explain. I am on the hunt always for my Jewish community. Of course, the entirety of the Jewish community is mine, I get that. But really, where is MY community? Are you my community, I am always asking. Where are the ritualistically observant (not critical) Shomrei Mitzvot (nice but okay, if not completely) spiritually connected Jewish communities committed to their moral imperative to work for the betterment of the world (definitely a deal breaker for me)? I always say, I belong here a little there a little but nowhere completely. I actually wrote about this in an earlier blog posting as a fence sitter by conviction. But to be really honest about it, sitting on fences hurts after a while and can be quite tiring. I feel like I am fighting battles on all sides at all times. And I am still searching…. Are you my community?

My son came home from shul rather upset recently. Here is what happened to the best of my knowledge. He was talking about the recent rockets that exploded in Be’er Sheva where Talie (his sister, our daughter) lives. Fortunately, no one was injured, though property was and one home-owner, who is planning a wedding for a child, remarked that she is worried that there could be a strike there again as it is now known that the rocket that was sent from Aza hit a residential site. After this, Israel retaliated as Israel must. As a result, a Palestinian woman and her child were killed. We were sad at the loss of innocent life in this situation as we always are – as Jews and as members of the human family (and being so is NOT being disloyal to Israel but rather affirming the very ethical premises on which such difficult decisions are made!). My son was expressing this sadness at the loss of life (are we not taught that all people are made BeTzelem Elokim and that we as Jews who respect all life are not to celebrate at the loss of ANY life?!) and people listening or just hearing the conversation peripherally near the Kiddush table basically shut him down, telling him he did not know what he was talking about. When he came home and expressed how unhappy he was, I explained that I simply do not talk about such things in our community (except with a chosen few) – which already tells you something – as I know most of the members of our shul community do not share my feelings about such things and I do not want to get into shouting matches as I do not feel that any purpose is served by doing so. In fact, I feel that this would be “placing a stumbling block before those who cannot see,” so to speak.

There is a great reading called The “Moshiach’s Hat” in which The Moshiach comes to earth and continually asks, as am I, “Are you my community?” He goes to one shul where people are wearing one type of Kipah and he has another and they say “You do not belong here.” He then puts on one type of Hassidic garb, goes to a Hassidic community and is told, “That is not the right coat. You do not belong here.” And on and on it goes…. Until finally he decides to leave earth and that there is no community that can answer his question, “Are you my community?”

How sad! We are all part of B’nai Yisrael and are part of a world wide community of B’nai Adam. Today, the well being of ALL of our communities is being threatened by extremists and those who want world wide domination based on their prototype of belief and how people should live. Within this context, we as Jews are admired for our Talmudic tradition, for the Rabbinic discourse that accompanies our process of figuring out how to live, and for the humility that comes with not knowing all of the answers.

And yet…. We have our community members who claim to KNOW all the answers to those questions that we can only respond to with approaches, and differentiated ones at that. This is how we have raised our children and how we act as informed, learning and practicing Jews. So, now we ask, “Are you my community?” Still waiting for our happy ending!