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Head Spinning, Heart Soaring: Coexistence Experiences

My head is spinning, my heart is soaring, yet the Israel Convention of the Central Conference of American Rabbis is only in its second day. So much is happening. Where to start.

The Convention opened with a klezmer band (complete with tuba!?) serenading us as we walked to Mercaz Shimshon, the headquarters of the World Union of Progressive Judaism. We shmoozed, caught up with friends new and old, and heard from the Mayor of Jerusalem, Nir Barkat. Fellow blogger Ima on (and off) the Bima (Rabbi Phyllis Sommer) and Divray Derech (Rabbi Rick Winer) covered that event on their respective blogs, so click over to them for the low down.

Today (Wednesday) was for me, a day to explore the potential and challenges of coexistence in Israel. I woke early to pray at the Kotel (Western Wall) with Women of the Wall, a group of women dedicated to making it possible for women to seriously daven (and wear tallitot and read Torah) at the Kotel. They gathered at the back of the women’s section and, covered with tallitot and some kippot, davened together aloud. We men stood behind the mechitzah (divider), sang along, took pictures and prayed. We witnessed the fundamentalist, misogynist anger of some of the ultraorthodox men as they called this the “prayer of Hamas”. One colleague had his camera taken by an ultraorthodox man, and in the tussel to get it back, it dropped and was broken. The self-appointed women guards at the women’s section yelled and screamed that this was inappropriate worship. How unfortunate that the shrieking screams of a woman at this place of prayer is deemed more appropriate than the traditional prayers of sung by a collection of women. It was very upsetting, and yet for women (and mixed groups) who want to pray together at one of Israel’s most holy sites, this is more usual than not. We made our way down to the Southern Wall to read Torah; our female colleagues honored with an aliyah. Sadly, fundamentalism is alive and well in ultraorthodox Judaism.

My friend Ron Stern of Stephen S. Wise Temple is getting involved heavily in Los Angeles Interreligious Dialogue. After hearing the amazing stories he tells, I decided to take advantage of the CCAR’s interreligious experience. The afternoon included a jaunt with the Interreligious Coordinating Council in Israel. Rabbi Kronish took us to meet with the Lutheran Bishop (of Israel, Jordan and Palestine) and the Armenian Archbishop. We heard about their communities, the different narratives, struggles and hopes. In general, a picture of hopeful coexistence pervaded. We then met with the Muslim Kadi of Jerusalem, a religious judge who deals with issues of marriage, divorce and inheritance. He spoke of the freedom of religion under Israelis, about the contentment of this Palestinians who are Israeli citizens of their lives living in Israel, but also about the challenges of gaining full complement of services from the State. They shared their very productive dialogues with orthodox rabbis, and how interpersonal connections are leading to better understanding. The afternoon left me with a sense of hope and possibility. That if we see the Other within his life and tradition, barriers can fall. Bravo (and thank you) to the CCAR for bringing us this meaningful interreligious experience!

Let me speak of love. When I travel to conventions, I usually sit in my hotel room during down time. But my head spins and my heart soars with the intoxication of Jerusalem. Every free moment (blogging excepted), I am out and about. Walking the back alleys of the Old City. Meandering through the neighborhoods. Racking up hours of exploring. I cannot get enough of this place! Enough blogging. Gotta get out there and meander!

4 comments

  1. heidi cayn friedman says:

    I have been following your latest Israel trip on your blog every day, excited to hear of your daily treks and experiences, drinking in the information, gazing at pictures while trying to imagine what it would be like to be there.

    I have many friends who have lived on Kibbutz, college roommates from the Bayit who made Aliyah many years ago, falling in love with Israel and making it their home.

    One friend, an American filmmaker who met an Israeli girl, married and moved there and life forever changed. I think about my distant cousins living in Israel, relatives I have yet to meet, people with whom I have no contact save for an occasional card or email, realizing that I have choices and decisions that I can make to build a connection to them and to our homeland.

    I harken back to my business trips to Cannes, where I stole moments to disappear, walking the narrow cobblestone streets, exploring the tiny cheese shop nestled into the side of a mountain on a walking street, sitting in the cave that is Le Maschou in front of a roaring fire, dreaming in a way that is only possible in a place filled with magic. I wonder what dreams lie in Israel for me?

    Now, I live vicariously through the tales my rabbi shares, hoping that one day, in the not too distant future, I can be there with my husband and children…in a place that my grandfather never got to see…such an important and special place that gives heritage and spirituality a whole new meaning.

    These are my thoughts, inspired by your blog…

    Thank you and enjoy the rest of your journey.

  2. Susan says:

    I want to hear more about The Women of the Wall. I followed the link & was intrigued. I am really curious about how it made you feel when the women who were praying joyfully were shut down by their conservative peers. Did the falafel fly?

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