I am thrilled and overjoyed to be back in Israel – and I am so grateful to Congregation Or Ami for welcoming me with open arms on this trip! Returning to Jerusalem, where I recently lived for my first year of graduate school at Hebrew Union College has been both wonderful and challenging: I loved seeing the city sparkle in the Friday morning sun, but I still struggle with this holy city that is run by ultra-Orthodox Jews. How do we work towards the ideal of klal Yisrael (one people of Israel) with fellow Jews who spew senseless hatred? How do we reconcile feelings of Israel as our homeland, and Israel as a place that does not always welcome our Reform Jewish values? While I look forward to trying to answer these questions (truly a lifelong journey!), I also look forward to exploring these issues outside of Jerusalem – where this type of inter-Jewish religious conflict is not part of daily life.
This morning we traveled to Mevasseret Tzion for Shabbat services. Mevasseret Tzion is the sister city to Calabasas, and the Progressive (Reform Jewish) congregation there (Kehillat Mevasseret Tzion) is the sister congregation to Or Ami. Rabbi Maya Leibovich was the first Israeli woman ordained as a rabbi in Israel. She led services with a special warmth that drew everyone together – even though some tunes and words may not have been familiar to the Or Ami congregants, everyone was able to celebrate Shabbat and feel a sense of belonging. After reading Torah, we split into small groups to talk about our impressions of Israel and hear about the Israeli Reform Movement. These conversations were incredibly important – we heard from one of the founders of Kehillat Mevasseret Tzion, who explained how difficult it was for them to obtain the space and funding for a building. Another synagogue member explained the importance of having the choice of Reform Judaism in Israel – she is frustrated with the power the Orthodox hold over Israel. These conversations brought both communities together as Or Ami members were able to start thinking about the important role of Reform Judaism in Israel, and how much of a battle the movement has just in gaining the right to exist in Israel. No doubt these discussions will continue as we meet with Uri Regev, the head of the World Union for Progressive Judaism, tomorrow evening.