Tag: Israel Trip 2009

Lessons From Jet Lag, Part 1

Jet lag (according to the Centers for Disease Control): symptoms that result from temporary desynchronization of circadian rhythm between a traveler’s internal clock and the external environmen.

Jet lag (according to me): It is 1:36 am and I am AWAKE. Arrrggghhh!

Ten reasons Jet lag is worth it?

  1. You don’t get to visit exotic countries on the other side of the world without changing time zones and paying the price in jet lag. And the exotic countries, even the ones I have visited nine or ten times, are still enchanting.
  2. Pictures and memories: while being up late at night, memories of the trip come flooding back, and with it, the impulse to review “just a few” of the pictures that captured those wonderful experiences.
  3. Traveling abroad (or even across country) may pull me away from my family, but every time I return, I am blessed with being able to experience them anew. I get to hear new stories of school, activities and sports successes. I feel anew the warmth of their hugs.
  4. My wife and kids, beautiful each, are revealed to be even more beautiful than I last remembered! Every time.
  5. Gifts. Take a trip far away for a while, and I am expected (or I expect myself) to bring back gifts. With it comes the worry of finding the right gift (thank you to a few friends who pointed me in the right direction) but also the joy of the smile on their faces when I get it right.
  6. Mail (snail mail and email) My gosh, there are piles of it at home and work. Jet lag provides an honest excuse for not getting through it right away.
  7. Flying on an airplane. You cannot get jet lag unless you fly on a jet. No matter how many times I am on a plane, I am always amazed that these things can fly and can actually take off and land safely. I have read the “How Things Work” books about the mechanics of air flight. Being almost a Physics major in college, I even understand the words. But the actuality of flying still amazes me.
  8. Quiet Time: jet lag, awakening you in the middle of the night, when no one else is awake, entices its victim with the sweetest of rewards: the opportunity to reflect, undisturbed, upon issues and experiences of the trip (or the day, or of life). No kids rushing in. No friends somewhere waiting to Facebook chat. No chores to be done.
  9. Blogging: Blogging provides the means with which to share my reflections – both mindless and meaningful – with others who, by virtue of being on my email, blog subscription or facebook pages, might find some meaning in my babble.
  10. Hashkeevaynu: We get to field test our prayers. Each night at bedtime we pray with our kids the Hashkeevaynu (as Jews do around the world): hashkeevaynu Adonai Eloheinu l’shalom, v’ha’ameedaynu Malkeinu l’chaim – that we are laid down by God (with God?) to sleep, and that we rise up renewed for living. We pray u’fros aleinu sukat shlomecha, that God’s holy sukkah shelters us peacefully as we sleep. Jet lag awakes me to the peacefulness of my home, when my beloved wife is sleeping soundingly, and my darling children looking so innocent in their beds.

Jet lag also has an end. Having eaten a piece of toast and a cup of water, I lay myself back down to sleep. Beloved sleep will come now at 2:15 am, ending the effects of dreaded jet lag. Or I will eventually “hit the wall” and need to nap in my office during one of my prescheduled open calendar spaces. Either way, I receive a well-deserved depreve from jet lag.

Talkback (I’d love to hear):

  • How do you combat jet lag?
  • What blessings have you discovered from being up in the middle of the night?

Reform Rabbis’ Prayer Works: Rain in Israel after Months of Drought!

There are those who believe that if you pray, God brings the rain. Even though I don’t really believe this theology, it needs to be said. Tongue in cheek. Mostly.

Israel has had a bad winter, at least as far as rain goes. Not enough. Drought-like season.

So the Ultra-Orthodox gather at the Kotel (Western Wall), pray for forgiveness for their sins (sexual) and hope to bring the rain. Some even take credit for it:

Shevat 28, 5769, 2/22/2009. Sheer Coincidence?, We wrote that sexual transgression prevents rain from falling in Israel. We said that Thursday night’s mass prayer at the Kotel was to atone for sexual transgressions. Look what happened. It has been raining buckets ever since.

Sheer coincidence, right? Pure happenstance. You’ve got to be kidding! For sure, our
prayers brought the rain.

Here’s the rub. The ultra-orthodox prayed for weeks. No rain.

Then Reform Rabbis gathered en masse on February 23rd in Jerusalem for the Central Conference of American Rabbis convention and voila! It rains. It pours.

Now I’m not saying that our prayers brought the rain.

But it IS kind of interesting that while various orthodox groups have been praying for rain all season. But when we put our prayers to it, the rain comes.

Hmmm… Perhaps if we extended more religious rights to the Progressive Movement in Israel, we could really renew the state, making it clean (of religious corruption), shine (with the light of real Jewish spirituality) and sparkle(with the brightness of social justice).

Who Is Counting? … Me!

This is my ninth trip to Israel since birth. A pause to recount:

  1. A family trip connected to my sister Lori becoming a Bat Mitzvah.
  2. The NFTY Leadership Machon Year in Israel, between high school and college, living at Machon Greenberg, Kiryat Moriah in Jerusalem, 1981-82.
  3. Rabbinical Studies Year in Israel study at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, living off Rechov HaPalmach, near the President’s house, 1986-87.
  4. A post-ordination trip, with Michelle and our (then) 9 month old daughter, to see travel and visit family and friends, 1992. Visited my sister Lori and her (then) two kids.
  5. The Rabbinical CCAR convention in Jerusalem, a mini-trip I shared with my father-in-law Murray November. Fun, energizing, but shortened by the death of our beloved grandmother Ruby Gilner, 2002.
  6. Or Ami’s first official Mission to Israel 2004, a two person trek with congregant Mark Wolfson. Two men, Or Ami’s “Advance Team,” showing up in the Holy Land during the Intifada, proof for a frightened American Jewish community that it was safe to travel to Israel. It was my wife’s 40th birthday present to me.
  7. Or Ami’s first Family Trip to Israel, rescheduled from the summer of Lebanon 2 War to December 2006. In addition to introducing our children to Israel for what I hope will be the first of their many visits, we led a delegation of 40 people total. A wonderful multigenerational experience. Read about it here.
  8. Or Ami’s first Adults only trip, with 23 Or Ami members, our guide Alexandra and our driver Avi in January 2008. First class all the way, great hotels, great connections, and snow in Jerusalem. Read about it here.
  9. This trip: brief touring with Mark Wolfson and his three son in laws, followed by a glorious week attending the CCAR convention, 2009. Read about it here.

How many times have YOU been to Israel? How were these trips meaningful?

National Pluralistic Study

The Jerusalem Post covered the National Pluralistic Beit Midrash (House of Study):

The Jerusalem Post covers the CCAR’s
National Beit Midrash unites Israelis, North American Reform rabbis
Mar. 1, 2009maya spitzer , THE JERUSALEM POST

The conference hall was crowded with groups of four as far as the eye could see; the discussions impassioned, the excitement palpable. Hundreds of Jews – American and Israeli, men and women, religious and secular, new immigrants and sabras, right wing and left wing, sat with one another, intensely engaged in the sacred texts before them – studying, challenging and questioning one another and themselves.

The Batei Midrash Network, a group of pluralistic organizations dedicated to Jewish learning throughout Israel, hosted this landmark day of learning at the Jerusalem International Convention Center on Friday, the fourth day of the weeklong Central Conference of American Rabbis Jerusalem 2009 Convention.

The event brought together Israeli Batei Midrash members and a delegation of the American rabbis for a day of hevruta learning, the traditional mode of Jewish study dating back to talmudic times, involving textual analysis and discussion in small groups.

Friday’s hevruta groups, each with two Israelis and two Americans, studied Shabbat, tradition, renewal and Israel-Diaspora relations. With more than 600 participants, this was the largest assemblage of its kind in the history of the young Beit Midrash movement in Israel.

For the Central Conference of American Rabbis, the Beit Midrash was symbolic of the growth and success of the Progressive (Reform) Movement, and of Jewish pluralism as a whole in Israel. “People from all over Israel have come to Jerusalem to study with Reform rabbis,” said Rabbi Peter Knobel, president of the Central Conference.

Against the backdrop of the state’s refusal to recognize non-Orthodox streams of Judaism, the event demonstrated the solidarity of the worldwide Reform movement, said Rabbi Miri Gold, who is currently embroiled in a fight with the government for recognition as rabbi of Congregation Birkat Shalom in Kibbutz Gezer.

“We have a long way to go,” said Gold, citing the Boston Tea Party’s slogan of “no taxation without representation,” “but the existence of the Beit Midrash shows the strong presence of pluralistic Judaism in Israel, a presence that needs to be recognized.”

“There has been longstanding, unfortunate discrimination, but we’re being proactive, working on advocacy against it,” said Rabbi Yoel Oseran, vice president of international development at the World Union for Progressive Judaism.

He said there was “clear evidence” of the movement’s success in its newfound visibility: the large number of wedding ceremonies performed, the Progressive synagogues now in every major city in Israel despite lack of government funding, and the strong growth in their kindergarten programs. “Certainly the Beit Midrash is reflective of the direction of Reform Judaism and its growing embrace of Jewish scholarship,” Oseran said.

“The goal of this convention is to engage experientially, in a meaningful way, Israel and Israelis. Today we created the largest national Beit Midrash, and with Torah and love of the Jewish people in common, we hope to forge meaningful personal connections,” said Rabbi Donald Rosoff, chairman of the Central Conference convention committee.

The Reform American rabbis from the Central Conference studied alongside their Israeli hevruta partners, united by a dedication to Jewish learning and a belief in its relevance to contemporary concerns.

In hevrutot, “we find ways to integrate modern life and ancient text, bringing the wisdom, humor, philosophy, and halachot of the texts alive in our lives now,” said Roni Yavin, the conference’s Israel chairwoman. “We are maintaining the tradition of Jewish learning from talmudic times and bringing new life to the text at the same time. Israelis want to touch the Talmud themselves.”

The rise of such Beit Midrash-style learning lies at the heart of Israel’s growing Jewish Renewal (Hithadsut Yehudit) movement (no connection to the Jewish Renewal movement that began in North America in the late 1960s and early 1970s), in which people seek to “take more active responsibility for their Judaism,” Yavin said.

From cities to kibbutzim and moshavim, Israel has seen a rise in Jewish Renewal activities: pluralistic study of Jewish texts in batei midrash, communal holiday celebrations and Kabalat Shabbat activities, not associated with specific streams of Judaism.

The Beit Midrash’s planners hoped it would initiate a wider dialogue between the North American and Israeli Jews. “We hope this serves as a big bridge between our communities,” said Yavin. “This process will enable many Israelis to create meaningful personal relationships with our deep and rich Jewish culture. It can enlighten and help us grapple with the existential questions and current challenges facing the individual and the general Jewish public in Israel and abroad.”

“In the past, Israelis thought that Americans would come here to learn from them. It’s been my experience that Israelis now understand the mifgash [encounter] is two ways, and that’s really inspiring. Lilmod ulelamed [to learn and to teach] each other,” said Michael Weinberg, the Central Conference’s chairman of the Beit Midrash.

A number of conference participants attributed the rise of the Jewish Renewal movement to a perceived void and spiritual yearning among secular Israelis. The uptick in mainstream hevruta study and similar activities “symbolizes an evolving Israel,” said Rabbi Mary Zamore of Westfield, New Jersey. “Those who are secular recognize something is missing from their lives. They are yearning for text, yahadut [Judaism], and realize they can do that and still be modern and educated at the same time.”

Rabbi Elyse Goldstein of Toronto, who runs Kolel, one of the few such batei midrash in North America, sees a parallel lack there, and hopes to spur the transplantation of similar institutions overseas.

“As much as Israelis realize they need an outlet for spirituality, American Jews are feeling the same way and saying, ‘You know what, I don’t know that much about Judaism, and I’m not willing to go to a place where there’s only one point of view presented.'”

The Batei Midrash Network, which was established in 2003 by five batei midrash, now includes 21 of Israel’s 30 Beit Midrash organizations. More than 3,000 Israelis take part in Batei Midrash Network’s yearlong programs, and 10,000 participate in its short-term programs.

It is primarily supported by the UJA-Federation of New York, the Avi Chai Foundation, and the Metro-West Federation of New Jersey.

Hebrew is Palpitating My Heart

There’s another aspect of being in Israel that palpitates my heart. Hebrew. Danny Siegel, poet and tzedakah (charitable giving) champion, once wrote the poem, Hebrew:

I’ll tell you how much I love Hebrew:
Read me anything Genesis,
or an ad in an Israeli paper, and watch my face.
I will make half sounds of ecstasy,
and my smile will be so enormously sweet
you would think some angels were singing Psalms
or God alone was reciting to me.
I am crazy for her Holiness
and each restaurant’s menu in Yerushalayim or Bialik poem
gives me peace no Dante or Milton or Goethe could give.
I have heard Iliads of poetry, Omar Khayyam in Farsi,
and Virgil sung as if the poet himself were coaching the reader.
And they move me
But not like the train schedule from Haifa to Tel Aviv
or a choppy unsyntaxed note from a student
who got half the grammar I taught him all wrong
but remembered to write with Alefs and Zayins and Shins.
That’s the way I am.
I’d rather hear the weather report on Kol Yisrael
than all the rhythms and music of Shakespeare.

This poem captures one scrumptious aspect of my trip to Israel. Being immersed in Hebrew. Having spent two full years in Israel (post-High School gap year, and first year of Rabbinic School), I learned enough Hebrew to be semi-fluent (at least as far as conversations about eating, politics, religion and day-to-day living). But I was self-conscious enough to let my Hebrew slide. Then, a year ago, I hired a Hebrew tutor to meet me once weekly at a local coffee shop, so that I could talk and hear Hebrew. We graduated to some reading of newspapers and stories. Then she brought me a book in simple Hebrew (Shlosha Yamim Vayeled – Three Days and a Boy) and I surprised myself by plowing through it very quickly. Now as I journey around Jerusalem and the rest of the country, I relish opportunities to speak, read and immerse myself in the Holy Tongue. (I recently wrote about my Love Affair with the Holy Tongue here).

It is important to me, as a Jew and a Rabbi, to be able to communicate in our people’s language. So I traded family histories with the taxi driver in Hebrew. I spent a morning studying with Israelis in the Pluralistic Beit Midrash (study session) all in Hebrew. I am tantalized by the Hebrew in the signs for auto parts or housewares. I find myself eavesdropping on the conversations in the Beit Café (coffee shop), because the Israelis’ Hebrew is finally becoming intelligible. The news on the radio, in Hebrew (speaking still a bit too quickly for me), challenges me to deepen my command of the language. Though most Israelis want to speak with me in English, I respond to them in Hebrew. I can pretty much get along solely in Hebrew. Very cool.

While English was the main language of the CCAR convention, but true to our commitment to the Holy Tongue, our program committee raised up the offerings in Hebrew. Our CCAR convention offered a plethora of opportunities to study texts in Hebrew, to interact with Israelis in Hebrew, and to pray only in Hebrew. In short, so many American Reform Rabbis are fluent in Hebrew – thanks to our mandatory first year of study in Jerusalem. Because we recognize that the Hebrew language connects Jews everywhere as one people.

By the way, the picture is of me and Rabbi Rick Winer (who blogs at Divrei Derech). I’m the good looking one (on the right).

Breaking Down Barriers in Tel Aviv

K’sheh nichnas Adar, marbim b’simcha. When the Hebrew month of Adar begins, joy is increased! How true, at least from my seat here in Jerusalem.

I lay down for my pre-Shabbat schulfee (nap), only to be so filled with memories and stories that I could only sleep for a few minutes.

Yesterday, Thursday, was Tel Aviv day. This would be my second full day in Tel Aviv/Jaffa this trip; possibly only my third week or so total in my lifetime. I’m an Oheiv Yerushalayim, a lover of Jerusalem, by nature. When the Psalmist wrote, Eem eshkacheich Yerushalayim – If I forget thee, O Jerusalem – I seem to have understood this to mean that I must remain focused on the Holy City. Yet these recent trips, spurred on by Tel Aviv Progressive Rabbi Meir Azari’s challenge to open myself up to Jewish life outside of Jerusalem, has led me to appreciate, even come to love, this modern Jewish city.

We heard Tel Aviv mayor speak of the importance of Progressive Judaism to Tel Aviv. Incidentally, he has been a major supporter of Beit Daniel and its community center, helping allocate land and allocate funds.

We took a walking tour of Jerusalem, led by two guides: an Israeli Jew and a Palestinian Arab of Israeli citizenship. Note the new way of speaking about the second: not an Israeli Arab, but a Palestinian Arab of Israeli citizenship. It is about identity. Years ago, many blacks decided to self-identify as African-Americans, instead of blacks, in order to grasp hold of their African descent. As we walked through Yaffo/Jaffa, we learned about the history of the port city from the perspective of two narratives: that of the Israeli Jew and that of the Palestinian. How to reconcile two “truths”? How to honor the reality each experienced, bringing wholeness to both communities?

The afternoon was a combined celebration of Israeli/Tel Avivi culture and arts, as well as a reflection on issues of social justice. Any Bar Mitzvah student will tell you that when the Torah instructs us in Leviticus 19:4, “You shall not curse the deaf, nor put a stumbling block before the blind…”, it was urging ethical action toward all those with disabilities. Our actions must be more than just not placing a block; we must work to embrace those with disabilities. Thus, the production of Not by Bread Alone, a play whose theater assembly is comprised of people who are deaf and/or blind. A majority of the actors suffer from an inherited genetic disorder called Usher Syndrome which initially results in acute deafness and which is followed by loss of vision. Their production was moving, engaging and thought-provoking. Rather than worrying about the stumbling block placed before them, these “disabled” actors removed the block that keep so many from seeing “disabled” as merely “differently abled.” Bravo to the CCAR for providing us with an artistic experience, a social justice encounter, and a wonderful day!

More reflections on the CCAR conference at Ima on (and off) the Bima (Rabbi Phyllis Sommer), Divray Derech (Rabbi Rick Winer), Desperately Seeking Sinai (Rabbi David Cohen). Also check out the official CCAR Israel Convention blog.

Any other CCAR rabbis blogging the convention? Email Rabbi Paul Kipnes, and we’ll link your blog to the CCAR Israel Convention Blog.

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!

Jerusalem Post on the CCAR Convention

The Jerusalem Post carried an article on the upcoming CCAR convention. It read:

More than 300 Reform rabbis from North America will convene in Jerusalem this week for their annual rabbinical conference, seeking to bolster the tiny Reform Judaism movement in Israel. The six-day event, which opens Tuesday, aims to strengthen the liberal movement’s ties with Israel and build bridges to its religious and secular communities.

Although Reform represents the largest denomination of American Jews, the Orthodox establishment has a virtual monopoly on religious life in Israel, where both the Reform and Conservative movements are largely marginal.

The Reform movement in Israel operates 24 congregations, which, like the Conservative movement’s synagogues, are not recognized by the state, and do not receive state funding.

“The fact that the largest Jewish community in the world still has not recognized Reform rabbis and Reform Judaism’s institution of learning is something that must be fixed,” said Anat Hoffman, executive director of the Israel Religious Action Center, the legal and political arm of Reform Jewry in Israel. “I want to see liberal Jews around the world break their silence and make their voice heard,” she said, adding that “there was not much room for hope” within Israel on the issue.

The gathering of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, which will also focus on Arab-Jewish relations, will include a intra-religious study session with members of all streams of Judaism, and an east Jerusalem tour with “Rabbis for Human Rights,” a fringe group which is most widely known for their vocal opposition to the demolition of illegally built homes in east Jerusalem.

The conference will include addresses by both Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat and Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai, as well as Labor MK Ophir Paz-Pines.

Religious Jerusalem city councilmen from both Shas and United Torah Judaism, which are part of Barkat’s wall-to-wall city coalition and view Reform Jewry as anathema, declined to comment Sunday on Barkat’s scheduled address at the conference.

The event will also include the inauguration of the group’s president-elect, Rabbi Ellen Dreyfus, who leads a small congregation in Homewood, Illinois. Dreyfus, 57, will become the second woman to head Reform’s rabbinical assembly.

The annual convention of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, which is the representative organization of nearly 2,000 Reform rabbis, takes place in different cities around the world, with Jerusalem serving as host city once every seven years.

The last time the conference was held in Jerusalem was in March 2002, when more than 200 Reform rabbis came to Israel at a time of rampant Palestinian suicide bombings.

“To return to Jerusalem and Israel for our conference every seven years is an important symbolic statement for our movement in terms of our connection to the State of Israel,” said Rabbi Yoshi Zweiback of Los Altos, California, a participant in the conference who is relocating to Israel this year to head the Hebrew Union College’s year in Israel program.

“If Reform and Conservative Judaism want to stay alive in the world, they must take root in Israel,” Hoffman concluded.

Pictures of a Sunny Day in Tel Aviv

Independence Hall in Tel Aviv. Where the Declaration of Independence was signed. A great little museum!

Five guys in Jaffa, overlooking the Sea at Tel Aviv. We finally got some sunshine. A beautiful day!

The artists colony at Jaffa. Catching some rays while some of the guys go shopping. Interestingly, we did much less shopping than on previous trips I led. While each of the participants bought gifts for everyone they needed to, it took them much less time. There’s something to be said for a guys only trip…

Artists colony has gorgeous alleyways and beautiful archways!

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Crawling with Reform Rabbis

by Rabbi Paul Kipnes

This country is crawling with Reform Rabbis. They are much harder here to identify then the ultraorthodox ones, mind you, but with the opening of the convention of the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR) beginning on Tuesday, this country is again crawling with Reform Rabbis. (Truth in advertising: there were already plenty of Reform rabbis living here. Through Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion’s Israeli Rabbinic program there are a plethora of homegrown Israeli rabbis, and a vibrant American and English rabbinical aliyah has brought numerous Diaspora rabbis to make this country their home. But I refer now to Diaspora rabbis.) Yes, Israel is crawling with Reform (or as we like to say here, Progressive) rabbis.

And that’s a good thing, mind you, given that Israelis have – across the board – become so alienated from their Jewish heritage/identity/reality by the inflexibility, sexism and political machinations of the Chief Rabbinate and orthodox religious parties. In ever greater numbers, they are embracing the authentic alternative our movement – T’nu’at Yahadut Mitkademet, the Israeli Movement for Progressive Judaism – offers. This influx of rabbis injects our movement here with a healthy dose of support, during a time in which they are increasingly igniting a passion for Judaism in the minds of Israelis.

That’s a good thing, mind you, because since the early 1970’s when HUC-JIR instituted its Year in Israel program, requiring all American Reform Rabbis to spend their first year of study in Israel, our American Reform Rabbinate has become infused even more deeply than ever with ahavat yisrael, a love of Israel. Service to the Jewish people begins with an understanding that being a Jew equals being part of a Jewish people, that the religion is part, but not the totality, of that reality, and that Israel is and has always been central to that identity.

That’s a good thing, mind you, because no matter how many trips to Israel we Reform Rabbis lead for/with our congregants, there is something uniquely poignant about coming home to Israel, making Aliyat haNefesh, if you will, with the very people with whom we spent so many months exploring the country in our adult years. (What’s Aliyat haNefesh, a spiritual ascent? Here’s my understanding.)

A Reform Rabbinical Convention in Jerusalem
Once every seven years, the CCAR meets for its annual convention in Jerusalem. For a few, this is their every seven years return artza (to the land). For many of us, who try to visit Israel every year or so, this is just another excuse to come home to the Holy Land. For our Movement, this is a clear indication of the depth of our connection to Zion.

Yesterday, with my small touring group of congregants, we visited the new Museum at Har Herzl (Mt. Herzl, Israel’s national military cemetery). A brilliantly designed, multimedia experience, the Museum makes you feel like you are falling in love – with the once completely assimilated, non-Jewishly connected Theodore Herzl – with the idea of a Jewish State.

Which led one of our tour participants to ask why in his pre-Bar Mitzvah Jewish education did he not really come to understand the significance of this movement for statehood. Which led me to explain how education is often lost on the youth. Which led him to ask if he ever really learned about early zionism at school or camp. Which led me to suggest that while most all Reform and Conservative schools teach the history of early Zionism, we in our youth are so caught up in ourselves (and irritated that we have to attend supplementary school in the afternoon after our secular school lets out) that we miss half of what we are taught. Which led to the realization that the best way to instill ahavat yisrael, a love of Israel, is to make it possible for the largest number of Jews to visit the Holy Land. Which explains the critical nature of Birthright and annual congregational trips to Israel.

Which explains why, this spiritual ascent to Jerusalem, once every seven years, specially designed for rabbis (and their spouses/partners), is so important. We reconnect with the back alleyways of Israel’s cities, create new kesher (connections) with Israelis across the spectrum, recharge the many facets of our tziyonut (Zionism), and literally fall in love with this country yet again and again.

So Israel is beginning to crawl with Reform Rabbis, as more than 300 of us will gather together for our kinus (conference). And while that will give some ultra-orthodox leaders the creepy-crawlies, it illuminates a indisputable reality: that the Diaspora and Israel are connected by a multidirectional umbilical cord infuses us all – Americans, Israelis, English, Germans, South Americans, Canadians, Russians and… – with a rich heritage and a meaningful Jewish future.

A Certain Holiness
Thus writes the tzedakah wonder worker and poet Danny Siegel:

It was that time of Jerusalem day when the sun chooses
any one of many hills to wash in gold,
the time of day the City assumes a touch of the romantic’s magic.
The religious said blessings.
The eloquent called to mind lines memorized in school
for moments such as these
and wrote new songs from notes made of beams.

Others still, held hands and kissed for all this beauty
whose truest words are whispers and sighs and halfsounds,
hints of interjections no one can put to a rhythm
not Shelley, nor Wordsworth, nor the grandsweeping Lord Byron.

And Mozart and Schumann deceive us,
trying to make keys and oboes and strings say things
only a Jewish heart in love with the Holiest of Places
can say.