Thursday, September 25, 2014

High Holy Days

In light of the spirit of the High Holy Days, it seems appropriate to begin this blog post with an apology: I am sorry for being so out of touch!  I know it's not just on this blog but via email, text, and more. I promise to try to be better in the new year :)

Shanah Tovah!

It has certainly been a packed month since I've last written.  Highlights include:

  • Spending the days after the Gaza cease-fire was signed in the north of Israel on a study field trip. We explored an urban kibbutz, learned about the Israelis who established kibbutzim in the 1910s-20s, and visited the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee). For the part of the day that we spent near the Syrian border, we heard explosions every 3-5 minutes: a reminder of the neighborhood in which Israel is located. It was crazy to have my prayer for peace punctuated by the sound of war.
  • Beginning classes. I'm taking: liturgy, 2nd Temple history, Zionist history, an Israel seminar, Hebrew, Biblical Grammar, Bible, and Rabbinic texts. Whew! All of the professors are incredibly knowledgable and kind.
  • Running with friends for sunset views all over the city.
  • Swimming, playing frisbee, and drinking at the beach in Tel Aviv.  
Right now, at the beginning of the Yomim Nora'im, the Days of Awe, I'm thinking about the delicate nature of life.  After a summer of war, a month of preparative introspection, and missing the funeral of my great-uncle Arnie two days ago, life feels especially fragile. The Jewish imagery of these days is of two great books: one for death and one for life; a quill writing names in each on Rosh Hashanah, and sealing the decrees on Yom Kippur. People and angels alike pass in judgment between holy gates. 

The imagery is so powerful because it reminds us that what we do on every day outside of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is what matters. It matters when we act with generosity and kindness. It matters when we choose to recycle instead of throw something in the trash. It matters when we call our family and say hello. It matters when we take the time to get to know our classmates and coworkers. Our actions have immense consequences, and our actions of the past years have made us into who we are today. Today's actions make us who we will be tomorrow.  When we act for life, we are inscribed in the book of life.

I'm excited for this year of study and exploration: of a new city, of my tradition, of myself.  

May we all be inscribed in the Sefer HaChaiim, the Book of Life.

Shanah Tovah,

Thursday, August 14, 2014



So in addition to being super thoughtful about what's going on in Israel/Gaza right now, I've been having a lot of fun too.  Here are some pictures to prove it!

Beach in Raanana

Pre Shabbat selfie with cousins in Raanana 

The beautiful campus in Jerusalem

Selfie with program director and friends on a Biblical History Field Trip

Matching Titans gear + shoes with my friend post 5mile Havdalah run

Grateful that I have a life and home to return to.  

Shabbat shalom!

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Tisha B'Av

It has been a tough week here in Jerusalem.  I know that as I write this, the cease fire is holding and there is even preliminary talk of a more extended ceasefire. But a few days, we had two terror attacks in Jerusalem, and yesterday we marked Tisha B'av.

Tisha b'Av is the ninth day in the month of Av, a day associated with many great calamities that have befallen the Jewish people, most notably the destruction of the first and second temples in ancient Jerusalem. We are taught that the second temple was destroyed because of the sin of "sinat chinam," translated as "baseless hatred."  On this day, we fast and read the book of Lamentations, making time for ourselves to mourn and look within.

Looking around my world in Jerusalem, this feels extremely relevant. Barely 50 miles away from my beautiful apartment in Jerusalem, two peoples have been at war. In the context of the last 30 days, "baseless hatred" seems like an over-simplication, but in the course of history, it seems to fit.  I cannot confidently take one position about what is going on: this war, this country, this history, these peoples are much too complex.

Everything about the current situation in Israel and Gaza causes me distress. I feel anguish for the young soldiers who face the harsh realities of war, and for their families and countrymen who wait at home for news of their safety. I feel anguish for those residents of Gaza who been displaced from their homes with nowhere to go, and for the significant loss of civilian life, particularly of children. I feel anguish for the citizens of Israel who are constantly on alert for the sounds of air raid sirens, and who then hear echoes of the sirens in the acceleration of a passing motorbike or the murmurs of a refrigerator. I feel anguish for a people who live in a blockaded country, and for the country that creates the blockade. I feel anguish for Jews around the world who face increased violence and anti-Semitic attacks as a result of this war. I feel anguish for the Jewish people, who suffers when thoughtful people disengage from Israel because it seems so hard to understand.

During services yesterday, as we read one of the concluding prayers, I realized something that suddenly seemed so obvious.  As a community, we said together: "Bayom hahu, yih'yeh Adonai echad, u'shmo echad": "and on that day, G-d will be one, and G-d's name will be one." I understood that the actual name of god doesn't particularly matter, and neither does religion. The meaning of oneness is that we treat one another with loving-kindness (gimilut chasidim) and respect, regardless of religion or nationality (or gender or ...)  We can hope for and work toward that day by infusing our lives with loving kindness and respect, and by making space for complexity.


Tuesday, July 22, 2014

What to do, what to say?

I keep sitting down to write this post and I'm not sure where to begin or where to go.  As I write this, I've read reports of Germans shouting anti-Semitic chantsairlines are canceling flights into IsraelBan Ki Moon stating that Gazans are victims of the "brutal Hamas regime", the death toll in Gaza tops 600, and the UN Security Council has reaffirmed it's commitment to brokering a ceasefire. What to do, what to say?

Physically, I'm pretty safe in Jerusalem. We haven't had rocket sirens in almost two weeks and if you don't look or listen too closely, you might think that Jerusalem is simply a quiet city. But if you do engage, the undercurrents speak volumes. Graffiti around the city reminds us (ironically, perhaps), that "hakol b'seder" - everything is ok, or everything is in order.

Other graffiti asks Bibi (Prime Minister Netenyahu) what the "point", or target is. These words with the image of a young girl in the crosshairs of a sniper rifle are jarring.  Other graffiti proclaims that "girls in Sderot [Israel] and Gaza want to live." Gatherings in large public spaces are cancelled. Shabbat services this past weekend included the prayer for our soldiers and for the welfare and decision-making of the government, and more importantly, mentioned the specific families from congregations that had a relative called up. 

What to do, what to say?

It's not all doom and gloom. This war in Gaza (Israelis have started using the word "war," instead of "situation") is the backdrop of my life right now, fading away as I sit down for hours of Hebrew study or a Biblical history lecture. There's also the city, with cafes and winding roads and alleyways and restaurants that I'm discovering, along with new friends. 

I'm going to conclude with six of my favorite words: 
שְׁמַע יִשְׂרָאֵל יי אֱלֹהֵינוּ יי אֶחָד
"Sh'ma" - Listen
"Israel" - one who struggles with G!d (or goodness, or human nature, or tragedy, or violence in the divine name")
"Adonai" - G!d
"Eloheinu" - is ours
"Adonai" - G!d
"Echad" - is one

The world is diverse, beautiful, animated. And we all struggle, and we are all one.  


Friday, July 11, 2014

"Welcome to Israel!"

So, wow.  What a week to arrive in Israel!  I've visited the shuk, moved into my apartment, gotten to know my beautiful campus, learned with our school's president and professors, attended a talk at the Shalom Hartman center, toured the outskirts of Jerusalem and looked down on the city from a number of different viewpoints... all things I expected to do during my orientation week.  

I did not, of course, expect to learn the Hebrew word for (bomb/rocket) shelter, "Miklat" (from Biblical times, when certain cities were designated "eerai miklat" - refugee cities), and actually use a miklat on the same day (Tuesday). The second siren (Thursday) came while I was getting ready to hike a spring with some classmates - we were in a neighborhood adjacent to the spring, about to officially start when the sirens began.  Just as we laid down on the ground, some neighbors invited us in to their home, where they offered us water and watermelon. Together we counted and felt the rockets being intercepted by the Iron Dome system - shesh (six) boomim (booms). Afterwards, my classmates and I continued on our hike with our group leader. 

That this has all happened in my first week has simply meant that there is no time to settle. No time to say, "I'll do this first____, and then I'll..." Here's what I've been thinking about: What does it mean for me to be a Jew in Israel? What does it mean for me to be a diaspora Jew, who will return to the diaspora, in Israel? What does it mean that I plan to become a Jewish leader when I return to the US? Is Israel my homeland?  What responsibilities do I have as Jew toward Israel? What does it mean for a people whose identity has largely been based on persecution to be given land and power? 

Of course I don't have all the answers just yet, and I would be doing everything wrong if my ideas didn't change throughout the course of the year.  But I am starting to form some preliminary thoughts.  

First of all, Israel is my homeland, and I love it. I want in. Israel is complicated (and every conversation, with Americans and Israelis, thus far, has only deepened my understanding of its complexities). But this first declaration, this affinity, this love, gives my words and opinions credibility when speaking on Israel. Without this familial link, I am simply a world citizen, free to critique Israel just as any other country of the world. Criticism from within the family carries more weight than criticism from without. (Thanks to Yossi Klein Halevy for his heavy contribution to this point).

Second of all, any and every human life is invaluable. If we, as Jews, want the world to look at us with respect, then we must act with dignity and respect. The kidnapping and murder of the three Jewish boys (z'''l) was a tragedy, and an act of terrorism. The kidnapping and murder of the Arab boy (z''l) was a tragedy and an act of terrorism. The ongoing conflict in Gaza includes unacceptable action on both sides. I am praying (for peace, and) that our abilities to listen to and see our neighbors as humans will grow.

Even with all of this as a backdrop, life goes on. The view out my window of the Knesset and a huge park is still beautiful, day after day. There is lots to learn, challah to be eaten, laughs to be had, and wine to be drunk.

Here are a few pictures of me so far:

With classmates in the Murstein synagogue on campus

Hiking with classmates outside Jerusalem. Thanks to Ira for the pic!

Until next time yall,