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,