Sunday, July 13, 2014

Praying During Difficult Times

Today, like so many other days, missiles are launched at many areas in Israel.  Fortunately, Iron Dome is doing the job for which it was created, something truly miraculous, and there have been virtually no injuries.  Even the damage has been incredibly limited.  

Here in Jerusalem, we have had a total of four red alerts: One false alarm, one alarm where missiles fell in Hebron, located in Palestinian territory, and not in Jerusalem, and two cases where missiles were shot down by Iron Dome. Life continues as normal.  People are eating out, going to work, taking children to gan.  Business as usual.

In the South, however,  the red alerts are almost non-stop. Even in the Gush Dan region, the center of the country along the coast where most of the population lives, while the red alerts are increasing in frequency, they still pale in comparison to what those in the South experience.

Many of us are praying for the end of this.  We don't want innocent civilians injured, killed or displaced on either side of the conflict.  We don't want our precious soldiers put in harms way.  At the same time, we don't want our country to continue to operate under the continuous threat of missiles, rockets and mortars. No other country in the world would tolerate this kind of attack on their population centers, their capital, their country.  We will not, we cannot tolerate this either. This is our ancestral homeland, our nation-state, the land where the Zionist dream, utopian as Herzl was in certain ways, will be fulfilled.

We search for words to pray.  Will our prayers serve as a direct link to God, that will be answered positively and immediately?  Will my prayers be answered because I eat kosher food, observe Shabbat, etc? Because I give tzedakah or help others? Many people believe in the direct impact of prayer on the Divine and their personal ability to see the answer in this world and on a daily basis. 

Personally, I don't believe in the efficacy of prayer as a way to get God to act in a certain way.  I do not believe that I can identify God acting in this world.  That does not mean I deny the possibility; rather, I just don't believe that even if my prayers do have that power, that I can identify the finger of God acting in this world, in answer to my prayers.  I do, however,  believe that God gives human beings free will to choose to do good, evil and all that lies between.   

Prayer gives words to the deepest feelings in my soul, to emotions  I may have difficulty articulating.  Prayer causes me to be reflective about what is important, what is frightening, what brings hope and what causes sadness.  It is no coincidence, in my opinion, that the Hebrew word for prayer, L'Hitpalel, is conjugated in the reflexive, to look inside. So, in these challenging times in Israel, what words are there to help me feel strength, confidence, and blessing?  What prayers can give flight to my emotions of concern and determination, helplessness (as I do not serve in the IDF) and  confidence that as a Jew living in the Jewish State, I am no longer powerless?

The Rabbinical Assembly circulated the following prayer, composed by Rabbi Simcha Roth z"l, for times like this.  The words speak to and for me.  

Perhaps they will for you as well.

As I write this, my phone beeps with red alert warnings for so many communities in the South, near the Gaza Strip.  So I pray...

I pray for the day when the children of Sderot, Nahal Oz, Yad Mordechai, Sa'ad and other communities can go outside without needing to know where the nearest bomb shelter or protected area is located.  

I pray for the day when Hamas ceases to hold its own people hostage, when they seek Peace and Co-Existence rather than death and destruction.

I pray for the day when we never see a group of Jewish teens kidnapped and killed for any reason and for the day when we cease needing to add names of Israelis to the list of those killed in battle or from in acts of terror

I pray for the day when we uproot racism and hatred from our own communities.

I pray for the day we do the cheshbon nefesh (soul searching) demanded by recent events like the racist march through  the streets of our capital, and the cold blooded murder of a 16 year old Arab teen.

Finally, I pray for the day we see Peace for Israel, for the Jewish People, for the Land and for all who live in this region:


מִי שֶׁבֵּרַךְ אֲבוֹתֵינוּ אַבְרָהָם יִצְחָק וְיַעֲקֹב, וְאִמּוֹתֵינוּ שָׂרָה רִבְקָה לֵאָה וְרָחֵל, הוּא יְבָרֵךְ אֶת תּוֹשְׁבֵי מְדִינַת יִשְׂרָאֵל הַחַיִּים תַּחַת הָאִיּוּם הַמַּתְמִיד שֶׁל טִילֵי הַהֶרֶס. הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא יְחַזֵּק אֶת לִבָּם וְאֶת כֹּשֶׁר עֲמִידָתָם בְּעֵת מַשְׁבֵּר, עַד יַעֲבֹר זַעַם.יְהִי רָצוֹן מִלִּפְנֵי יוֹשֵׁב בַּמְּרוֹמִים שֶׁיִּתֵּן עֵצָה טוֹבָה בְּלֵב כָּל קְבַרְנִיטֵי הַמְּדִינָה, שֶׁיֵּדְעוּ לְנַהֵל אֶת מִלְחֶמֶת הָעָם בְּתוּשִׁיָּה, בַּהֲבָנָה וּבְחָכְמָה.יהוה צְבָאוֹת, מֶלֶךְ שֶׁהַשָּׁלוֹם שֶׁלּוֹ, שְׁמֹר נָא עַל חַיָּלֵי צְבָא הַהֲגָנָה לְיִשְׂרָאֵל הָעוֹמְדִים בַּמַּעֲרָכָה בַּיַּבָּשָׁה,בָּאֲוִיר וּבַיָּם, בַּחֲזִית וּבָעֹרֶף, וְעַל כָּל כֹּחוֹת הַבִּטָּחוֹן וְהַהַצָּלָה. הַצִּילֵם אֱלֹהֵינוּ מִכָּל צָרָה וְצוּקָה וּמִכָּל פֶּגַע רַע, וּשְׁלַח בְּרָכָה וְהַצְלָחָה בְּמַעֲשֵׂי יְדֵיהֶם: צֵאתָם לְשָׁלוֹם וְשׁוּבָם לְבָתֵּיהֶם לְחַיִּים וּלְשָׁלוֹם.אָבִינוּ שֶׁבַּשָּׁמַיִם, שִׂים שָׁלוֹם בָּאָרֶץ וְשִׂמְחַת עוֹלָם לְכָל יוֹשְׁבֶיהָ, וִיקֻיַּם בָּנוּ בִּמְהֵרָה בְיָמֵינוּ מִקְרָא שֶׁכָּתוּב: "וְיָשְׁבוּ אִישׁ תַּחַת גַּפְנוֹ וְתַחַת תְּאֵנָתוֹ וְאֵין מַחֲרִיד,כִּי פִי יהוה צְבָאוֹת דִּבֵּר", וּפְרֹשׂ סֻכַּת שְׁלוֹמֶךָ עַל כָּל יוֹשְׁבֵי תֵּבֵל אַרְצֶךָ. 

וְכֵן יְהִי רָצוֹן

,ונֹאמַר אָמֵן.
May the One who blessed our patriarchs -  Abraham, Isaac and Jacob - and our matriarchs - Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah -, bless the residents of the State of Israel who live under the constant threat of destructive missiles.  May the Holy One Blessed One strengthen their hearts and their staying power at this moment of crisis, until the danger has passed.

May it be the will of the Almighty, that God imbues wisdom in the hearts of all the members of the State’s Cabinet, that they will know to direct this national war with wisdom, insight and understanding.  God of Hosts, Sovereign of Peace, please protect the soldiers of the Israel Defense Forces serving in this campaign on land, in the air and at sea, on the front and in the rear – and all the forces of defense and rescue.  Save them, God, from all trouble, distress and malady, and give them blessing and success in all their endeavors.  May they go out in peace and return to their homes for life and peace.


Our Father in Heaven, bring peace to the land and eternal peace to all its residents, and establish amongst us, speedily in our days, what is says in our Tanakh:  “And each person shall sit under his vine and fig tree, and no one shall make them afraid, because the mouth of the Lord of Hosts has spoken. (Micah 4:4)”  And spread a shelter of Your Peace on all the residents of your land.  

And so it shall be.  

And let us all say, Amen.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Reaction to Calls for Vengeance and Another Murder

Written just after the announcement of the discovery, in the forests of Jerusalem, of the body of murdered 16 year old Muhammad Abu Khdeir from Shuafat, 

At this time, we do not know the perpetrators or reasons for the killing of a 16 year old Arab boy, discovered in the early hours of this morning in the Jerusalem Forest. 

And you know what?

It doesn't matter. 

The pain we feel here for the murder of the three kidnapped teens, for Eyyal, Gilaad and Naftali,  CANNOT be channeled into acts of "Nekama" or vengeance. 

Last night, I wandered through downtown.  I saw a procession of far right extremists chanting "Death to Arabs," looking for Arabs to harass and harm.

This is not the Jewish way.


We cannot stand idly by. 

We must demand quick action from our Government to protect all citizens.

It does NOT matter if, in the end, the Arab teen was murdered by other arabs due to internal family tensions or by Jews. 


If this was a family problem, we are still left with "ours" walking through downtown Jerusalem, chanting hatred and looking for innocents to harm.

If this was done by "ours," we have serious cheshbon nefesh, soul searching,  to do.  When we are done with out accounting,  we must then  act as a nation to uproot this hatred. Punishment for "our" perpetrators, when found and tried, must be ma'asar olam - life sentences - and sealing of homes. Homes here can't be destroyed because almost all live in multi-family apartments. But families can be locked out permanently

Those who know me know I am a pragmatist, a realist, and center just slightly right on security issues. They also know that I am center, slightly left, when it comes to questions of civil rights.

But this is not an issue of left or right, religious or secular. 


This is a matter of the soul of our country.  

Nothing less. 

Praying this is a quiet Shabbat, one of comfort for the families of Eyyal, Gilaad and Naftali and for the family of Muhammad.

Praying there is quiet in Sderot and the communities in range of the Hamas missiles.

Praying we witness Peace, Shalom, soon and in our day.

העשה שלום במרומיו הוא יעשה שלום עלינו ועל כל עם ישראל

May the One who makes Peace in the Heavens make Peace for all Israel...

ועל כל יושבי תבל

And for all humanity.

Amen

Monday, June 30, 2014

What we need to do now: Thinking of Eyyal, Gilad and Naftali, zichronam livracha

Watching the news, listening to the politicians and the analysts, reading the status messages on Facebook and Twitter, the following is clear to me:

Now is the time for one thing and one thing only: 


mourning. 

To feel the deep, penetrating sadness. 

To send messages of support and embrace to the families.

That is all.

Now is NOT the time to argue about the strength of a response.

Now is NOT the time to talk about either showing military restraint or building new communities in whatever name you use to refer to the land to the East, between the "Green Line" of armistice and the "Blue Line" of the Jordan River.

Now is NOT the time to dehumanize the "Smolanim," the leftists  or those Israeli citizens who live in Gush Etzion (often referred to as "Mitnachalim," Settlers).

There will be time to debate what is cause and what is effect. 


There will be time for all of the above.

But there is only now to feel the immediacy of the pain, of the loss, of the sadness.

Now is the time to focus on what binds us together as a family, as a people, as a nation.

We owe it to the three beautiful souls snatched from this world, to their families and last, and in this case least,


to ourselves. 

Let the memory of Eyyal, Gilad and Naftali forever be for a blessing.

May their parents be comforted along with all the mourners of Zion and Israel.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Bring Them Home Alive!

ויש תקווה לאחריתך, נאום-יהוה; 
ושבו בנים, לגבולם

And there is hope for your future, declares The Lord; 
Your children shall return to their country.
Jeremiah 31:16


Walking around Jerusalem, you might think everything is “business as usual.”  Traffic in the morning is as bad as ever and people honk their horns within a nanosecond of the light turning green.  As always, the woman who hands out newspapers at the corner of Keren HaYesod and Agron Streets is there today.  People still say hello and smile.  

The reality, however, is different.  The tension in the air, the concern, the hope and the fear are all palpable.  Three teenagers, Gilad Sha'ar, Eyal Yifrach and Naftali Frankel, kidnapped on Thursday night, are still missing. Their safety and well-being is in the forefront of our minds. Talking with others, I hear the same thing over and over again.  It is hard to concentrate.  It is hard to focus.  Little problems that under other circumstances elicit disproportionate, frustrated reactions are swept aside as if they are nothing. The return, alive, of Gilad, Eyal and Naftali is all that matters.

Right now, we are stuck between the compelling desire to want to do something and the grating frustration that there is little we can do.  We send words of support to the family, we share messages on social media and we look for any shred of good news.  The tradition of praying from the Book of Psalms helps us act and articulate, privately and communally, our  thoughts and feelings.  The Psalms are aspirational.  They express our hope for a certain outcome, a positive outcome: the return of our boys to their families. They are not a guarantee.  While the IDF forces search for Eyal, Gilad and Naftali, we send them and their families strength through our prayers.

I ask that you, my friends of all faiths, join me and others throughout the world in praying the words of Psalms 121 and 142 several times each day, keeping in mind our three kidnapped boys in the hope that they will return alive into the warm embrace of their parents and their families very soon.

Amen!

תהילים קכ״א

 שִׁיר, לַמַּעֲלוֹת:
אֶשָּׂא עֵינַי, אֶל-הֶהָרִים--    מֵאַיִן, יָבֹא עֶזְרִי.
ב  עֶזְרִי, מֵעִם ה׳--    עֹשֵׂה, שָׁמַיִם וָאָרֶץ.
ג  אַל-יִתֵּן לַמּוֹט רַגְלֶךָ;    אַל-יָנוּם, שֹׁמְרֶךָ.
ד  הִנֵּה לֹא-יָנוּם, וְלֹא יִישָׁן--    שׁוֹמֵר, יִשְׂרָאֵל.
ה  ה׳ שֹׁמְרֶךָ;    ה׳ צִלְּךָ, עַל-יַד יְמִינֶךָ.
ו  יוֹמָם, הַשֶּׁמֶשׁ לֹא-יַכֶּכָּה;    וְיָרֵחַ בַּלָּיְלָה.
ז  ה׳, יִשְׁמָרְךָ מִכָּל-רָע:    יִשְׁמֹר, אֶת-נַפְשֶׁךָ.
ח  ה׳, יִשְׁמָר-צֵאתְךָ וּבוֹאֶךָ--    מֵעַתָּה, וְעַד-עוֹלָם

A song for ascents.

I turn my eyes to the mountains; 
from where will my help come?
My help comes from the Lord,
Maker of heaven and earth.
God will not let your foot give way;
Your guardian will not slumber;
See, the Guardian of Israel 
Neither slumbers nor sleeps!
The Lord is your guardian, 
The Lord is your protection at your right hand.
By day the sun will not strike you, 
Nor the moon by night.
The Lord will guard you from all harm; 
Adonai will guard your life.
The Lord will guard your going and 
Coming now and forever.

תהילים קמ״ב

א  מַשְׂכִּיל לְדָוִד;
בִּהְיוֹתוֹ בַמְּעָרָה    תְפִלָּה.
ב  קוֹלִי, אֶל-ה׳ אֶזְעָק;    קוֹלִי, אֶל-ה׳ אֶתְחַנָּן.
ג  אֶשְׁפֹּךְ לְפָנָיו שִׂיחִי;    צָרָתִי, לְפָנָיו אַגִּיד.
ד  בְּהִתְעַטֵּף עָלַי, רוּחִי--    וְאַתָּה, יָדַעְתָּ נְתִיבָתִי:
בְּאֹרַח-זוּ אֲהַלֵּךְ--    טָמְנוּ פַח לִי.
ה  הַבֵּיט יָמִין, וּרְאֵה--    וְאֵין-לִי מַכִּיר:
אָבַד מָנוֹס מִמֶּנִּי;    אֵין דּוֹרֵשׁ לְנַפְשִׁי.
ו  זָעַקְתִּי אֵלֶיךָ,    ה׳:
אָמַרְתִּי, אַתָּה מַחְסִי;    חֶלְקִי, בְּאֶרֶץ הַחַיִּים.
ז  הַקְשִׁיבָה, אֶל-רִנָּתִי--    כִּי-דַלּוֹתִי-מְאֹד:
הַצִּילֵנִי מֵרֹדְפַי--    כִּי אָמְצוּ מִמֶּנִּי.
ח  הוֹצִיאָה מִמַּסְגֵּר, נַפְשִׁי--    לְהוֹדוֹת אֶת-שְׁמֶךָ:
בִּי, יַכְתִּרוּ צַדִּיקִים--    כִּי תִגְמֹל עָלָי.

A Maskil of David, while he was in the cave. 
A prayer:

I pray aloud to the Lord; 
I appeal to the Lord loudly for mercy.
I pour out my complaint before God;
I lay my trouble before Adonai 
When my spirit fails me.
You know my course;
They have laid a trap in the path I walk.
Look at my right and see-I have no friend;
There is nowhere I can flee, 
No one cares about me.
So I cry to You, O Lord; I say,
”You are my refuge and 
All I have in the land of the living.”
Listen to my cry
For I have been brought very low;
Save me from my pursuers, 
for they are too strong for me.
Free me from prison, 
that I may praise Your name.
The righteous shall glory in me for
Your gracious dealings with me.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Nurturing the Core: Putting Jewish Learning Front and Center

In a recent editor’s column in the New Jersey Jewish News, “The way we do the things we do”  (November 20, 2013), Andrew Silow-Carroll presents a succinct and accurate portrait of current and future challenges faced by Conservative Judaism in North America.  Unlike those who just bemoan the current state of affairs or proclaim our death, Mr. Silow-Carroll presents both challenges and areas of focus that, if addressed in a serious fashion, can serve as the building blocks for a bright future for the movement.  His analysis and suggestions merit further reflection.

The author describes himself in the same way many affiliated Conservative Jews do.  They go to synagogue regularly even if they feel services are too long.  They continue attending because they are at home in terms of ideology, practice and community.  Describing himself as a rarity, Silow-Carroll writes:

            Although I struggle with “obligation,” I like to surround myself with folks who can access Jewish tradition on a deep level, who make Judaism part of their lives well beyond the three hours on a Saturday morning, and who at some level are unable to reconcile the tension between modernity and tradition. We want that old-time religion alongside the new stuff – but constantly worry that one will hurt the other.”

Based on personal conversations and experiences, I believe he is less a rarity than he perceives himself to be. Like Silow-Carroll, many core Conservative Jews are people who want to be in places where they are not the most knowledgeable, most observant people.  They seek to do more and learn more Jewishly. They want to be part of a community, a kehilla, with multiple levels of learning and experience, abundant in role models beyond the clergy to whom they can aspire to emulate and rich in relationships with others with whom they can share Shabbat and other Jewish traditions.  Sadly, because they represent a minority of the whole, they are not studied in-depth and, as a category, are too often marginalized in studies, op-ed articles and strategic efforts.  We must pay more attention to this group. 

As a way to address the future, Silow-Carroll suggests three crucial areas of focus for “scrutinizing the face” Conservative Judaism presents to the world.  He recommends:
  • Invigorating the Shabbat experience;
  • Putting learning front and center; and
  • Exploiting new media.

Embedded in these areas is a deeper message beyond repairing  “the face we show to the public.” Namely, having regular, high-quality, immersive Jewish living and learning experiences together with being part of a powerful, meaning and action driven community are keys to our future and success.  This is neither new nor earth shattering.  It is, however, time for us to pay greater attention to the voices of people like Silow-Carroll and others.  Sitting in Jerusalem, I will leave the question of how to invigorate the Shabbat experience to others.   I do, however, want to address Silow-Carroll’s other two suggestions.

The Fuchsberg Jerusalem Center and our Conservative Yeshiva serve as a home for Jews struggling “to reconcile the tension between modernity and tradition,” seeking to experience intensive exploration of Jewish text in an intellectual-spiritual and inclusive-egalitarian-pluralist framework.  This is our raison d’etre.  From online learning opportunities to programs in Jerusalem, The Conservative Yeshiva is the place for people to do Torah Lishmah, to learn for learning’s sake. 

Our summer programs, three to six weeks in length, welcome nearly two hundred participants.  The program offers a range of options from full-day learning to half-day study/ half-day volunteering through our partner, Skilled Volunteers for Israel.  Participants range in age from nineteen to ninety-one and come from incredibly diverse backgrounds and abilities: some know no Hebrew while others are fluent; some are affiliated, others are not.  They are united by a desire to learn for their own growth and increased commitment.

This winter, we are launching a pilot program for college juniors and seniors seeking a Jewish learning alternative winter break program in Jerusalem.  For the first time, those who want to delve deeper into their Jewish soul will be able to do so with us instead of other kiruv oriented programs.  Twenty young Jews from across North America will join us for twelve days of immersive learning, exploration of this great city, and soulful experience of the myriad of Shabbat communities in Jerusalem.  In the next few years, we hope to welcome over one hundred students each winter.

Our year-long program is filled both with immediate college graduates and those in their fifties and sixties, learning and experiencing a wide-variety of answers and approaches to Jewish questions of ideology, thought and practice. Our Yeshiva is known for helping individuals take the next steps on their Jewish journeys, not dictating specific paths or outcomes.  In the future, we will offer shorter programs, from one week, theme-based open programs and programs for specific professions to drop in programs for those who want to invest one day of an Israel trip to Jewish learning.

Programming in Israel, however, is not sufficient to impact the lives of Jews in North America and the world.  To that end, the Conservative Yeshiva offers a growing number of online learning opportunities.  From e-shiurim, single unit lessons, source sheets included, on a particular issue delivered via e-mail to semester-long online courses, people are able to learn at their own pace, in their own home with teachers in Jerusalem.  This year, we piloted Daf Shevui, a program where two pages of Talmud are broken up into six digestible units also delivered to your inbox daily (http://www.conservativeyeshiva.org/introducing-daf-shevui).  You can also study one Mishnah each day with the Conservative Yeshiva.  Over 3,000 Jews in North America participated in Mishna Yomit (http://www.conservativeyeshiva.org/category/mishnah-yomit) .  As we secure additional resources, we will produce more learning opportunities on a diverse range of topics.


For too long, The Conservative Yeshiva, a program of The Fuchsberg Jerusalem Center, has been among the best kept secrets for Jews in North America like Andrew Silow-Caroll and those he represents.  If putting learning at the forefront and using new media to reach more Jews are key to building a stronger future for the vital center of Judaism, we are answering the call.   To retain the Andrew Silow-Carrol’s and the myriad others like him, immersive, relationship-based learning and community will be key.  We would do well to listen to them.  Here, at the Fuchsberg Jerusalem Center and our Conservative Yeshiva, we already are.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

The Vital Center: Thoughts on the USCJ Centennial Shabbaton


Baltmore, Maryland, Motzei Shabbat, Parashat Lekh Lekha:

In a post on my personal blog, I wrote with a touch of sadness that I would not be in Israel for Shabbat Lekh Lekha.  Because the Torah portion begins with the command to Abram to leave his homeland and go to what will ultimately be known as the land of Israel, this is a Shabbat that celebrates Aliyah and new Olim.  As an Israeli citizen for almost two months, I looked forward to being with my family in Talpiyot, Jerusalem to celebrate our arrival in Israel.
  
While I certainly miss my family and Israel, as I look back on this weekend, I am happy I spent Shabbat in Baltimore, with six hundred others, starting a different odyssey: a journey to the new future of Conservative Judaism.   From energy to options, from kavvanah* to customer service, the weekend exceeded all expectations.  The way the Shabbaton was structured I felt as though I could easily have been in Israel:

 ·      On both Friday Night and Saturday morning, I could shul-hop, with no less than five different options at every service.  There was something for every taste and flavor of Conservative Judaism.

 ·      I enjoyed Shabbat meals with old friends while, at the same time, making new friends. 

·      My spirits were lifted high by energetic zemirot* sessions led by one hundred USYers, over twenty-five Bogrei Nativ, and emerging adults from Marom Olami. 

·      My soul and intellect were enriched and challenged by a vast, rich menu of shiurim – classes – led by superstars of the Jewish world, from Clive Lawson, founder of Limmud, to Vanessa Hidary, the Hebrew Mamita, to my mentor, teacher and friend, Rabbi Bradley Artson, all teaching at levels where every person could walk away having learned something.

Perhaps the greatest difference between this Shabbat in Jerusalem and Baltimore is the quality, the depth and the optimism I heard in conversations about the future of Conservative Judaism.  Before, during and after sessions, the corridors were filled not only with conversations about how fantastic the presenters or the shlihei tzibbur* were but about what the messages were about the future of our approach to Judaism.  People argued passionately, and respectfully, about the implications of the lessons and take-aways.  A few examples: 

In a world where people have multiple identities, how do people identify with and strengthen their commitment to their identification with the values of Conservative Judaism.  Clive Lawson brought the difference between identity and identification to the forefront.  

The Hebrew Mamita, Vanessa Hidary, raised our sensitivity not only to our own self-perceptions but how we perceive Jews from whom we are different.

Rabbi Artson presented an integrated theological approach, weaving our experiencing of the world with discoveries in a variety of fields of science as well as with the layers of ideas contained within our rich tradition.  What are the implications of an integrated theological system on our behaviors, on our relation to Mitzvot and commandedness? And how do we engage members of Conservative Kehillot in this kind of conversation. 

Just to name a few. 

In its variety and quality, this weekend was the demonstration of reaching an understanding that in a world where one can choose not only from five hundred cable channels but can opt out of the regular/cable television system entirely and stream shows from sites like Netflix and Hulu, the one size-fits all kehilla approach needs to and is changing. 

Shabbat ended with a summer camp-style Havdalah.  Our cup overflowed with exceptionally positive energy.  USYers and eighty year olds danced and sang together.  The power of over six hundred voices shouting “Amen” was testimony to the different feeling about our future.

On Tuesday, I will return back home to Israel.  Much of my work there is to help strengthen the lives of North American Jews and Kehillot via intensive learning and experiential programs.  The Shabbaton and Conversation of the Century send me home with a renewed energy and optimism that the Jewish world needs a vital and vibrant center, that we are positioned to be that center in the future in new and exciting ways just as we were in the past, and that there is much exciting work and opportunity ahead. 

To all those who made the Shabbaton and Centennial happen, thank you.

Now go and do! 
Shavua Tov.

This post originally appeared this past sunday on the USCJ Centennial Site, www.uscj100.org

Friday, October 11, 2013

Lekh Lekha - And You Will Go Forth!


Baka, Jerusalem: October 27, 1990 – Sitting in the basement of The Efrata School on Gad Street, I listened intently to the d’var Torah.  The woman stood, speaking haltingly in Hebrew with a heavy American accent:

לֶךְ-לְךָ מֵאַרְצְךָ וּמִמּוֹלַדְתְּךָ וּמִבֵּית אָבִיךָ, אֶל-הָאָרֶץ, אֲשֶׁר אַרְאֶךָּ
“Go out from your country and from your homeland and from the house of your family to the land that I will show you.” Genesis 12:1
An Olah Hadasha, a new citizen of Israel, spoke of her choice to leave the comforts of America to make a home in Israel, the motivations for her choice and the adventures she experienced over the course of the year.  
By this time, I was in Israel for a total of two weeks.  Listening to the refrain of Lekh Lekha, “Go Forth!”, I knew I would never give such a d’var Torah.  I felt a tremendous sense that there was something I was supposed to do in the US. In addition to my personal sense of purpose, the idea of serving in the IDF was simply beyond my comprehension. For these and other reasons, I returned to the US after an incredible year filled with exceptional Torah, a few weeks of life in a sealed-room during the first Gulf War, memories of helping participants in the second Aliyah from Ethiopia and a lot of very good friends in Israel.
It seems my choice to return to The US was correct.  I met Becca, we built a family and have three truly magnificent children! I was privileged to be the founding director Ramah Darom, a family and home that created numerous Jewish leaders and continues to inspire thousands to be more involved in Jewish living, learning and community. Working with a few very good friends, I got to create Camp Yofi: Family Camp for Jewish Families with Children with Autism. I feel confident that I can honestly say, “Mission Accomplished.”
The Midrash asks why God, while directing Abram to leave Ur for Canaan, uses multiple words to describe the place from which Abram will depart.  Abram does not want to go and for each word God uses, Abram has a retort.  The give-and-take continues until Abram overcomes fear and begins his journey to “the place I will show you.”
Let’s be clear: I am no Abram.  But, like all people, I have internal dialogues filled with voices of fear and of strength.  When confronting choices or challenges, I hear encouraging voices pushing me to take risks and try to change worlds just as I hear my own voices of criticism, lack of confidence, fear. Do you hear those voices? Are they purely human or are they partially the Divine within us?  I don’t know.  But in 1991, I heard voices of mission and vision driving me back to America just as I cowered in fear of the implications of making different choices.
When Rebecca and I made the final decision to make Aliyah, I remembered that Shabbat morning at Kehillat Yedidya in 1991, to the woman with her heavy American accented Hebrew, and to my internal voice telling me I would never stand in that spot. I laughed. How right and how wrong I was! The years of fulfilling North American missions were completed.  There would always be voices telling me why it was not the right time to make Aliyah, that I would not succeed, that it was not right for so many reasons.  The voices of confidence, of desire to live in Eretz Avoteinu v’Imoteinu, The Land of our Matriarchs and Patriarchs, the constant pull of the air of Israel, the desire to contribute to the Jewish State  won out over the voices of fear.  On August 20, we landed at Ben Gurion Airport and our Aliyah adventure started.
As fate would have it, I am not in Israel for my first Shabbat Lekh Lekha as a new Israeli citizen.  I am in Baltimore, on the waterfront, at the United Synagogue Centennial.  We will discuss the future. There will be impassioned voices for a variety of strategic directions.  It will be lively and invigorating.  There will be great Torah.  I will meet new people and reconnect with mentors and friends.  And all the while, the words of Yehuda HaLevi, will ring in my ears:


לִבִּי בְמִזְרָח וְאָנֹכִי בְּסוֹף מַעֲרָב

My heart is in the East and I am in the distant West…

Unlike all my previous trips back from  Israel, when I felt what Yehuda HaLevi expressed, this time I know that on Tuesday evening, I will board Delta Flight 268 from JFK back to Tel Aviv.  My body and being will be reunited in Israel with the heart I left behind as a deposit.

And I know I am blessed:  I continue my life work of creating communities where we strengthen  the committed core of Jews seeking more Torah, more knowledge, more spirit, more connection and commitment to Jewish living.  Now, however,  I get to do it where my heart truly is, BaMizrah, in the East, in the State and the Land of Israel, living with the People of Israel and with Torah Yisrael.

Finally, for those of you who are thinking about making Aliyah, I hope and pray that you too  will reach the point where the voices of confidence, of support, of action overcome the voices of fear and the perceived and sometimes real barriers to Aliyah.  I hope you will choose to start your own Lekh Lekha journey and join us in living in and contributing to The Jewish State, The State of Israel. 

Who knows? Maybe next year, you will be giving the Shabbat Lekh Lekha Drasha in Israel!

Shabbat Shalom.