Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Mourning Superman Sam

Yesterday an eight-year-old boy was laid to rest in Glencoe, Illinois. A boy I never met, never spoke to, and yet ... like countless others around the world I felt connected to this boy. I read about his battle with acute myeloid leukemia through blog posts by his parents, both rabbis in the Chicago area. I followed his mother on Twitter and Facebook. I listened and read as mutual friends in the Reform community posted and shared and retweeted Sam's trials and triumphs. My heart ached and swelled with every one. And yesterday, my heart was heavy with grief knowing that over 1,000 mourners had gathered together to say a final goodbye to this beautiful child, Superman Sam.

Am I allowed to grieve, though I did not know him? Am I allowed to feel the pain of such a horrific loss, even though I was not present at that funeral? Can I mourn from afar, through a computer screen, though I never met Sam, or his parents, or his beautiful young siblings, face-to-face?

I cannot begin to fathom what his parents, his siblings, his grandparents and cousins and friends and loved ones, his doctors, his community - those who actually knew him - must be feeling. I cannot comprehend their grief, their pain, or their anguish. Nor can I try to wrap my head around what their lives will be like in the days, weeks, months, and years to come.

But I can raise my voice in support of this family, and the countless others fighting for increased funding of pediatric cancer research.

The rabbis of the Reform Movement are many, but we are all connected to one another. And among the mourners physically present at Sam's funeral were dozens of rabbis and cantors from the Movement, several of whom left Biennial early to stand in solidarity and mourn in person with Sam's family.

Many of those incredible rabbis are currently involved in this fundraising effort: 36 Rabbis Shave for the Brave. The campaign, run through the organization St. Baldricks, has grown and spread and tweeted and Facebooked and blogged and exploded around the country and the world. Rabbis are shaving their heads at the CCAR Convention in Chicago this March in memory of Sam, and I encourage you whole-heartedly to support their effort to raise awareness and funds.

One of the most moving things I read about Sam shortly before his death was that he made sure his money was going to tzedakah; that his legacy would outlast his short eight years. Now, our extended community has an obligation to support his family and his community, Am Shalom in Glencoe, Illinois. (Where my amazing classmate Andrea Rae Markowicz serves as cantor) Please visit their page here to extend your support.

And finally, Jewish tradition teaches us to remember the life and the legacy of those who physically leave us. Judaism teaches us to tell the stories of those we mourn; to remember them not in their death but in the life they led.

Read Sam's story. Be inspired by who he was and what he did in this short time on earth. Connect with and follow the words of his parents, Rabbi Phyllis and Rabbi Michael Sommer, here. Read the countless articles and obituaries written on Sammy.

Ensure that his story lives on.

Each of us is only one person; one tiny speck, one grain of sand, within something so much greater than ourselves. Yet so many of those grains of sand were brought together throughout Sam's illness - through social media, through words and stories and acts of compassion. Through a brave rabbi (my dear friend Rabbi Rebecca Schorr, who you can find here) stepping forward and offering to help organize the fundraising efforts with St. Baldrick's. Through the rabbis of the Reform Movement wearing Superman pins on their lapels throughout Biennial in honor of Sam. Through the mentioning of Sam's passing at Shabbat services on Saturday morning, before 5,000 people.

Though we may only be one, we ones must connect. We ones must multiply. We ones must tell those we know and galvanize our circles to act, to remember, and to care.

Then and only then do we keep Sam's memory alive.

Superman Sam, I did not know you. But you inspired me. Your parents inspire me. And I will share your story, and I will care, and I will mourn - even from afar - to ensure your memory lives on.

Zichrono livracha, may his memory be for blessing.


Monday, December 16, 2013

Unpacking Biennial


That's not a word I use often enough. But I will use it to describe the past four days, which I spent in San Diego along with about 5,000 others at the Union for Reform Judaism's 2013 Biennial.

Every two years the URJ gathers together thousands of Reform Jews - lay leaders, synagogue employees, clergy, entertainers, NFTY-ites, and more - to connect and reconnect, pray, learn, network, and altogether grasp the movement of the Movement.

The first Biennial I attended was in 2001, just a few months after 9/11. I was the president of my temple youth group, I was seventeen years old, and up until that summer I had no concept of NFTY or a greater Reform Movement. Then my home synagogue, Stephen S. Wise Temple, rejoined the Union and I was asked to represent them at Biennial. The experience was unforgettable.

Twelve years ago, my mind exploded with the excitement and energy - the ruach - of the Movement and especially its youth. And this weekend in San Diego, I felt that same ruach as I participated in the most exciting, stimulating, thought-provoking, and innovative programming and prayer I have witnessed in a very long time.

Biennial is a bit of a blur. There are so many people and so many things happening simultaneously. You're constantly running into people you haven't seen in years. You want to catch up, but you also want to make it to a session, maybe two! The programming is overwhelming in the best way possible; it feels a little bit like Jewish Disneyland with all the stimulation and the taglines. Some people - and I tried VERY hard not to give myself a hard time about this - get serious FOMO: Fear Of Missing Out. Because, truly, there's just so much going on. And you want to do Every. Single. Thing.

Some of the programmatic highlights for me included:
-Learning best practices for young adult engagement from synagogues and communities that are doing it right
-Observing a case study in the URJ's Campaign for Youth Engagement taking place at Congregation Beth Israel in San Diego
-Participating in a workshop for Reform California, led by many of my friends and colleagues
-Discussing the synagogue of the future with Rabbi Sharon Brous and Rabbi David Stern
-Reconnecting and connecting with HUC alumni and students from all four campuses and hearing the outgoing president - Rabbi David Ellenson - bless incoming president Rabbi Aaron Panken on his journey

Then there were the services. Friday night was a stunningly beautiful service led by the clergy team of Temple Beth Elohim in Wellesley, Massachusetts - a synagogue whose innovative educational programs were often used as case studies during my Jewish Education Master's program. Saturday morning I participated in hands-down the most creative and exceptional Torah service of all time primarily led by Cantor Andrea Buchdahl of Central Synagogue and Amichai Lau-Lavie of Storahtelling and Lab/Shul.

What made the Torah service so amazing? It was creative, it was fun, it was engaging, and it had serious depth. The best way I can describe it: thirteen platforms were set up around the giant plenary hall. Each platform served as a bimah, and those who had been asked to stand there (representatives from various URJ organizations) had a Torah with them on their bimah. The 5,000 person plenary chanted the Torah blessings together, and then each platform had a reader who read for each separate aliyah within earshot of their section. It gave me chills. It was beautiful. And it was interspersed with stellar sTorah-telling, a particular highlight being Shira Kline acting as the biblical character Dinah.

It reinforced so very much all that is possible when we think outside the box.

And then, Saturday night I had the most incredible opportunity to introduce the plenary program: an event honoring 100 years of the Women of Reform Judaism and celebrating 75 years of NFTY. The program was a celebration of amazing female musicians, role models, educators, and social activists. It honored Anat Hoffman, the fearless director of IRAC, and it blessed the generations of old and new in sweeping musical tributes. It was just so good.

If you didn't catch it live, please do yourself a favor. Watch the replay, celebrate and dance and sing with the women, and enjoy it:

Part 1: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VpEH9-pFUZc

Part 2: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8MIjJ03r1IE

The Biennial experience got me so energized, so pumped, about all that lies ahead for us soon-to-be rabbis. It made me see so clearly how the Movement is growing and shifting, how its leader Rabbi Rick Jacobs is a visionary who practices what he preaches, how committed and passionate so many of its constituents are, and most of all, the evolution to which the Reform Movement is committed and in which it is invested so deeply. That includes opening our arms to change, embracing that which we do not know, engaging with all those who are "othered" to us, and being exemplars of "audacious hospitality."

To the next chapter, for a new day is dawning ...

Until then, time for sleep!


Saturday, November 30, 2013

The First Funeral

This past Sunday I had the kavod, the honor, of conducting the funeral of one of my mother-in-law's best friends, Helen.

First, let me be clear: Sunday wasn't about me. Sunday was about being a kli kodesh - a holy vessel - and facilitating the memorial of one incredible woman. Helen was one-of-a-kind; a mother and wife and sister and friend who died suddenly and far too young. It was a surreal, sad, and difficult day, but it was one that gave me food for thought about the career I've chosen to pursue. Below are my thoughts on the process itself.

This was the first funeral I'd ever done. It wasn't a dress rehearsal or a practiced memorial service, which we've done throughout school. This was in real time, with a real grieving family; one I know well. It was serious and nerve-wracking and upsetting and really, really hard. I was the authority, the ringleader, and the decider. To their credit, HUC has done a great job of preparing me for leading a memorial service. But to be in the moment, standing face-to-face with mourners, requires a set of skills few classes can teach you.

The funeral began the Friday before, when I went over to the house to speak with the family. When a rabbi or cantor performs any life cycle event, they typically do what's called an "intake." No matter how close a family may feel to a rabbi, the intake sheds light on stories never told and on memories not yet shared. For weddings, funerals, B'nai Mitzvahs, and baby namings, the intake presents a much clearer window onto where the family is "at" leading up to the rite of passage.

The intake was extraordinary. We all cried, we laughed, and I learned much more about Helen than I had ever known. Her husband and daughter shared stories that blew me away, and I shared those very stories from the lectern on Sunday morning. I was able to gain clarity on how Helen came to be Helen, and on the deep sense loss in which her loved ones were immersed.

The funeral itself took place on a beautiful sunny day in Simi Valley. A large crowd turned out, many of them still shocked by the news. As "the rabbi," my job was to be present: to listen and comfort and serve as a receptacle for people's grief. Even though I knew Helen, I wasn't a mourner on Sunday; I was the facilitator. Knowing and owning that was essential, as was carving out space for myself to say goodbye to her in my own way.

As it has been at funerals I've attended in the past, the hardest part was the burial. Saying goodbye and speaking platitudes in a service is one thing; lowering your loved one into the ground and placing earth upon their casket is just something entirely different. Watching her bereaved husband shovel earth into the grave on Sunday, listening to him bid farewell to his beloved wife, was beyond heartbreaking. And immediately after that, one by one, the community did their part to shovel earth into her grave. We all said our goodbyes to her, sang a round of "Me and Bobby McGee" (Helen was a big Janis Joplin fan) and eventually left the cemetery to return to our lives.

I spent the rest of the day immersed in thoughts about ritual. As many of you know, my senior thesis is on the topic of ritual: how Jews connect to Judaism through it, how we as Jewish professionals innovate it, and most importantly - how to measure whether or not a ritual has "succeeded." And much of what my chevruta and I have done is discuss what makes a ritual "work" or "not work."

Though we've concluded it's particularly challenging to evaluate oneself, I think that this funeral - as a life cycle event - really did "work." I felt like it honored Helen, it gave her loved ones the space to grieve and to mourn and laugh and cry, but it was clearly a funeral. Jews do death really, really well. We have such an intricate, well-structured system for grief and mourning. And through the sacred texts of the psalms, the hesped (eulogy) the chanting of El Maleh Rachamim, and the minhagim (customs) at graveside, I feel like we as a community sent her off right.

It was the best possible sendoff we as a community could have ever given Helen. It was a really strong learning experience for me (one, I must admit, I wish I hadn't had under these circumstances) and, I hope, as meaningful an experience as it could have been for her family and friends.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Men and Women and a Movement

Last night my husband and I had the privilege of going to the home of Michael Zeldin, Senior National Director of HUC-JIR's Schools of Education. We went for a delicious dinner and stimulating conversation. The topic: "Where Have All the Men Gone? Power and Gender in Reform Judaism."

You know. The light stuff. 

Our conversation was with Stuart Leviton, the President of Men of Reform Judaism (MRJ) and Rabbi David Wolfman, a strategic planning consultant for the MRJ. Stuart is a lay leader and past president of Congregation Kol Ami here in Los Angeles. His aim last night was to inform us about the organization's vision, engage us in a conversation about gender, involvement, and affiliation across North America, and hear our personal narratives with regard to the politics of gender in our work.

The first part of our discussion centered on affiliation writ large. The following questions were put on the table: Why affiliate? Why be a part of a movement; part of a community? It had all of us students - particularly those of us about to graduate - scratching our heads. 

What did they mean, why affiliate? It felt like a wake-up call; a splash of cold water to the face. To ask a group of soon-to-be rabbis and educators a question like that was intentionally provocative. It's sort of like saying to a doctor, "Why see a medical practitioner? I have Web MD." Yet, we knew to listen, respect, and reflect on what they had to say because there was value and truth to all of it.

Our speakers offered the non-surprising but still-alarming-for-various-reasons fact that men are leaving the Reform Movement in droves. Individuals and families and communities and congregations across North America are freaking out. Across the country lay leaders and professional Jews are asking themselves, (as the title of the discussion itself stated) where have all the men gone? Everyone, it seems, is deeply worried. Even as I write this it sounds like the trailer for an upcoming Hollywood blockbuster. 

So, in light of this massive flight of Y-chromosomes from synagogue life, people like Stuart and Rabbi Wolfman are currently engaged in conversations about what all this means: for the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ), for the day-to-day activities of its functioning North American synagogues, and especially for its youth. (For the record, the URJ's president, Rabbi Rick Jacobs, has made youth engagement a top priority during his tenure) 

Stuart and Rabbi Wolfman asserted that in myriad conversations across North America, men feel displaced, unwanted; they feel as though their needs aren't being met. Men feel they have no outlet and that women have taken center stage in the synagogue. Men want a safe space, they want role models, and they want to feel like they have a place in contemporary American Jewish life. 

Okay. Let's take a deep breath. 

First, I very much appreciated what Stuart and Rabbi Wolfman offered us. It was valuable, stimulating, and provided each of us with essential information as we go forth in our careers as Jewish professionals. There was a lot I wrestled with last night, but it was still hugely important that I listen and take it all in. As a future leader of the Jewish community, talking about the alienation of any part of the population is huge. 

What was most challenging about last night was not that they were speaking about the male/female dynamics of contemporary synagogue life. Additionally, what they shared was no surprise; it's a well-known and well-documented fact that since the 1990s a vast majority of HUC-JIR's graduates have been female, resulting in fewer and fewer men being drawn to professional Jewish life. That's had a traceable ripple effect on all areas of the Movement.

No, what was most difficult to swallow was the fact that everything being presented last night appeared from my perspective to be so specific, only focusing on one narrow part of a shift in contemporary American Jewish life. The conversation felt really one-sided: men feel this and it's not good. Men feel left out and we need to not make them feel that way. Men need a place to express their emotions and the synagogues you'll work for aren't cutting it. The end.

In my mind, this should have been a joint conversation with, say, the Women of Reform Judaism. It could have been a more meta discussion incorporating the recent Pew study, or a discussion about Jews' increasing involvement in less established models of Jewish life: for example, the hugely popular IKAR here in LA.

The one-sidedness of the conversation, in a way, alienated me. It left me out as a potential partner in shaping future gender boundaries of Jewish affiliation. It made me feel even more feminine, more womanly, more "other." I believe that approach casts men and women even further apart.

Our world doesn't only exist in solely "male" and "female" terms anymore; gender is a spectrum. And there appeared to be no spectrum present last night; only very stark differences that fell into categories of black and white. It lacked nuance or recognition of the amazing work so many of my colleagues are doing for all Jews: not just men, not just women, but the entire Movement.

Another discussion point was concern over the fact that boys do not have male role models to look up to, and that's resulting in this widespread flight from organized Jewish life. So, maybe it's a generational thing, but when I was growing up I had many role models. I looked up to teachers, rabbis, parents, older friends, camp counselors; you name it. And truth be told, I had role models who were male and role models who were female. I didn't discriminate. I was an equal-opportunity role model seeker. 

Now, today, I have mentors who are male and mentors who are female; some are gay, some straight. They're single, married, partnered, divorced, bald-headed and brunette, some with glasses and some without. They're as diverse as you can get, and not just in physical ways. Why do I gravitate towards them? Because my parents - and those role models - taught me to value what's in a person's soul. Not their gender, not their looks, but who they are

I wonder how this particular conversation on affiliation and involvement might shift if we stopped spending so much time on gender and started looking into the souls of those who lead our synagogues and institutions: male, female, and those in transition. I wonder what would happen if we adjusted this particular conversation to focus on a vision we have for the entire mishpucha (family), which includes within it the widest variety of individuals and family systems imaginable.

As we discussed on Sunday night, what keeps people returning and investing and deepening their relationships to Jewish institutions are depth and quality. Depth and quality lead men and women to connect in ways that matter to them, and those ways are diverse for every single human being. It's not only our job as Jewish professionals to present a deep, rich, and high-quality Judaism accessible through multiple channels; it's our sacred task. 

Gender isn't one sided, and it's not even as simple as what I've presented here. Indeed, it's much more complex. As our guests said to us last night, these conversations are intense and provocative but we should embrace and not fight them, for they help us grow. We will likely never live in a world that is free from gender. It is a part of what we do and who we are. But what we do with these conversations - how we see gender, how it colors our experiences, and where it holds us back from our own self growth - is so tremendously significant. It's our future. And all of us are invested in that. 


Friday, November 8, 2013

Strangers in the Nail Salon

Yesterday morning was about an eight (out of ten) on the intensity scale, so naturally I found my way to a manicurist's chair before work in the afternoon.

Everyone has their own sanctuary. Luckily I have several, and one is the nail salon. The ones I go to are serene, clean, and quiet. And I'll be honest - freshly painted nails help me think clearly.

Around midway through my manicure I heard a woman walk into the salon. My back was to the entrance, but she was loud and noticeable. I mean, I noticed her. You couldn't not notice her.

She was going on and on about being a physician and not being comfortable in that space. "Give me the hospital! Give me an operating room! Give me my stethoscope!..." she kept repeating. It was weird. I was confused. I couldn't turn around to see the source of the voice, but I could see the other women in the salon looking at each other with those eyes. You know, the "who is this lady, is she for real?!" eyes. The partial eye roll, partial sideways glance. I know the look well.

This went on for a few minutes until, out of nowhere, she snapped at someone: I can wear my wedding rings on my right hand, okay! I can wear them how I want because my husband is divorcing me and I can do what I want! I can do what I want, okay? Don't tell me what to do!" 

Instantly, I felt nauseous. I couldn't see this woman's face, I had no idea who she was yelling at, but .. I got it. Things clicked.

I maneuvered my body to get a look at her and when I did, I felt even more nauseated. She was stunningly beautiful, poised, put-together, and looked ... I don't know ... regal? Maybe in my head I thought she'd look terrible. I figured she'd have mascara running down her face or something. But, no. Not a hair out of place. Not a drop of mascara beneath her soft almond eyes.

I listened to her go on and on throughout the rest of my mani. She trashed her husband, insisted that she made a huge mistake marrying him, didn't want to hear one single word about the fact that she was still wearing her rings because they were on her right hand, okay!? and then stated she was "super nervous" about walking a red carpet that night. It was such a bizarre confluence of predicaments.

I listened to this woman, this stranger. I watched the other women in the salon - ostensibly strangers to each other - giving one another looks, then nodding in her direction. Even the manicurists were gesturing to her and making faces, speaking in Vietnamese, perhaps trying to make sense of her. She seemed completely oblivious to it all.

My heart ached for this woman. I wanted to go up to her, ask if she needed a shoulder or a listening ear, see if I could help her in some way. Of course I didn't, because that would have been totally weird and invasive. Just as the nail salon is my sacred space, it was hers, too. Maybe she would have responded well, or maybe she would have smacked me across the face. Who knew?

I left the salon wondering, what was my obligation to this woman? Why did I feel compelled to talk to, protect, or help her? Why was I so invested in her well-being? Couldn't I have just ignored her, rolled my eyes along with the rest of the posse, or gone about my day just as oblivious to her as she appeared to be towards everyone else? The answer is no, obviously, because here I am blogging about it.

Kabbalistic Judaism teaches that we have a mythical, mystical group of people known as lamed-vavniks. The tradition goes as follows: there are 36 (in Hebrew, the number is lamed-vav) truly good souls roaming the earth. These tzadikim, or righteous individuals, are strangers. Not only to us, but to one another and to themselves. We don't know who they are or when they will appear to us; they too don't even know who they are! But they are here, and their role is to reveal the purpose of humanity through words and actions. Their purpose is to help make the world a better place.

It hit me when I was in that nail salon that this poor woman stuck in her own personal hell might actually be a lamed-vavnik. It was a bizarre thought to have. Truly. I can't remember the last time I thought about the lamed-vavnik tradition. I have no idea what religion this woman was, whether or not she cared about anything other than her jewelry or her soon-to-be ex-husband. All I had was that small picture onto her. And yet ... I was still thinking about it throughout the day. (And, coincidentally, my mentor SCR brought up lamed-vavniks in our meeting today)

It dawned on me that whether or not this woman was actually a righteous tzadik just having a really, really bad day or not, she was still human. And human beings sometimes get themselves into nasty situations, willingly or unwillingly. Sometimes they act out. Sometimes they don't. Occasionally they'll be open about why they're in such a dark place. Most of the time, they won't be.

What I had for this woman was empathy. I cared. I wanted to help. I wanted to give her a hug. Now, I don't think I'm some sort of tzadik myself for feeling, owning, and sharing that. Rather, the exchange got me to think about the hidden agendas and unknown identities of all those we encounter in our day-to-day lives. Perhaps the strangers we meet - those kind and gentle souls and those difficult, loud, hard-to-ignore ones, too - are in fact lamed-vavniks whose purpose is to usher in an age of peace, kindness, and goodness for all humanity. We'll never know.

But, in the meantime, we can certainly extend our own warmth, compassion, and kindness to them. For we never know what the impact of goodness can be.

Shabbat shalom to you and yours.

With love,

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

On Being a Millennial

Stumbled upon this interesting take on the "millennial" generation. It's a father's perspective on his son:


It got me to think about the ever-present generational gap, the subjective nature of "success," and the aspiration(s) my generation either has or doesn't with regard to life goals. I could definitely relate to some of it. However, coming to the end of a six-year graduate school journey I have a different lens through which I view this. Namely, I just worked my butt off for a long time and I'm ready to work. But - how exactly will I measure my own success in the years to come?

Your thoughts?

Monday, November 4, 2013


Coming back home, no matter the length of time one's been away, is always an adjustment. Al achat kama v'chama - how much the more so - when one's been in Israel.

Aside from the obvious time change and jet lag, there's also all these other factors that you have to sort of re-jigger your mind for. You have to account for the difference in language & communication, the difference in what things look like and what people look like. You have to prepare yourself for the change in atmosphere; the weather, the buildings, the signs and whatnot. But especially after leaving Israel, one experiences a total shift in the level of intensity; the thickness of the air surrounding you. 

Many people know the Hebrew word "aliyah." When one makes aliyah they figuratively ascend to something, including Israel. (It comes from the root l'alot, meaning to rise) There's making aliyah to become a permanent resident of Israel, doing an "aliyah" to the Torah, ascending physically - aliyah style - to the city of Jerusalem, which is high up in the hills. 

But when one makes "yeridah," which comes from the root laredet, meaning to go down, they literally descend from Israel. It's used as a derogatory term for those who have lived in Israel but leave, whether they do so in search of greener pastures or for family reasons or a job opportunity. It's not a kind expression. 

Each time I go to Israel it feels like I'm stepping up to a more concentrated intellectual experience, a thicker slice of life, a more polarized and less wishy-washy, highly opinionated, intense existence. When I leave and go back home, it feels like stepping away from the furnace, taking a step downstairs, entering a more calm, carefree zone, and taking a deep breath of fresh air. The terms aliyah and yeridah sort-of describe, at least for me, the never-a-dull-moment experience of going to Israel and the sudden shift in coming home. And I definitely felt that yesterday when I left the airport and came back to our apartment a mere three miles from the glorious Pacific Ocean. 

Let me be clear - this is not an endorsement of either term. It's simply a way to describe the experience of being in such a uniquely intense place and adjusting to coming back home. 

The question on the table is this ... how does one take the transformative and powerful experiences of Israel and bring them - in my case - to their congregational internship, to school, to her families and friends? How will people take to the highly-concentrated, bottled-up, intense collection of experiences I've garnered over the past ten days? Will even people listen?

These are questions I'm sure I will ponder as the days go on. For now, I'm rolling back into school and catching up on emails. I've got a strong cup of coffee to my left and my day planner to my right. Bring it on. 


Saturday, November 2, 2013


(This post has been edited since its original posting)

Well, our 2013 Symposium has come to an end.

Yesterday was a really interesting, painful, hopeful, mishmash-of-a-day. We woke up early and trekked up to Jerusalem to meet with Dr. Charles Greenberg in his home. Dr. Greenberg is a professor emeritus of Social Psychology at Hebrew University and is chairman of the board of Defense for Children International. So what does this man do? Well, he basically studies, documents, and advocates on behalf of children who have in some way become victims of the Arab/Israeli conflict. 

I'm going to be honest - there is nothing quite like hearing the effect of war/conflict/strife on children. It's just ... it's gut-wrenching. I don't know how those in the group who actually have children felt, but even as a teacher of toddlers, kids, and teenagers - I just can't. It's takes the emotional, visceral reaction to another level. And the one glimmer of hope that I had leaving Dr. Greenbaum's home was that he is not the only person who is doing this work. There are many people - good people - who have committed their lives to chipping away at a system that allows children to be implicated in violence. That gives me hope, and comfort, and reminds me that there are true tzadikim - righteous, just people - roaming this earth. 

We came back to Tel Aviv to meet with an extraordinary woman named Robi Damelin. Robi is a representative of Parents Circle Families Forum (http://www.theparentscircle.com/) PCFF is an organization that brings together Arab and Israeli families who have lost a member of their family in the conflict. One of the first things she said, which sort of put everything into perspective, was this: "it's not all hugging and kumbaya and let's love one another. It's really, really hard and frustrating and difficult. But it's the only way ... we will ever get this conflict to stop." (Paraphrased)

My words can't do justice to this woman. I won't even try. She had so much chutzpah, and confidence, and strength, and she was so dynamic and brilliant and funny ... and there was so much pain behind her eyes. Her son David was killed by a Palestinian sniper several years ago at a checkpoint in the West Bank, and she talked about him constantly throughout our discussion. I was blown away by her grit and determination and fearlessness.

The take-home that I will share with all of you reading this blog is that you should, most definitely, become familiar with the Parents Circle. Why? Because the common thread of grief is, for better or for worse, a gateway. It is an opening, a hope, a symbol of possibility. And instead of wringing their hands and wailing and screaming and sowing further seeds of hatred, this unique group of people - which has grown to over 600 families - has chosen a path of maturity, grace, and compassion. It may sound patronizing, but I think each and every one of us can learn something from their work.

The rest of our day included a heated and informative discussion with +972 Magazine blogger Noam Sheizaf, a talented man with a sharp eye on the country's political and social activities. I highly encourage you to follow and keep an eye on him - http://972mag.com/noams/ . We then trekked to Beit Daniel, thee Progressive Synagogue (Israeli version of Reform) in Tel Aviv. Beit Daniel is more of an empire than a synagogue, with a grand complex in the northern end of Tel Aviv that serves as its Beit Knesset, a massive complex in the southern end of the city with a hostel and programming called Mishkenot Ruth, and dozens of preschools throughout the city. Beit Daniel is a symbol of what is possible for Progressive Judaism in Israel - obviously something I very much care about - but the meeting felt very rushed and low on content. The Reform Movement in Israel is so complex and nuanced, it needed more than a quick visit and talk with the rabbi of the shul.

Following a super-relaxed and low-key Kabbalat Shabbat by the Mediterranean, I retreated to my hotel room for an early night. Woke up the next morning for a meaningful closing session with Colette Avital, a politician who was originally with Labor but recently switched over to the Meretz party. Good lord, that woman was smart. She had some really great, brilliant things to say about the same things we've been discussing all week.

In conjunction with her talk, we convened, shared feelings, hugs, congratulations, and a really holy moment guided by my now dear friend and busmate Rabbi Darah Lerner of Bangor, Maine.

Following our conclusion, I spent the day trekking around Tel Aviv with my dear friend Elana. We walked to the beach, had a late lunch, lazed by the pool of her friend's hotel, shopped in the Tachana (old train station) and had your typical Tel Aviv-y Shabbat.

It was such an unbelievable contrast from the intensity of the week. I'm going to be honest - I really enjoyed the beautiful sunshine and the carefree feeling of a Saturday afternoon by the sea. But it was such a notable difference; such a complete 180 from all that's been seen and done and experienced the past seven days.

I decided not to fight it. I held the two in my heart and allowed them to coexist. On the one side was the intensity, excitement, and exhaustion of a powerful and action-packed week. On the other side was the simplicity and laissez-faire attitude that characterizes this beach metropolis. The two were there, together, side by side, living separately but getting along, acknowledging and respecting one another but choosing to live separately within me. And I thought to myself ... now isn't that kinda symbolic?

This trip has been amazing, challenging, thought-provoking, and rabbinate-shaping. I feel like I am returning to the States with a newfound understanding of the country I love and care about deeply; her citizens, her government, and her diverse society as it exists today. It was a gift to be able to share this experience with Partners for Progressive Israel and I know the processing and reflecting has only just begun. (So, in other words, stay tuned!)

The time has come for me to shut off the WiFi and board the 15-and-a-half hour flight to Los Angeles. I bid you all a hearty l'hitra'ot. Until we meet again.


Thursday, October 31, 2013

Hope & Healing

Today was definitely the shot in the arm each of us needed after yesterday. It was like a straight-up "hope" cocktail, served with a side of calm.

We started our morning at Givat Haviva (http://www.givathaviva.org.il/english/) a place I had never heard of before today but can guarantee will be gaining great traction in the coming months. Givat Haviva was this calm, tranquil, kibbutz-like center near Hadera in the north. One of those places where you pull into the driveway and feel your entire body relax. (Sort of like how I get when I arrive at a spa)

Givat Haviva, as you can read for yourself on the website above, is an extraordinary model for what can be achieved not only in the Middle East, but throughout the world. The place has a storied and tumultuous history; one that reflects the trends and movement of Israeli society, particularly over the last twenty or so years. The center has been around for decades, was filled to the brim during the "golden years" of Yitzhak Rabin, was a ghost town during the Second Intifada, nearly folded and had to be totally restructured in the late 2000s, and is now undergoing not-quite-as-agressive-as-Rawabi-but-still-impressive development under the new management of Yaniv Sagee.

The center offers various programs for children and adults that focus on one core thing. One might see it as incredibly simple but it is actually tremendously complex: relationships. The center focuses on face-to-face interactions between Arabs and Israelis, conversation and dialogue, shared experiences, and collective action. It reminds me greatly of the NewGround model (muslimjewishnewground.org) and not only touches but grasps hold of many of the concepts I'm reading about in Ron Wolfson's incredibly popular (amongst Jewish processionals) book, Relational Judaism. 

We learn over and over how it's all about relationships. And yet, here is this grassroots organization working overtime to bring together neighboring towns, teenagers from Arab and Israeli schools, and parents of children to teach them how to see one another as human. It's so fundamental and yet so complicated. But it's so deeply necessary. It was inspiring to hear the facilitators and director, Yaniv, talk about the teens whose lives they have touched, their goals for the future (watch the video on the website; it can capture these ideas much better than I) and personally, it was so exciting to think about what is possible and achievable here in this country. 

Following Givat Haviva we had lunch and explored the Arab town of Bartha with its former mayor (who also works at Givat Haviva), Riad Kaba. He took us on a tour of the city, unique for two reasons. First, it is split down the middle by the Green Line. Half of it is technically "in Israel" and half of it is technically in the West Bank. It's a complicated place for many reasons and truly representative of one of many levels of fragmentation in the country. But its citizens are hopeful about what can be achieved. 

It wasn't explicitly said, but I do think that its proximity to Givat Haviva and its unique location in the center / north of Israel provides it with opportunities to really be at the forefront of this complicated situation. What that means, I'm not quite sure. But again, as this trip has demonstrated over and over, it was so important to be there and see it with my own eyes; to meet the people who are there and doing this and getting up every morning trying to make things better than they were the day before. I admire their dedication and determination so much. My admiration for nearly all the people we're meeting is through the roof. 

The day concluded with a gala dinner at Noa Bistro with all of us trip participants and major players and Members of Knesset from the Meretz party. Aside from it being really exciting to have dinner with some amazing people heavily involved in Israeli politics, it was really nice to just put on some nice clothes and makeup and have a nice night out. The past few days have been so intense. We've been moving at a breakneck pace, seeing some really dark and upsetting things, getting more frequent feelings of despair than of hope and excitement. So to go out to a hot restaurant in Jaffa with a bunch of cool people, take selfies, and have a few glasses of wine was really necessary. 

I want to end with a few trends I've noticed over the past few days: 

1) Nearly everyone we've spoken to has referred in some way to Yitzhak Rabin. People look back on his time as Prime Minister with such fondness and hope. On the right and left, in Israel and in the West Bank, people have the greatest respect for this man who saw everyone - Jew, Muslim, Christian, atheist - as a human being and believed deeply in the potential for peace. 

2) People are very impressed with John Kerry's commitment to the Middle East. They are also surprised. Time after time, meeting after meeting, people describe how genuinely determined he is to broker some sort of peace deal between Israel and Palestine and how meaningful that is to them. So, way to go John Kerry. Quitting my job in the summer of 2004 to get him elected as president might not have worked out, but I'd like to think it played at least some role in getting him to his current position of Secretary of State. Right? Right. 

Finally, I'm still thinking a lot about the pursuit of justice and what it actually means to do so. What if "justice" means one thing to one person and a completely separate thing to someone else? (Typically, it does) Whose "justice" wins out over the other? What's the morality or ethical boundary of pursuing a more just community / society / world? Things to ponder. 

Laila tov. 


Wednesday, October 30, 2013

A difficult day

Hi, everyone. First - I want to respond to a few of the comments I've received before telling you about today's activities in the Negev. I'm so glad to hear you're reading and that it's provoking thoughts, responses, and further questions.

I want to address the idea of transparency and the sharing of information. I want to clarify that there are certain things I cannot or do not want to share in a public forum. I don't want to be so bold as to say that my blog is the hottest show in town (rest assured, it's not) but then again, I have no idea who is really reading it. That's the blessing and curse of choosing to let your own private thoughts and ideas roll out of your head and onto the internet. This is my first time participating in a trip like this and for a variety of reasons I have chosen not to share every detail of this adventure. (So, think of it this way: maybe it's an opening to talk in person upon my return!)

Second, I want to address Rawabi. (Figured out the hyperlink thing - www.rawabi.ps) Someone posited that the city of Rawabi is a PR effort influenced by Israelis to quell the concern over human rights violations in Palestine. After reflecting and discussing it with several other trip participants, here's what I've concluded: does it matter? Does having the "right" answer to that take away from the fact that there are human beings living in Palestine who deserve to develop their land the way they see fit? Would it take away from the fact that there are engineers, investors, architects, city planners, and a barrage of highly educated people living in the West Bank who have chosen - influenced by who knows what? - to build this truly impressive project?

The reality with Rawabi is this: anyone can look at it any way they want to. That's the beauty of ideas and opinions. Here are mine: Rawabi is a really aggressive, intentional, and brilliant marketing campaign that went so far as to place promotional folders - including swag - on each seat in our minibus so we had souvenirs when we concluded our visit. I mean, that's savvy. That's legit.

One of the things I didn't write yesterday was how Rawabi's developers sought advice from world-renowned Israeli architect Moshe Safdie, touring the Israeli town of Modi'in with him and surveying his extraordinary Mamilla Mall for inspiration. I did add that there are plans to create a collaborative industrial park for Israelis and Palestinians. I could say a whole lot more, and I'm sure someone could refute it all, but this was my experience, and I am hopeful and excited about the development's impact on the greater community.

Okay... so now let's talk about today. 

Today was immensely difficult. First we toured a variety of Bedouin villages in the Negev that fall somewhere on a spectrum of "recognized by the Israeli government" and "not recognized by the Israeli government." And it was heartbreaking. It was really, truly devastating. One of the places we visited was a village called Wadi Alinam about 3 miles south of Be'er Sheva. And to tell you that it felt like stepping into a New-Orleans-one-day-after-Katrina-war-zone-scene would probably be accurate. But, I wasn't in New Orleans the day after Katrina so I can't speak to it. I can only hypothesize.

It was total poverty; total disconnection from the outside world. I would imagine anyone with any ounce of empathy in their soul would have probably felt like crap being there. I cried a lot. I could not take my eyes of a three-year-old boy with snot running out his nose who I kept waving at but would not smile. He was bow-legged, it was challenging for him to walk, and he had the saddest brown eyes. And maybe he was there to pull at my heartstrings, or maybe he was there to rack up donations... but ... truly? I think he was there because he literally had nowhere else to be but with his parent who was there to thank the Americans for visiting and showing their support. 

So, that was tough. 

Our tour guide was a man named Dr. Thabet Abu Rass who works for an organization called Adalah - the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel. He reminded me of my very dear friend Jordan, a woman who has worked on behalf of the underserved and underprivileged all her life, constantly fighting an uphill battle chained to bureaucracy and ignorance the whole way. It was just really, really hard to listen to him tell his story and what he tries to do through this organization. It felt much more hopeless and bleak than, say, the bustling developments of Ramallah and Rawabi from yesterday. 

We came back from the Negev after visiting the women's NGO Lakiya - an organization that has spearheaded the advancement of women in the Bedouin villages of the Negev for the past several years - to listen to a panel of representatives from various human rights organizations in Israel: ACRI (acri.org.il) the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, Gisha (www.gisha.org) - the Legal Center for Freedom of Movement, primarily focused in Gaza, and B'tzelem, (www.btselem.org) the Israeli Center for Information on Human Rights in the Occupied Territories. Each representative shared a little bit about themselves and then a small snapshot (mostly bleak, but with some small degree of hope) onto the future they see. To offer one quote from that panel that I think encompasses the general gist of all that was offered: "There is a deep and real tension between the security people want and the human rights that all should be afforded... people are deeply afraid and believe that you can only have one or the other." (paraphrased)

Therein lies both the impetus for Partners for Progressive Israel creating this trip and the general outlook that seems to prevail in many of the discussions. It's depressing, but it's the sad truth.

Yes, Israel is no different from any other flawed country run by human beings with different objectives - some good, some not-so-good. Yes, we live in a time and an era that is so tinged by apathy, anger, and mistrust. Yes, I want to bang my fists on the table and cry because today was really upsetting and I wish I could have just buried my feet in the sand at the beach with a copy of "Us Weekly." But that's not why they sent me here. 

These are the complexities of the world we live in, and of this country that so many of us love and respect and hold close to our hearts. There are things that we cannot begin to comprehend and there are things that smack us directly in the face when we confront them - and they get inside us and make us angry, make us feel helpless, and either push us to act or get us to turn a blind eye. 

Sigh. Big sigh. Not so simple. 

I'm going to spend some time these next few days thinking about what it really means to pursue justice - tzedek tzedek tirdof - and to shape a life in step with our imperative for tikkun olam. Not only as a future rabbi, but as a person. As a compassionate and (typically) level-headed human being. Any advice on doing that? I'd love to hear it. 

Until tomorrow, lots of love from TLV.

Oh - and PS? No way I'm running for public office. I'm leaving that up to my incredible and highly capable husband


Tuesday, October 29, 2013

A Day in the West Bank

Okay first of all - please read the post below titled "Days One and Two" before you read this one. Please? Ok. Thanks!

Back? Great. Here we go ...


Today was a day I will never forget.

Now, anyone who knows me knows that interfaith relations/dialogue/learning has been my "thing" for a really long time. I majored in Religious Studies in college, I've participated in interfaith activities and events regularly throughout the last ten or so years, I wrote my curriculum guide for the Ed Year on Jewish identity formation through interfaith learning, and I was a NewGround Muslim/Jewish Partnership for Change Fellow this past year.

I have always believed, even when I wasn't able to articulate it, that engagement with "the other" (which I now define as, someone who does not share the same historical/cultural/religious identification as you) is a hugely powerful, significant experience. I have learned who I am as a Jewish woman largely through exchanges with those who do not identify as Jewish.

So, knowing all this, it might come as a surprise that I never wanted to visit the West Bank when I lived in Israel. Well, I was scared. I wasn't interested in putting myself in danger. Ramallah in particular sounded like a terrifying, disorganized, underdeveloped place. We were discouraged from going, which in hindsight I totally understand. That year our school did everything within its power to return us home safely. (Memories of students surviving the Second Intifada were strong)

Well I'm a few years older now, and maybe I'm less inhibited, or just plain curious. When I heard we were going to Ramallah I was excited. I had a feeling it was going to be ... I don't know. Cool? Exotic maybe? I thought hey, I'm going to be able to go back to California and tell my NewGround buddies that I went to Ramallah and said "shukran" (thank you) to everyone I saw. Again, I figured that the people we were going with would do everything within their power to return us home safely.

What I wasn't prepared for at all was how much it would move me. Not only the city of Ramallah or the absolutely extraordinary achievement that is the city of Rawabi, which you should Google immediately (and I'd provide a hyperlink if I could) but ... the people. The stories they told. The sprawling development of the cities. The incredible graciousness with which people welcomed us. Their desire to make us comfortable. Their creativity, innovation, and drive. Their hopes and dreams. Their humanity. It moved me to tears.

The most memorable and emotional part of today was sitting down for an hour and a half with Dr. Muhammad Shtayyeh. Now, if you Google Dr. Shtayyeh you will find that he is one of the two Palestinian representatives involved in the current negotiations between Israel and Palestine. He and his partner Saeb Erekat have the expectations of the entire Arab world on their shoulders right now. Needless to say, I was a little surprised that he met with our group.

But there he was, talking with us, being one part charismatic politician and one part human being, one part father, brother, & friend, and one part pragmatic and honest and hopeful optimist. Hearing his hopes and frank (and, frankly, relatable) expectations and goals for the process toward a two-state solution was ... I mean, how do you even blog about that ... ? How can I even put it into words?  I feel incredibly fortunate to have been in his presence and to add his pieces to my continuously evolving narrative of Israel. It was a gift, even if I didn't agree with every single thing he said.

And yes, of course what he said was skewed. Of course it was loaded. But I can say the same exact thing for the people we met with at Knesset one day before. I can say it about any of us. We see our lives through the prism of that which we want to believe. Our truths are our own. And it became very clear to me after talking with him that in order for people to really, truly form an opinion on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, they need to actually see both places with their own eyes. In order to understand, we must first seek to be understood. And that means bearing witness to it all with our own set of eyes.

Rawabi was ... I mean, it was amazing. It's a planned city that's an investment by the billionaire Bashar Masri, whom we met. It's a commercial and housing development that is neither religious nor secular. The first buildings they built are schools. They've provided the local economy with thousands of jobs. There will be a church and a mosque. There's an industrial center for collaborative projects between Israelis and Palestinians. A third of their workforce are women. And the woman who gave us the tour was a carbon copy of Rumaisa, my friend from NewGround: energetic, brilliant, passionate, and just delightful. The best part of Rawabi? Aside from the fact that it was stunningly beautiful it was also a tremendous symbol: innovative, creative, entrepreneurial, and bold. I feel honored to have seen it going up.

There was a whole lot more that happened today, but I really want this blog post to be about this. I want those reading to know and understand that I love Israel with all my heart and soul and believe a two-state solution is the only true, real, and achievable path to peace. I know that the world is not simple and there is bloodshed, mistrust, lies, and deceit on both sides. But there is also hope, and collaboration, and friendship, and some degree of trust, too. And I hope that this trip and my blogging and my voice can contribute in some small way to that second part; to a world that is capable of seeing peace in our lifetime: peace between two peoples who are not perfect but who can achieve great things alongside one another.

Well, I finished my wine and we moved on to a jazz rendition of one of my favorite songs ever, "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For." I'd say it's time to call it a night.

Please, comment. Ask questions. Push and challenge. Let me know you're listening. And I hope you are.

Tomorrow is another day and another story. I look forward to telling it to you.

With love,

Days One and Two


I never got along well with Israeli internet when I lived here, so it should come as a surprise to no one (least of all to me) that I have had nothing but trouble with WiFi for the past three days.

I apologize to anyone who felt truly bereft by my silence. Rest assured, I have been plotting blog posts in my head (I even wrote an entire one only to have it disappear before my very eyes!) and now will be that moment when I spill all of it out because the past three days have been so unbelievably intense and it needs to be shared.

I truly don't know how to process all that I've seen and heard and witnessed since Saturday night when this program began. I really don't. Today we spent the day in the West Bank and that gets its own post. Anyway, it's 10pm, we got back to Tel Aviv about an hour ago, and I have planted myself at a coffee shop near the Mediterranean with a glass of wine, an iPad, and the program's itinerary to actually remember what we've done the past three days. 

Here's the scoop:

Saturday Night 
Dinner with former MK (Member of Knesset) Naomi Chazan 

Sunday - Tel Aviv 
Dror Marag, Secretary General of Meretz 
Zehava Gal-On, Knesset Chairwoman of Meretz 
Aluf Benn, Editor-in-Chief of Ha'aretz
Gadi Baltiansky, Director-General of the Geneva Initiative 
Michal Rozin, MK-Meretz 
Tamar Zandberg, MK-Meretz 
Akiva Eldar, writer and columnist 
Dr. Gershon Baskin, Founder of Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information (IPCRI) ... also, it's worth noting that he was a key negotiator in the Gilad Shalit deal 
Beyond Words - a theater performance featuring Arab and Israeli women together  
Hang-time with Elana Resnick (who took me to an outstanding gluten-free market so that I could enjoy hummus with pita like a regular human being) 

Monday - Jerusalem 
Tour of East Jerusalem with Daniel Seidemann, founder of Terrestrial Jerusalem 
(Then we spent the day at Knesset, in suits) 
Issawi Frej,MK-Meretz and the only Palestinian Israeli in an Israeli party in Knesset (also, worth noting, a CPA) 
Mikhael Manekin, Director of Policy and Communications for Molad (a progressive think tank) 
Yuli Edelstein, Speaker of Knesset 
Dov Khenin, MK-Chadash 
Isaac Herzog, MK-Labor 
Erel Margalit, MK-Labor and founder of Jerusalem Venture Partners 
Moshe Ya'alon, Minister of Defense (seriously) 
Avi Dichter, former head of the Shin Bet 


Why am I sharing all this with you? Why does this matter? 

Well, I think of each of these meetings as a story, and I'm a storyteller. My whole life is devoted to telling the stories of the Jewish people. My career will, God willing, be devoted to listening to people's stories.

Israel's narrative is one story that we tell to one another over and over. It's a story that we add to and embellish and question and sometimes really, truly have a hard time telling. But it belongs to us, and as I alluded to in an earlier post I am here to add another layer to that unfolding story. 

Each of these meetings was significant, informative, at times hard to listen to, and overall thought-provoking. Everyone had something to say about the tension in the Middle East, the relationship between Israelis and Palestinians, and their dreams and fears for the future. It was a multilayered story of hope, disappointment, mistrust, encouragement, questions and commitments. Really, it was amazing.

You who are reading this right now should absolutely look up Terrestrial Jerusalem. You should become acquainted with Erel Margalit and his work with innovation and entrepreneurship. And you should most definitely see "The Gatekeepers," a provocative film that I myself haven't even seen, but in which Avi Dichter plays a role. (So yes, Josh. Let's try to find it on Netflix)

All that we heard Sunday and Monday challenged me, moved me, and got me to think a little bit differently about the domestic fragmentation of Israel and its relationship to Palestine. And it certainly launched me into our visit to the West Bank, which I will certainly never forget. 

Thanks for reading. A jazz version of "Do You Think I'm Sexy" is playing in this little coffee shop right now and I feel like that's something you should know. 

With love,

Saturday, October 26, 2013

So ... WHAT exactly am I doing here?

Before I left several people asked me, "what exactly is this trip you're going on?" And I didn't give them a really concrete answer, not because I was avoiding the question but because I myself wasn't totally sure.

I knew that I was going to Israel with an organization that swang (is that a word? I hope so. I like it bettter than "swung") to the left; that I would be meeting with MKs (members of Knesset), political and cultural figures, activists, and heavily involved members/supporters of the politial party Meretz. I knew we'd be discussing the Arab/Israeli conflict. I knew where we were staying and had a rough idea of the itinerary. I knew it included a visit to Ramallah, in the West Bank. I knew this was all possible through my rabbinic internship at KI.

Other than that, I didn't know much else. I figured that was enough.

Tonight the Symposium began by the fifteen or so participants and three staff members sitting down with Naomi Chazan, a former member of Knesset who served at one point as its deputy speaker. She's done a whole lot of important things in addition to that role, such as being on the board of the New Israel Fund, serving as Dean of the School of Government and Society at the Academic College of Tel-Aviv Yaffo and Director of the Center for the Advancement of Women in the Public Sphere at the Van Leer Institute in Jerusalem. (She's smart. Incredibly smart)

She had a lot to say about modern Israeli society, politics, the most recent mulnicipal elections, the growing inequality between the "haves" and "have nots" in Israel (according to her, Israel is no. 2 in that discrepancy, second only to my home country, the US) and the Obama administration's very clear and public commitment to supporting Israel and helping her and her neighbors reach peace.

It was an intense talk followed by intense questions, and it was during this whole presentation when it really crystallized for me why I'm here.

First, I'm the youngest participant. By far. I represent a demographic that is so deeply, painfully removed from the 55+ers on this trip. I represent a generation that's at times apathetic, at times deeply confused, perplexed, and torn about Israel, and at times really does care about the Middle East and its political/socioeconomic/global future. My being here is a link (Ms. Chazan talked a lot about linkage) to a group of people who fall into that category. People who are so increasingly overwhelmed by the local and national news that they avoid concerning themelves with global issues. It's my responsibility as a "young person" to involve myself in these conversations on Israel and global matters and take them to other "young people" back home.

Second, as a soon-to-be rabbi, my concern for Israel is practically built into my s'micha. (Rabbinic ordination certificate) My commitment to Israel is evidenced by the fact that all HUC-JIR rabbinical students spend their first year living in Jerusalem. The connetion to Hebrew, Israeli politics, land, culture, and people should all be motivators for us Reform rabbis. But that's not always the case. It's not necessarily conscious: there are plenty of reasons why Israel isn't always on the discussion table, and most of the time it's because there are twenty-five other things on the discussion table, too. However, sometimes it is conscious. We want to avoid or placate or maybe we simply feel like it's going to be too polarizing. As a soon-to-be rabbi I'm realizing more and more how much Israel needs to be put on the discussion table.

Finally, the Israel that I'm visiting today is not the Israel that I lived in five years ago. Certain (not all) aspects are different now. Israeli society is different. Some of it is palpable, some of it isn't. Some of it I know from my brother's experience living here last year. Some of it I've read about. Some of it I've gathered from hearsay. And a lot of it is what I pick up on from the various circles of discourse I'm involved with. But bottom line? Israel is changing rapidly, growing in many ways, and she has new demands placed on her. It's important to be here and speak with people on the ground today and hear firsthand what's going on internally. It's not just about the Arab/Israeli conflict - it's much deeper than that. Domestically, Israel has a lot of growing up to do and, as Ms. Chazan asserted and I agree with, the domestic problems cannot be ignored while looking to create peace with Palestinians.

So. That's sort of why I'm here.

I think these next six days will be intense and demanding. I am certain they are going to generate some pretty fascinating discussions. And I believe what I believed several weeks back, when I was first presented with the idea to join this Symposium. It's an incredible opportunity, one in which I feel deeply blessed to participate.

More tomorrow. It's a packed day ahead.

Laila tov,

Friday, October 25, 2013

Back in Ha'Aretz

Landed in Israel about four hours ago and I've already had sixteen different waves of nostalgia hit me. Here are just a few:

That moment when you're looking out the airplane window and the Mediterranean becomes the sprawling metropolis of Tel Aviv.

That moment when you touch down at Ben Gurion and everyone on the airplane claps.

That moment when you come into the arrivals area and there are literally hundreds of people waiting with balloons. (Unfortunately, none for me)

That moment when you start up the hill for Jerusalem.

That moment when you enter Jerusalem and start whizzing by your old haunts, then the apartment you lived in for eleven months, then the bakery you once bought all your challah and pastries (this was once upon a time before my body started rejecting gluten) and finally, the corner where you once met your buddies to walk to dinner and coffee dates.

Driving aimlessly through the "old goat paths" of yore that became paved streets, searching for your destination you know is SOMEWHERE nearby but where?!

The energy/smell/taste/quiet/peace of Jerusalem right before Shabbat.

The sound of the "Shabbat siren" that rings throughout the city, telling us all the Sabbath has begun.

Ah, Israel. How I've missed thee. 

Shabbat shalom,

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Getting ready for Israel...

Over a year of my life has been spent in the land of Israel. 

Let's break it down ... 

1997 trip with family: 10 days 
2000 trip with NFTY: 30 days 
2008-2009 HUC Year in Israel: 11 months 
2011 trip with URJ camp educators: 10 days 
2011 trip with family: 10 days 

Total: Roughly 390 days 

How deeply fortunate I have been to spend so much of my life in Israel. As a member of the Jewish community seven months away from her rabbinic ordination, the country and her people are ensconced deeply in my heart and soul. 

Each time, each trip, has been so vastly different. I now have this eclectic collection of memories from each period I've spent there: faces, locations, foods, laughs, tears... They all coalesce into one solid relationship that feels more "family" than "friend;" more intimate and real and raw than any other place in the world. I'm invested in Israel's future and care about all her citizens. And that's why I feel very, very excited about this next trip to Ha'aretz. 

Tomorrow I leave for the Holy Land with Partners for Progressive Israel. I'm attending their annual Symposium and I could not be more excited. We'll be meeting with politicians, cultural figures, policy makers, and activists from all points on the spectrum. We'll be traveling to the West Bank to meet with Palestinian authorities, as well. (That's a first I'm very much looking forward to).

Just like the expression we say to one another each Simchat Torah when we begin again with the story of Genesis: the text doesn't change, but the way we see it does, year after year. The land of Israel is different each and every time, and I can't wait to see it through the lens of this Symposium and this experience.

Now, back to packing ...