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 ( 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 - . 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.



  1. Just one sentence about Noam? I think he's the most enlightening person writing in English about the conflict today. He's the one who laid out the realpolitiks behind the status quo and how to create pressure to change it.

    Anyway, this trip sounded very interesting, and you are now probably better educated on the conflict than the vast majority of American Jews. So hopefully now when someone suggests giving money to the JNF, you can tell them about El-Arakib and suggest a more appropriate tzedakah.

  2. The correct URL for the Parents Circle Forum is {you left out "the"). Thanks for writing on the Israel Symposium.