I write these words as I look out my hotel window on the sunset in Jerusalem. I love how the stones of the building look pink as the sun goes down. It’s a peaceful image that helps me think about the symbol of peace that the future Jerusalem is for our Prophetic tradition.
I want to report on some uplift from my trip to Israel–some small signs of hope from a land of many conflicts.
My wife and I spent the first five days of our trip vacationing in Tel Aviv. I think Rabbi Moscowitz summed up the energy of the city brilliantly in his recent piece in the Times of Israel. (Janice and I even ran into him in a corner cafe soaking up the vibe.) I want to add to the feeling of aliveness one feels in Tel Aviv: Janice and I were strolling down the boardwalk after dinner and noticed music coming from the beach. We walked a little bit further and saw a big dance party on the beach with red, white, and blue light everywhere. The nearby French embassy was throwing a Bastille Day party for the Israel right there in public. (Nobody yet knew about the Bastille Day celebrations in Nice.) Only in Tel Aviv, my wife told me, do strangers just dance together in public on a beach.
On to Jerusalem: In Jerusalem I have been taking the light rail a lot to get around the city. I know that there has been violence on the train, and I am not so naive to think that this is paradise, but I saw Jews and Palestinians, tourists and foreign workers all together. I saw an Orthodox woman give her seat to a blind Palestinian woman. As I just wrote, this does not mean peace, but it is a hopeful glimpse of what Jerusalem can be.
On Thursday I had the honour to take part in an event that also showed what Jerusalem can be–the 2016 Jerusalem Pride Parade. Last year at the parade there was an act of terrorism by a Jewish extremist Yishai Schlissel who killed 16-year-old Shira Banki and wounding five others. He had just been released from jail after five years for stabbing people at the 2005 parade. Also, this year in jail, Schlissel helped his brother plan an attack for this year’s parade, but it was foiled by the police. So, there was a lot of security.
This was a very different parade than the Toronto Pride a few week’s ago. In Toronto, it was led by our prime minister, and in Jerusalem the mayor backed out of the parade at the last minute so as to not offend the ultra-Orthodox. So, on to the uplifting part: Tens of thousands of people were there in defiance of hatred. People from the Reform and Conservative Movements, people from the political parties, youth groups, different LGBTQ groups, and also Orthodox Jewish supporters. There was also a wedding between two men to start the festivities. People wished each other chag ga’avah same’ach–happy Pride Festival.
Pride is usually seen as a negative trait in classical Jewish literature, but I think showing pride in this case is important. In Mussar, sometimes one needs to bring out seemingly “negative” traits at the right moment. For example, one should be impatient with injustice even though patience is seen as a great virtue. So, one should show pride in being who you are and standing up for democracy and tolerance in Jerusalem.
One more sign of hope: Today I had meeting with people at the Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism. They told me about their strategy of having 50 Reform congregations by 2020, and they think that they can do it by 2017. We talked about ways of connecting Holy Blossom with the Israeli Reform Jews, especially our partner congregation in Even Yehudah called Kehilat Shachar. I’m looking forward to meeting their Rabbi Gili Zidkiyahu this week to create programs that will bring our communities together, so that we can help create a vibrant, creative and modern Judaism in Israel.
Shalom from Jerusalem