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From Here to There — Part II

Back in the fall, I wrote to you from a four-day mission in Jerusalem. We were only half-way through the trip organized by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs then. Some congregants have asked for a sequel of my reflections on the second half of the trip.

The twenty rabbis from across North America and from across the Jewish streams went with open-minded, and open-hearted enthusiasm for building and strengthening the bridges between Israel and Diaspora Jewry. Before leaving Jerusalem, we wrote this statement of intension. Unfortunately, the press told a cynical story about this mission, suggesting that we were being used as pawns in Netanyahu’s political game. I reject this unfair reading of the mission. Here are a few more of my reflections on what I observed during those few jam-packed days and since.

  1. When we met with the Prime Minister, the Board Room table was set with paper tents showing the names of military advisors. I wondered if they were left over from an earlier meeting that day, but no. When Netanyahu entered and took his seat at the table, he was flanked on either side by high ranked men in uniform. They didn’t say a word. What were they doing there in a meeting with Reform, Orthodox, and Conservative Rabbis from North America? Were they there to listen? Or to be seen? I do not know. Perhaps it was Netanyahu’s way of reminding us that in Israel security comes first. We were coming to address concerns about religious pluralism and freedoms, matters of the soul of the Jewish State. Israeli leadership has the primary responsibility of protecting the body of Israel. In our prayers for healing, however, we name them both – Refuat HaNefesh uRefuat HaGuf. We ask that God will bring healing to the soul and to the body of our loved ones. Both need attention and constant care.

 

  1. We went to see the new egalitarian section of the Kotel. It is currently only a temporary platform, but there are architectural plans to develop a beautiful plaza. The Jews who gather there for prayer are sometimes left in peace, and sometimes ridiculed by hecklers. There are reports that a mechitzah (a divider to separate men and women) is smuggled into the area from time to time. The government officials who gave us the tour urged us to send our people there for prayer whenever they visit Israel, because the more it sits empty, the less likely it is to be maintained as an egalitarian prayer space.

 

  1. It is convenient for some leading figures in Israel to point to the Pew Report, because it reinforces a particular Zionist narrative, namely, that Diaspora Jewry is two generations away from complete assimilation and the only hope for Jewish survival is in Israel. Reform and Conservative Judaism is falsely depicted as the last stop before one disappears from the Jewish scene. But the opposite is more often true. Reform Judaism, since its founding some two hundred years ago, is the way for people to maintain their Jewish identities and practices while embracing the opportunities of the modern era. Synagogues across North America are hubs of vibrant, creative, and sustaining Jewish life. Holy Blossom Temple is certainly among them.

 

  1. When addressing the real or imagined gap between Israel and Diaspora Jewry, Prime Minister Netanyahu said to us: “Criticism, I can live with; apathy, we can’t.” While on this unique trip, I found myself proudly describing the Zionism that is alive and well here in Toronto. Ahavat Yisrael, the love of Israel, is a pillar of Holy Blossom Temple’s identity. This love, as I observe it, is unconditional, but not uncritical.

Our new Atrium floor is built of Jerusalem stone. When we walk on it we can hear the echo of Rabbi Nachman of Bratzlav’s teaching: “Wherever I walk, I walk towards Jerusalem.”

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