There is an extraordinary exhibit in the Israel Museum called “The Synagogue Route”, which is a collection of synagogue sanctuaries from all around the world which has now been relocated to their permanent home in Jerusalem.
It is my favourite place on the entire planet, and some of my fondest memories involve wandering the little corridors between each structure and exploring their elaborate designs, from the gilded rooves of the Italian interior to the sand floors from Suriname to the heavy German wooden Ark doors.
This exhibit is a beautiful reminder of the commonalities that unite us as Jews across the world, and the unique twists that each community brings to their Judaism, which millions of Jews brought with them as they immigrated to the modern state of Israel over the last seven and a half decades. It is also symbolic of where we as Jews have come from, and what we have achieved in the face of adversity. Who would have thought 75 years ago that there would be a dedicated space, in Jerusalem, to keep these synagogues safe and preserve them, and that this small country would have developed into the “Start-up Nation”, with its own thriving culture, economy, and people?
The fond memories of this exhibit also ground me in our Holy Blossom Temple pillar of Ahavat Yisrael, love of Israel, reminding me that:
- Israel was the place I spent my childhood years working towards as part of a Reform Zionist youth movement.
- It was where I decided to become a rabbi, after spending a year at the Hebrew University.
- I would return there for another year to begin rabbinical school, living and breathing the Jewish calendar, from the sacredly quiet streets on Yom Kippur to joyful Kabbalat Shabbat music at the First Station to eating matzah by the beach at Pesach.
- That the last trip my family and I took before the pandemic was to Israel, to celebrate my grandmother’s 80th birthday
- There is no place more magical to be at 4 pm on a Friday afternoon than Jerusalem, as the shops begin to close and the sun begins to set on the golden sandstone, signalling: “Shabbat is here”.
Yet, that exhibit – that meeting space between Diaspora and Promised Land – is also the exemplar of the question that Israeli-American journalist Yossi Klein HaLevi so eloquently articulates: is Israel a Jewish state, or a state for the Jewish people?
As literally hundreds of thousands of our Israeli brothers and sisters take to the streets to protest the government and the judicial reforms and other policies it is trying to introduce, there is no denying that this entity we love is indeed in pain, as these questions rise to the fore.
It is why the organizations which represent our values as Reform Jews on the ground, such as the Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism (IMPJ – Israel’s Reform Movement) and the Israel Religious Advocacy Centre (IRAC – the legal advocacy arm) are so worthy of our support at this critical time, through the IMPJ Emergency Fund: https://holyblossom.org/impj-irac-emergency-campaign/.
The Israeli anthem is called HaTikvah (“The Hope”) for a reason; when I stand in those synagogues in the Israel Museum, and when I think of the IMPJ and IRAC, they represent the fervent hope of a future that we as Jews can build, in a home we can be proud to call a home for all Jews, and a country for all it’s citizens.
May we see a day in which this state we love is truly “reshit tzmichat geu’latenu” – the first flowering of our redemption – of our ultimate hope.