Thursday, July 31, 2008


.אפליה מינית

So today was another field trip day, and we explored parts of Jerusalem that I've never seen before. I have several thoughts on the significance of biblical archeology, but I'll let them ripen for a little bit before writing about them (perhaps tomorrow). For now, though, I'm all riled up about something, so I wanted to share it here.

I just read this article in the Jewish Daily Forward about the segregation of bus lines in Israel. To summarize: Egged, the main bus company in Israel, has acceded to Haredi pressure to offer segregated buses in lines where a lot of ultra-orthodox Jews ride the buses. Men enter from the front door and women from the back. Now that Egged has only segregated two bus lines this year (gasp), some Haredi rabbis are circulating a flyer to "thousands of schoolgirls and seminary students" encouraging to sit in the back of the bus in order to show Egged that these communities mean business.

The idea behind the initiative is that men should never look at women because they could incite thoughts about sin: "In every public place there should be separation between men and women, and a bus is no different." And this view is not only held by men, though the theoretically real Haredi women who oppose this view aren't in a position to speak their peace. The women who support it say things like this: "I see Haredi women who sit at the back as being the Israeli Rosa Parks. We see it as a stand against the deterioration of standards in the public arena, and view the chance to sit at the back without men gazing at us as a form of empowerment."

Now, if a woman wants to sit at the back of the bus, I think that's fine - let her sit wherever she wants to. But I believe that this decision has to be an informed one. Take for example a girl who is raised with the message that women incite men to thoughts of sin and should therefore remove herself from their view. This message implies that (A) the burden of tempting/not tempting is on women, (B) men's spiritual health is more important than women's, and (C) whenever a man looks at a woman, he is inclined to think of her as a sexual object. Submitting to that mentality blindly is not an informed decision and continues a tradition of segregation and discrimination that is centuries old (and that is condemned vociferously when some people talk about Muslim-majority countries but not even mentioned when most people talk about Israel).

There is so much oppression encased in this philosophy that it makes me angry and ashamed that it's part of my tradition (and actual law in some parts of this country). The illogical part is the automatic assumption that if something can tempt us, we have to avoid it, and the issue extends beyond segregation. A woman quoted in for Forward piece notes that Haredi women "get on the buses and have to look at advertisements for condoms and listen to licentious music. We are activists, and this is one thing we can do to enact a change to the slipping standards in the public sphere."

But to me, this doesn't make any sense. Seeing a condom does not make someone have premarital sex! (I can go on and on about this particular topic...) Listening to "licentious music" does not make someone sleep with everyone they see. (And, incidentally, making blanket moral statements about these sexual topics is a classic sign of oversimplifying human relationship.)

I hate to sound crass, but if you don't like it, deal. And I mean that: If you see something that you disagree with, don't do it. I would never advocate for the elimination of meat advertisements on buses just because I'm a vegetarian. Similarly, I would never expect someone to advocate for the elimination of non-kosher restaurants in Israel. Some people make choices, and no one if forcing anyone to follow suit.

Except the Haredim. They're the ones who are saying that all women should be removed from the view of a man; they're the ones saying that women are natural flirts who tempt sin simply by existing; they're the ones who are transforming an immortal legacy of civil rights activism into a disgusting wave of discrimination.

So what do I do about it? Obviously, I don't have any headway in the Hardei community, and I'm not yet a CEO of Egged. But there's a serious question I have to ask myself while I'm here in Israel: Will I go to segregated services? On the one hand, I feel it's important to understand "the" orthodox approach to Judaism here as much as I can, especially if I want to work to bring about reform. On the other hand, willingly going to a service where men and women are separated is a form of acquiescing to the tradition and saying, "This, too, is mine." Is it? Hard to say...

Someone (I forget who) once told me that they don't pray at orthodox services even if they attend. I wonder if I would be the same way. Would standing in an orthodox congregation (without a kipah??) as an observer be giving the same silent credence to an atmosphere of oppression? What about a congregation like Shirah Chadasha, which strives to have literally the most egalitarian service possible within the confines of orthodox tradition? Would attending/praying there be making an affirmative statement that "I like the way you're thinking ... now just tear down that wall, and we'll be fine?"

Questions that I'm still struggling with and will, of course, look forward to Jessica's input on. I was warned ahead of time that gender issues would confront me here in Israel, but I'm only now starting to get a handle on what that entails. I wonder how my future reflections will change if and once my experience becomes no longer hypothetical but actual...

Tuesday, July 29, 2008



Sort of a gripping title, isn't it?

Last night, a large group of us (31) went to see the new Batman movie, The Dark Knight. It was pretty awesome and has earned its place as the highest-grossing (in the first week) film of all time. Kudos.

On the way home from the movie, I was musing about what its success reflects in "our" (broadly interpreted) culture. One can see in recent popular movies such as Munich and The Incredible Hulk and even Shrek and The Incredibles a tendency away from the Good vs. Evil, black and white divisions of hero and villain that were perhaps more characteristic of an earlier time. Some of the most popular (and understandable) heroes have very significant flaws and are considered by some to be villains. What does that say about our times?

I think it's definitely a reflection of our insecurity in our own self-righteousness. For a long time, it was okay to feel like the good guy in the Good vs. Evil matchup, but I believe that people have become more cynical (realistic?) over the decades? In the Dark Knight, for example, Batman is ostracized for inadvertently causing the deaths of innocent people; for many, including himself, it's easy to see him as the agent of death in the city of Gotham. (In many ways, comic book movies of late like the Spider-man and X-Men series have been exploring this outlook.)

So, we're insecure in our ability to do the right thing. And still, we want to believe that that tortured, misunderstood hero is still good. We still want to believe that no matter how many wars we fight and how many countries we economically bully, we're still good. But can we have it both ways? Can we have peace and prosperity? It seems to me that, if we were really going to treat the rest of the world fairly, we'd have to give up a great deal, and I very much doubt that most Americans are willing to do that. We'd much rather pay $12.50 to see a movie about a person who really does inadvertently kill a lot of people but, after all, he [spoiler ahead] gets the bad guy in the end.

But let's take it out of the movies. We may pat ourselves on the back for a righteous moral battle well hypothesized-about, but when it comes down to it, how secure are we? Even while riding the bus back from the theater, I'll admit to feeling fear as we stopped next to a bulldozer. And today, when a man told me while I was hanging up my laundry not to worry about the package he was leaving at the top of the stairs - he'll be back for it later - I looked inside the bag to make sure it wasn't an explosive. Is this what moral self-congratulation has bought us?

Now, on the one hand, it's easy to say the following: "Sure Daniel, you say you'd like to do the right thing always, but that doesn't have an impact on society. And, were you in a place where you could impact society, you wouldn't be able to act according to your conscience." And there I actually do have to disagree. There are good people in this world, and they have done good things. It is not impossible to have leaders who pledge to follow a moral code, and it's also not impossible for that moral code to align with others'. Further, the greatest strides of peace that we have yet to attain will have to be taken by people who agree to act together for the betterment of humankind.

So, the post didn't exactly go where I anticipated, but that's the beauty of this "stream of consciousness" gig - it can lead all sorts of exciting places!

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Weekend on the Shore and at the Mountain of God.

.סוף שבוע בחוף ובהר אל

Yesterday, most of our class went to Tel Aviv for a fun day in the sun (and clouds, which are entirely absent from the Jerusalem sky). Although we only spent a half dozen hours there, our trip was enough to instill an appreciation for some of the differences between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. The area where we were in Tel Aviv (downtown/beach area) was much busier with a lot more shopping. There were significantly fewer "black hatters" around, and most of those that I saw were set up at "Tefillin Tables" helping people say their daily prayers. In describing the difference to a classmate, I phrased my feelings the following way:

In Jerusalem, one can feel the weight of an enormous pillow of orthodoxy resting over the city. Some people can easily stick a pole in the ground to lift the pillow off of them and live a secular life without a second thought. Many others, including us who want to live religiously but not observantly, find ourselves struggling against suffocation under the pillow. Now, the pillow in and of itself is very beautiful, but pillows should be restful, not oppressive. In Jerusalem, this pillow is more like a yoga mat - some people have it permanently set up in their lives, but most people don't encounter it in their day to day activity. And I'll tell you what - it's nice to escape from the anxiety rooted in the life of a Reform Jew in Jerusalem.

That's not to say that I like Tel Aviv more. Given the choice to live in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem, I'd definitely pick Jerusalem. Please let's not forget that I love Judaism, and I love the Jewish traditions that the Israeli right-wing represent. What I don't love is how they occasionally choose to represent and share those traditions in an exclusive manner. And I certainly don't love unbridled capitalism, congested streets, and sweltering heat. So, at least for now, I'm still a Jerusalemite at heart.

However, we did have an opportunity to experience one flavor of Progressive Judaism in Tel Aviv. Although they don't affiliate with the Reform movement, Kehillat Beit T'filah Yisraeli is a progressive congregation that offers spiritual expression and community to more or less secular residents of Tel Aviv. During the summer, the congregation holds its services along the shore, so our Friday night service took place amid crashing waves and setting sun.

At first, I was disappointed by the service. Since it was outside, it was impossible to hear the congregation singing anything together. Additionally, there were all sorts of distractions, from people walking to fishing to jet skiing. And, of course, the service was entirely in Hebrew. But, I did know some of the music (the rabbi is a student in the Israeli program at HUC, and the head of our cantorial program was helping with some of the singing), and as soon as we were singing "What a Wonderful World" in Hebrew translation, I was hooked. The instruments, the great voices of the leaders, and the sunset all started to win me over.

Then, when we rose for the Barchu, we faced the sea (which is quite obviously in the opposite direction of Jerusalem). The rabbi mentioned the custom to face the ים instead of ירושלים because it's beautiful and hey - at least they share some letters. I definitely appreciated saying the Barchu, Amidah, and Aleinu facing the setting sun (and did I mention that there are clouds in Tel Aviv??), and I really had an opportunity to feel some of the power of creation much more than I usually do when the walls of the synagogue stand between me and, theoretically, the Western Wall.

So, I definitely liked services last night, and I also appreciated the conversation some of us had back in Jerusalem about the "True Meaning of Prayer" (a conversation that I won't detail here; I'm sure the topics will arise again in the future of this blog).

In order to keep up with my resolve to sample many different Shabbat services, I (and eight classmates) attended services this morning at Kehillat Har-El (Trans: Mountain of God). Har-El was the first Israeli Progressive congregation, founded in 1958 and still strong today. Services were actually quite similar (albeit entirely in Hebrew) to what I'm used to in the States, and the Bar Mitzvah, too, reminded me of American celebrations. (There were many speeches by family, the Bar Mitzvah read from the Torah and gave a short d'var, we threw flowers after the conclusion of his haftarah reading, and there was a delicious kiddush lunch afterward.) One of the best parts about Har-El is that it's literally around the corner from my apartment building, so I definitely expect to return. Apparently, the Friday night service is the main service (again, just like in the States), so I'll have to go back and see how those are. (I actually wasn't too much of a fan of the Saturday morning service, though that could have been because of the Bar Mitzvah speeches that did drag on a bit.)

Altogether, my weekend/Shabbat has been pleasant, and I'm glad to have had today to rest up and get myself prepared for the week ahead. Tune in to see how it plays out!

Friday, July 25, 2008

American and World Reform Judaism.

.יהדות רפורמית אמריקנית ועולמית

I want to start by posing a question inspired by an email I received: Why do some (most?) congregations charge (non-members) for High Holiday tickets? I'm sure there's some sort of "economic reality" that synagogues have to face, but the entire idea is distasteful to me.

The reason I bring up this point is that I recently received an email from an old list that I'm on advertising High Holiday ticket prices to "young people" in the D.C. area. While several places let students in for free, others require a ticket purchased at a "discounted" price of $18-200. Let's say I'm an unaffiliated 28-year-old in the DC area. I'm certainly not going to pay a dime to go to services, to my options for free services include:

Adat Reyim (Conservative)
Beth Torah (Reform)
Farbrangen (Independent)
Kehila Chadasha with Am Kolel (Havuah/Renewal/Reconstructionist)
Temple Sinai (Reform)
University of Maryland Hillel (Reform, Conservative, Orthodox)
and three Orthodox/Traditional services

Now granted, that's an enormous panoply of options compared to Roanoke (which has two congregations), but of the 56 options available in the area, it's sad that less than 1/4 are free. (And that's if you're under 35!)

One thing I don't know is whether this is a common phenomenon or one unique to American Judaism. I suspect that this is more of an American approach to High Holiday service attendance, though I can't back that up with anything more than a hunch. If it's true, though, then it serves as a sign of American Judaism's unique way of doing things and also reflects a certain amount of privilege and wealth not available to other communities.

Which leads me into my next topic: World Reform Judaism. On Wednesday afternoon, we had a chance to meet with Rabbi Uri Regev, the leader of the World Union for Progressive Judaism (WUPJ) (which is headquartered in Jerusalem ... in the same complex as HUC!). Rabbi Regev, a graduate from and later director of the Israeli Rabbinic program at HUC, shared with us the accomplishments of the World Union, largely in the Former Soviet Union (FSU) and in South America. Where the WUPJ has not had significant impact is in North America. Many of the Jewish communities there feel secure and insulated from the rest of the Jewish world, and Rabbi Regev believes that a mutual partnership and enrichment must take place between American and non-American Jews, a relationship that should be built with Israel as its heart.

Now, I'm all for the expansion of horizons of Americans' understanding of Judaism beyond the boundaries of our country. My trip to Israel on Hillel's "Winter Israel: Peoplehood and Pluralism" trip exposed me to members of Jewish communities in ten different countries and opened my eyes to the complexities and richness of (at least parts of) world Jewry. Some time ago, I overheard someone make a comment about how all Jews have something in common: Going to Hebrew School once or twice a week to become a Bar or Bat Mitzvah. My immediate reaction was, "Of course all Jews have something in common ... but it's not the religious school model that you grew up with!" She was referring, I believe, to American Jews, but her concept of Judaism defaulted to the familiar. Of course, upon reflection, she would have known that Jews outside America follow a diverse array of educational systems, but the gut feeling was that "all" Jews live in the United States.

If we can change that basic perspective, we can open our minds and hearts to other communities so much easier. I don't know very much about American Jewry's involvement in the movement to move Russian Jews from Russia to Israel, but I understand that the outpouring of support was significant. Something "clicked" with American Jews about their fellows across the world, and the result was a tremendous amount of support.

Now, don't get me wrong: I'm not trying to squeeze aid out of the American Jewish community to go toward improving the lot of poor Jews across the globe; not at all. What I'm suggesting is that, given a recognition of a common bond, people can be drawn together from across vast distances. The strengthening of our Jewish community can only serve to make us more world-conscious and therefore more likely to speak out and act against injustices around the world. If my home congregation had a sister congregation in Rio de Janeiro, for example, I might have been taught something of Brazilian life and culture in Sunday School. Perhaps I would have had a chance to go on a Youth Group exchange of some sort to see how Jewish youth live there. And today, perhaps I would have enough interest in my sister community to know that Brazil is facing an oil workers' strike that is still in negotiations.

However, what I'm less sure about is the second part of Rabbi Regev's message, that Israel has to be at the center of our world Jewish identity. Now, at this point in my Year in Israel, I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. I don't know very much about Israel and the religious climate here (I've been here such a short amount of time, relatively speaking), and I don't fully understand the impact Israel has on the Jewish world at large. I believe that it is entirely possible that Israel should be central to a global understanding of the Jewish community, but this is an issue I still have to explore for myself. How much should Israel be my home away from home, and how much should it trump my thoughts about and support to communities in Eastern Europe, South America, and other places? This is a topic I'm sure I'll be returning to.

It's also a topic touched upon by someone else we met with on Wednesday. Iri Kassel, the executive director of the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism (IMPJ), shared several stories with us that communicated the state of Progressive Judaism (a term used to describe non-traditional alternatives to Orthodoxy) in Israel. To summarize, the IMPJ is growing in strength and influence but very, very slowly. There are 24 progressive congregations in Israel, and the IMPJ has programs in 80 schools. Last year, the IMPJ sponsored 85 "Bat Mitzvah is not Just a Party" programs that sought to bring meaning to girls' Bat Mitzvahs since in Israel, generally, a girl doesn't actually do anything or receive any recognition as a Jewish adult (but still receives a big party with lots of presents and delicious food). There's also a one-year Mechina program for students who have graduated from high school and who are delaying their full term of military service for a year. This program seeks to prepare the young men and women to fluent in the values and moral dilemmas of military service.

These are all very exciting programs, but there is a lot of work to be done before Progressive Judaism is recognized as a viable religious community and spiritual expression. For example, there are currently 3,000 orthodox rabbis getting paid by the state; 0 progressive rabbis have that privilege. However, there's a case in the Israeli Supreme Court right now that will hopefully result in the state paying a Reform (woman!) rabbi just like an orthodox counterpart. Recently, the IMPJ received four (worn-down but standing) buildings from the government, and that's a victory of precedence that will hopefully be replicated in the future.

Naturally, I believe that Progressive Judaism is a vibrant and fulfilling means of spiritual and communal expression, and it hurts to see it degraded, sometimes violently, in the Jewish state. Nevertheless, I'm inspired by the work that IMPJ is doing, and I fully support it. I don't know what I can do aside from talk the talk, however. Even when asked what we can do to help, Mr. Kassel could only suggest that we visit the Progressive synagogues in Israel, make relationships with the communities, and if possible, bring Americans to visit them in the future. Not exactly a concrete answer ... but on the other hand, I can also see the importance to Israelis for Israelis to make this happen. It's one thing when an American rabbi says to an Israeli "Reform Judaism is beautiful!" It's another thing entirely when an Israeli (who was more than likely raised either observant or secular) tells her friends and colleagues about the importance of Progressive observance in her life. I certainly hope that the IMPJ continues to make significant strides, and I'm here to lend support if I can!

It's interesting that, the day after meeting with the IMPJ, we had our first "tiyul" (trip) in Jerusalem. We walked (a lot!) around different parts of the city and explored texts that highlight the significance of Jerusalem in Jewish tradition and observance. The tour brought us closer and closer to the Kotel, and as we drew near, we discussed the significance that gaining the Western Wall in 1967 had for the secular soldiers that fought for it. We talked about the changing character of the Wall and how only since 1969/1970 or so has it been controlled by the orthodox - prior to that, men and women prayed together (and the space was much smaller). Overall, we discussed how Jerusalem belongs to all Jews, not just the orthodox, and this is reflected in poetry and songs from Israeli society and history.

Many of my colleagues have expressed extreme difficulty relating to the Western Wall. I believe that a significant part of their unease (and mine) is the oppressive weight of the orthodox always on alert for a bare shoulder or uncovered head. It's a shame that they have declared the Wall theirs when clearly it's not, and it's a challenge for myself and, I believe, for progressive and Reform Jews in general not to let them "get away with it." To me (and I'll talk more about this another time, I'm sure), the Western Wall represents a unity of the Jewish people, but recently (very recently in the scope of Jewish history), it has become a symbol of division.

And perhaps as Progressive Judaism "catches on" and people start recognizing the value of spiritual and communal exploration outside orthodoxy, the observant community will have no choice but to become partners rather than overseers. Next year in Jerusalem.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008



So, there are a lot of thoughts that have been running through my head today, and I'll try to capture what I'm able here in words. (I believe that this blog has largely become my expressive outlet in lieu of discussion-oriented classes and people who are close to me with whom I can discuss these matters at length.)

First, I want to address something that happened in the news that reflects a topic covered in my Hebrew class. Today, one of my classmates gave a presentation on the Sticker Song, which is a terrific commentary on the political, cultural, religious, etc. climate in modern Israel (and was written in collaboration with David Grossman, who will be visiting UVA next year). While discussing the song, we entered into a conversation about the lack of a sense of "political correctness" in Israel resulting in a higher frequency of people saying whatever they want to say. Some argued that this was preferable to saying things that one doesn't believe while others argued that the fear of being called a racist is a valuable component of American society because it labels racism as an unacceptable position. Personally, I tend toward the latter argument, but that's actually not where I'm going with this.

The conversation continued to a discussion of the social ramifications of the societies. In Israel, "racism" is often quite blatant and makes its way into the highest levels of political discourse. In the U.S., racism is much more latent and perhaps therefore much more difficult to correct. With this conversation fresh on my mind, I read this article from To summarize:

Scott Nugent arrested Baron Pikes, a 21-year-old black man, for possession of cocaine. Apparently there was a fight, and in order to subdue the suspect, Nugent used his taser gun to stun Pikes. Within three minutes, Nugent sent six doses of 50,000 volt currents through Pikes' body and arrested him. When they arrived at the police station, Nugent tased Pikes a seventh time, and Pikes then had to be dragged, unmoving from the car. Then, while he was lying on the sidewalk, Nugent shocked him two more times. Pikes didn't have any physical reaction to those shocks, so he was taken to the hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

Said the police chief about Nugent: "He done what he thought he was trained to do to bring that subject into custody. At some point, something happened with his body that caused him to go into cardiac arrest or whatever." Compassionate, not to mention eloquent...

After six months of scientific review, the coroner has finally concluded that the shocks killed Pikes, and now Nugent might be facing charges of homicide. Oh, and one more thing: The locality in question has had tasers for over a year; in that time, there have been 14 cases of them being used. Twelve of those cases were against black subjects. Ten involved SCOTT NUGENT.

So, I'm sure you can see where I'm going with this. It's obvious to me that Pikes was murdered, and although I can't say for certain, I do believe that race played a significant role in the problems that resulted in this death (at one or many levels). And, as I'm sure you can tell, I'm fairly riled up about the matter. Not only that it happened but that people are defending Nugent and that it's taken this long to gain significant press coverage (unless this is only the first time that I've heard of it).

Now, would this case be easier to solve if it were an open-and-shut case of racism? Although they're fairly different situations, I'd still like to compare the death of Baron Pikes with that of Ghassan Abu Teir, who was shot dead after his attack on Jerusalem wayfarers. In the video linked above, we see the tractor immobile while Israelis fire inside to kill the driver. Though he would certainly be considered dangerous, we nonetheless have an example of a "shoot first" reaction that is described in the following way in one news article:

The video shows Ganem fire at the terrorist from one side of the bulldozer. In the backdrop a man is heard saying "is there anyone here who can provide first aid? There's somebody wounded here."

Ganem is then seen moving over to the other side of the bulldozer, while an eyewitness tells him that the driver is still alive: "He's not dead, he's dead." Ganem then aims his weapon and fires several bullets, bringing the incident to an end.

The camera then shifts to a religious man who is asked for his name by the photographer. The man replies "Yaki Asael" and the photographer replies "Yaki, you were the first one to fire. Way to go." Asael gives the thumbs up signal and walks away modestly, without taking credit for shooting the terrorist.

Officer Ganem, who is Druze, said later that as opposed to the previous bulldozer attack he refrained from climbing on the vehicle and instead fired from several feet away. "The lesson from the previous attack was not to mount the bulldozer…I improved my position and fired at him," he said.

"After I fired and saw that he was neutralized, I attempted to open the bulldozer's doors, but apparently the terrorist also learned some lessons from the previous attack and locked the doors," Ganem added. "I then mounted the bulldozer, broke the windshield, and opened the door. I saw that he was no longer alive, so I didn't fire again."

Did Ganem shoot because he was racist against Arabs? I'm going to guess not. However, one may notice that in the article cited above, Abu Teir's name doesn't appear once, and his killers are unquestioningly treated as heroes. Does *that* have a basis in racism? Hard to say. In the end, though, I don't think that it was necessary to kill Abu Teir, and I do think that there won't be a second thought to be had by most of the Israeli public about the way this situation ended.

What isn't hard to see is that racism is to blame for an attack in Jerusalem of two Arabs a few hours after this horrific attack. Apparently, an argument at a hardware store attracted some orthodox Jewish bystanders, who began beating the Arab storekeepers. The two Arabs fled into the home of a Jewish family sitting shiva, and a Jewish man protected them from the mob even though he was stabbed for it. This kind of behavior disgusts me and shows that racism is a powerful and dangerous motivator wherever and however it's manifested.

Now, I had several other topics I wanted to discuss including our meetings with the heads of the World Union for Progressive Judaism and the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism, but it's getting late, and I have an early morning tomorrow. So, hopefully I'll find time tomorrow or Friday to write about those topics ... because they are of certain significance to me and probably my future.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The good, the bad, and the ugly.

.הטוב, הרע, והדוחה

But let's get the "bad" out of the way first...

This afternoon, at around 2:00, I received an SMS emergency text message from Nancy asking that I text her back my name and whether I was okay. This is standard procedure when there's a violent attack in a place where any students might be. I was safe in my apartment, and I texted her, and then I immediately went to check the Israeli news websites. I didn't see anything, and since I wanted to get my wireless internet set up before the 4:00 trip to Talpiot, I got on the phone with Netvision. After some time, they told me that technical service would call me back (thus making the Talpiot trip impossible), and shortly thereafter, I began talking to Jessica on Skype. It wasn't until the middle of our conversation that I remembered the text message and checked the news again. This is what I found. (The Talpiot trip, naturally, was canceled.)

For those who don't have time to follow the link, I'll summarize. There was yet another bulldozer attack in Jerusalem by another east Jerusalem resident (this one 22 year old...) wherein 24 people were wounded and another bus attacked. This is definitely bad news, though thankfully no one was killed aside from the attacker.

I don't really know what to say on the matter. It happened fairly close to here, but what can one do? I was thinking, as I waited for the internet people to call me back (for over four hours...) that this is what they mean when they say that Israelis just have to keep on keeping on despite the potential horrors of their day to day lives. Part of me wondered if Netvision would shut down because of the attack, but I immediately dismissed that as ludicrous: Israel doesn't shut down for these sorts of things. Even during wartime, life continues (as was indicated to me by my friend Nicole who was here during the Lebanon War two years ago).

Of course, I continue to hope and pray for the safety of the entire country, and there's a special place my thoughts for those I know and are close to here. But aside from vigilance (which is actually taken seriously here as opposed to the ridicule given toward the "Is that your bag?" movement in Washington, DC), I don't know what one can do. Pray and keep on living. That's sort of the motto of the Jewish people, isn't it?

Speaking of the Jewish people, how about we move on to the good? First, yesterday I went up to Hebrew University with a Wexner friend of mine in order to scope out the bus ride for Jessica. Getting up and back was very simple, and I'm really starting to get the hang of moving around Jerusalem (and Israel in general). (Keyword: Starting.) With each day that passes, this feels more like home ... and with each time I have to ask an Israeli to repeat herself, I'm reminded that this is only temporary.

Additionally, I'm beginning to settle down into some sort of pattern regarding my Hebrew class. I was placed into Dalet, which is the highest of our four classes, so I have an exciting opportunity to really excel in my Hebrew. (Two of my classmates have lived for a year or more in Israel, and the rest are certainly close to or above my own level of comprehension.) There are nine of us, a number that is comfortable but larger than I'm used to in a Hebrew language course. Still, of course, I like my classmates, and I'm looking forward to spending this summer and much of the upcoming year with them.

To share with you a bit of what we're doing and (mostly) to practice my Hebrew typing (a skill that I'm trying to cultivate a bit at at time), I'll share a joke that was included in one of our selections. The translation follows:

יום אחד הרשלי היה רעב. הוא נכנס למסעדה הזמין ארוחה גדולה והתחיל לאכול. פתאום נכנס למסעדה מכר שלו, נידש להרשלי והתחיל לשאול על בני המשפחה.

--מה שלום הדוד?
--הדוד מת, ענה הרשלי.
--באמת?! אמר המכר, ואשתו?
--גם היא מתה, ענה הרשלי.
--מה אתה אומר?! והילדים שלהם?
--גם מתו.
--מה קרה?! נבהל המכר, פרצה אצלכם מגפה בעיר שכולם מתים?
--לא מגפה ולא כלום, ענה הרשלי, אבל כשאני אוכל כל העולם מת בשבילי

One day, Hershli was hungry. He went into a restaurant, ordered a big meal, and began to eat. Suddenly, his friend entered the restaurant, approached Hershli, and began to ask about his family.

"How's your uncle?"
"My uncle's dead," replied Hershli.
"Really?" said his friend. "And his wife?"
"She's also dead," answered Hershli.
"What are you saying?! What about their children?"
"Dead too."
"What happened?!" the friend stammered. "Was there a sudden outburst of plague in your city, so everyone died?"
"No plague, no nothing," said Hershli. "But when I'm eating, the entire world is dead to me."

So, there's a bit of Hebrew class humor for you. :-)

And now, for the ugly. Along with this whole "Hebrew improvement" thing comes learning new vocabulary. A lot of new vocabulary. So far, I've taken almost 7 pages of vocab notes in the three days we've been in class, and I've made flash cards for every one. It's a LOT, but I decided that I really want to dedicate myself to learning as much as I can while I have this free time because in the future, I won't have nearly as much time to devote to studying Hebrew. Now, my afternoons are relatively open, so I can spend a couple hours copying flashcards and studying them. Hopefully, I'll develop a rhythm that can help me out during the year (because I'll be in Hebrew class at least once a day for the entire school year as well).

On the bright side, I can only go up from where I am, and where I am is pretty good. I can conduct most of my mundane errands in Hebrew, I can converse with cab drivers in Hebrew, and I can even understand more than 50% of the children's TV I watch in Hebrew! So as I struggle with these new vocabulary words (such as framework, decoration, scar, miserable, suspect, etc.), I'll inevitably be learning. Who knows - maybe by the end of the year, I'll only have to listen to the news two or three times before being able to understand the newscaster! And that's a goal we can all get behind!

Sunday, July 20, 2008

The second sabbath.

.השבת השנית

Now, where were we? As yes, Shabbat.

On Friday, after a Q&A session with current HUC students out of their year in Israel and a quiet afternoon, we returned to HUC for a pre-Shabbat program. There, Rabbi Naamah Kelman, the former director of our program, led a workshop on the meaning of Shabbat. We broke into pairs and examined (or at least aspired to examine) six places where Shabbat is mentioned in the Torah. My partner and I focused on several aspects of the texts we were studying:

1. Genesis 2:2, we read that God rested מכל-מלאכתו אשר עשה (from all the work that God did), while in Genesis 2:3, after God blesses the seventh day, we read that God sanctified it because God rested מכל-מלאכתו אשר-ברא אלוהים לעשות (from all the work that God created to do). One explanation my partner and I generated is that not only did God cease from laboring but God also ceased from designing more labor to complete. In other words, to fully embrace the sanctity of Shabbat means not only to cease from work but also to stem the flood of work-related thoughts and impulses that distract us from appreciating creation, which is by its nature

2. We also compared the commandment to remember the Sabbath in the Ten Commandments and the reminder to observe the Sabbath in Deuteronomy's retelling of the Ten Commandments. The second iteration of the commandment includes a requirement that all of one's servants are also to rest, for we are to remember that we were slaves in Egypt. My partner and I discussed (though not exhaustively) the process of specification that has taken place over the course of the Torah. First, Shabbat was an undiluted fact, then it became something that we were commanded to recognize, and then it became something whose recognition required a certain set of dos and don'ts. Although I use the language "Shabbat became..." what's more likely is that we changed and required more instruction in how to live in harmony with the sanctity of Shabbat. Today, it's harder than ever as we are constantly bombarded with distractions, so our study of the meaning of Shabbat takes on a more urgent tone than in generations past.

Therefore, we expanded our groups and shared what we'd like Shabbat to be for us this year. My answer was that I wanted (A) to find a way to recognize Shabbat by not doing schoolwork, (B) to explore meaningful opportunities of becoming better acquainted with people and places, and finally (C) to take advantage of the panoply of Jewish observances in Jerusalem and them time I have to sample them. Most future Shabbats are going to require me to work, probably at Shabbat services, so I want to take advantage of the chance to be led through Shabbat rather than the other way around. Additionally, to many rabbis, Shabbat services are extremely important moments of interaction with a Jewish community; I think it's important for me to find out what services mean to me. I didn't go to services last year while working at City Year, and though I missed what had become a weekly ritual for me, I nevertheless didn't feel a slackening of my Jewish identity. So the question remains: How important are Shabbat services, and in what way? I hope to find some answers (as there are, no doubt, many) to that question and to be prepared to help others find answers for themselves as well.

Naturally, this discussion led into a kabbalat Shabbat service, which was populated mostly by members of our class and guests. I've been to a small number of services this year (and I've written about them here before), but I continue to love and appreciate the beauty and strength of our HUC student congregation. Not since the "good ole days" of Hillel have I looked forward to services so much, and I'm endlessly grateful that I am part of a community again in which I feel I can pray.

After services, we were provided dinner (though sadly, we shouldn't come to expect such royal treatment!). The food was fantastic, but the song session that proceeded it eclipsed the meal entirely. Most of the class made it to their feet and found themselves dancing in place at one time or another. We had several song leaders who were all inspirational with their ruach and their guitars. When I returned home that night, the notes were still humming in my mind.

And the beat goes on...! Saturday morning services were also at HUC, this time with the entire community of HUC regulars and guests. Cantor Tamar Havilio (head of the School of Sacred Music here) and Rabbi Michael Marmur (director of HUC Jerusalem) led services beautifully and inspirationally. Rabbi Marmur's d'var focused on the relationships between קרב (battle) and קורבן (offering) and מלחמה (war) and לחם (bread) and the ability and necessity to "convert" one to the other.

After kiddush, I came home to eat lunch and take care of some paperwork and laundry (all the while wondering if I was exhibiting the true meaning of Shabbat!), and at 6:30, I went to a potluck dinner at the apartment of some of my classmates. They're on the bottom floor of the building and have access to a patio area which was big enough for all 40 guests that attended the event! There was excellent food (including delicious vegetarian chili), and I had several enjoyable conversations. After it got dark, we got into a circle and had a havdalah service (again with the beautiful singing!). It was an excellent evening, and I definitely look forward to the next one!

That havdalah, as Jaclyn pointed out, separated not only Shabbat from the rest of the week but also our pre-HUC lives from our in- and post-HUC lives, for as of today (Sunday), we are officially in school. (As such, we had an introductory biblical archeology lecture today as well as our first Hebrew lesson, about which I will likely write tomorrow or Tuesday.) Orientation is over, and it's time to get cracking on all that "learning" they have in store for us. But I'm really quite excited. I'm excited to be learning Hebrew again, and I'm excited to be in a community of people who are also excited to be here. Let's roll!

Saturday, July 19, 2008

A wedding in Haifa.

.חתונה בחיפה

Well, orientation is officially over. Thursday was a somewhat detail-oriented day where we received an academic preview and a look at the year's calendar. Orientation ran a bit late, so I was already about a half-hour behind schedule for the evening's festivities.

There's an Israeli congregant of Temple Emanuel in Roanoke named Chen, and Thursday was Chen's daughter's wedding in Haifa. Chen had invited Amanda Winter and myself to the wedding, and not wanting to turn down an opportunity to explore Israel (and celebrate with bride and groom), we accepted. The night was certainly an interesting one and definitely worth the logistics. The previous Friday night at the HUC dinner, I sat next to a woman who had recently made the exact trip Amanda and I were planning to Haifa, so she told us exactly how to get there. And, more or less, everything went according to plan...

After running home and changing, I met Amanda at a bus stop on King George St, planning to get on the first bus that was heading to the Central Bus Station. We boarded the 74 at 4:45 pm and arrived at the Central Bus Station at 5:00. We were hoping to catch the 5:15 bus to Haifa, so we hurried inside, bought our ticket at the counter, and found our way to the platform. We were still inside the main building waiting in a line that extended into the parking garage-like area where the buses load passengers. The 5:15 bus wasn't actually coming until 5:30, and when that bus arrived and loaded up, it became clear soon enough that we wouldn't be able to fit. The crowd of people pressing into the bus filled it too quickly, so Amanda and I relegated ourselves to waiting for the 6:00 bus (the last one to leave for Haifa).

The Israelis behind us warned us, "You have to be aggressive, or you will not leave Jerusalem today." Armed with that encouragement, Amanda and I determined to make it onto the 6:00 bus. We were fairly near the front of the mob (you could never describe what we were in as a line), and I felt sure that there was no way that 40-50 people were "ahead" of us. Nevertheless, we weren't going to take any chances. I tried to inch forward (as other people entered the garage from other doors and sauntered right up to the "front'), and I clutched our ticket (hoping, probably fruitlessly, that having purchased a ticket might guarantee us a seat).

When the 6:00 bus finally arrived after 6:05 it pulled into the space that was filled with human bodies. Again, I wasn't willing to relinquish any ground, but I was literally moved by the crowd to make room for the people who had to get out of the way of the bus. Amanda was trying to hold onto me, and I was trying to avoid falling off the ledge I was standing on. It as madness! As the bus started loading, I stood not three feet from the door - yet, people streamed in from the sides, and the people in front of me couldn't enter the bus. Eventually, I put my arm in front of some people to my right and planted my foot in the door. The woman in front of us was trying to secure passage for her dog but was denied by the bus driver; she left in a rage. The driver then told me that there was only standing room on the bus ... but Amanda and I had come too far to be deterred now. The bus driver stamped my ticket, and Amanda and I boarded.

As luck would have it, there was one seat on the bus (albeit an uncomfortable one in the back row), which Amanda was able to sit in. I managed to sit on the steps by the rear door, and though it was by no means comfortable, it was a lot better than standing still for an additional two hours (after having waited for the bus for over an hour already).

The ride was uneventful, and the bus station at Haifa was much less hectic than the one in Jerusalem had been. We got off the bus at 8:10 (the wedding started at 7:30) and made our way to the cab station. A driver was more or less ordered to take us to the reception hall, which we were later to find out was about a half-hour away from the bus station. On the ride to the reception hall, I actually had a fairly pleasant conversation with the taxi driver in Hebrew. I told him that I was studying to be a rabbi and that Amanda was studying to be a "chazanit" (female cantor), and he made a sign of obvious surprise. "Chazanit? Chayav lih'yot Reformim." "A female cantor? Must be Reform!" We also talked about Haifa, how we had lived only briefly in the country, and that we would call him when we were ready to leave the wedding so that he could come pick us up.

We finally arrived at the reception hall at 8:45, and judging by the number of name-cards on the table, we were far from the last guests. We walked in, I got something to drink, and Amanda and I scoped out the scene. The wedding was taking place in an outdoor area next to the dining/dancing room. An orthodox rabbi was officiating, and a few rows of chairs were set up in front for the people who were interested in watching (at least, those who weren't just going to wait for the video (as everything was being recorded)). However, hundreds of other people were milling about, talking, drinking, and eating from the buffet line of hors d'oeuvres. A few minutes after we arrived, the groom stepped on the glass, there was a general display of good cheer, and a host of white balloons were released into the air. Seems like we had arrived just in time!

In an effort to greet Chen, Amanda and I stayed near the chairs and watched guests file past. The dress of the guests was very different from what one would expect in the United States. Some people were dressed in their every-day clothes, others wore fancy (though not necessarily "formal") dress, and a select few wore formal clothes; even the bride's dress was not your expected white gown. I'm glad I had kept my necktie in my pocket!

We did manage to greet Chen and her family and then followed the crowd to dinner in the enormous reception hall. (I estimate that there were 400-500 guests.) Amanda and I found our seats, but about a quarter to a half of the crowd (including the happy couple) went straight to the dance floor. The music was reminiscent of an American bar mitzvah - dance music that included some contemporary Israeli rock/pop and some American classics (the Twist, Rock Around the Clock, etc.). There was nothing slow, and guests of all ages danced the same way to the same music (though the older songs did tend to attract a slightly older crowd).

There was no order to the meal; when you were seated and ready to eat, someone brought food. I had some delicious pasta, and Amanda had fish. I conversed half in Hebrew and half in English with an Israeli sitting next to me from a small village where he worked with the merchant marine corps. He was very interesting - born in Morocco but raised in Israel, he said, "I'm not religious, but I go to synagogue three times a day." And so do his children. He doesn't follow the mitzvot, but he loves to hear the words of the prayers at the synagogue. I wonder how un/common that attitude is in Israel....

Amanda and I danced for a while (how could one not?), but we didn't stay very long. After all, we had an orientation program the next morning in Jerusalem! So, after an hour and a half, we had Coby the taxi driver pick us up and take us to the Sheirut (shared cab) station. We found a 10-seat sheirut and paid our fare to Tel Aviv. It certainly was nice to (A) have a seat, (B) have accessible air conditioning, and (C) have someone to talk to on the long drive home. Once we made it to Tel Aviv, we had to repeat the process on a sheirut to Jerusalem - there's no direct public transportation from Haifa to Jerusalem that late at night. We finally arrived back in the City of David at about 1:15 am, making ours a 9 hour trip of which 1.5 were spent at the wedding.

Still, after this experience, I have adopted a "bring it on" mentality about traveling anywhere else in the country. My Hebrew is good enough to be understood, so I can always ask for help, and I have a much better understanding of the bus and sheirut systems (both of which are significantly less expensive than mass transit in the US). Overall, despite having a great time at the wedding party, I feel empowered to travel wherever chance may give me an opportunity to go.

The following day included a concluding orientation program and a some down-time before Shabbat services. Friday night and all of Saturday were fairly meaningful, and I will write about them next time. For now, it's time to hit the hay since I have an early morning tomorrow ... which is the first day of classes! Cheers for now.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008



To bring a conclusion to the backpack saga, I saw a different backpack when I returned to the store; not only did I think it would better fit my needs but it was also significantly cheaper. I got it for 119 NIS (instead of the 270 being asked for the other one). In other good news, it looks like all my undergraduate loans are appropriately in in-school deferment. No more headaches about that for a while!

Now, on to the good stuff. Yesterday we officially began orientation, and I'm very glad that we've finally gotten on the road. I'm so relieved that I didn't decide to come to Jerusalem earlier - being here (alone) for longer than I have been might have driven me stir crazy. But, starting Sunday, we actually get to start learning again, and for this I'm very excited.

Meantime, we've not only been introducing ourselves to one another but also starting to really get a sense for each person's origin on this exciting and terrifying journey. Last night, we started by framing the conversation with two Talmudic stories. Here are non-literal translations of the passages (Bavli, Brachot 30a; Bavli, Brachot 11a):

1. How does one say the Traveler's Prayer? Rabbi Hisda says standing up; Rabbi Sheshet says also while proceeding (i.e., while standing still or while walking ahead). One day, R. Hisda and R. Sheshet were traveling together, and R. Hisda stood still and prayed. R. Sheshet (who was blind) asked his attendant, "What is R. Hisda doing?" He replied, "He is standing and praying." R. Sheshet then said, "Place me in position so that I may also pray; if you can be good, do not be called bad."

2. How does one say the Shema? Rabbi Hillel says: standing, sitting, reclining, walking on the road, or at one's work. Rabbi Shammai says: reclining. Once, Rabbi Ishamel and Rabbi Eleazar ben Azariah were dining at the same place, and R. Ishmael was reclining while R. Eleazar was standing upright. When the time came for reciting the Shema, R. Eleazar reclined (because R. Ishmael was also reclining), but R. Ishmael stood up (even though he could have said the Shema while reclining). R. Eleazar said to R. Ishmael, "Brother Ishmael, I will tell you a parable. Our conduct is like that of a man to whom people say, 'You have a fine beard,' and he replies, 'Then I will shave it off!' You are acting the same way. While I was standing upright, you were reclining, but when I also reclined, you stood upright!" R. Ishmael replied, "I have acted according to the rule of the House of Hillel, and you have acted according to the rule of the House of Shammai. What's more, I had to act this way lest our students should see us and determine that there is only one way to say the Shema."

So, what do we gain from these stories? While there are certainly any number of aspects we could latch on to with either one of them, our conversation mostly focused on the following: R. Sheshet compromised, while R. Ishmael stood up for his belief.

Now, both R. Sheshet and R. Ishmael can be positive role models. R. Sheshet is open minded about his Jewish experience and thus can include R. Hisda's philosophy in his own. R. Ishmael, even though he is also open minded, chooses to act in a contradictory manner in order to make a pedagogical point. Our discussion last night somewhat focused on how we related to these stories (in addition to the fairly unrelated questions of how we came to be at HUC and what we hope to bring to the HUC community).

In my own opinion, I would, of course, like to take a little from each camp. I am very open-minded with my theology, and I strive to find truth wherever I am able. As such, I not only seek spiritual significance in many forms of Judaism, but I also look for inspiration from other religions as well as secular creations. Thus, even though it is not my practice to wrap tefillin, I may still find it meaningful, and while I may not pray in a church, I may gain significant spiritual insight from being in one. In my personal exploration of faith, therefore, I would readily accept any opportunity to learn from another and add their experiences to my own, for I feel I can only be enriched by such openness.

This perspective needs to be reassessed in two circumstances, however. First, when I pray (deeply and meaningfully), there usually has to be a certain amount of comfort involved. That is, either I am already comfortable with the words and music and intention and placement of the prayer and am able to turn myself over to them, or I am made to feel comfortable with all those things by inspirational prayer leaders (as happened to me when I first went to Congregation B'nai Jeshurun in New York City). Thus, if I'm at a traditional (segregated, all-Hebrew, and with melodies I don't know) service, for example, I might gain insight into my own theological understanding of the universe ... but I won't be able to pray very well.

The other circumstance is the one that R. Ishmael points out: If I am responsible to a community for representing the truths and values of that community, I might need to put aside my personal curiosity and stand up for a particular way of doing things. Thus, let's take two situations: The first is I'm by myself in a Conservative congregation where no one knows me, and the service leader says, "I invite those for whom it is tradition to rise during the Mourner's Kaddish to do so now," I might remain seated in order to have the rare experience of praying the Mourner's Kaddish as a member of that community would. However, if I'm with friends or colleagues in the exact same situation, I would stand up.

Why? It's my tradition, and I'm proud of that, and I want to share that with everyone. Staying seated makes no statement, while standing up says that at least one person here validates the reason that the service leader makes the invitation. (On top of that, I happen to believe that I should rise for the Mourner's Kaddish on a spiritual level, so I'm not just making a point but rather am making a point of following my beliefs.)

To zoom out for a moment, I believe that Reform Judaism needs to take this into account on a large scale. A conversation I had with Jessica's parents many months ago highlighted a perception that I don't feel is uncommon among Reform Jews. That is, many Reform Jews would love to know that it means to be Reform aside from the easy answer of "I'm not Conservative, Orthodox, Reconstructionist, etc." There is an answer (that I'm in the process of learning and living), but it (a) is not simple and straightforward and (b) is hard to reify into actual practice. Nevertheless, I believe it's important to take a stand, and I would venture that Reform Judaism should defend to its core the following very simple statement:

One who believes she is a Jew is a Jew.

Then, of course, books are written and classes are taught to consider what this means for conversion, marriage, parentage, childbearing, circumcision, Zionism, kashrut, etc. And then, in standing up for this belief, one can stand up for equal rights for all Jews, both in the eyes of the diasporic communities as well as the Jewish community in Israel. It's very hard to find something firm to stand on when your philosophy is based on pluralism, but affirming Jewish identity in this way is, I believe, far from the norm in Jewish thought, and even this one small sentence would require enormous stamina and courage to support. And I believe the Reform movement is up to such a stance.

Personally, I believe the stance should include an acceptance of inter-faith couples and an uncompromising affirmation of same-sex marriage. I also believe that our focus on strong and positive Jewish identity should be highlighted in our religious education; so many Reform Jews think they're "just" Reform Jews who don't follow the commandments rather than Reform Jews who stand for a positive ideology that promotes justice, compassion, and righteousness.

So, at the end of the day, perhaps my mind is a R. Sheshet and my heart is a R. Ishmael. As orientation continued today and we had the opportunity to take a look at what we're in for, I became optimistic at the possibility that I will be able to explore both personalities within myself. This optimism was born at morning services, which were so beautiful with everyone participating with real spirit and which were capped with the glowing ornament of our cantorial students singing Oseh Shalom as the closing song. The morning service confirmed my long ( l o n g ) hope that I would at last be able to pray in an environment where everyone wants to be there, everyone knows the words, and everyone has enormous potential to grow from each individual service. That I can pray with my classmates is a very good sign, and whatever else may transpire over the next year and over the next five years, I know that we will all be able to meet in the sanctuary in peace.

The optimism continued as we heard from our dean and our head of student life; the faculty of this school really care about us and are devoted to making sure that we get as much out of our year as we possibly can. And finally, during our last conversation of the day, I got the slightest taste of what it will be like in class as we shared our fears and hopes about the coming year and were able to translate the personal stories we had shared yesterday into concrete statements that were being supported and acknowledged by our peers.

I certainly believe that there are students here who are very different from me, but I nonetheless look forward to sharing this experience with them and learning about myself from them, and I hope that I will have the capacity to share myself with them in a similar manner. All in all, I'm looking forward to a strong year: This year in Jerusalem!

PS It occurs to me that this post (and, more than likely, my other as well) is fairly stream-of-consciousness and not at all polished. I'll go ahead and state for the record that I don't expect that to change; therefore, bear that in mind while reading. What I write here may not be my final opinion on something, it may not be the full story as I or others see it or saw it, and it may, frankly, not make very much sense. But I do encourage you to post/email any questions you have, and I hope I won't go too far afield as I'm letting my mind run wild. I will admit: It's rather fun!

Monday, July 14, 2008

Getting to know a new city.

.הכרת עיר חדשה

Yesterday, I mainly stayed in, but I did venture out to do some more exploring of my neighborhood in the other direction. I walked up to what is known as "The Shuk" (where shuk = open-air market). There, there are numerous booths selling fresh produce, meats, nuts, spices, and baked goods as well as other items such as clothes, accessories, toys, and books. Things there are relatively inexpensive, and I considered buying a backpack in a nearby store but wanted to comparison shop a bit.

I had a chance to do just that comparison shopping today. This afternoon, we went to another shuk that travels around the country and is in Jerusalem every Monday called Shuk Ramle. It was small and mostly full of women's fashion items, so I only stayed for about ten minutes before walking across the street to the Jerusalem Mall, which could have been lifted straight out of any American city. I bought pens and pencils at Office Depot and saw The Incredible Hulk with some fellow students, and I also learned that the backpacks at the Shuk are slightly to moderately less expensive than at the mall. So, I believe I'll be going back tomorrow morning to make a purchase. The backpack I want is fairly expensive (270 NIS (~$81) was an early offering price, but I'm hoping to get him down), but it's also large and high quality, and I like to be able to trust my backpacks for a long time.

Tomorrow officially starts registration and marks the time when I'm an official student at HUC. That means I get to go through the headache of tracking down my loan status to make sure I don't have payments due in a week, but it also means that things are going to get moving, albeit slowly. We have one meeting tomorrow and an evening social event; the "real" orientation begins Wednesday, continues into Thursday and Friday, and bleeds into ulpan, which starts on Sunday. Wish me luck!

Saturday, July 12, 2008

The first Jerusalem Sabbath.

.השבת הירושלמי הראשון

The past 28 hours have been really terrific, especially after overseeing the NFTY event has put me on the first step to feeling "at home" here (at least temporarily). What's really been significant is that I feel that I have taken up the student mantle once again, and I'm really getting a sense that this is going to be a magnificent year.

Now seems to be a time when a lot of Union of Reform Judaism officials converge on Jerusalem; I don't know whether it has anything at all to do with the beginning of our academic year. (I suspect that, if anything, it has to do with NFTY in Israel, though probably it's a combination of a lot of factors.) Regardless of the reason, there have been a number of influential people that I've met in the past day, and I'm sorry to say that I don't remember most of them.

The major area of intersection between my life and all of theirs (as well as some of the local HUC-related community) was a day of study housed at HUC yesterday. There were several classes offered, and my fellow students and I were encouraged to attend and to study alongside older members of the community and visitors. I was present for the entire day (partially thanks to my conveniently located apartment!) and was very fortunate to have kick started my academic studies here without even having to take notes!

The first class I took was a lesson about how Hebrew words are formed in Modern Hebrew and part of the controversy surrounding the initial decision to make words this way taught by Dr. Yossi Leshem. Aside from being linguistically interesting, the class was also given entirely in Hebrew. In many ways, the class reminded me of my regular Hebrew classes, though after 45 minutes of trying to pay attention to every word, I realized that it's going to take me a bit of time before I can comfortably sit through an hour plus of instruction in Hebrew. Nevertheless, my ability to follow along gives me optimism that, if my classes are, in fact, taught in Hebrew this year, I will probably be able to keep up.

Then, I attended a lesson entitled "The Death of Memory and the Memory of Death: Constructions of the Past in Contemporary Israeli Society," offered by Rothberg International School of the Hebrew University professor Dr. David Mendelsson. Dr. Mendelsson engaged us in a discussion about the evolution of Israeli identity, mostly focusing on the 1960s and earlier. He noted that many Israelis would have delineated their history something like this:

Bar Kochba Revolt
Tel Hai

Basically, this outline skips over 1800 years of development and growth and focuses on the notion that modern Israelis (or Hebrews as they referred to themselves prior to the creation of the State of Israel) are a direct continuation of those who held this land in Antiquity. This outlook associates with the "exile" period only sadness and pain and looks to the Holocaust as validation that nothing good could ever come from living among the other nations of the world. Naturally, this perspective has changed over time, but it was prevalent in many sectors of Israeli society for a number of years prior to the late 1960s.

There was one more class before lunch, but I'll save that for last. Over lunch, Rabbi Naamah Kelman (a good friend of one of my professors at UVA, Vanessa Ochs) shared her findings about modern secular Israeli weddings and how more and more modern secular Israelis are seeking to insert personal touches and liturgical updates into their ceremonies. This was definitely an interesting conversation, especially in light of the fact that I'm going to an Israeli wedding on Thursday!

Now, the most poignant class for me was offered by Rabbi Dr. David Levine, and it was called "Authority and Innovation in Talmudic Thought." The concept of "new tradition" being validated by the rabbinic legacy is very important to me, and I've been thinking for some years about the inherently Jewish nature of innovation. Dr. Levine helped me find further validation of my hypothesis and enriched my understanding of rabbinic methodology.

He began the lecture by reviewing the traditional rabbinic thought pattern. Today, we often generalize into abstractions, and the more universal we are, the more sophisticated we are regarded to be. The rabbis, on the other hand, taught though specific examples and anecdotes. That is, theirs was a vocabulary of specifics, and great ideas were represented through single foci.

My own contribution to this concept would be one of symbology. It seems to me that each of the characters in an anecdote is a symbol for his or her Character, which is established through other stories involving the similar or identical person. Likewise, a conclusion drawn about one law is symbolic for a general truth that can be extrapolated. This understanding is based on previous study I've done, mostly on Paul Tillich's Dynamics of Faith.

Having established that a single source can stand for an enormous idea, Dr. Levine moved to a Talmudic passage that I want to record here for anyone who is interested (and for my personal review later).

Yerushalmi Demai 2:1 22c (similar text in Bavli Hullin 6b-7a)

ר' זעירא ר' חייא בשם ר' יוחנן. ר' התיר בית-שאן מפי יהושוע בן חמיו שלר' מאיר שאמ'. אני ראיתי את ר' מאיר לוקח ירק מן הגינה בשביעיתץ והתיר את כולה. אמ' ר' זעירא. הדא אמרה. אסור לבר נש מיעבד מילה בציבורא. אני או'. אותה הגינה היתה מיוחדת את כולה. ר' התיר בית-שאן. ר' התיר קסריין. ר' התיר בית-גוברין. ר' התיר כפר-צמח. ר' התיר ליקח ירק במוצאי שביעית. והיו הכל מליזין עליו. אמ' להן. בורא ונדיין. כת' "וכתת נחש הנחושת." וכי לא עמד צדיק ממשה ועד חזקיהו להעבירו. אלא אותה עטרה הניח לו הקב'ה להתעטר בה. [ואנן העטרה הזאת הניח הקבה'ו לנו להתעטר בה.] ס

R. Zeira [and] R. Hiyya in the name of R. Yohanan [said], "Rabbi [Judah the Patriarch] permitted [produce purchased in] Bet Shean [to be eaten without first separating tithes], on the testimony of Joshua b. Zeruz, the son of R. Meir's father-in-law, who said, 'I saw R. Meir take vegetables from the garden during the seventh year,' and he [Rabbi] permitted all of it, [that is, produce grown in the entire territory of Bet Shean, on the strength of this precedent].'"

Said R. Zeira, "this teaches [us] that it is forbidden for a person to do anything in public [from which others might draw a mistaken inference as to the general permissibility of the action]. For I might have said, 'That garden was set aside by him [R. Meir], and [on that basis Rabbi] permitted all of it [the territory of Bet Shean]?!'"

[It has been taught (in a baraita):] Rabbi permitted [produce sold in] Bet Shean [to be eaten without separating tithes], Rabbi permitted Caesaria, Rabbi permitted Bet Guvrin, Rabbi permitted Kfar Tzemach, Rabbi permitted the purchase of vegetables immediately in the year following the seventh year [unconcerned that they might have taken root before the end of the seventh year], and everyone jeered at him [because of these innovations].

He said to them, "Come, let us reason [about this matter]. It is written, He [Hezekiah] broke into pieces the bronze serpent [that Moses had made, for until that time the Israelites had been offering sacrifices to it; it was called Nehushtan] (2 Kings 18:4). Now did no righteous man airse from [the time of] Moses to [the time of] Hezekiah to remove it? Rather, the Holy One, praised be He, reserved for him [Hezekiah] that crown with which to adorn himself. So, too, with respect to us--the Holy One, praised be He, reserved for us this particular crown with which to adorn ourselves."

So, what does all this mean? Some things to consider: First, "Rabbi" [Judah the Patriarch] is believed to be the chief editor of the Mishnah, which is a rabbinic text offering interpretations and adjudications of Jewish law and which is part of the Talmud. So, he's definitely highly regarded. Second, Judah was trying to liberalize the tradition in order to alleviate stress on the Jewish people. As taught by Dr. Levine, certain laws only need to be observed within the borders of the "Land of Israel," which is not legally bound by geography but rather by mentality of the Jewish people. Thus, Rabbi Judah was trying to alter the boundary by altering the mentality of the people in order to act righteously, as he saw it, by allowing certain farmers the ability to live where they were without fear of losing their livelihood once every seven years to the sabbatical requirements.

Judah bases his authority to change the tradition on the biblical account of Hezekiah's destruction of Moses' copper serpent, which had long been treated as an idol. Judah asks, "Why didn't any of the other righteous kings before Hezekiah destroy the idol?* Because God reserved that honor for Hezekiah." In other words, an unholy practice was allowed by God to continue until the right person came along to change it. And in Rabbi Judah's perspective, the same conditions applied to these sabbatical laws. They are unholy and need to be changed, and Rabbi Judah has both the authority and the imperative to change them.

* - In the similar text in the Babylonian Talmud, Judah adds, "Now, is it not at all likely that Asa did not destroy it? Or that Jehoshaphat did not destroy it? Surely Asa and Jehoshophat destroyed every form of idolatry in the world!"

In the Babylonian version, God is removed from the equation, and Judah concludes that Hezekiah's ancestors "left something undone," and so too did Judah's ancestors (the rabbis/lawmakers who came before him) leave "room for [him] to distinguish [him]self."

This whole passage, then, is a discussion about rabbinic authority and imperative to analyze the current state of affairs and react to them, to wisely and justly interpret God's Torah so that humanity can be affirmed and the sacred rights of humankind can be upheld. As soon as religion stops changing, so does conscience, and we cannot afford to allow our consciences to slumber when genocide, famine, and disease challenge us every day to meet them with determination and compassion.

Occasionally over the past week, I've felt the weight of Israel's orthodoxy hovering over me. As I walk to HUC past people dressed as traditionally observant Jews, I've felt that, in their eyes, I could never be as authoritative as their own rabbi. I've felt that, in some way, my ordination as a rabbi will be significantly different than theirs. And, of course, it will be significantly different, but I am reaffirming now that it will be parallel and not behind the ordination of more observant rabbis. I am just as much an inheritor of Jewish tradition as any "orthodox" Jew, and even though I haven't spent the last fifteen years in yeshiva, that doesn't mean I haven't been studying Judaism for the last fifteen years. The "worldly" (translated "secular") experiences I've had in Roanoke, at UVA, and in Washington, DC have in no way diminished my capacity to understand or teach Judaism. And just because I can't quote Talmud and don't (yet) know Aramaic doesn't make me less of a participant in the rabbinic authority and imperative affirmed by Judah the Patriarch. I love my tradition, and I take part in it every day, with or without a kippah on my head.

And it's this message that was impressed into me at the Jerusalem home of Rabbi David Ellenson, president of HUC. In his opening address to our class, he remarked about our leadership, our education, and our commitment. He said that we are going to be leaders of the Jewish community for one reason and one reason only: Our knowledge. There are going to be scientists, technicians, linguists, farmers, etc. in our congregations and our lives that are going to be smarter than us and more knowledgeable than us in a lot of ways. But what gives us credence, what makes us rabbis (and cantors and Jewish professional educators) is the knowledge we have of the Jewish tradition. The knowledge we will gain at HUC isn't watered down Judaism, it is a living affirmation of a long and ever-changing history, and those who would detract from our learning, according to Rabbi Ellenson, have little to contribute to the dialogue of modern religious society. This society must be focused on social improvement, on interfaith and intrafaith cooperation, and positive construction of the world we envision for ourselves and our tradition.

After spending a Shabbat (Friday night and now Saturday morning) surrounded by participants in and supporters of the Hebrew Union College, I now feel part of something real. My rabbinate isn't real (yet), and the actions that I hope to take someday have not yet been conceived. And, again from the perspective of Rabbi Ellenson, those actions cannot be born unless we receive the education we are about to engage in. A URJ representative jokingly told us that our grades don't matter as no congregation will care about our grades. An HUC representative jokingly told us that our congregants don't matter as no professor will care about how receptive we will one day be to them. Rabbi Ellenson seriously told us that there is no difference between what we learn here and the work we will someday accomplish. He encouraged us to be involved and in love with our study, to embrace the Jewish heritage that we have been blessed to inherit and to learn about it so that we can teach it to others after completing our program.

And I intend to do just that. I've been thinking a lot recently (over the past year or so) about what kind of rabbi I want to be. I think I need to lay those concerns aside and focus instead on what kind of rabbinical student I want to be, for without a successful career as a student, I cannot have a successful career as a teacher.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Shopping and teenagers in the Holy Land.

.שופינג ונערים בארץ הקודשה

This morning, I took care of many errands, some of which were accidental, "while I'm here" circumstances. In the end, I ordered a new gas tank for the apartment, tried (and failed) to get El Al to compensate me for my broken backpack, returned my registration form to HUC and paid my fees, bought running shoes, bought a digital alarm clock, made copies of the apartment keys, and ordered a wireless router ... all by 1:05 pm! And almost all of it in Hebrew!

Right, so I had my first major "Hebrew required" experiences today, and it was actually a blast. It started at Amisragas, which I was planning to call when I returned from my errands but found literally across the street - so when I walked in and asked the representative if he spoke English and he replied "A little," I knew it was time to get my game on! Though I had to say some words like "empty gas tank" in English, most of the business was conducted in Hebrew. I also went shoe shopping in Hebrew, haggled about the price of my alarm clock in Hebrew, and got directions (many times) in Hebrew trying to locate elusive key-copying stores. By the time I got home, I felt very well-practiced and somewhat proud of myself. It was starting to sink in: I'm living in a country where most people aren't fluent in English, and yet I can still get around.

I suppose I owe a debt of gratitude to the people who have encouraged my Hebrew development the most. In chronological order: Rabbi Kathy Cohen, Bill Dillon, Donald Polaski, Hedda Harari, Daniel Weiss, and the organization Hoos Studying Torah. I just loves me some Hebrew, and I'm so excited to be starting ulpan in a week and a half!

Aside from speaking a lot of Hebrew and talking a lot to people back in the States, I also spent a bit of time herding. You herd me. (Get it?) I was a human arrow for the NFTY (the Reform youth movement) celebration of Israel at 60, NFTY in Israel at 50, and ARZA at 30. There were hundreds of high schoolers packed into the campus of HUC and I believe 21 volunteers to help make sure they all got where they were supposed to be. Not an easy task! But, I did get a free dinner, so that's good!

While organizing the students into their proper places, I felt a transition within myself, one I'm very glad that happened to me. Even though I've only been here for three days, I thought of the grounds as my school. I was a local guide welcoming hundreds of students to my home, not the clueless wanderer who's hoping he doesn't lock himself out of his apartment. Combined with the independence experienced while speaking Hebrew on Jaffa Street, this feeling of appropriateness really helped me realize that I am supposed to be here, and this year is going to be mine to make with it what I will.

Once all the students had settled down, we HUC students got to stand back and watch the program. Dan Nichols sang a few songs, and there was an overlong skit (about 20-30 minutes) about the history of NFTY in Israel, and aside from that, most of the evening was filled by boring, self-congratulatory speeches. Whoever planned the event obviously didn't consult a 16-year-old.

Nevertheless, when the speeches weren't going over their heads, the students were having a great time bonding, which is what NFTY events are best at encouraging. What NFTY events have trouble with, at least in my experience, is bridging the gap between building meaningful relationships and making those relationships relevant to the world at large. The poor programming was one example of a difficulty in connecting to students and bringing them to the next level. Now, granted, that's an extremely difficult thing to do, and I don't fault NFTY for not having solved that nearly impossible puzzle ... but it still leaves a feeling of incompletion that I will probably have a chance to address sometime in the coming years!

And then, of course, there was the nationalism. From the student president of NFTY to the director of NFTY Israel programs, many speakers focused on the essential relationship between every Reform Jew and the modern state of Israel. Obviously, such a universal outlook is only a fantasy, and I wonder how many of the students understand that. I'm willing to be that many if not most of them believe it when they're told that the Reform movement has always supported Israel (it hasn't) and that Israel is important to every Reform Jew (it's not).

Now, while perhaps just a gaffe, part of one of the students' speeches betrayed part of that naivety. He mentioned, "...ever since people first settled in the land of Israel in the early twentieth century..." I'm sure he meant "...ever since modern settlement began in the land of Israel in the early twentieth century..." and therefore wasn't discounting thousands of years of habitation. But regardless, he failed to mention the Jewish settlers of the 19th century and, of course, the native and immigrant Arabs who have had modern settlements in the land for hundreds of years. This glib way of speaking sometimes just rolls off the tongue, but such Judeo-centrism is one of the factors that leads to the marginalization of Palestinians and even Arab Israeli citizens and continues to be an obstacle to the deep and true understanding necessary for lasting peace.

So, I'm slightly disappointed that even a speaker chosen to address the entire congregation of NFTY in Israel participants represented a skewed view of Israeli history. On the other hand, these students are still in high school and obviously have a great deal to learn. And hopefully I, my fellow students, and progressive teachers everywhere can help shine light into places where illumination is still needed.

And that, my friends, is the thought of the day.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Jerusalem: City of Hills.

.ירושליים: עיר הרים

I have now been in Israel for 48 hours and have been spending the past two days meeting and starting to get to know my classmates and the place where we'll all be living for the next eleven months.

Things started out slowly as I got four hours of sleep on Monday night, thus precipitating a two-hour morning nap and delaying the start of my day. So the first thing I did in Jerusalem was make my way to HUC (with walking directions provided by my apartment's previous tenant) for registration and campus tour. I finally had a chance to meet some of the administrators who have been emailing me for the past several months, and they were both extremely helpful. Helen gave me an orientation packet, which I read in the library until the 11:00 campus tour. After the tour, I went to a nearby bank to secure some cash and then went to meet Nancy, HUC's closest staffperson to a "dean of students." She and I had a lovely conversation, and I was off!

On the way to HUC, I had been fairly focused on walking directions and therefore didn't pay too much attention to my surroundings. Once I was free of commitments until 6:00, I decided to do some exploring. First, I went to get my passport photos made for HUC. (I got 6 for 20 shekels (~$6.15) whereas my one US passport picture cost me $15.00.) Upon checking my map, I found that I was near Ben Yehuda St., so I decided to go there to see if I could find an adapter for my laptop (so I could have enough power to make these precious posts!). And then, for the fourth time in my life, I was on Ben Yehuda Street.

I suppose that, since I've been to this place more times than any other in Israel, it should have been a familiar feeling - and in a way, it was. However, the majority of my emotion was of concern for finding an electronics store and surprise to find out how long Ben Yehuda actually is! There was so much delicious food that I had to remind myself several times that I was no longer on vacation and unhealthy eating habits were checked at the cruise-ship door. I did, in fact, find an electronics store and purchased my adapter for a cool 30 shekels. Upon checking my map (twice, for I started out walking the wrong direction), I found that my apartment is virtually around the corner from Ben Yehuda Street! That will make for a convenient fact at some point soon, I'm sure.

After unwinding a bit in the apartment, I went to a dinner organized to celebrate the birthday of one of my classmates-to-be. When I arrived exactly on time at 6:00, there were three other people there. By the time we left for the restaurant at 6:35, there were over thirty people! Apparently, a vast majority of HUC students that were in the area came to this dinner, and the excitement from our class to get to know one another demonstrated by this behavior gives me a strong positive feeling about the rest of the year.

We went to a restaurant called Colony, and I ordered some penne. It was pretty expensive (55 shekels ($17) after tip), but it was fairly good. More important was the atmosphere of friendliness around the table. Several people have mentioned the "honeymoon period" that we're all in, and of course there's a certain degree of truth to that. However, I've had some solid conversations (all beginning with name, place of origin, track of study, and destination after Israel) with some people, and overall I'm very excited to be about to learn alongside these fellow students!

After dinner, we had a short up-and-down tour of Emek Refaim, which is a hip street with a lot of restaurants in a fairly chic neighborhood. As I understand it, most people then went to get drinks, but I was still pretty tired from my lack of sleep, and there was plenty for me to do at home, so I bid everyone good night.

As I walked home, I began to realize that even if I don't get to the gym as often as I hope to this year, I should still be getting a fair amount of exercise. Jerusalem is very hilly! I was definitely feeling the burn walking uphill all the way home, though I took a detour when I saw that the grocery store was still open. "The time has come," I told myself, "to do some real Israeli shopping."

I basically picked up the essentials, not ready to commit to a lot of food before I know how much I'll be eating at home and what Israeli foods I find most attractive. Mostly, I picked up fresh produce, bread, and the like. Then I waited in line.

Now, I certainly can't say if this is characteristic of an Israeli shopping experience, but this is what happened: I changed aisles because I found a shorter line, and I saw that the person in front of me was loading groceries already onto the belt as the person in front of him was checking out. I was really trying to pay attention so that I wouldn't make a fool of myself when I was checking out. I noticed that, when the time came for the person in front of me to check his groceries out, he went to the bags to prepare to bag them himself. (Mark that, Daniel.)

Then, he sent his teenage son to get some milk. And the woman at the check-out waited for him! They just stood there, silently, not moving until the son got back. Once the son arrived, the check-out lady left. Just walked away without saying a word. I could tell that the Israeli man was confused (so it wasn't just me!), and she finally came back with some trash bag-sized grocery bags which he didn't want. Just an unnecessary waste of time, that's all.

Then, the check-out woman asked if they wanted to buy some nuts (which, I believe, were a featured special). They decided to get some and finally began to check out. They had left their cart in front of the belt, empty, while the man was bagging groceries, so I thought they were going to abandon it like all the rest. Once I thought the son had gone back for his last piece of candy (he stepped out of line to get forgotten items three times), I moved my cart forward to start unloading groceries. Then, they decided to get their cart, and urged me out of the way to do so.

So, I start loading my groceries, and the check-out woman starts running them through! I thought you were supposed to load ahead of time... Guess not. So, I held my groceries in my hand until she had rung the last one, and then I started loading. "Is this yours?" she asked the man of my salad dressing. "לא שלי (No, mine)," I told her. Yeesh!

I, too, was pressured about the nuts but politely refused. She asked (I think) if I had a membership card, and I told her I didn't. "Should I buy one?" I asked in Hebrew. "No, are you a tourist?" I told her in English that I just moved here "for a year" (in Hebrew), and she told me (I think) that the card is only for people קבוע, that is, steady or consistent. Maybe it's a credit card (like J.C. Penny's) or maybe it's like a Kroger card. Perhaps once I dust off my Hebrew and get back into ulpan, I'll be able to find out.

So that brings us to today. This morning, I slept in until 9:00, enjoyed a fine breakfast of cereal and orange juice, completed some work around the house, ate an early lunch, and headed to HUC at 12:30 for a tour of the Old City. The first part of the tour was slow as we stopped in one place and then most everyone got hummus while I and three other people who weren't hungry haggled for merchandise. (Or, more accurately, while two of my classmates tried to secure a tapestry for a reasonable price while I and another classmate looked on. In the end, after an hour of back and forth, coming and going, the classmate who really wanted the tapestry got it for less than her original asking price.)

Then, however, we went to the Western Wall, the only remaining architecture of any part of the Second Temple. We decided only to stay for twenty minutes, and the men and the women had to separate. The men and I headed to the enormous men's "half" and went straight to the naturally covered section that I didn't even know existed. It was sort of like a cave full of orthodox Jews, most of whom were praying, studying, or just hanging out. There were books like a library and in an alcove, a teacher was reading from the Talmud to a group of attentive students (some who looked like "black-hatters" and some who looked like "secular Israelis"). His preaching was impassioned, and I only caught a few words. We walked around, some of us took pictures, and we tried to drink in the experience. I definitely didn't feel compelled to pray. We leafed through some of the prayerbooks that were there and felt significantly different from those who would read those books regularly.

This experience at the Wall was both positive and negative for me. On the one hand, I was feeling the familiar discomfort with separation of genders that traditional observance demands, and I was slightly uncomfortable at being in a sea of Jews with whom I didn't feel a strong connection. On the other hand, I felt much closer to the other HUC men who were with me. We continued to make jokes about our privileged manhood in order to ease the tension of the practice. We talked of an alleged incident where HUC had a prayer service with men and women in the plaza outside the Western Wall that incited considerable distress and press. We commented on the differences between our learning styles and the rabbi-preacher who was imparting knowledge to his students. And so on. Before we left, we said a shehechianu (a blessing said after a new occasion), and I felt enormously positive about this Jewish affirmation. We were students preparing to be rabbis, and we had as much right as anyone else to explore our Jewish identity at the Wall. Although the experience was strange, it was very powerful and affirming.

I expect that this won't be the last time I feel this way in Jerusalem. Already I've experienced both excitement and disappointment in Israelis when I've told them I'm studying to be a Reform rabbi - and I've only been here two days! Perhaps we can conclude as my day (outside of the apartment) did: at the mall.

Just outside the Old City is a brand new outdoor mall called Mamilla. Most of the storefronts are in English, yet (according to our HUC summer Israel intern) Israeli's don't see anything non-Israeli about the setup. Perfume, shoes, clothes, and food are all being sold outside the Old City, a fact that can't be ignored when one sees the numbers on the walls. Apparently, one cannot destroy parts of Jerusalem above a certain age, so to build a mall where Mamilla stands, the walls had to be catalogued, taken down, and re-erected in exactly the same way. So, as one is shopping for new cologne, one is also walking through painstakingly preserved centuries-old architecture.

So it remains possible, yea, probable that the ancient and the modern can meet constructively. One of my missions for the year is to learn how to play a role in that combination positively and effectively. Any suggestions?