Unexpected Discoveries



By Lynnley Rothenberg

During these difficult times it is very important to talk about what we can do to help our friends and family in Israel. Going on a solidarity mission, contributing to “stop the sirens”; are both very impactful ways to contribute to the ongoing struggles of those directly affected by the operation. Sometimes showing support can be as simple as going about business as usual and NOT canceling your planned trip to Israel. This is what 40 young adults did when they decided to take a risk and participate on Birthright, in the middle of Operation Protective Edge.

I had the privilege of leading this exceptional group on their first journey to Israel. During the 10 day trip, we saw all of the traditional sights and heard the history that our homeland is known for. There were extremely high points, like seeing the sunrise at Masada and floating in the Dead Sea, and the solemnity of Yad Vashem . This particular trip experienced something very different than most Birthright groups. They had a little less than a minute to run to a bomb shelter when a code red siren went off. Naturally, the whole conflict sparked some very heated and intense discussions about current events.

One of the biggest challenges as a staff member was finding the balance between letting the participants air their feelings about the current conflict, and not letting it completely consume all of our discussions. The main question that we were faced with was, how do we still talk about other issues during this time?

As the representative of ARZA, I steered the conversation towards the issues of pluralism and democracy and worked with the participants to recognize their connection to the Reform Jewish community in Israel. Upon her return, one of our group members, Olivia, shared her reflections on her experience.

Throughout my life I’ve often wondered about my own connection to Israel. I have always considered the country a “religious homeland” but as a Reform Jew, actively practicing my religion has never been a particularly large part of my life. Thus my own connection to Israel felt shallow – I viewed the nation as a homeland, but not a home. However, establishing relationships with our Israeli participants made the experience that much more personal and powerful.

 Olivia is just one example of many participants that have come back from their trip feeling empowered to have their positive Israel stories heard. Ours, was a very special group that is now inspired to become active members in the Jewish community both here and in Israel. I look forward to continue to be a part of their individual journeys.

Kesher Bus 841 is now back in the states and already has a reunion planned for the end of the month!

Rainbow Jews: The Gay Birthright Experience



By Ariel Naveh

So I am standing outside our not-so makeshift tent (this is of course referred to as the Disneyland of Bedouin Tents), having just excused myself from the larger group singing everything from selections from Aladdin to David Bowie to American Pie (which somehow becomes de rigueur whenever people get a hand on a guitar), the clear night sky is providing a rather breathtaking view of the stars, and I am deep in conversation with a participant about otherness and chosenness in the queer and Jewish communities. This is clearly not your average Taglit experience. If you have read Spencer Kornhaber’s excellent recent article in The Atlantic about his experience on an LGBTQ Birthright trip, you know that these sorts of trip experiences are on the rise, providing LGBTQ Jews with a unique perspective on life in Israel, along with a level of solidarity they may not have on other, more generic trips. I can say with absolute certainty that this was by all means the case with the group that I had the true pleasure of leading just a few weeks ago. Now, admittedly, some of that solidarity may have come as a result of traveling through Israel during peak rocket season, but much of it was the collective understanding that our group was a collective of ‘others’ sharing in and nurturing each other’s identities while informing them – and hopefully infusing them – with some Jewishness along the way.

Throughout our trip, we heard from gay parents, gay politicians, gay activists and advocates, all speaking openly and candidly about not just life in Israel, but gay life in Israel. That this was happening during one of the most precarious and contentious moments in the already tenuous Palestinian/Israeli conflict only enhanced our understanding of life in Israel, as we witnessed directly the surreal duality of living under a constant specter of threat and danger – our itinerary was updated hourly, if not more frequently, to avoid possible conflict zones – and living freely, openly, and proudly. We saw – and for a brief 10 days – became – Israelis who fight against the tyranny of conflict by just being who they – we – are. Almost as a matter of routine we had Israelis express immense gratitude that we traveled there in spite of the situation, but the truth is, it was a necessary perspective of life in Israel that would not have been seen or experienced by many had we been during ‘better’ times. We were doing ourselves a favor as Diaspora Jews attempting to forge a connection with a land that’s supposed to be our homeland, as much as we were the Israelis by visiting during such weighted and fraught times.

As we traveled all through Israel, our educator emphasized that we are not tourists in this land, but visitors coming home for the first time. This can be a real challenge if you don’t speak the language, aren’t all that familiar with the rituals and culture that surrounded us, and, like many, may have real and legitimate questions about Israel’s role in the ever more fragile peace plan. It can be even more of a challenge if you feel even more on the periphery because of your sexual identity or gender presentation. However, I, and so many of my participants, took this line – as cliché as it may sound – as an invitation to take part in the Israel conversation: we visited Israel, we experienced the conflict firsthand, we spoke to people who are helping to shape Israel’s narrative in all facets. As such, we now have the opportunity, or really the imperative, to engage in it, and to help others do the same. That we can engage in the conversation on Israel through the lens of ‘others’ makes it all the more important for our voices to be heard, and for us to speak up.

An in ordinate amount of ink has been spilled (or whatever the equivalent is with computers…pixels?) on answering the big question of what to do with participants following a Birthright experience. To me, the biggest strongest legacy we can leave these participants as they return home is the sense of ownership they feel in that crazy, 66 year old experiment we call Israel. This does not mean they have to agree with its policies all the time, in fact they can be rather angry with it much of the time. But they must engage with it. That’s what being a visitor in one’s homeland means, and throughout my 10 days as a leader for this incredible group of ‘others,’ I felt like I got to go home with my family.

 

Ariel Naveh is a rising 5th year rabbinical student at the Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati. Originally from Long Island, he is incredibly excited to get out into the rabbinic world, and help Jews everywhere shape their own Jewish narratives

Family Matters



By Rabbi Josh Weinberg, ARZA President

If you need a hammer, I will be a hammer, if you need a nail, I will be the nail… We are as bars of iron, elastic but iron. Metal that can be forged to whatever is needed for the national machine. A wheel? I am the wheel. If a nail, a screw or a flying wheel are needed – take me! Is there a need to dig the earth? I dig. Is there a need to shoot, to be a soldier? I am a soldier…
- Yosef Trumpeldor (translated and paraphrased)

Trumpeldor (1880-1920), soldier, symbol of pioneering and armed defense in Eretz Yisrael, became a symbol to pioneer youth from all parts of the Diaspora. His concept of Zionism was intertwined with the establishment of agricultural communes in Israel, which, if necessary, would be defended by armed force.

For Reform Jews, “obligation” can be a funny thing. Our movement champions individual autonomy and encourages each of us to seek out meaning in personalmitzvot, leaving much to choice and often little to obligation. So what, if anything, are we obligated to do? Are we obligated to: give tzedakah? keep some form of kashrut? observe Shabbat? provide our children with a Jewish education? The topic of many books and dissertations, these questions require a much longer discussion. Specifically now the question arises regarding our obligation to Israel.

Do we have an obligation whatsoever to the State of Israel? Does Israel’s current crisis increase our responsibility towards it? Not surprisingly, few American Reform Jews would identify with Trumpeldor’s sentiment, and some find themselves ambivalent about how to feel or act regarding Israel. During the past month, while our Reform movement in Israel has stepped in to fill an important role in Israeli society – providing support, care, and respite – many American Reform Jews see it as obligatory to go to Israel now to help.

If we are part of the Jewish people, then we unequivocally have an obligation to the largest Jewish community in the world and the only sovereign Jewish political entity. As Shmuel Rosner recently penned in The New York Times,

If all Jews are a family, it would be natural for Israelis to expect the unconditional love of their non-Israeli Jewish kin. If Jews aren’t a family, and their support can be withdrawn, then Israelis have no reason to pay special attention to the complaints of non-Israeli Jews.

Being family does NOT mean that we blindly support each other or hold back criticism – often the contrary. Being family DOES mean that we drop everything and help out. It means that we somehow alter our own lives to come to the aid of our family members in need. Being family means that we participate in the fate and the destiny of our people -whether we like it or not.

It was Rav Joseph Soloveitchik who most clearly articulated the notion that as Jews we all must share a common fate and a common destiny. The Rav enumerated four positive consequences of the awareness of a shared fate. He stated, that as Jews, we share historical circumstances, suffering, responsibility and liability, and activity.

While it is beyond us to change or control our fate, we can and are obligated to alter and influence our destiny. Soloveitchik explains,

Destiny in the life of a people, as in the life of an individual, signifies a deliberate and conscious existence that the people has chosen out of its own free will and in which it finds the full realization of its historical being.

It is our common destiny that we must join together and work hard to change.

Having just returned from a week in Israel, I felt the effects of the current war on the state of Israeli society. I felt the trauma of soldiers, the exhaustion of volunteers, and the deep sigh of those who know that the results of the most recent violence will last for months to come. The message from Israelis was clear – they are fighting a war of ein breirah (no choice), and we as Jews must also see our role as an obligation for which we have no choice.

How do we translate our obligation to support Israel? Here are just a few suggestions:

  • Give money. Financial support is crucial, and through the united Stop the Sirens campaign, we and our partners have been able to raise significant sums that translate to real work on the ground.
  • Go to Israel now. Despite recent trips by the CCAR and ARZA, less than two dozen Reform Jewish groups have made solidarity trips to Israel to show support (excluding individual trips or other organizations). These trips are important and make a difference to those who only see the myriad of cancellations. Despite our immediate and continual news availability, there is no replacement for being in Israel to truly understand the reality on the ground, and to internalize feelings that information, however plentiful, cannot provide.
  • Share knowledge. I recently met someone who explained that she took on an additional mitzvah to read and comment on at least five Israel-related articles daily. I applauded her adopted humra (religious stringency), and now suggest it to others.
  • Create a safe and warm environment to discuss Israel in your congregation. There is no greater issue dividing the contemporary Jewish community right now than Israel. What is needed now is to come together to talk, discuss, and share feelings and thoughts. As Dr. Alex Sinclair wrote, we should aspire for “unity without uniformity.”

While living outside the land of Israel affords us the choice to participate in Israel’s fate, we must now affirm our Jewish peoplehood and recognize our obligation to do what we can for our Israeli brethren. Together, we must work to ensure the sanctity and security of our joint destiny.

Joshua Weinberg is the President of the Association of Reform Zionists of America (ARZA).

For more on our recent mission and how to travel to Israel now, visit ARZA online.

ARZA Solidarity Mission: Day 4 and return to the old country- home.



By Rabbi Bennett F. Miller, ARZA Chair

Below is the concluding report that I prepared prior to my arriving at JFK this morning. As I am sure you all know, our hopes are that the missile strikes would not begin again and that the ceasefire would hold. I have chosen to leave my words as they were written prior to the renewed shelling.  Let us all hope and pray that the missiles will go silent again very soon.

Jerusalem, no missiles, no sirens, not even a false alarm as the day begins.  Of course, a quick breakfast and we are on our way.

We enter one of the great historic buildings on King George Street.  It is home to the Jewish Agency for Israel, the Jewish National Fund, and the World Zionist Organization. Just walking the halls you feel the history of the Zionist enterprise since Theodor Herzl first called into session the World Zionist Congress in Basel Switzerland, dreaming of a return to the Jewish national homeland. (The next World Zionist Congress will be in October 2015.  You all will hear more about it soon as you will be eligible to vote.  I hope to be on the ballot, representing our Reform Movement).

We meet with Becky Caspi, one of the unsung heroes of the Jewish People.  Together with a small staff, Becky and her colleagues have been busy meeting with representatives of towns and cities in the south, reviewing requests for proposals and evaluating them to see how to help those in need of respite care, relief, trauma counseling and so much more.  From the very beginning of this war the Jewish Federations of North America have been working with all of these groups to provide vital assistance.  Imagine some 45 thousand children who are taken out of the area where missiles are falling; they are taken to safe areas, to parks, going on “vacation” so that they do not spend every moment of the day in safe rooms.  And there are hundreds and hundreds of families who have been evacuated because where they live has been endangered (including some of the areas where Hamas has built underground tunnels, with terrorists ready to pop up out of their holes to kill Jews.  I wish I was exaggerating).  You won’t read about the details of the evacuations in the press because to publicize it would give Hamas a sense of victory; remember, its goal is to rid the area of Jews!)

To date, through the JFNA Stop the Sirens Emergency campaign, more than $12 million dollars has been allocated.  And it is all being allocated to JAFI (the Jewish Agency for Israel), JDC (The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee), ORT (the Organization for Rehabilitation and Training), ITC (Israel Trauma Center), IMPJ (Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism) and Masorti (The Conservative Movement’s arm in Israel).  I am always overwhelmed by the Jewish communities of North America and how they respond to crises wherever Jewish life is endangered.  Our own Jewish Federation of Middlesex County is a full participant in this endeavor (if you have not yet made a financial commitment to the Federation’s Stop the Sirens Campaign, please do so). We get a full and thorough briefing. But, of course, Becky’s response to us is, “I am not going to say thank you. I am going to say Kol Hakavod.  Do not underestimate what you have done in coming. I am aware of the cost, the time, and the effort. And the impact on all of us is beyond measure.”

We leave Becky and walk a few blocks to Ben Yehudah Street.  We are going on a shopping spree, well, sort of.  We spread out into a few small groups and I go to one of the army surplus stores.  I buy a few flashlights that a person wears on the forehead. And I also purchase a Pakal kit. This is a portable coffee maker, including thermos, gas container and cooker.  These items will be given to “lone soldiers,” who are serving in the army. These soldiers are living here in Israel without having family here. They don’t have parents and grandparents to buy them these items.  So we do and then we bring them over to the “Lone Soldiers Home.” Among the lone soldiers is Ben Rathauser, one of our Temple’s young men; and Koby Hodes, who graduated from the Temple a year ago is about to become a lone soldier, too.  Koby has joined me for the day.  Such a nice young man!

It’s not a home, but it is a home. It’s located on the second floor of an alley off of Ben Yehudah Street.  There is another one in Tel Aviv and also in Be’er Sheva.  The “Lone Soldier’s Home” is a place for the 5900 soldiers, mostly from North America, but also from other parts of the world, who have come to serve in the Israel Defense Forces.  Here they can come for all kinds of help: aid in getting an apartment, furniture, advice, friendship, join for a barbecue or share in a beer, and so much more.  Everyone in the country knows about lone soldiers.  In fact, one of them, Max Steinberg, was among the first to be killed in action in Gaza.  Some 20,000 people showed up at his funeral.  He was a young man from California.  He is now one of the many buried on Mt. Herzl in the military cemetery.  I’ll visit his grave later in the day.  And one young man told me that he received 37 invitations to be adopted by families in Israel.  We drop off our gifts; they will soon be given to lone soldiers.  A quick bite at one of the old favorite humus and falafel stands on King George Street, and then off to Mt. Herzl.

The next hour or so will be very quiet for each of us.  We walk among the graves of some of the heroes of the Jewish people; not the scholars or Nobel Prize winners, or philanthropists; and we don’t visit the area where Israel’s political figures are laid to rest.  We are there to visit the graves of those brave, courageous soldiers who gave their lives in defense of Israel and the Jewish people.

I stop at the grave of Jonathan Netanyahu, brother of Bibi.  He died in the rescue of Jews at Entebbe in Uganda many years ago. You can tell from the pebbles and stones on his grave that many come to visit and pay homage.  And I stop at the grave of Michael Levin, a lone soldier, who died in the 2nd Lebanon War a few years ago.  He was from Philadelphia. On his grave are all kinds of items, pebbles, stones, Phillie’s hats, and more.  Rabbi Josh Weinberg, ARZA’s president tells us that he knew Michael Levin; they had played basketball together every Friday Michael and his best friend Ben would meet and drink coffee together.  Sometime after his death, Michael’s mother visited Israel and went to the cemetery. When she got there, she found Ben (it was a Friday) with his Pakal (the portable coffee kit) making coffee. At first she was angry until Ben told her that he and Michael used to drink coffee together every Friday. “Ben,” she said, “please come every Friday and continue to drink your coffee here with Michael.” More quiet and more visiting graves, some very freshly dug, only a few days ago.  There have been 64 killed by Hamas, 60 soldiers among them.  And Hamas wants to declare victory!

Speaking of victory, there is no victory here.  I think Israel is in trauma.  The population is exhausted from a month long battle, from more than 3500 missile raining down anywhere at any time, from running to safe rooms or lying down a few feet from the car until the “red alert” is over, worrying about sons and daughters and husbands and fathers who are on the front or in Gaza.  No one is suffering Post Traumatic Syndrome because they are still in the midst of the trauma.  The PTS will come later, and the country will find a way to confront it.  Israel has no choice.  And there is not victory for Hamas; they have brought about death and destruction to the Palestinians that is incomprehensible.

At the same time, in Israel, I have never seen such resilient people.  Today, people were out in the streets, at the cafes, going to work as they have done every day. To do any less would give Hamas a victory.  But the tourists have cancelled, the hotels are empty, and will probably remain so for several months.  And who knows what will happen tomorrow at 8 AM (Friday) when the 72 hour ceasefire comes to an end.  Everyone is wondering.  A few friends have said to me (with a bit or sad humor) “Since you brought the ceasefire with you when you arrived, perhaps you could stay longer so that Hamas does not start up again.” I hope that my friends, that all Israel will have a quiet Shabbat.  Everyone needs the rest.

One more stop, over to the NFTY office. NFTY (North American Federation of Temple Youth) is our movement’s youth program. Some 500 high school students spent the summer in Israel this year.  Only 4 went home because of the war.  The NFTY staff in Israel and New York made sure the kids were safe every day, designed and redesigned an educational program that transformed all of these kids into “Zionists” forever.  And these folks communicated with parents every day, every moment of the day, reassuring them that their kids were safe.  We owe them our deepest respect and gratitude. I am sure it will be a summer they will never forget.  And now they are preparing for Birthright groups due to arrive, and in a few weeks, the next cohort of EIE students who will be studying for the semester.

A few minutes at the hotel to pack, down for a quick dinner, and off to the airport.  I am on El Al Flight 001, bound for JFK.  Three nights in Israel, two nights on the plane.  One of the flight attendants asks me what I did during my stay in Israel.  After I tell her, she pauses, and says, “thank you for coming, from all of us.  You can’t imagine what it means to every person in Israel.”  The same refrain, but genuine and heartfelt. I don’t know, I don’t think that what I did was so special or noble.  I came because I had to, I visited with anyone I could, and I let them know that they are not alone.

There is an irony I want to share.  When I was in Sederot I met a group (two busloads full) of Christians, (from Christians United for Israel).  There was at least one from every state in the U.S.  Like, us, the came to be in solidarity with Israel.  And they are with me on the plane back home.  They also came for a few days.  I asked a lot people to join me.  So many said they wished they could, but they didn’t come.  The Christians did come.  I can’t get it out of my head.  Jewish leaders from America have come.  They always do. But what about rest of the Jewish community? My dear friends at home, Israel needs you to come and to come in big numbers; not to come as tourists, but to come as family who care deeply.  The Israeli economy is in shambles, the hotels are empty.  One taxi driver told me his business is down 80 percent.  Israel doesn’t need Tzedakah, it needs us to come and bring our support. And if there is another opportunity for me to return to Israel in the coming days I hope you will join me.

By the way, it may take months and the cost to Israel is enormous, but the economy will recover, and tourists will eventually return, but for now, you and I should be doing all that we can.  My guess is that by Rosh Hashanah, normalcy will be restored.  Israelis will argue with each other about the government, about taxes, about the economy, and about a one state or two state solution.  You and I and they will engage again over the issues of Women of the Wall, conversion, discrimination against women and Arabs, the legitimacy of a rapidly growing Reform Movement and its right to be fully recognized in Israel.  That’s how it should be.  And I will ask you to join me in the World Zionist Congress elections so that we can fight the good fight on behalf of all of these issues and concerns.

You see, the Israel that we dream of is not yet a reality.  And there are forces of hate in Israel, racists who are even willing to kill Arabs, thugs who will mug people on the street, and gangs of ultra-orthodox youth who are the antithesis of everything you and I stand for.  That’s Israel, too.  After all, Israel is not some mystical fantasy. It is a very real and exciting and thrilling land and people. And after two thousand years of dreaming about what it would be like to have a place where Jews could determine their own destiny, we now have it, for sixty six years we have it. The cost has been blood and sweat and tears and money and sacrifice and pride and joy and the dedication of World Jewry, together with every person who lives in the land of our ancestors.

Let’s celebrate all of that with pride, in solidarity, and together continue the sacred work of making Israel a model, a beacon of light in a world that has become so dark, for all the world to see.

I am looking up at the screen on the wall. It says we are somewhere over Italy.  Next stop, JFK.  I think it will take days to process it all.  For those of you who have been patiently reading my words, I hope that I helped you to see a picture far different than the one you have seen on television, Facebook, or the newspapers.  My reporting is biased, for sure.  I have brought report of the most courageous people on the face of the earth, the “chosen people,” the “people of the book,” our brothers and sisters in Israel.  I can’t imagine Jewish life without them and without the power of the Land of Israel that has nurtured and inspired our people since Abraham first heard the call of the Divine.

To everyone: Shabbat Shalom. I hope to see you at Temple later tonight.  We will welcome the Shechinah, God’s Divine Presence, into our midst; we will sing songs of Shabbat celebrating Creation and the gift of Torah; and we will say words of Kaddish for all of our loved ones, for the 64 who perished, and for all the innocent lives that were lost in these past days.

ARZA Solidarity Mission to Israel: El Hanegev, Day 3



By Rabbi Bennett F. Miller, ARZA Chair

I am writing at the end of a very long day.  Today I stood on a hill overlooking Gaza. I could see the high rise buildings built by the Israelis for the PLO in 2006 after Israel left Gaza.  Remember that the PLO was kicked out by Hamas.  And I could see the EREZ crossing, the place established by Israel for 40000 Palestinians to come through to work and visit each and every day. Closed since Hamas started the heavy shelling a month ago.  And I could see the Mediterranean as well. Distance means so little and so much at the same time.

As we drive to the overlook, we stop and pick up my friend Gilad whose daughter became our daughter in 1982 when she was an exchange student and lived with us. He and I and our families have been family since that time.  He is one of the founders of Sederot. Together with Leah, his wife, they raise four children, one lawyer, two Phd’s and one doing security for El Al.  Gilad was born in Iraq; walked to Israel when he was a  kid, although three days of the trip he was on a donkey. He goes with us and we talk about peace and war, about Hamas (he calls them a gang that terrorized Gaza and won’t be happy until all Jews are out of the Middle East. He tells me that there was a time when he would shop in Gaza, his friends from Gaza would come to his house and they would attend each other’s weddings. No more.)

We eat lunch at Steakiyah Eli, a little “greasy spoon” where Eli and his wife make incredibly delicious Moroccan food.  A real feast.  No one has eaten there in about a month. And as we go there you can see the “safe rooms.” In Sederot, you have 15 seconds to get to the safe room before the rocket lands.  Gilad says “no problem! Sederot has a great future!”

We say good bye and hug, until next time. And now we are off to meet with young  people from Ayalim, a program for young people to build and rehab old sections of town while they are in college and then live there for a few years.  It is based on a powerful Zionist dream that the young will build the future just as they built the past  What a story!  And we are there to work.  We carry bales of insulation for the housing and I spend a few hours spackling  plaster board for the walls. Its good to be of help. The housing shortage in Israel is very significant. I am doing my part to build a a tomorrow.

From Sederot it is on to Shaar Hanegev, the community that is getting the ARZA Torah.  Because of the war the Torah has remained in Jerusalem until Simchat Torah when it will be dedicated.  We meet the young rabbinical student. She has not been home in a month because she has been doing relief and respite work in her community.  She has also been going to military camps on Friday nights for the last month leading Kabbalat Shabbat services for the soldiers. I think, mostly, she is singing to them. When someone asks, does the army let you, a female rabbinical student, let you do this?  She answers, “I didn’t ask.  They needed me.”  It’s part of the Reform story going on here.  Israelis are desperately seeking spirituality, some are finding it in the traditional world and others in the exciting world of Reform — egalitarian, democratic, pluralistic.  We in the US have no idea how lucky we are to have vibrant and thriving synagogues that offer so much! We complain too much about our synagogues and how much they cost; They are vital communities that sustain and comfort and lead and teach and so much more.

There was even more to this day, it began with a ride to Be’er Sheva, one of the oldest places in the world. Abraham was in Be’er Sheva, and so was Jacob and Rachel and Leah.  The place holds such power in our history. I remember being in Be’er Sheva in 1971. It was a backwater town, dusty and dry. Not anymore.  Beautiful  homes and high rise buildings and a world class university.  It is also home to many who have come from the former Soviet Union.

In Be’er Sheva we visit with elderly people who are in a gathering place. They have spent a lot of time here this last month.  It is one of the few places where they can safely be when the missiles are coming. We bring them flowers and plants to grow in their homes.  We sing songs and dance. They tell us their stories, where they come from, which of the men served in the Soviet army and fought against Hitler.  One woman cries as she tells me her tale and thanks me for coming. She looks a lot like my Aunt Billie, my mother’s oldest sister. Perhaps we are related:  actually, we are — we are Jews!

And then a visit to the Gan, the pre-school and kindergarten. The kids are delicious. We bring them toys and games and crayons and coloring books. We dance with them and sing.  Behind the play area, hidden by a curtain, are their beds, piled on top of each other, their stuffed animals strewn about. I have to remind myself — during these last days these kids have spent a lot of time inside!

And the day ends, actually the night begins as we leave the south and wind our way up to Jerusalem.  My nephew Ari is waiting there for me. He lives in Jerusalem now, together with his wife and young daughter.  He is teaching as he chose to be a Rabbi, too.  And I know that no matter how tired I might be, he will have questions, lots of questions, some of the same questions that I have asked these past few days as well:  when is war permissible, how do you not let hate overtake and consume your soul, why is the Jewish people treated differently than anyone else on the face of the earth,  what does God want from us and when can we say to God, enough already?  Should be a very interesting cup of coffee that he and I will share before I close my eyes for a few hours.  Tomorrow the sun will rise over Jerusalem, I pray there will not be any sound of missiles, and we have more work to do as our mission has not yet come to an end.

 

ARZA Solidarity Mission to Israel, Tisha B’Av and Day Two



By Rabbi Bennett F. Miller, ARZA Chair

Upon arrival I hit the streets. We are staying at Mishkenot Ruth, a boutique hotel in the Jaffa section of Tel Aviv. Jaffa is the old port mentioned in the book of Jonah. So it goes back to biblical times.  It is becoming gentrified, so today it is filled with both Arabs and Jews.  During the last month, there have not been any demonstrations or riots among the Arabs who live in Jaffa.  As I walk the streets, I see shops and bakeries and stories.  It is pretty quiet but it is also the middle of the afternoon, normal quiet time.

At dinner, we have an orientation about what we will be doing these days.  Over and over our host thanks us for coming.  They want us to know that our presence means that they are not alone. And they are very grateful.

We head off to Beit Daniel, the leading Reform Synagogue in Tel Aviv.  The place is packed with people. It is Tisha B’av, the 9th day of the month of Av, commemorating the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, twice destroyed and both times on this day.  After the prayers, we observe the reading of the Book of Lamentations (Eicha).  Members of the congregation sit on mourning benches or on the floor.  The mood is subdued. The music, quite lovely, sung by a single soulful voice accompanied on piano, “Eli, Eli…. O Lord, My God, I pray that these things never end….”  And the song ends with “the prayer of the heart.”  It is quite beautiful and touching.

Again, we are thanked for coming.  They tell us that “you have no idea how important you are to us and how much your visit means to us, thank you for coming.”  And the take away from the evening?  One person said to me “We have been observing Tisha B’Av for a month.  The missiles keep coming, more than 60 of our boys have been killed in action, and others have been injured.  Even though we feel safe, we are afraid.”

A quick sleep and the alarm goes off.  The ceasefire is on!  But it is preceded by about a hundred missiles from Hamas.  Maybe it was their way of saying Good Morning!

We are headed to Gedera and Ashkelon, two cities that were hit with lots of missiles over the course of the last month.  Should be quite a day.

As I think about this mission, in a sense I am here as an antidote to the media.  Last week, 1800 people were killed in Syria. But the media has not mentioned it all. The New York Times is fixated on Bibi Netanyahu and his “animus” with Obama.  It’s much more complicated than the way the Times portrays this. Remember, the current administration has provided the funds for the Iron Dome which has prevented the death and destruction that would have otherwise occurred throughout the south of Israel.  And the rest of the media?  I think that Hamas should send every news outlet a thank you letter; thank you for not telling the truth, thank you for enabling us to convince the world that we are all innocent civilians, thank you for being our allies in war of Terror against the Jews.

There is a quiet as we travel to our first stop; different than the usual noise of the country.

We make a stop in Raanan this morning.  We will help in food packing.  Happy to do so. We pack celery, hundreds of packages of celery, and onions, and cucumbers, too.  Put in about two hours of labor. The vegetables will now be circulated to the needy throughout the country.  We work at a warehouse. Usually people work in the fields. But today is Tisha B’av and the fields are closed.  Happy to do our part. That is why we came. On to Gedara.

I am sitting in the foyer of a school in Gedera. This is the place where the Reform congregation holds Kabbalat Shabbat Services. They don’t have a building.  Gedera is located near Ashdod and has been hit with lots of missiles over the last month.  We feel safe. We know what to do, how and when to go to the shelters. But the ceasefire is holding, so maybe it won’t be necessary.

The Rabbi is a young woman who grew up in Jerusalem.  She is lovely and she loves music. She is the founding Rabbi of the congregation.  Started it on Yom Kippur five years ago. Now building the community. By the way, she thanks us for bringing the ceasefire. We don’t argue.

What’s the role of the Rabbi during this crisis?  Mira, the Rabbi, says it is about bringing people together, eating together, and spending time together.  “I visited in hospitals; the people needed us. They can’t get out and so we went to them.”  It reminds me of 9-11.

Here in Gedera, 150 kids came together for keren b’chavod (one of the projects to keep kids safe and occupied, run by the Reform Movement in Israel (IMPJ) and supported by the JFNA Stop the Sirens Emergency Fund),  to be together with art, music, and play.  And the kids helped put together packages for those in need and for shut ins.

Again, thank you for coming. “You have to understand that here in Gedera most of us have no connection to Jews around the world.  We only know Jews in Israel and we think that we are alone in the world.  Your visit helps us understand otherwise, and we are so very grateful.”

I can only imagine what the rest of the day will bring.  Thank God the ceasefire is still in place.

Choices and Voices



ARZA Communique – Solidarity mission

By Rabbi Josh Weinberg, ARZA President

August 6, 2014 – 10 Av 5774

It is easy to quote Deuteronomy 30:19 during times of peace. It is easy for us to say “choose life” when all is quiet and nothing is threatening us. When we are responsible for our collective fate, then we must also make difficult choices. Every day in Israel brings with it difficult decisions, which become tremendously complicated during war. For the past 29 days Israel has been at war, which is why we chose to come. Our ARZA mission made up of rabbis and lay leaders, made the conscious decision that Israel is in crisis and we wanted to be there.

Upon arriving here, we dealt with the usual expressions of gratitude from our hosts for having made the trip, and for being here. Everyone we met was genuinely appreciative that we were here, and I only wish that more of us had made the journey.

It is one thing to land in Israel during a war, and another to land on Erev Tisha B’Av – the Jewish people’s day or mourning and by far our saddest day of the year. Sitting cross-legged on the floor of Tel Aviv’s Beit Daniel, my tired eyes skimmed the poetic chanting of Lamentations, and couldn’t help but feel a sense of sadness mixed with a sense of somber reality. When the going gets tough, we come together as community. We sing, we pray, we study and we talk.

We talk about choices that we make. We chose and choose to be here, and everyday reaffirm that choice. Every Israeli, every Jew who is here, is here out of choice, postulated one of the congregation’s rabbis. “In all honesty, we do have other places to go but we are committed to being here, to building and creating a vibrant Jewish society that affirms the ultimate choice – the choice of life.” On the day of destruction, when we highlight our lachrymose past, we spend our time coping and beginning to rebuild.

I learned that the past few weeks have been filled with dilemmas and difficult moments that are not newsworthy and don’t get covered as effects of war. The challenge of finding shelter for 700 Tel Aviv pre-schoolers, or convincing a bride to return from the Golan Heights for her wedding, and dealing with the financial setback of an empty guest house for the month of August, to name just a few.

As we make our way through parts of Israel this week, I am constantly moved by stories and choices that exemplify resilience and ideological variance. One friend expressed her extreme dismay with the inflated Gazan death-toll, and made a point to go to all of the left-wing demonstrations. “You wouldn’t believe the things I hear there from the opposing right-wing demonstrators,” she explained. Vitriol, hatred and racism to sum it up. “Yes, Hamas is a terrorist organization, but to respond by spouting slogans advocating killing all Arabs and anyone who sympathizes with them?!?! This time they’ve crossed the undrawn line of societal and democratic norms…”

Yet another friend plainly stated, that while the some of the rhetoric is absolutely poisonous, “what are we supposed to do when we are genuinely at war, and our own people call our pilots ‘murderers’?” And so it goes, that the despite unity and wide spread support for the mission, some of the societal rifts still run deep.

~~~

When Adi Efraimi moved to Gadera with her husband, she quickly realized that for Yom Kippur she would have to go to the Orthodox synagogue, and was not at all excited about it. Soon after she came to the conclusion that there had to be a liberal option in Gadera, and now joined by Rabbi Myra Hovav, the dynamic congregational duo has developed a tight-knit community full of life-cycle events, including over 50 births in the past year.

Making a rare appearance at home since Operation Protective Edge commenced, Adi’s husband, shared with us his role in the air force. A combat helicopter pilot, he deals mainly with search and rescue and is highly involved with making sure that the IDF avoids as much collateral damage as possible. To hear him describe the pain that comes with loss of life, was moving, as was his careful expression of resilience in the face of terror.

We left Gadera with a strong sense of optimism. A steady optimism that speaks to the quiet resilience of Israel reminding us of the old adage “we have survived the Pharaohs will get through this as well…”, and great pride in the miraculous against-all-odds Reform congregation that has been created there. I could only imagine what they would be able to do with if they had a simple office and a pre-fab building instead of meeting in the entrance of an elementary school and people’s living rooms.

Our day ended with a tremendous cultural evening of song and prayer with Jews from across the religious spectrum. Listening to words and music of Shlomo Gronich and representatives from much of the Jewish renewal world of Israel – coordinated largely by the Reform movement, we found comfort and inspiration.

Especially now, so many made the choice to come together, to talk, to comfort and be comforted, and to choose life and resilience in the face of circumstances for which we have no choice.

 

 

On the eve of a mission to Israel | August 3, 2014



A Piece by Rabbi Bennet Miller, Chair of ARZA, who is currently leading an ARZA Solidarity Mission to Israel along with Rabbi Josh Weinberg, President of ARAZA.

As I approached gate 31 I could see the El Al plane waiting to take me to Israel.  No matter how many times I have seen it I still get a thrill — a Jewish airplane, bearing the insignia of the national carrier of the Jewish State.  Before I was born no such airplane existed, there were no flights taking Jews to land of our ancestors, no airplanes to rescue Jews from endangered places, no airlines carrying Jewish passengers to the place my ancestors dreamed of for centuries.

I know, it’s a romantic notion. Yet, it still gives me a thrill to see it.  And there is also something reassuring about it.  That El Al plane means that the Jewish people have achieved a certain kind of normalcy among the family of nations.  That plane means that Jews can travel to and from places without fear of being “other,” without worrying that at any moment the Jews might be refused entering or departing from one country or another.  In a sense the El Al plane means that all Jews can travel to and from Israel, to and from the land of our ancestors, to and from the land of our future.  And I will soon board and take my seat.

Next to me is a young woman from Kiryat Arba, a town just outside of Hebron, established in the mid 1970′s by a group of “settlers.”  I told her I had been to Kiryat Arba once. It was long before she was born.  I remember it well. It was  a small enclave of religious zealots who were determined to return to the land of our Patriarchs, to live just outside the city where the Patriarchs and Matriarchs are buried.  She works today at a children’s clothing store in New York.  And next to her is a man reading a book in Hebrew, the language of Jewish antiquity and modernity.  Can you imagine such a language — a few thousand years old — could have become extinct, but instead it has become an international language, the language of the Jewish people, studied in almost every country in the world, even where no Jews exist.  On the other side of me sit two men in suits, the suits are ripped for they are mourners (the ripped clothing is our symbol of mourning). Clearly, they are returning with a deceased relative who is being brought to Israel for burial.  And there are all kinds of folks on the plane, some wearing only black and white, all kinds of kippot, young and old, religious and not religious.  The big screen showing the map  lists the names of the places along with times and distance both in Hebrew and English. That’s how it is when you fly El Al.  There is a powerful transition taking place for every person on the plane.  Over the course of 10 hours we will move from tourists and foreigners to citizens and lovers and friends of Israel.  For me, always, the transition is a return to my spiritual home.

Earlier today I spoke to my seven year old grand daughter. She called me and asked when I was coming to visit. I said, “I’m not coming today because I am flying to Israel tonight.” She responded, “But Israel is being bombed!”  Seven years old and she already is aware of Israel’s existential threat.   She just returned from a few weeks at Camp Harlam where she loved the Jewish singing and so much more.  “I told her that I had to go, I needed to bring support to our family in Israel, and that I would be there for a few days to assist in any way that I could.  She said, “Ok, but please be safe, I love you.”

Some have asked me why I am going, others have said “you are crazy,” and there are those who wish they could come with me.  I wish they could come, too.  There is something very disappointing for me that so many who I invited to join me found reasons to decline.  I don’t mean to sound self-righteous but I felt I had no choice.  This is not a time for Jews to find reasons not to go to Israel; this is a time to help bring a bit of respite, some relief, even spend some money.  Our people in Israel are exhausted from the daily barrage of rockets (today 160 missiles were sent against Israel from Gaza), our young men have left their jobs, their wives, their children, and they have put on the drab clothing and armor or soldiers to defend the Jewish Homeland.  Every email thanked me for coming. They are so very grateful.  Imagine the message if thousands of Jews from America were arriving weekly or daily to spend a few days helping with preparing packages for soldiers, visiting soldiers in hospitals, placing wreathes on the graves of those who perished in defense of the country, putting together activity packages of coloring books and crayons, and toys for the many many kids who are spend all too much time in shelters or who being taken to safe places for respite visits.  How many times a day can you sit huddled in a safe room before it begins to wear on your nerves?  A visit from Jewish friends and family means so much, that’s what my friends tell me. I can only imagine, but I will find out tomorrow,

Maybe good fortune will smile on me and on all Israel, and on the Palestinians who are suffering as well.  Maybe by the time I land a new cease-fire or truce will take place and hold.  It’s been nearly a month since it all began.  How much can the people on both sides take?  I’ll find out when the plane lands. In the meantime I need to get some rest.  I have a few very hectic and busy days. I’m not sure what I will find but I know that I and my traveling companions represent all of us back the United States, and our job is to just be present.

I’m not thinking about how the war in Gaza started or who is responsible. Nor am I focusing on “proportionality” or the bias of the media or rising anti-Semitism in Europe.  Clearly, the battle being waged is the current round of a terrible and tragic struggle between two peoples; this war being played out on the border between Israel and Gaza also represents the clash of two world views, the radicalized Islam of the East vs. the progressive Judeo-Christian culture of the West.  It is a struggle without end, flare ups periodically, with innocent civilians, children, losing their lives or living with terror, and it appears to be without end.

I have mixed emotions.  The Israeli army is doing a good job of protecting its citizens. While soldiers have died, few innocent Israelis have lost their lives or suffered physical harm.  But too many on the other side have died and suffered.  I so wish the army had been able to find a way to bring a quick end to the missile firings from Gaza.  What madness!  Hamas has to take major responsibility for what it has brought upon the population of Gaza.  I know that the population in Gaza has been the “pawns” of the MIddle East for all too long.  Their story is a sad one, they live under intolerable conditions.  But many of the conditions have been placed on them  by their own leadership.  Gaza today is a jungle where the most violent and ferocious rule over the weak.  Instead of building schools and and an economy that can produce jobs and safety, Hamas has created a serpentine maze of tunnels designed to wreak havoc one day on Israelis, the day when Hamas terrorists would emerge from those same tunnels into the heart of Israeli communities in order to kill and destroy innocent people. My sympathy is diminished by my greater sense of horror of what might be had the tunnels not been discovered and destroyed.

Israel has to take responsibility, too; but take responsibility only for its own behavior and actions.  When the war is over I have no doubt that Israel will review its army’s actions during the war.  I trust that it will have a full and thorough review of what it did right and what it did not do right. Then, the Israeli people will decide who shall continue to lead the country.  For now, there is full support for the current government, Hamas has ensured that the Israeli population is doing little second guessing of its leaders.  My sense is that Hamas is losing the physical war and the PR war as well.

The plane has begun its descent to Tel Aviv.  Perhaps I should worry about missiles fired at us. The US government was worried for a day. But I am not.  I truly believe that the plane is invincable.  Maybe I am a silly dreamer.  Oh well, Jews were silly dreamers for centuries. They dreamt that one day there would be the re-establishment of the Jewish State in the Jewish People’s homeland given to them by God to our ancestors.  The plane lands; the dream has come true.  Day 1 of this ARZA Solidarity mission.

Reflections from Israel



We share with you today two personal reflections from Reform leaders in Israel.

On the left, a letter from Rabbi Ayala Miron of Kehilat Bavat Ayin in Rosh HaAyin. On the right, a letter from Reuven Marko, Chair of the Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism (IMPJ).


Dear friends and Colleagues,
I wanted to share with you my thoughts on these days of turmoil.

I was in fifth grade when the period of being on alert just prior to the Six Day War began. In the mornings we practiced going down to the school basement, which served as a shelter. In the afternoons we served cold drinks to the high school teenagers who dug trenches in the playground behind our house, since there was no public shelter in our area. If they were in the right mood the high school kids would let us hold the sacks while they filled them up with sand. Sandbags were then considered the ultimate protection so piles of them were placed at the entrances to the apartment buildings in our neighborhood. When the war was over, we were overjoyed with the large quantities of sand that spilled back into the sandbox in our near-by playground.

When the Yom Kippur war broke out, I was already in high school. As the terrible news trickled from the fronts, we were busy packing food packages for the soldiers and gathering at the local hospital gates to be taken as volunteers. My father, working as an engineer in the national Phone Company, was recruited for special missions of maintaining phone lines in critical areas of the country.
When the First Lebanon War began, I was a student in the film school in Tel Aviv. I was working on a project with a fellow student, an Israeli-Arab from the city of Akko. We found ourselves re-evaluating the material for the documentary we were filming at the time, and when the tragedy in Sabra and Shatila was exposed, we stood shoulder to shoulder at the large demonstration in the main square in Tel Aviv.
The First Gulf war found me sitting with my children on my bedroom bed, fitting the special anti-radiation masks on their heads. I was joking that Purim is just around the corner, but I don’t think they were really in the mood for joking.
Operation Protective Edge catches me in a totally different position, with my youngest son, Itamar, serving as a fighter in the armored forces. When he completed the tank commander course three weeks ago, we were relieved to learn that he was going to serve as a trainer in the upcoming tank commander’s course. It meant a ten-day crew preparation and then starting the course. The morning of the ceremony the first missiles were shot, and by the end of the ceremony we already sensed the commotion, leading to an abrupt change of plans. Early morning Sunday, instead of preparing for the course at a base near Netanya (not too far from where we live), Itamar travelled south. The young tank commanders and their trainees were all at the Southern border preparing the tanks for a possible ground assault.
What’s now left for me is to wait for news from him and pray.
With deep hope for days of tranquility,
Ayala


Dear Friends,
The last couple of weeks have been, once again, a testing period for the people of Israel, its government, the Israel Defense Forces, as well as for you, wherever you may be. Israel has entered this round of hostilities quite reluctantly, despite months and years of weekly, sometimes daily, shooting of rockets and missiles into the country, putting the lives of hundreds of thousands of Israelis in constant jeopardy. This has eventually led to operation Protective Edge that has been an ever escalating response to the constant attacks on Israel. The threat has increased to cover some five million of our citizens and north as Haifa and south all the way to Eilat, with the brunt of the fights being borne by civilians living up to eighty kilometer, or fifty miles, from the border with Gaza. It is a situation no country can tolerate and neither can Israel. The unfortunate result is that civilians on both sides are bearing the costs, scars and deaths. At this time, as the Government of Israel, has been operating cautiously, giving ample opportunity to also seek ways to return on a route to the cease of hostilities, we give it our full support. We also pray for the safe and successful return of the IDF soldiers in the air, sea and on land.The Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism was quick to respond having our own Keren BeKavod on the ground, as a first responder teams. Distributing toys, treats, food, clothes and other items of need from well-stocked emergency storerooms we have prepared as part of the lessons made from previous events. We also continuously study what is needed by the people we try to help and as a result activity kits have been prepared to allow for home day camps for kids who prefer staying at home with their families. And we do not forget to attend those in the area of different faiths that deserve our attention and care too. Together with the Ministry of Health Affairs teams of rabbis and song leaders help those of need for spiritual and emotional uplifting. Our rabbis have and are organizing multi-faith prayers for peace that involve Muslims, Christians and Druze.From a personal perspective I can also tell you a little about my feelings regarding one of my six kids who is an officer, now called for active duty, being in charge of humanitarian aid. He is responsible for the coordination of this effort, making sure that safe corridors are open and that supplies can move as fast as possible to places of need. Here and there he has shared with me the frustration with those who take advantage of such opportunities to launch attacks resulting in an inability to provide much or all of the supplies needed. Nonetheless, he works ruthlessly to try and resolve obstacles to make sure that the utmost is done from his side.These are going to be trying days for all of us. Blame will be put on one side or the other. I think we all understand that this conflict must be eventually peacefully resolved. Unfortunately not all are truly and all heartedly involved in this process. We at the IMPJ are committed, even at tough times, to be attentive to the needs of others, open our hearts and souls to those men and women of peace, wherever they may be. And we will never forget our undivided commitment to a strong, flourishing, and just society in the Land of Israel, that can properly balance it as a democratic and Jewish state.

Sincerely Yours,
Reuven Marko

Rahat Reflections from Yael Karrie



18 Tammuz 5754
Guiltless before the Lord and before Israel: Comments on the Torah Portion Matot and the Fast of 17 Tammuz by Yael Karrie, Student Rabbi in Sha’ar HaNegev

A Bud / Tamir Greenberg
When my mourning became excessively hard for me, I imagined
My essence as a pointless sack of flesh
But then, almost unnoticed,
Before my astonished eyes
A green bud pushed through into my soul
Simple, clear and determined to sprout forth
[The Thirsty Soul, Am Oved: Tel Aviv 2000, p. 29; our translation]

The desert soil is parched now. The open expanses of the Sha’ar Hanegev region, which in regular times inspire a sense of awe, now recall threats on the radio and in idle conversations. A journey through this land reveals a golden dawn of harvested wheat, like a freshly-shaven head, surrounded by a shining halo.

As we drive toward Rahat, Oren tells me of driving through this area at night, the darkness illuminated only by an occasional meeting between an Iron Dome missile and a Qassam rocket. “I just kept on driving,” Oren tells me. “This whole situation is unreal. When it’s all over I’ll have to go and see someone with ‘Doctor’ before their name. I listen, nod, and open the window to smell what is left of the field that was once here.

We meet up at Beit Kama intersection. Oren managed to get back to his home in Sderot from the Kinneret. I picked him up in Sderot and we drove here. Rotem and Avi drove from Sderot to Jerusalem and then back here. Tamar came from Mevasseret Zion. Tired faces took on an appearance of excitement, longing, and curiosity ahead of our encounter.

As we drove toward Rahat the sun was setting, the last rays bathing the Bedouin city in a soft, bluish light. On the street people prepare to break the daily fast, hurrying home, the orange embers of barbecues flutter all around, smoke rises up. Tables loaded with the finest delicacies.
We drive into the yard of our hosts’ home. A large group of young men and women in their twenties welcome us with a mixture of joy and astonishment. “Did you really come to break the fast with us?” A sweet voice close to my ear tells me: “If you make a wish just before you break the fast, it will come true.” I close my eyes for a moment and make a wish.

We eat together, hands passing salad to and from, meeting half way, exchanging glances with those on the other side of the table. The conversation is lively and flowing. There is a tremendous thirst for intimacy, for understanding, for identification, for someone to listen.

The meal draws to a close, our bodies relaxed and comfortable. Each of us is invited to say a little about themselves and why they chose to come to the meeting now, “in this reality, in an Israeli light.”1 People talk frankly about their fear when they go to Beersheva that people will recognize them as Arabs and beat them on the street; about the aunt from Gaza who was killed in the middle of the Iftar2 by shrapnel from an Israeli mortar; about the children in Sha’ar Hanegev and Sderot who have been sleeping in protected rooms for three weeks. There is a sense of a forced silence that we are suddenly able to break here, in their home, at the same table, as we pass a cup of bitter coffee from hand to hand.

After freeing ourselves of this burden, we speak with bright eyes of manifestations of volunteering in our communities. A tremendous joy and excitement at the attentive atmosphere, intimate and warm, with tears of empathy. “A green bud pushed its way into my soul / Simple, clear and determined to sprout forth.”

In the Torah portion Matot the tribes of Gad and Reuben ask to receive a portion of land to the east of the Jordan River, and not to enter the Promised Land with the rest of the Children of Israel. The portion begins with a description of the extensive flocks held by both tribes, subtly suggesting to the reader that the reason for their demand is financial: they do not want to endanger their livestock. Moses reprimands them for their demand, and in return they promise that they will build an enclosure for their flocks and children, will go out to war as a “vanguard before the camp” and will not return home before each tribe has its own portion of land in Israel.

Moses accepts their offer and teaches them an important lesson. In his reply, he switches round their phrase “flocks and children” to “children and flocks,” emphasizing that they should be concerned firstly for the former rather than the latter. He continues: If you indeed are a vanguard before the camp and return home only when all Israel has a portion of land, “then you shall be guiltless before the Lord and before Israel; and this land here will be yours to possess before the Lord.”
On 17 Tammuz 5754, the walls between Jews and Muslims were cracked at various locations around Israel – not by battering rams but with dates, bread, and a glass of cold water.
The “vanguard before the camp” was not a company of combat soldiers but a group of citizens, anxious but hopeful, from the People of Israel and the People of Palestine, worried about their children and about the fate of their people.

On my way home to Kibbutz Dorot, my mouth still full of the sweet taste of the Katayif desert and the encounter, I felt “guiltless before the Lord and Israel,” ready to water the bud that had sprung forth there and to transform it into a blooming garden.

* Thanks to Eliaz Cohen who dreamed, conceived and initiated the Choose Life initiative, which led to joint encounters to break the fast of 17 Tammuz and the Ramadan fast at locations around Israel and around the world.

From Shalom Hanoch’s song “Israeli Light.”
The meal that breaks the daily fast during the month of Ramadan.