Going At It Bottom-Up
by Rabbi Stacey Blank
I am back…after a few month hiatus. A short explanation of what happened: As my readers may know, last summer I started working at Hebrew Union College in Jerusalem. Along the way, I became involved in young children/ family Shabbat programming (Among other things, I have been living a long-time dream of mine and found others who share this vision – monthly Shabbat morning excursions into nature all within 20 minutes drive of Jerusalem where we learn about the land of Israel from ancient to modern times, enjoy G-d’s creation, and have a short Shabbat service/story accompanied by guitar). From January to May, I worked with JTS education students in Jerusalem for the semester. And out of the blue, a congregation more or less in the Jerusalem area in a picturesque and lovely little town called Tzur Hadassah was looking for a rabbi. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity as I truly love this work (as I love the other jobs I have too)
So, as my load becomes a bit lighter, now I’ve come up for air. And following the plea of a friend, “Can you please start writing your blogs again??!!” I’m back to share my thoughts on this amazing, dynamic, vibrant, land in which I live. As the vintner Avi Yehuda that my father and I visited a month ago in the moshav of Shoresh (and bought a number of bottles of wine from him) put it – this lovely land and people of Israel are “gravelly” (mechuspas) – meaning a little rough, but full of rich texture.
Everyone is talking about the Women of the Wall. I have thoughts on it but would like to formulate them more carefully than for a spontaneous blog post. But what I want to share in a way relates to this.
Oftentimes, people view the dynamic in Israel as a war or at least a struggle that is full of tension and sometimes gets ugly. It makes people sometimes say, “Why even bother to care about Israel since it doesn’t represent me and my Jewish values at all?” I think this view is misguided, of course. Because of all the beautiful and wonderful and inspirational things about Israel and what it represents for the Jewish people, we (all Jews around the world) need to be involved and help it along the way, each of us in our own way. I often struggle about what my “battles” ought to be. When do I give up my family life for a greater cause? When do I sacrifice precious work time(for which I need to support myself and my family) for a demonstration. What am I willing to lose sleep over? And so on.
And then there are the moments in my work when I believe, though it is small and doesn’t make the evening news, this is significant and part of the bigger picture.
My example this week is of our Tikkun Leil Shavuot (our late night study in honor of the giving of the Torah on this holiday) in Tzur Hadassah this year. To be honest, I didn’t know what to expect. This is a tiny town where 30 people at any event is considered to be a huge turnout. Our theme was “The Meaning of Torah Today” in honor of our campaign that we are now kicking off to funding the reparation of our Torah scrolls (that survived the Holocaust, one written in Poland in the 1920s and one written in Holland in the 1700s) I taught about “Reading from the Torah, Studying Torah, and Being Torah”, Rabbi Ofer Shabbat Beit-HaLachmi taught about his vision for reinterpreting mitzvot, and Rabbi Mira Hovav taught about the challenge of being a link in the chain of transmission from generation to generation as seen through the eyes of a S.Y. Agnon story.
Needless to say, it was a very interesting evening in terms of content. We finished at 2 a.m. – and everyone stayed till the end!
But equally as important for me were the participants.
Among the participating congregants: a psychologist, hi-tech manager, US Federation executive, therapist for victims of terror, accountant, a third generation owner of a Jerusalem furniture company, and a children’s educator, a regular participant in the congregation’s study group, .
Among the visitors: a Secular Rabbi who lives in town, a young immigrant from Argentina who is beginning the process of conversion and her husband, two young ultra-Orthodox men from Ramat Beit Shemesh (I heard a rumor they are considering leaving their community) and a few unknown people from the town who quietly listened throughout the night.
Not only that, but the vast majority of the participants are native Israelis – people who came to Reform Judaism through meeting it in Tzur Hadassah. They want to learn and to take an active part in the discussion and say where our ancient sources meet them today. They want their larger community to be open and pluralistic and a place where they can be both modern and Jewish. They want a home where they can come celebrate the holidays, their life cycle events, and receive support as a family together, in a way that makes them feel at home. They want to be social justice activists that take part in repairing the world.
For me, this is my field of action. Here in Tzur Hadassah, and everyday communities like it, the future of the State of Israel is being written.
Rabbi Stacey Blank is spiritual leader of Kehilat Tzur Hadassah, in the Jerusalem area, and also works at Hebrew Union College (HUC) in Jerusalem