Feb 7, 2010

Notes from the Masorti Foundation Leadership Mission to Israel 5770/2010

Notes from the Masorti Foundation Leadership Mission to Israel 5770/2010
© Rabbi Menachem Creditor

with thanks for David Lissy's and Yizhar Hess' shared vision and commitment to strengthening Masorti Judaism
Personal appeal: if you feel these thoughts resonating for you, please make a donation to the Masorti Movement here: http://bit.ly/masorti

Jan 31: Picking Up Nofrat Frankel

The power of driving on a bus and speaking with leaders of the Conservative Movement from North America and the Masorti Movement in Israel...from Tel Aviv to Beer Sheva... Trying to take in the air of Israel, preparing to pick up and learn from Nofrat Frenkel, who is after all, a medical student and a normal Israeli, not just a tallit-wearing headline. Truly surreal.

Feb 1: Resonances I wish weren't

To hear from Nofrat Frenkel's own mouth the mocking she received from the Israeli police, while holding a Torah... To imagine her being shoved while holding the Torah... She is, after all, not so tall, not loud - she travels from Be'er Sheva at 4am every Rosh Chodesh to get to the Kotel with Women of the Wall - and to be treated with contempt....

We've been mocked before, while holding the Torah. How can we be doing the mocking ourselves? How dare we let this continue! This Rosh Chodesh Adar, I pray hundreds of women with tallit converge and reclaim the Kotel for all Jews. There were 42 women that November day - many of whom were wearing tallit -  but Nofrat was pulled aside for holding the Torah. May the distinction of holding Torah be a point of dignity and pride for Jewish Women and Men, at the Kotel and everywhere else.

Feb 1: Two shuls, or 'here and there'

So interesting to visit two Masorti shuls, in Be'er Sheva and Omer, to learn with their rabbis, educators, and lay leaders, to see so many similarities between tfutzot (diaspora) shuls and Israeli shuls.

Many North American shul-Jews presume a solid Jewish framework and identity in the 'typical' Israeli - but the preschools are developing family education here too, based on a lack of Judaism being lived in family experiences... The majority of Jews in the world now live in Israel - and, despite very different conditions, we're all working in the same direction and against similar trends of Jewish disconnectedness....

The networks of best-practice funding Foundations like the Legacy Heritage Foundation have seeded many programs here and in North America, but that funding doesn't continue indefinitely I where will (non Orthodox) Israeli Jewish educators turn?

Feb 2: IDF and Education

The Goldstone Report gets the headlines, but it creates the assumption that there is no internal critical moral reflection and evaluation as part of the established IDF ethos and practice. Additionally, that there was only testimony from Palestinians under Hamas 'supervision' seems to go unnoticed as well...

This is not a blanket approval of IDF actions, nor does it change my conviction that Israeli occupation is problematic or that there should be, soon and in our days, a Palestinian state.

It is, more importantly, an affirmation of trust that the IDF doesn't need the Goldstone Report to regain its moral standing. I was reminded of something that I knew but forgot through a media-filled life: IDF soldiers are taught to never forget the humanity of the Palestinians, and that the public debate that the Goldstone Report is embraced by the very army it criticizes.

The IDF is a moral organization, with a Jewishly-connected and universally-grounded ethical education at its core. It is easy to forget this from a distance.

Feb 3: History in the Past, Facts and Passion on the Ground

Meeting with Matthew Wagner from the Jerusalem Post, and confronting the recent move by the Charedim to create gender segregated buses...  Examining the notion of a (Durkheimian) 'civil religion' which isn't the active choice of Israelis but rather the emerging set of national symbols, including the chief rabbinate and Charedi monopoly on religious certification and ritual... Connect this with the winery which, in order to have rabbinate kashrut certification, requires that the owner who we met yesterday (a deeply spiritual Israeli man) not even TOUCH his grapes and machinery and casks, since he's not Shomer Shabbat (completely political, in order to employ untold numbers of Charedim at the expense of Jewish/human dignity for many, not to mention alienation from Jewish tradition).

Couple this with our participation yesterday in the dedication of the very FIRST dedicated space in Tel Aviv for NOA0M, the Masorti Israeli youth movement. The first? This is, as a dynamic rabbi in Jerusalem, Rabbi Chaya Rowen-Baker, put it just now, the new "pioneer' demand.

The Jewish nature of Israel is at stake in a very immediate way. Rabbis of all kinds are not allowed into 'secular' Israeli schools, further separating Israelis from their Jewish identity, and many more Masorti shuls with funded rabbis would change the Israeli world (many Masorti rabbis are, lately, losing their jobs because their communities receive no funding from the government, and only with this trip have my eyes been opened to the urgency and the passion that requires only funding).

And here's the kicker, which I'm committed to help change, through the passionate, skilled leadership of the Masorti Foundation (led by David Lissy) and the Masorti Movement (led by Yizhar Hess and countless other Israeli leaders):

At the end of Rabbi Rowen-Baker's presentation, I turned to Yizhar and said that what we need is an itemized bill so that we can fund these vital communities who are doing the best outreach I've ever experienced to their largely-secular Israeli communities. And he said: I can tell you the number - about 70,000 dollars.  SEVENTY-THOUSAND DOLLARS!!!!

So the question isn't how important this is.  It is, rather, when the call for funding a healthy Jewish identity for Israelis through seeding Masorti communities for 70,000 dollars, how many of us will step up and change the world?

Please God, may we make the pitch well.
And may we all answer that call, which is well within our means.

Feb 4: Standing in Your Soul

Every time I've visited Israel, it's been harder to leave. But in trips past it's the magic of the place that's torn at my soul. Not this time.

My soul reverberates with Israel's mystic history, but this trip has opened my eyes to the real magic. Visit Kibbutz Hannaton and witness resurrection of a dynamic Masorti Jewish pluralism in the context of a 'black and white' divide between religious and secular (as if either were an accurate description and as if they were clear categories).

People's souls are being lost, and all it will take to heal the Jewish soul for untold thousands of our brothers and sisters in Israel is money - and Jewish tradition teaches that nothing is more important than saving a life. This vision is not of a coercive Jewish environment - it's the pluralistic response to one. Rabbi Yoav Ende at Hannaton is out to change the world, and I'm with him.

The Masorti Leadership Mission participated in the dedication of a Sefer Torah at the shul in Hod Hasharon yesterday and the groundbreaking of Rabbi Tzvi Berger's life's work: a building for the long-established Masorti Community of Kfar Vradim. And all it will take is money to complete it's building. The mayor of Kfar Vradim received a letter from a 10 year old member of the community, which helped cement his participation in the project, as well as his passionate address at the groundbreaking.

The ceremony ended with Hatikvah, and I heard the words 'as long as the Jewish heart yearns.'. And that's what this is all about. If these passionate skilled rabbis and their passionate visionary communities don't receive the support they need and deserve, from within and without, where will the yearning Jewish soul turn?

Feb 5: Building Blocks

During our too-infrequent visits together, my father and I like to pull out the old Camp Ramah songsters, painstakingly hand-typed, mimeographed, and vocalized.  We sing together classic Zionist songs, Shabbat melodies from various traditions, and indescribable memories.  I've enjoyed swimming in my father's memories of the songs, and have, over the years, discovered them waiting in my own soul as well.

I never traversed the dangerous border to the "Sela Ha'Adom", the red rocks of Petra, but I weep when I sing the song of three who went out on that journey, full of dry sand, mystery, and death.  I did not participate in founding Kibbutzim or making the desert bloom, but these shared soulful memories inspire my heart to sing, as I metaphysically walk through Eucalyptus groves and smell the fragrance of the coming evening as the flocks of sheep return.

Just now, in chilly, rainy Jerusalem, I remembered that a friend asked me to bring back some stones, to be used as grave markers back in the United States for cemeteries and our Wall of Memory at shul.  I've forgotten over and over to gather some memory-rocks along a whirlwind trip through Israel, but it occurred to me, as I looked down to avoid the rain, that the stones that today build memory for our people are not just to be found in fields - they were all around me.  I picked up some pieces of scattered stone from a construction site and put them in my pocket, caressing them the way I have held stones in Yad Vashem's Valley of the Communities.

These stones and those stones mean something.  They are not the red stones of Petra, they are not an idealistic reflection of the founding of the state.  But someone should write a song about them, because they are living touchstones of our People's memories being created every day.


Announcing ShefaJournal 5770:1 - "The Relationship Between Conservative Judaism and the Conservative Movement" http://tiny.cc/sj5770
Rabbi Menachem Creditor
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