What an intense ten days week I have spent at Jerusalem’s Shalom Hartman Institute, the first part of three weeks I am spending at the Institute’s annual summer programs for rabbinic enrichment. The main theme of this year’s ten-day Rabbinic Torah Seminar is “The Value of Peoplehood.” Hours of text study, classes with leading scholars, small-group discussions in which we strive to unpack the themes we are learning, evening programs on topics related to the stresses and strains in the discourse in the today’s Jewish community, after four intense 10-12 hour days of study and discussion, by the end of week one I was truly ready for a break, for the calm of a Jerusalem Shabbat. In Israel, Shabbat, in some sense, already begins on Thursday night.
By coincidence I found myself invited to attend a concert last Thursday night to welcome the weekend. That concert was one of the last places I expected to have an emotional/ spiritual moment during my time in Jerusalem. But after hearing about Kobi Oz, one of the stars in the evolving Israeli musical-spiritual renaissance, I had to see (hear) for myself. A part of the Israeli rock scene for the past two decades, Oz hails from the beleagured town of S’derot, which continues to absorb Kassam missiles from Gaza(which continue to fall every day or so.) S’derot has given birth to an entire musical scene, about which I’ll write some other time.
Last Thursday night I was treated, along with hundreds of Israeli and Americans who have participated in the programs of the Wexner Heritage Foundation, to an incredibly moving portrait of a secular Israeli who has, in recent years, begun to grapple with his family heritage, his identity as a Jew in the Jewish State, and as a part of the Jewish people. I urge you to check out this link to Oz’s moving “duet” with the grandfather who was a hazzan (cantor) in Egypt before moving to Israel and who wrote many, many piyyutim (religious musical poems, in the vein of L’cha Dodi and similar pieces we know from our liturgy.) This piece, entitled Elohai, is a moving tribute both to Kobi Oz’s grandfather and to his own spiritual journey. An equally moving moment in the concert, which brought the stress of contemporary Israeli life home, and tears to my eyes was his piece, “Prayer of the Secular.”
You can listen (learn for yourself) by following visiting this link http://makomkobioz.wordpress.com
The English translation scrolls as you listen to the music!
The concert opened my eyes, ears and heart to a phenomenon my some of my colleagues explored during an elective during our first week of study which examined the rising sense of spirituality in Israeli society as evidenced through contemporary Israeli music. Alas, I chose a different elective. But Kobi Oz and his spiritual quest fed my should deeply. And as I listened, and as I explored his music via the CD I purchased (Mizmorei HaNevuchim — Psalms for the Perplexed, a definite play on Moses Maimonides’ classic work, Moreh Nevuchim, the Guide for the Perplexed) I found that Kobi Oz’s musing and music speak not only to the Israeli soul. Judging by the crowd in the amphitheater, and by my own soul’s response, he was speaking to me as well.
With Shabbat in the rear-view mirror and its rest having renewed my body and soul, I eagerly awaited our second week of studies. Monday was our tiyyul day, a day during which we were each invited to select from a number of day-trips through which we could explore new dimensions of our relationship with Israel, Israelis and the complexity of life here. I chose a trip to the West Bank — after all, Israel is about “wrestling.” And we, the people of Israel, are meant to wrestle. But more about that in the coming days.
Shalom from Jerusalem my friends
Rabbi Eric Gurvis