Friday afternoon . . . sitting in my apartment as Shabbat is just a few hours away. This was a week packed with learning, with challenges, and with great moments. As I prepare for my final Shabbat in Israel of this summer’s visit fora month of study at the Shalom Hartman Institute, I am pondering the dramatric contrasts of the week now ending.
It was a great week of study at Hartman with my teachers and classmates. We swam in the waters of the Zohar and the mystical tradition with our teacher Melila Hellner-Eshed; we studied about the need for a new understanding of North American Zionism with Professor Gil Troy; we journeyed to Hebron as a class, with our teachers, and heard from the many parties who represent various facets of the complexity that is Hebron; against the backdrop of the tragic and horrific news out of Bulgaria, we studied the book of Job with the members of the Christian Leaders’ Institute and Rabbi Donniel Hartman; and so much more.
By last night, my head was swimming. In large part it was the intensity of our study and the sheer number of hours devoted to learning. Two consecutive days of 105 degree temps and insufficient air-conditioning didn’t help.
At lunch yesterday, I remarked to my teacher, Dr. Tal Becker, with whom we also studied and travelled this week, that it had been an intense week: the trip to Hebron; the collapse of the coalition as Kadima withdrew from PM Netanyahu’s government over the stalemate over the induction of Haredim into the army; Syria’s withdrawal of its troops from the Golan Heights to bring them into Damascus to provide support in the fighting there; the rantings of Hezbollah leader Hasan Nasrallah from Lebanon against Israel;aginst the backdrop of the bus bombing in Bulgaria which claimed the lives of Israeli tourists . . . I quipped that these were intense days. Tal responded, “Ah, just another week in Israel.”
This afternoon, as I made my way back from Machne Yehuda (the Jewish Market in Jerusalem), with my friend Rabbi Jacob Herber of Milwaukee, both of us having completed our Shabbat shopping, we passed two counter demonstrations at a plaza. In the plaza stooda group of Israelis quietly calling for an end to the Occupation in the West Bank. I’ve seen them at this same spot every Friday afternoon over the past several summers. Across the street, in front of the Prima Kings Hotel, stood another group of Israelis, holding Israeli flags and quietly holdinh their signs in support of the Israeli Defenses Forces. As we crossed the street, I remarked to Jacob, “Can I stand in the street between them, and proclaim that I agree with both groups?” He replied, “This is part of what I love about Israel. It’s a place where different viewpoints can stand near one another and both be heard.” Indeed.
So another week passes and my time in Israel draws to a close. It has been an intense week — and month (so far). But then again, that is always the case here in Israel. This small, yet proud nation struggles to face its challenges — and there are many. It strives to actualize the values enshrined in its Declaration of Independence:
“THE STATE OF ISRAEL will be open to the immigration of Jews and for the Ingathering of the Exiles from all countries of their dispersion; will promote the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; will be based on the precepts of liberty, justice and peace as invisaged by the prophets of Israel; will uphold the full social and political equality of all its citizens, without distinction of race, creed or sex; will guarantee full freedom of conscience, worship, education and culture; will safeguard the sanctity and inviolability of the shrines and Holy Places of all religions…”
Living in a challenging neighborhood where things are always hot, even in the cooler months, Israel attempts to keep its eye on the future (save for those residents who insist on living in the past and dragging the rest of the Jewish community with them back to the 18th century), to reach for achieve peace and security. Without doubt, Israel has a long way to go, but the vast majority of Israelis are truly committed to the future. They inspire me, even as many of them challenge me!
Shabbat Shalom from Jerusalem!