Today marks 3 weeks since my return from my month of study at the Hartman Institute in Israel. Some time teaching and seeing my family at camp, and now I’ve been back at Temple for about 10 days. It has been a great time to dig in with our new staff team members: Cantor Peter Halpern, Interim Educator Stacy Garnick and our new Associate for Youth Engagement, Ellie Klein Goldman. We are so blessed to have these three incredible individuals joining our Temple Shalom team and family.
As we turn the page over this Shabbat from the Hebrew month of Av, to Elul – and to the month of preparation for the Holy Days, like most Jewish professionals, the march of time is pressing as the New Year awaits in just a month. This week I finally found some to review my notes and scribbles, not only from my time in Israel, but indeed, from past months as I sharpen my focus on the tasks and the year ahead.
Reviewing my intense month in Israel has been especially fruitful as there is so much to process: four weeks of study which often encompassed as much as ten or more hours in a single day; visits to Hebron, Haifa, Tel Aviv, and numerous other experiences. It was a fascinating time to be in Israel (but then, it’s always fascinating.) Between the tensions surrounding the Hok Tal – the Tal Law which expired on August 1st thereby triggering the induction of Ultra-Orthodox men (Haredim) into the Israel Defense Forces; the Levy Report, which declares Israel’s building of settlements in the West Bank legal under international law (and on which the Prime Minister has yet to act in terms of acceptance or rejection of the report’s findings); the deportation of illegal immigrants; the weakened, yet still evident social protest movement which began during my visit last summer; the on-going tensions with Iran and the turmoil in Syria – all made for a tense and interesting visit.
I had not visited Hebron, one of Judaism’s four holy cities and in some ways, birthplace of our people, in some thirty years. It was an emotional, disturbing, enlightening, and draining visit. Our Rabbinic Leadership Initiative group traveled, together with several of our teachers, including Rabbi Donniel Hartman and Dr. Tal Becker (who will join us as our Scholar-in-Residence here at Temple Shalom in March). Rabbi Hartman confided to us that he, too, had not been in Hebron in some three decades and it was an equally troubling visit for him.
Upon my return from Israel, I had the chance to read parts of the latest edition of the Hartman Institute’s Journal, Havruta. This issue is entitled, Engaging Israel: The Limits of Criticism. Many of my Hartman teachers have written excellent and thought-provoking pieces in this particular issue. One, in particular, resonated deeply with me – Yossi Klein Halevi’s A Letter to Friends on the Right (which can be found on page 62 — you–can read this article, and in fact the entire journal by clicking here: http://www.hartman.org.il/SHINews_View.asp?Article_Id=895&Cat_Id=303&Cat_Type=SHINews
Yossi, who grew up as a part of Meir Kahane’s Jewish Defense League has been on his own interesting journey as a Jew, and as an Israel for the past decades, which he describes in his article. One notion of which he writes, which deeply resonates with me, describes the on-going battles between left and right when it comes to Israeli politics, policies and the Jewish community more broadly. Yossi calls for all sides to listen more carefully to the other. And then, in words for I have been searching for a long time to describe my own complicated feelings and place on the spectrum, he writes: “Most Israelis today, who are neither left nor right but an uneasy mixture of the two, tend to regard a Palestinian state as both an existential threat and an existential necessity. We centrists – and we are now the majority – have internalized the left-right schism. For us, the debate isn’t happening between separate camps but rival and compelling voices within each of us. Leftists and rightists argue with each other; a centrist argues with himself.” (Havruta, Winter 2012, page 65)
There it was – the words I’ve been searching for, for what seems like an eternity. I listen to the wrangling of left and right – and it has been especially potent in our Boston Jewish community in recent years – and as I centrist I find myself caught, not only between the arguments of both left and right, pieces of both resonate, but mostly I wrestle with myself! Yes, that’s the Jewish condition – to be Yisrael – the one who wrestles. I just wish the endgame weren’t so extreme on either side.
I urge you to read this issue of Havruta, and in particular, Yossi Klein Halevi’s article. I’d love to hear your thoughts!