Tag Archives: Israel

Cast Your Vote for Progressive Judaism

By Scott Birnbaum

As Chair of Temple Shalom’s Israel Committee, I invite you to join me in voting for ARZA, the voice of the Reform Movement in Israel, in the critically important World Zionist Organization Election, that has just begun.

A recent article in the Forward explains the importance of this election:

“The World Zionist Organization, or WZO … is a multimillion-dollar operating agency that runs educational programs, encourages aliyah and oversees Israeli rural development, including [contested] settlements. It also partly controls several much larger institutions that it founded years ago, including the Jewish Agency, the massive social-service and educational body, and the Jewish National Fund, which owns and manages about one-seventh of Israel’s real estate. The outcome of the elections will go a long way toward determining who wins control of which budgets. …With Israeli-Palestinian peace in deep freeze, settlements in high gear and chances for a two-state solution fading, the ideological debate among different schools of Zionism — religious vs. secular, hawks vs. doves — is at its fiercest in years. The WZO is ground zero. The American delegation holds 145 out of 500 congress seats. Israel receives 190, allocated by Knesset election results. The rest of the world shares the other 165. The other thing worth knowing about the WZO is that, together with the Jewish Agency, it’s designated in Israeli law as the formal liaison between the Jewish Diaspora and the Israeli government. It is the vehicle through which Jews around the world are officially invited to make their views known to Israel and, in a small way, make policy.”

It’s hard to escape that Israel is a controversial topic. But given the recent tragic events in France, there’s one thing that most of us can agree on—Israel’s vital role as homeland and place of refuge for Jews facing persecution, violence, and Anti-Semitism.

Help make the Reform Movement’s voice heard in Jerusalem and around the world by taking 60 seconds, spending $10, and voting! Follow the instructions on this link. https://www.reformjews4israel.org/vote/

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Mazel Tov to Leah Sawyer!

Leah Sawyer, Wet Hair Moment

We share in joy with Leah Sawyer as we welcome her officially to the Jewish community! Today, Leah met with a beit din and immersed in the mikveh to complete her conversion process.

At services this evening, Leah will stand before our community as she recites Sh’ma holding onto our sacred Torah for the first time. We will also bestow upon her a Hebrew name.

What a milestone! In preparation for this day, Leah prepared a reflection on her Jewish journey:

Today I am choosing to become Jewish.  This is an important step for me – seven steps, actually, into the mikveh waters as a Gentile and seven steps back out as a new Jew – and a decision I do not take lightly.  After nearly two decades of thinking about the idea, and after 15 months of serious study and reflection, I am ready to become officially what I have come to feel inside, and to what I have been drawn for most of my life.

The question of “why Judaism?” is a hard one to answer – not because of a lack of compelling reasons, but because much of my motivation comes from somewhere deeper than logic.  Judaism just feels like the right fit for me, in an elemental way that defies description.

Growing up in a loving Irish Catholic family, my parents instilled strong values that included doing the right thing even at personal cost, prioritizing family and community, and the importance of kindness and generosity.  As I have grown in my life’s path, many of the specific tenets I believe in have changed, but those core values continue to guide me.  In Judaism, I find deep resonance with those values, and with new ones I have come to hold dear – inclusiveness, healing the world, feminism, and lifelong learning.  I still have many questions and expect I always will — in Judaism, I have found a structure in which I can wrestle with thorny topics and learn from others who are doing the same.  Most importantly, I have found an oasis of peace and calm in my life, a space of time in which I can recharge, and at the same time be challenged to be better and kinder.

My Jewish journey started in middle school, when I first read Chaim Potok’s The Chosen (and in short order, all of Potok’s other books) that gave me a window into a new world, and when our Christian Bible teacher Dr. D taught us ancient Israelite history and a smattering of basic Hebrew.  In college, as my once-ardent Catholic faith faltered, Dr. D’s statement that “next to Mandarin, Hebrew is the hardest language” was a spur to find a Hebrew tutor (difficult in deep rural Virginia) who introduced the aleph-bet, and to find a scholarship to study in Israel.

My six months in Israel taught me many things – that there are many kinds of hummus and they’re all delicious, Hebrew really IS incredibly difficult to learn, never to trust that an Israeli-organized “short easy” hike will be either short or easy, and that Israel is a deeply difficult and deeply beguiling country – but not so much about the actual religion of Judaism.  I learned that (at that time) most Israelis were culturally but not spiritually Jewish.

It was not until 2013, after a difficult period caused me to reexamine my life in many ways, that I began to think about Judaism more seriously.  At the time I was living with a roommate who had converted to Catholicism and taught high school theology.  Theological conversations with Andrea over red wine and pad Thai started me thinking again, after a long time of being closed spiritually.  I knew I couldn’t convert to Judaism, even with its lifelong pull, for a number of reasons… though in the end, none of those reasons stood up to debate or research.  I read Anita Diamante’s book Choosing A Jewish Life, my heart racing with excitement, and decided that this sounded right for me – I needed to know more.

After I contacted the Union of Reform Judaism and signed up for an intro to Judaism course, I started attending the local synagogue, Beth El Hebrew in Alexandria Virginia.  People were welcoming, but I struggled with feeling out-of-place, not knowing the melodies, and barely being able to sound out the Hebrew in the prayer book.  I kept coming every week and found a Hebrew tutor, and over several months I learned the melodies and came to feel less out-of-place, although I was still one of the youngest adults in the synagogue by several decades.

Following a sudden move to Boston for a new job, I was referred to Rabbi Neil Hirsch at Temple Shalom of Newton, who enthusiastically volunteered to shepherd me through the conversion process.  My first experience of Temple Shalom was Yom Kippur, which turned out to be hauntingly beautiful and meaningful in a way I hadn’t expected, as I reflected on the ways I wanted to change my life and myself in the coming year.  The evening Yom Kippur service was followed by a 20s and 30s break fast feast, where I met people my age, many of whom I have come to know well in the interim.

Since then, it’s been a whirlwind year of growth and learning — I’ve lit Shabbat candles in my home, attended services at Temple Shalom and Temple Beth Elohim of Wellesley, studied Torah on Shabbat mornings (especially savoring the footnotes in the women’s commentary Torah), studied Hebrew prayers (thanks to Liz Piper-Goldberg), burned “Thanksgivvukah” mashed potato latkes, taken the introduction to Judaism course in Wayland (thanks to Rabbis Neal Gold, Jen Gubitz, and Alana Alpert, among others), learned about the conversion process at Mayyim Hayyim (thanks to Rabbi Julie Zupan), and participated in the 10-week young adult Eser study class.  Most importantly, I have met regularly with Rabbi Hirsch, whose calm kindness and insightful analysis of complex issues I came to value, as we discussed my evolving thoughts and questions about Judaism, until I felt that I was ready to be adopted into Judaism.

The Mishkan T’filah prayerbook has many beautiful passages for reflection, including one that brings tears to my eyes every time we read or sing it:

Standing on the parted shore of history

We still believe what we were taught

Before ever we stood at Sinai’s foot;

That wherever we go, it is eternally Egypt

That there is a better place, a promised land;

That the winding way to that promise

Passes through the wilderness.

That there is no way to get from here to there

Except by joining hands, marching together.

Today I join a beautiful 4,000 year old tradition, one with built-in growth and deep complexity.  It’s where I belong, and I am honored to join hands and march together into a new future.

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Holding Two Realities in Our Hearts

Editor’s Note: Divrei Shalom is the place for Temple Shalom community members to share their perspectives and ideas. We invite all community members to write for us.

By Mary Jane Suzman

I am deeply troubled by the tenor of the CJP call to attend the rally for Israel, and even more by the letter from Barry Shrage linked to it. They emphasize only the suffering of Israel – our wounded soldiers, our widows and orphans, our traumatized children. This suffering is real, but it is not the only suffering: there is a humanitarian disaster of immense proportions amongst the Palestinians of Gaza. As a Jew and a human being, I do not believe that support for Israel requires blindness to the suffering of the Palestinians. Such blindness is in fact destructive of the long-term welfare of Israel and the long-term prospects for peace.

In a particularly misleading statement, Shrage quotes Jonathan Sacks in stating that “Israel has had to endure an ‘assault of a kind no country in the world has had to face: worse than the Blitz in World War II. At the height of the Blitz, on average 100 missiles were launched against Britain every day. On average during the present conflict Hamas has been firing 130 missiles a day against Israel’.”

A little research reveals that during the Blitz in 1940-41, German bombing killed more than 40,000 people and damaged or destroyed over 1 million buildings. Later, in 1944, the V1 and V2 missile attacks began. A total of about 10,000 missiles were fired into Britain, killing a further 9,000 people. In comparison, the Hamas missiles fired on Israel have killed 3. What Sacks and Shrage also failed to note in making their comparison is that each German missile contained a hundred times more explosives than an average Hamas missile.

We have powerful visions in our Jewish texts that can provide better guidance: all people are made in the image of God; all people share in the divine breath that was blown into Adam at creation; love the stranger as thyself; love peace and pursue peace.  There are also lessons on how to handle the deeply held conflicting truths of different people – we are instructed to make ourselves a “heart of many rooms,” and house them there together.

We need to hold these texts close, even in a time of crisis and conflict – perhaps especially in times of crisis and conflict. We need to constantly remind ourselves that the 1,800 Palestinians who have died were each and every one made in the image of God. We need to break down the simplistic duality of Us against Them, Good against Evil, Victim and Aggressor, and allow questions: have Israel and we American Jews done everything possible over the years to pursue peace? Have we treated the Palestinians with the dignity and equality due them as human beings? Are we partially responsible for the current hatred and divisiveness? Are we partially responsible for the escalation that led to the current war?

In response to the CJP’s “urgent call to stand up for Israel” I would ask: Can we not hold two realities in our hearts at once? Our love and support for our people and the state of Israel, but also the suffering and cries of the Palestinians in Gaza? Our narrative of deep connection to the land, but also theirs? Trying to do this leads to a very pained and crying heart. But perhaps it is that pain that can energize us to radically intensify our efforts to lay the foundations that can eventually lead to the end of conflict. Perhaps that pain can help us turn the creative energy, skills, passion and love that originally built the state of Israel toward the determined, multi-faceted, deep pursuit of peace. That is the endeavor I could whole-heartedly support.


Israeli Adventures

By Louis Stein

We’re re-blogging this post, which originally appeared on the NFTY in Israel B’Yisrael Blog on July 14, 2014. Louis is currently on one of their trips. During the year, he and his family take part in the life of Temple Shalom. Louis is a leader in SHAFTY, our Temple Youth Group.

The week started off flying over to Israel after a long week in Eastern Europe. After seeing the dark days of Judaism, we finally see the triumph of the Jewish people, and it is incredible. Tel Aviv was so beautiful. We toured around the city briefly with a highlight of putting our feet in the Mediterranean Sea. After a night in Tel Aviv, we packed up and headed south to Eilat and the Negev Desert. A long day of travel was followed by a windy night sleeping on the rocky desert floor. The nex1t day was followed by hikes and a swim in the Red Sea where we got to snorkel and see the beautiful reef. Everyone had a nice relaxing time at the beach, which was much needed for the long hike up Har Shelomo (Mount Solomon) which was a struggle for many people. It was a long, rocky climb filled with sweat, blood and tears, but in the end it was absolutely worth it. The view looked over Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and Israel and was incredible. The whole trip in the Negev was difficult, but bonded everyone together on a whole new level. We travelled the next day to Jerusalem for a well-deserved, relaxing Shabbat. The trip so far is incredible and worthwhile, and I love every minute of it.

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