I love hearing people from outside the Jewish world affirm what I know to be true about the State of Israel. Just this past week, for example, Rachel Lord, the wife of the outgoing Australian Ambassador to Israel, wrote a farewell letter to Israel that appeared in the Jerusalem Post (June 14, 2017).
I learned about the letter while listening to “The Promised” podcast (TLV1) when Allison Kaplan Sommer, one of its regular commentators, read a portion of Ms. Lord’s words. Rachel Lord is a human rights lawyer.
We leave Israel very different people to those who arrived four years ago.
We arrived in Israel a little under four years ago, a newly minted family of five. We had never visited Israel before and had no idea what to expect. Israel as a posting option was not on our radar – or, more correctly, it was not on my radar. Although Dave’s official story is that he was asked to take the assignment, I suspect he may not have been so surprised by the request. With an impression of Israel based solely on news reporting, I wasn’t excited by the idea of bringing my family somewhere that seemed so unsafe. But as we celebrated my birthday on our second day in Israel, enjoying incredible food as the sun set over the sea, we felt confident we’d made the right decision.
Yet, even after four years here, Israel has proved an elusive friend. I still don’t feel like I completely understand her. The language is an obvious challenge. Our foreign ministry assured us we’d get by fine with English, which of course is true for my husband operating in a professional setting but made things a little challenging for me as I attempted to navigate daily life. We’ve eaten sour cream with our muesli, used buttermilk in our tea and I’ve had a few quiet sobs in the car when things just felt all a bit hard. Israeli culture is unique and a challenge for those of us from Britain’s former empire, where we like our queues and our order, public politeness and personal distance.
And of course, the roads are where I realize I just have no idea how this place works. You all know things would flow much better and you’d all be much happier if everyone stopped jostling for the best position, respected queues, stayed within those white lines on the road, held off the horn, and didn’t hassle the old person crossing the road with a walker, right? And why, in the country that invented Waze and where people are glued to their smartphones, do people always pull over and yell (and I do mean yell) at you for directions?
Despite these challenges, there’s something endearing about Israel. It drives you insane but you can’t help but love it. The goodness at the core is unquestionably the people, who proudly live up to their sabra reputation. No one ever says thanks if you hold a door open for them or offers to help you if you have your hands full with bags and a baby, but the warmth is almost overwhelming when someone opens their heart and their home to you. We’ve been blessed to share meals and traditions with people from all over Israel. We’ve thoroughly enjoyed learning about the different faiths that make this country so rich. The personal histories of the people that call Israel home have left us wide eyed. We’ve relished the centrality of family in Israeli society, where children are welcome everywhere and are valued and treasured.
We leave Israel very different people to those that arrived four years ago. We are richer people with a better understanding of this wonderful country, its people and the leading religions of the world. We know that Israel is a country beyond the conflict that can define it internationally and as a place that is more complex than most will appreciate.”
Rabbi Galit Cohen Kedem of Holon, Israel and me
Thankfully, there’s a happy ending to this story.
Temple Israel of Hollywood in Los Angeles enjoys a close sister-synagogue relationship with an emerging Israeli Reform synagogue in Holon, Israel, just fifteen minutes drive from Tel Aviv.
Their Rabbi, Galit Cohen Kedem, is a 40 year-old mother of three who was ordained several years ago at the Jerusalem campus of the Hebrew Union College and is one of 100 Israeli ordained Reform Rabbis serving communities in Israel.
Five years ago, Rabbi Galit and her emerging Reform synagogue community created Gan Tarbut Ivrit, a state-funded public school. They did so in full cooperation with the education department at the Holon municipality and with the Israel Ministry of Education. The school received official status and certification from all the relevant local and national authorities.
The concept of a “growing school” is one that begins with kindergarten and adds a new grade level each year. The school is planning to add a 3rd grade class this coming fall and will welcome 100 students. Gan Tarbut Ivrit works in similar ways to North American magnet schools in that it welcomes students from throughout the city of Holon.
Until the beginning of May of this year, the attitude of the Holon Municipality was positive and supportive. All great – so far!
Since it was established, the school program has been held within a hosting school, and it was understood by Rabbi Cohen Kedem and the students’ parents that as the school grew it would require additional classrooms in a different location due to space limitations in the first host school. The congregational leadership began negotiations with the Holon municipality and education department earlier this year to find alternative space. All municipal bodies joined cooperatively in the effort.
As a temporary solution for the coming year, the Director General of the Holon municipality (Yossi Silman) and the city education department offered three additional classrooms to be opened in a different public school in the city. The school would run independently of the host school. However, upon learning of this arrangement, a group of parents from the new hosting school, encouraged by extremist Haredi ultra-Orthodox forces vetoed the plan. In a meeting with the principal of the new host school these parents aggressively and verbally threatened Rabbi Cohen Kedem and, remarkably, they threatened the school’s children of the school. Then they submitted a strongly worded complaint to the education department and municipality.
To the shock and surprise of the Reform synagogue community and school leadership, at a meeting that was held only a few days following this incident, the Holon Municipality Director General rescinded the municipality’s responsibility for the program altogether. The families of these children were told that there would now be no place at all in the entire city of Holon of 200,000 residents for this one school to operate.
Rabbi Cohen Kedem learned from various sources that ultra-Orthodox political representatives in the city from the Shas party pressured the Mayor to close the school for one reason and one reason alone – it is affiliated with the Israeli Reform Movement.
The Israel Movement for Progressive Reform Judaism (IMPJ) jumped into action on behalf of the children and parents of this new school and entered into negotiations with the proper authorities. At the same time, the Israeli Reform leadership called upon ARZA (the Association of Reform Zionists of America – USA and ARZA – Canada) to contact as many Israeli Consuls General as possible and ask them to contact the Israeli Foreign Ministry and Education Ministry to express our support for the Holon Reform movement school. We did so.
I informed our new Consul General representing the Southwestern United States, the Honorable Sam Grundwerg.
Rabbi Mona Alfi of Temple B’nai Israel in Sacramento, California (who also enjoys a sister synagogue relationship with Kehilat Kodesh V’Chol and Rabbi Galit) informed Israel’s Consul General to the Pacific Northwest, the Honorable Dr. Andy David and asked him to send their message of support.
Rabbi Josh Weinberg, President of the Association of Reform Zionists of America (ARZA), and I (as ARZA Chair) briefed the Israeli Consul General in New York, the Honorable Dani Dayan, who communicated to the Israeli Foreign Ministry and Education Ministry headed by Naftali Bennet, the Minister of Education in whose party Dani Dayan is a leader. Mr. Dayan also personally called Rabbi Galit to express his support.
Miriam Pearlman, ARZA Canada President, asked the Consul General of Israel in Toronto representing Ontario and the Western Provinces of Canada, the Honorable Galit Baram, to send a message to Israel’s Foreign Ministry to register that community’s concern that the rights of the Reform movement in Holon.
Negotiations have been taking place for the past month between Holon’s Mayor and leaders of the Municipality and Rabbi Gilad Kariv, the Executive Director of the IMPJ as well as Rabbi Galit – and I am thrilled to post this letter sent a few days ago by Gilad and Galit to our Reform movement’s international leadership with their permission to share this with others.
I do so with great personal relief and with the knowledge that not only will those parents and children in Holon, Israel be able to educate their children in the public school system according to their Reform movement values, but that our movement’s success can be a precedent for more such efforts.
It is with great pleasure and relief that we send you this email to update you that a solution has been found for the “Tarbut Ivrit” program in Holon.
As you know, over the past few weeks we had experienced an extreme backlash in the city, whereby both city officials and parents refused to allow us the use of classrooms in one of the city’s schools, in light of our expansion and lack of classrooms at the “Nitzanim” school. At one point in the process the municipality even cancelled our certification. We were prepared to take legal steps and have you engage with us in an international campaign. This backlash reached the level of violent verbal threats and near despair. Finally, a few days ago, with the help and support of the regional superintendent and representatives from the Ministry of Education, we were able to reach a resolution with the municipality, whereby classrooms would be found in the “Nitzanim” school for the coming year. This is the school we’ve been in over the past few years and we are happy to tell you that the parents association and the head of the school is in complete support of our being there. A solution for space for our additional grade level will be found. This was a great relief, especially considering that this was our ideal solution from the beginning.
On a personal note, there is no doubt that we had never experienced such behavior from people we work with on the municipal level before and were taken aback by people’s mere ability to act this way. At the same time, we are grateful to so many friends and partners, as well as parents and congregation activists, who stood by our side throughout this difficult period.
We want to take this opportunity to also thank you for your partnership, friendship and support throughout this struggle, as well as the action that many of you took in contacting local consuls general and other officials and speaking with them on our behalf. There is no question that this helped our struggle because as we reported previously the Foreign Ministry went to the city and told them to find a constructive solution. Our influence in the National Institutions was also a critical factor as both Boogi [Isaac] Hertzog [the leader of the opposition Zionist Union] and Danny Atar [Chairman of the Keren Kayemet L’Yisrael- JNF] intervened with the Mayor of Holon on our behalf.
We head into the summer with a great sigh of relief, ready to take on the new school year and focus on what we do well, pluralistic education and building our congregation. Holon is an incredible success story for our [Reform Israeli] movement and we believe will continue to grow and thrive.
We will of course keep you posted if there are any new developments. Hopefully from now on we will only have good news to report.
Again we can’t say enough how important your support for us was both from a moral point of view and of course for all the concrete things you did on our behalf.
Rabbi Gilad Kariv and Rabbi Galit Cohen Kedem
Few events in Jewish history are as impactful on the character of the Jewish people in Israel and around the world as was the 1967 Israeli-Arab War that was fought exactly 50 years ago (June 5-11, 1967).
The Association of Reform Zionists of America (ARZA) has posted this week its considered Position Paper about that war on the occasion of this 50th Anniversary, and it can be read here:
On the same site, you can read our “Position Paper in Support of a Two-State solution.”
Each of these statements reflects the position of the American Reform Zionist Movement representing 1.5 million American Reform Jews.
ARZA’s website can be found at http://www.arza.org/ –
See the section “Statements and Position Papers” and then scroll down to read each of these positions.
Note: I serve as National Chair of ARZA. Rabbi Joshua Weinberg is President of ARZA.
My book “Why Judaism Matters – Letters of a Liberal Rabbi to His Children and the Millennial Generation” is a common sense guide and road map for a generation of young men and women who find Jewish orthodoxy, tradition, issues, and beliefs impenetrable in 21st Century society. By illustrating how the tenets of Judaism still apply in our modern world, I offer direction not only to my own sons but to the sons and daughters of Reform Jews everywhere. My sons, Daniel and David, have written the Afterword. The book will be published on September 26 by Jewish Lights Publishing (a division of Turner Publishing).
Why Judaism Matters -Letters of a Liberal Rabbi to his Children and the Millennial Generation
Rabbi John Rosove
6 x 9, 240 pp, Paperback, 978-1-68336-705-5
Why Judaism Matters: Letters of a Liberal Rabbi to his Children and the Millennial Generation – Kindle edition by Rabbi John Rosove.
An Israeli Orthodox mother of five and a visionary out-of-the-box thinker and social activist, Tehila Friedman-Nachalon is one of the founders of the ‘Yerushalmit Movement’ that works to make Jerusalem an inclusive and vibrant city. She is a former Chairwoman of ‘Ne’emanei Torah Va’Avodah,’ a religious Zionist movement that works to strengthen openness in the Orthodox world and unity in Israeli society promoting pluralism and democratic values, is a member of the staff of a non-profit organization called “Kolot” (I.e. “voices”), and she is among the founders and board members of “Yerushalem,” a coalition of civic organizations working for an inclusive Jerusalem.
Tehila met with my synagogue leadership group earlier this month in Jerusalem and shared hers and her colleagues’ efforts to bridge the gaps that exist between the many different minorities living in Jerusalem. The greater goal of the ‘Yerushalmit Movement,’ she explained, is to help Jerusalem fulfill its deepest purpose and mission, to be a “City of Peace” in which all the religious, ethnic, and national groups can join in the pursuit of the fulfillment of common interests and thereby improve civic life.
The organization’s primary areas of focus are to strengthen the social fabric of neighborhoods, to cultivate women’s leadership, to empower residents in grassroots social action, to facilitate cross-community collaboration, to improve education, infrastructure, health and culture, to improve the quality of life for young families, to develop common language between many diverse groups, and to reclaim the public sphere as tolerant and pluralistic.
Tehila is on the staff of Kolot, a non-profit organization with the mission
“to create a moral, value-based society in the State of Israel that can be an example to all nations,…to train networks of leaders throughout Israel to use Jewish ethical principles as the basis for creating a values-driven vision for the Jewish State.”
Its seven pillars include:
“Principles of equality and justice, the role of dialogue and respectful disagreement as a basis for democracy, the importance of humility, modesty, and personal sense of mission for healing and repairing ourselves and the world.” Kolot insists that building “a homeland for the Jewish people in the land of Israel was never only about creating a place of safety and survival for Jews, although these were important aspects of the need for a Jewish state. The dream was … to build a model society based on Jewish ethical principles and spiritual ideals.”
Tehila spoke to us specifically about Jerusalem’s diversity of populations and how so often they either have nothing to do with one another or are uncooperative and hostile in relationship to each other. She compared Jerusalem to a pie with every slice representing a different community. Those members of their respective communities towards the crust are the most difficult people to deal with, the extremists and absolutists, who won’t work with other groups and who make life in Jerusalem so fractured, contentious, and balkanized.
Those in the pie’s middle, though a small group, are people open to finding common ground based on their shared interests. The Yerushalmit Movement has sponsored discussion circles and cultural experiences in West Jerusalem’s Zion Square that engage individuals and groups in dialogue and face to face encounters that dissipate barriers of fear that perpetuate conflict. It has sought as well to strengthen the LGBTQ community of Jerusalem, to re-brand Jerusalem not as a center of conflict, but as a center of dialogue and peace. From August to April 2016, the organization held 32 events in Zion Square serving nearly 10,000 people in collaboration with tens of local organizations, groups, and professionals.
The Yerushalmit Movement has also developed a women’s leadership program based in conflict neighborhoods that bring together women from across the spectrum including ultra-Orthodox and secular Jews to work on joint neighborhood projects that further the social good.
Tehila is a grassroots activist and organizer. I was so impressed by her vision, eloquence, dynamism, and humility that I asked her if she had considered running for a seat in the Knesset. She smiled and said she was thinking seriously about doing so – probably Yesh Atid. “Good,” I said. “The government needs more people like you.”
Tehila Friedman-Nachalon is yet another bright Israeli bright light who brings honor to the Jewish people and the State of Israel.
As we walked the halls of the Max Rayne Hand in Hand Jerusalem School for students grades kindergarten through 12th grade (the school was founded in 1998 with 20 students and today has 696 students enrolled), the students were passing together between classes, laughing and talking as one might expect in any high school in Israel or America. But this is a different kind of school and there was much more than meets the eye here.
The students all appeared alike, but this is not a normal secular Israeli high school. It is a bi-lingual school, an experiment in bringing the diversity of students that live in Jerusalem together to learn about each other, to hear each other’s narratives, to discover the beauty in each other’s respective cultures, to work through stereotypes and prejudices, and to become friends and partners in a shared society.
The school is a microcosm of Jerusalem’s urban diversity and has students coming from Jewish and Arab neighborhoods all over East and West Jerusalem and includes Arab Christian, Muslim, Armenian Christian, Druze, Mizrahi, Ashkenazi, and Ethiopian Jews, and increasingly more religiously observant Jewish students.
The high school is like all good academic Israeli secular high schools, but Yad b’Yad includes what the directors describe as “a unique and supportive environment as our students become teenagers and prepare for life as adults after school, with dialogue groups, expressive arts, volunteering, and extensive civic studies.”
In the elementary school, all classes are taught by one Jewish and one Arab teacher. The kids learn Hebrew and Arabic, and the reality of racism and violence that characterize so much of the contact between Israelis and Palestinians does not exist here. It is what Mohammed Darawshe, the Director of Givat Haviva, told us is “a perfect model of a school in a shared society.”
Yes, Palestinian Arab citizens and Palestinians living in East Jerusalem have different perspectives and experiences than do Israeli Jewish citizens. But they talk and argue and listen and become friends.
I was moved deeply when I heard that during tense times such as the recent knife terror and the crossing points between East and West Jerusalem closed, Palestinian students living in East Jerusalem could not get home from school that is located in the southern area of West Jerusalem within sight of the Israeli neighborhood of Gilo beyond which is Bethlehem. So, what did they do? The Israeli Jewish students invited the East Jerusalem Palestinian students to stay in their homes until the checkpoints opened again. This could last days to weeks.
The school’s founders and leadership describe its mission as follows:
“Our Mission at Hand in Hand is to create a strong, inclusive, shared society in Israel through a network of Jewish-Arab integrated bilingual schools and organized communities. We currently operate integrated schools and communities in six locations with 1,578 Jewish and Arab students and more than 8000 community members. Over the next ten years, we aim to create a network of 10-15 schools supported and enhanced by community activities, altogether involving more than 20,000 Jewish and Arab Israeli citizens. Jews and Arabs – learning together, living together – and inspiring broad support for social inclusion and civic equality in Israel.”
Yad b’Yad is yet another grassroots effort to bring peace to the land of Israel/Palestine. Truly a bright light in our journey as a Temple Israel of Hollywood Leadership mission to Israel.
See the Yad b’Yad website for more information – https://www.handinhandk12.org/inform/why-we-exist