One of the very unique moments in my life was to experience snow in Jerusalem. I was not the only one who felt the same way. On the day I visited Barbara Goldstein, the Deputy Director of Hadassah and Board Member on KKL-JNF, Jerusalem was covered in snow, and the city was struggling in the aftermath of the heaviest snow storm for over hundred years . It was the first time I saw Jerusalem in white; the second time I was visiting the beautiful and modern Hadassah Hospital in Ein Kerem. Although the city has a colorful history with people from various ethnic and religious backgrounds, everyone was in the same situation after the storm whether they were religious or secular.
Carob flower. KKL-JNF Photo Archive
Barbara Goldstein starts explaining that “usually when people say they are secular they are actually saying that “we are not them: we are not the ultraorthodox”. They literally see it as black and white. They don’t see that there are lot of colors in Judaism. You have to identify as a Jew, not just as an Israeli.”
What are the greatest challenges Israel is facing today? One of the challenges is understanding what the Jewish identity means. “Many times people do not understand the values of Judaism. For instance, Shabbat is a national holiday, but they don’t see the religious connection. It is further away than it was before.”
In the early years of Israel, the separation between religion and the state was a breakaway from the religion for the new Israelis, the ‘Ben-Gurions’, as Barbara Goldstein puts it; “they rebelled, but they knew they were rebelling against the nineteenth and twentieth century Europe; they were persecuted in every place they went.”
“Have you seen the movie ‘Fiddle on the Roof’? In one of the scenes in this movie, the people are singing and dancing as they are leaving one town. Golda Meir saw the movie, and afterward she was asked what she thought about the movie, to which she answered: ‘I don’t remember that in the midst of a pogrom we left singing’.”
What should Israel, Hadassah and other Zionist organizations such as KKL-JNF and Keren Hayesod do to enhance the Jewish identity? According to Barbara Goldstein, “we have to build Jewish life with the identity and identification that Israel is the greatest gift to the Jewish people in two thousand years. They need Judaism.”
New Zionism: Mordechai Kaplan was a Reconstructionist Rabbi, who wrote a book called “New Zionism” in which he talks about his concept ‘Judaism as peoplehood’. Barbara Goldstein explains that “according to Kaplan’s concept of Judaism, it is a civilization of which religion is the key part; it is like a wheel: culture, history and language surrounds it, and in the center of the wheel is Israel. In the Bible it was referred as ‘Am Israel’. That spoke to me.”
“The peoplehood supersedes everything; it also complicates everything. That’s why we survived as people. No other religion has the relationship of the land like Judaism. You may actually not observe all the 613 commandments, but that doesn’t exclude you from being part of these people.”
From Orthodox Judaism to Conservative Judaism: Barbara Goldstein serves in the Board of Trustees of the Rabbinical School. She was raised in an Orthodox Jewish family, but when she was a teenager she started to look for something else and the movement of Conservative Judaism started to interest her. It gave her opportunities for quicker change. “I loved the Zionist connection of Conservative Judaism”, explains Mrs. Goldstein. “Also because of this Zionist connection, Hadassah was most connected to the Conservative movement.”
“In the past there was never a conservative, reform or orthodox Jew; there was just Jews. Some people observed more, some observed less, but they were all Jews. Everything changed in Europe in the eighteenth century when people wanted to think outside of the traditional pattern; that is how Reform Judaism developed as a breakaway from to the others, namely, from the Orthodox Judaism. In fact there was never a movement called orthodox. The Orthodox were just Jewish,” explains Barbara Goldstein.
“Theologically, Conservative Judaism believes that the Torah, the five books of Moses, is inspired by God; Moses is inspired by God; maybe many people on the way edited, but it was a revelation.” Another interesting thing about the Conservative Judaism is that they were the first to introduce ‘bat mitzvah’ tradition. “Everybody thinks that ‘bat mitzvah’ was always there from four thousand years ago but is it only from 1826” recalls Barbara Goldstein.
Investing in education is investing in future: “You have to be willing to invest. People want to invest in things they see: planting forests, building cities. These are things we can see. When we invest in education we do not see the results right away, therefore it is investing in the future.”
In order to explain her point, Barbara Goldstein tells a story about how investing in the future is also about believing: At around 100 BCE there lived a famous Jewish man named Honi Ha-Ma’agel who often is related to the Tu Bishvat holiday, when a new generation of trees is planted. ”One day Honi Ha-Ma’agel decided to plant a carob tree. After he had done so people came to him and asked: “why are you planting a carob tree? It will take 70 years to see its fruits.” And he said “it is not for me but for the future generations”. That’s what education is all about: planting and not seeing the fruit of your labor.”
“But when you don’t plant, the future generations suffer, which is really what is happening in America. It is a major investment that we call educational sustainability. You will have to set priorities. There is an American community that travels to many places but when it comes to Israel they say “I will get there”. But that should be the destination number one. This is what education is all about.”
Tu Bishvat and the Carob Tree: “I did not know that carob is soft, because when we had Tu Bishvat in America carob was as hard as a rock and we never eat it. Yet this was until I traveled to Israel. I heard someone say there is no law that says it has to be a dry fruit. It became dry fruit because it was the only fruit that survives the long journey to the Diaspora while it could be fresh fruit”, explains Barbara Goldstein.
”When I was a kid, the carob reminded me of the connection to the land of Israel; it reminded me that every tree you planted was a tree of redemption of the land; redemption that had not been done until the days the Jewish people returned to the Promised Land. There is nothing more exciting than that.”
“Did you know that the planting of a forest, for instance in Beer Sheva River Park, which was planted by KKL-JNF, is a twice as expensive as planting a forest elsewhere, because you just can’t plant a forest in a desert; you have to do much work. The fact that you can do this today is a miracle itself. It will push the desert back another 50 miles.”
I dreamed of coming to Israel: “All of a sudden I realized that I am of the generation that when I read and close my eyes ‘Next year in Jerusalem’, it speaks of the return to Zion. I am part of the generation that for first time in two thousand years can actually go and do it. In the past the great rabbis were leaders in the Zionist movement. If you read the prayers, and study history, it leads you to be here. This is something that I identify with.”
Now it is time to end our chat with a small talk about the weather; we talk about the recent snowfall in Jerusalem. Barbara Goldstein tells me how the snow reminds her of why she is here in Jerusalem and not there, in New Jersey. “As somebody from the east coast, you don’t miss the weather; you come to Israel for the weather. I did not come from Florida or California. The weather is a reminder that at the end of the day, even though we think we can control our destiny, we don’t.”