Guests, or as they are called in the Jewish tradition "ushpizin," are one of the most important symbols of Succot. These guests don't have to be visitors from afar - sometimes they can even be neighbors. In Jerusalem planned to bring together into its virtual succa two locals whose personal lives have become identified with their public service. Two people born in Jerusalem, both from the same generation, who know of each other though they have never met: the head of the Center for Jewish Pluralism, a feminist and a Reform Jew, Anat Hoffman, and ZAKA rescue and recovery organization founder and former member of the extremist anti-Zionist Eda Haredit, Yehuda Meshi-Zahav. The original plan was to bring them together in Hoffman's home for a conversation about the issues that are intrinsic to both of their identities: public service, life in Jerusalem, Judaism and tikkun olam (repairing the world). But on Thursday evening, when Meshi-Zahav didn't come to the interview, he did not answer his telephone or reply to messages, for Hoffman the implication was clear: Meshi-Zahav had gotten cold feet, or he had been told by his rabbis not to meet with a woman - especially a Reform one - under any circumstances. At 10:30 p.m., Meshi-Zahav finally made contact: He was stuck in a meeting of the Homefront Command in Tel Aviv that had lasted longer than planned and he suggested another meeting time. But by then, Hoffman was already on her way out of the country for vacation. In the end, we decided to ask Meshi-Zahav the same questions that Hoffman had been asked and to present their responses together. Less drama, perhaps, but in our humble opinion, of no less interest, and at times, even of some surprise. BORN IN Jerusalem, Hoffman was first elected to the Jerusalem city council in 1988. In her first five-year term, she and other members of the Ratz-Shinui list served as members of Teddy Kollek's coalition. In her second term as part of Meretz, she was a member of the vocal opposition to then-mayor Ehud Olmert's coalition of Likud and haredi elements. Married with three children, she is a psychologist by training. Her career in politics was preceded by a background of activism in consumerism, human rights and religious pluralism. For a brief period, she worked as a journalist, covering consumer issues for a local weekly. Since 2003, she has been the head of the Israel Religious Action Center, where she and her staff - mostly attorneys - launch legal battles in the High Court of Justice on behalf of new immigrants, minorities and converts, and cover various cases of civil rights violations. Hoffman was raised by American parents in Jerusalem and was given a bourgeois liberal education, supplemented by degrees from UCLA and Bar-Ilan University, both in psychology. Always a goal-oriented over-achiever, as a teenager Hoffman broke the Israeli record for sprint swimming for women and won the Israeli freestyle, backstroke and medley championships. She is a devout Reform Jew, and one of the founders of TALI Bayit Vagan, a liberal religious school where parents are almost as involved in their children's education as the children. Hoffman grew up believing in Zionism and the vision of a Jewish state as a "light unto the nations." Her battles against religious coercion also include her involvement with the Women of the Wall prayer group and its fight for the right of women to pray aloud beside the Western Wall. As for Meshi-Zahav, best known today for his work with ZAKA, which he created in 1995, even he admits that he has come a long way from his previous kind of public activities. "My doings today serve as a sort of atonement for my deeds years ago," he said in an interview with a Hebrew Web site on the eve of Yom Ha'atzmaut 2003, when he was invited to light one of the torches at the official ceremony on Mount Herzl. In that interview, Meshi-Zahav revealed that before accepting the surprising honor, he consulted with rabbis from the Eda Haredit, who encouraged him to do so. His grandfather, Rabbi Yosef Sheinberger, however, did not give him a blessing. The ceremony included the recitation of the sentence, "Le'tiferet medinat Yisrael" (For the glory of the State of Israel) - a Zionist declaration, which Meshi-Zahav said without flinching. Meshi-Zahav is the great-great grandson of Rabbi Avraham Zonnenfeld, commonly considered the head of the non-Zionist haredi community of Jerusalem prior to the first and second aliyot, who grew up under the leadership of his famous relative, Rabbi Amram Blau. Blau conducted the most violent city demonstrations against travel on Shabbat, judges in the High Court, the archeological excavation of the City of David, the construction of Teddy Stadium and Zionism in general. Growing up, Meshi-Zahav would, like his community, fast and sit on the ground to mourn on Yom Ha'atzmaut, as well as wave black flags instead of the Israeli flag. BECAUSE HOFFMAN and Meshi-Zahav are known for their leadership roles in their respective communities and beyond, the first question posed to both was to define leadership and public service. The differences between the two responses were much smaller than one might expect. For Hoffman, public service is rooted in the tradition of the great prophet Yeshayahu, who preached justice and equality. "Not a family tour focused on yourself and your own, but something big, much bigger than yourself, a mission of your conscience, something that burns into your bones and drives you beyond yourself." For Meshi-Zahav, public service is first and foremost "something you know you have to do, a duty that comes before anything else. "It is also something you will keep on doing, though you know perfectly well that not only won't you always be thanked, you may well be criticized, despised, left alone," he says. "A true public servant will never lose faith." When asked about the Jewishness of their public service, both answered positively, though they referenced different contexts. "When I realized that wrongdoings toward others bothered me more than when addressed to me," explains Hoffman, "I understood that what I had in mind was in fact what we call in our Jewish heritage metaknei olam (repairers of the world), and this is exactly what the Israeli society needs more of than anything else - after years of helplessness, censoring any criticism and silent obedience. We need metaknei olam, otherwise we have no hope." For Meshi-Zahav, the connection between the two is a little simpler. "I was born in a family committed for centuries to public affairs," he explains. "My grandfather was secretary of the Eda Haredit, and public needs and issues were the basis of our daily life. "There were always phone calls, requests, needs to fulfill - I grew up in this, for me it's kind of natural," he continues. "I know that there is a notion that those involved in public affairs will always end up telling you that they paid a price for that commitment. Sincerely, I don't understand that. And what about those who are committed to gain lots of money? Don't they and their families pay a price? And for what? "So for me," he says, "it's a natural pursuit, it's part of being Jewish, it's part of the education I give my children, so that they will also, in due course, like I did after seeing it around me, take care of others." "For me, struggling against injustice is my way of being Jewish," adds Hoffman. "Think of the case of King David and Batsheva. He was king, what he did is what most kings did around the world, and yet it was so profound in our tradition that it became a concept: kivsat harash [the parable of the poor man's lamb]. "In those cases, I could explode with Jewish pride," she says. "This is Jewish leadership for me." Since both Hoffman and Meshi-Zahav were born in Jerusalem, the city was an important part of our discussion. When asked to describe what Jerusalem means to them and to distinguish a specific aspect or location, however, Hoffman and Meshi-Zahav encountered their first difference of opinion. Whereas for Meshi-Zahav Jerusalem is first and foremost the "holy city that each Jew bears in his heart," Hoffman spoke of it as a very earthly place with some lofty spiritual connections: the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo. "If I could, I would replace the city council with the Biblical Zoo - its animals and staff," says Hoffman. "On the board of the Biblical Zoo, in perfect harmony, Jews and Arabs, secular and Orthodox sit together, and together they do a tremendous job. "They do great things, the animals live in serenity, and it reflects on everything around - the staff, the board, the visitors," she explains. "There is peace and harmony unlike any other place in this city. "The guides aren't 'modestly' dressed, but no one ever complains," she continues. "It's clean, there's no vandalism, no tension; the place is a kind of Garden of Eden the city could learn a lot from. "This is the only place where you can feel a real pluralism working," she adds. "On the other hand," she says, "think about the holy places in Jerusalem - they should have been like that. After all, isn't it written that 'my house will be a house of prayer for all nations'? "But on the ground, what we see in those places is the lack of tolerance, as if there the beasts were released." "For me, Jerusalem is first and foremost a place of belonging," says Meshi-Zahav. "I belong to Jerusalem, and people who were born here or live here for a long period will always recognize their peers everywhere. Just like Jews identify other Jews wherever they are, so too do Jerusalemites. "For me, to live in Jerusalem is a great privilege, something you have to earn," he continues. "And I believe it is the same for [others] - whether they are Muslim, Christian or secular Jews. You belong here, and once you do, it's never the same again. "Firstly because of the city's special holy atmosphere, again, for all religions," he explains. "It's a place where the connection to heaven is always present: early in the mornings in the Old City alleyways, or late at night in the narrow neighborhood streets and even overnight, prayers are always around, ascending to heaven. "For me, all of Jerusalem is holy. But I especially enjoy the view from one of the surrounding perches - Mount Scopus or the Mount of Olives - at dawn or sunset," he says. "I have no doubt that Jerusalem is the most beautiful city in the world." NOW THAT Jerusalem's significance had been established for each, we asked them to describe the city in its ideal state. For Meshi-Zahav, the Jerusalem of his dreams is "a city of peace, after all, peace is a part of its name." "I believe Jerusalem should be protected not only from violence and war, but also from any plan to change its spirit and character," he explains. "I am convinced, actually I know for sure, that religious people - from all religions - and secular alike, share at least one thing in common: No one here wants to see Jerusalem become like any other city. "In my eyes, Jerusalem will never become just another city. I want Jerusalem to remain always a holy city, for all." Hoffman's ideal vision of the city began with the proposed creation of a multicultural soccer team, where "young Arabs, Christians and Jews play together. "At least once I would like to see residents of Jerusalem, Jews and Arabs, using a personal phone book that would include names from the different communities," she says. "I'd like to see an Orthodox Jew who has a Reform Jew's phone number, a Jew keeping phone numbers of Arabs from the eastern part of the city - and not only of those who repair his car or do his plumbing." Even as their imagined depictions of the holy city differed, when it came down to it they were both adamant that there was no other place they would rather live. With a common ground established, we next asked Hoffman and Meshi-Zahav if they felt of kin, despite all their differences. At first, their connection was unclear to Hoffman. "What do we have in common? After all, he deals with corpses, I deal with citizens' rights." But upon further reflection, she adds: "I have always said that I am his sister, and my hands are extended in peace. But I also have on my shoulders 60 years of refusal, of rejection. "I was excluded, threatened - even physically - by his acts years ago, and today by those who continue in his ancient ways," she explains. "So although I do not retract my statement of me being his sister, it is still his task to prove he feels the same. "And one more thing," she adds. "I would like to hear how Meshi-Zahav sees this rapprochement between him and me, a woman, a non- Orthodox Jew, a Reform Jew. I would like to know how he sees this connection taking shape. I would like him to answer my questions: Is there more than one way to be Jewish? Is Judaism capable of including changes? Does he see any way of partnership or at least some cooperation between his community and the Reform Jews in this city?" For Meshi-Zahav, their connection was more apparent. "Of course we are brethren," he says. "I can't even think of any other option. "I am dedicated to preserving this feeling of belonging to the same bigger thing than each one of us. "I know one thing: Just as I would do anything to help her if I found her in a difficult situation, I know that she would do the same for me, anywhere. So that is not the issue at all." As for cooperation, "Why not? I can think of scenarios [where cooperation could take place]. I heard from you about this sad story of the children of the kindergarten who brought the money they gathered for charity, and the bank requesting a fee for counting the coins. I think it's a scandal, and if Anat goes to court on this issue, I am ready to participate... But that's true also for any other issue regarding children's rights and protection, for me it goes without saying." OUR CONVERSATIONS ended on a pragmatic note, as each was asked to share their imagined actions as mayor of Jerusalem. "I would rule that each resident and community that engages in benevolent actions would enjoy substantial - up to a total - exemption from arnona [property tax]," says Hoffman. "But I insist [that the exemption would apply] only if the benevolent activity is toward another community. Like if you take care of your [immediate] surroundings, it's okay, but only if you improve a quarter where you don't live, would you be entitled to the property tax exemption. "I would also reward every resident who works in education - formal and informal," she adds. "There's more, of course, but I would start with those [measures]." As for Meshi-Zahav, he couldn't resist a small jab at his peers. "First I would get involved in real action and not in PR," he says. "A mayor's duty is not to waste time on photo-ops all day long. "But seriously, I would try to take down all the barriers we have here," he continues. "I don't think religious and secular, Arabs and Jews should live in separate neighborhoods. This is precisely why we all have such horrible prejudice against each other, because we don't know each other. "When I began to be involved in rescuing, the first time was in the Dead Sea region. There I met the guys from a famous rescue team. I knew their reputation - no religion, no observance of mitzvot. And yet, because we shared the same goal and we met and talked, they became my friends," he explains. "That is when I began to review my positions and my activities," he says. "And then came the terror attacks, which didn't differentiate between Orthodox and secular Jews. The rest is history."

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