About two months ago (June 1st, to be exact), I made a public post on Facebook about something many of my friends and family were unaware of—“So, big announcement. Today I am boarding a flight for Jerusalem and returning in a year. Afterwards I am off to Cincinnati!!!”
This news should have come as no surprise for most. Studying, working and living in Israel are part of every rabbi’s and rabbinical student’s journey. Yet many were unaware that my journey would lead me to Israel for a year.
Since my last Facebook post, last in-person contact with loved ones in the States and last days of teaching and leading Shabbat service at Greenwood House in Ewing, I have settled into Jerusalem.
I wanted to take a moment to update everyone with some of the most prominent events since I have landed in Israel.
Upon arrival on June 2nd, our pet Gizmo was quarantined for about a week. We settled into our apartment in Jerusalem. I began ulpan and met new classmates.
About a week into settling into Jerusalem, there was a large parade on our street. Thousands were celebrating Jerusalem Day, a day that celebrates the uniting of Jerusalem following the Six-Day War. My wife and I, on the way home to King George Street, found ourselves in the center of the parade. Everyone was singing and dancing. Someone handed me an Israeli flag. I felt proud to be an American-Israeli on June 5th (the day Jerusalem Day fell on this year). However, my emotions were complex. On one hand, I felt pride for my country, yet on the other, I was upset to see so many Israelis wearing stickers with oftentimes offensive rhetoric. The extreme political right appeared to have hijacked the message of Jerusalem Day for its own political gains. Religious Zionism and a united Jerusalem should not be hijacked by these messages, yet they have been, and increasingly so.
After the parade, I continued to settle into the city. About a week or two passed until the next great political hailstorm in Israel—a series of terrorist attacks. The attacks were horrific. Degrees of separation are limited in a country of only about 6.5 million Jews. Two degrees of separation lay between myself and one of the victims.
The next great hailstorm to pass came only weeks later. The Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem visited Robinson’s Arch. Egalitarian communities in Israel have long been awaiting expansion to the tiny prayer space near the main plaza of the Kotel, otherwise known as Robinson’s Arch. Upon arrival to Robinson’s arch he had a temporary mechizah erected. The Rabbi’s act was perceived as inflammatory by most in Liberal Jewish communities. What followed was a rapid deterioration of Orthodox and Reform/Conservative relations in Israel.
I really was upset to see these two communities brought to such hostility between one another. We are one people, Am Yisrael. The voices that are heard on both sides should only be messages cloaked in love, not hate or bitterness. This dialogue needs to be created in Israel.
A series of egalitarian services was ended after several official and unofficial intimidations aimed at the egalitarian prayer space at the Kotel Plaza.
I ventured hesitantly to one of the prayer services. On one hand, I was upset over broken promises to expand the egalitarian prayer space at Robinson’s Arch, and I wanted to show my support for the cause. On the other, I was fearful. After all, at the first service, punches were thrown. At the second service, someone threw a water bottle at me while I was engaging in songs with the egalitarian group. I really felt the message was not being heard. Expansion on Robinson’s Arch was promised once again following the closing of the services; however, I am still waiting to actually see anything beyond hot air blown in our direction.
Since the closing of the last egalitarian prayer service held at the Kotel Plaza, there has been one last major event I have been a part of in Israel. About a week and a half ago, I participated in a march in Jerusalem that was over 20,000 people strong in support for LGBTQ inclusion in Israel—a Pride parade. We passed over the location where Shira Banki had been killed last year during the same march. This year was quiet by comparison, yet the peace of these events can be shattered so easily and unfortunately at any moment.
Several weeks passed rather quietly after the LGBTQ Pride parade until the eve of Tisha B’Av, where we are today. I miss everyone—friends and family at Greenwood House and Kehilat HaNahar. I look forward to seeing you all soon, in a year.