Not in the heavens, but user-friendly

An unusual happening at Kfar Blum next week is an attempt to create a conversation among many very different kinds of people.

Ofer Gavish_521 (photo credit: Adi Hadar)
Ofer Gavish_521
(photo credit: Adi Hadar)
The Lo Bashamayim Festival taking place at Kfar Blum next week (July 5-7) is possibly the most eclectic event in our national cultural calendar.
It is difficult to grasp the expansiveness of the topics covered during the three days.
Consider a session entitled “Atheism in the Teachings of Rabbi Kook,” or “The Binding of Naomi – Private Trepidation in the National Songs of Naomi Shemer”; or “Feminine Identity, Masculine Identity, Jewish Identity in the Holocaust and Thereafter.”
Or, indeed, “Muscular Zionism,” which looks at sport and body culture in Zionism through the ages.
The formats are varied too, with panel discussions, lectures, music, comedy and trips to nearby sites of biblical and more recent historical significance.
Dr. Micha Goodman appears to be the ideal guest speaker for such a wide-ranging event, which goes by a highly appropriate name: “Lo bashamayim,” Hebrew for “not in the heavens.”
It is a term that appears in Deuteronomy, conveying the idea that the Torah and its commandments are user-friendly and easily accessible to us all.
The 36-year-old kippa-wearing lecturer and author has been expounding the virtues of an open mind on religion, both for the observant and the secular, for some years now.
The father of twin daughters, Goodman lives in Kfar Adumim and is a major player on the crosssectoral study scene, advocating an all-embracing approach to Judaism through his work as head of the Ein Prat Israel Academy for Leadership, as a Jewish philosophy lecturer at the Hebrew University, and as a researcher at the Hartman Institute.
He also has an interesting family background which, he says, helped open him up to other beliefs and approaches to life.
“My parents were born in the United States. My mother was a Roman Catholic – a very frum Roman Catholic – from a very passionately religious Catholic family. We’re talking about crosses everywhere, and my mom’s uncle was very high up in the Vatican.
“My mom converted when she was 21 and her family took that very badly. She was ostracized.”
But things worked out in the end. The family eventually accepted Goodman’s mother’s “betrayal”; and today Goodman says he has a wonderful relationship with his Catholic relatives, and that they enjoy a very open and mutually beneficial dialogue.
“I am inspired by my Catholic cousins, and that also gives me insight into Christianity. I am a proud Jew, and my roots are Christian.”
Some of that will come across at next week’s Lo Bashamayim gathering, which is now in its 13th year.
“The festival has a very loyal following,” says Goodman. “You see the same people coming back year after year.”
He adds, however, that the festival does not appear to have across-the-board appeal.
“We get youngsters and then older people – say from their late fifties and up – all quite comfortable financially. But I think that’s only natural.
“When you’re in your thirties and forties, you are busy with caring for your family and with developing your career. You have less time for other things.”
Goodman says he has always straddled two worlds.
“There is something very American in me, and I am 100-percent Israeli. I feel I am 100% secular, and 100% religious. I feel there is something Christian in me, and I feel very, very Jewish. That makes me feel alienated in both worlds – but also at home everywhere.”
But Goodman says he is not alone in that mind-set.
“I think there are many people out there who have that sort of background. Look at [President Barack] Obama, with his mother from Kansas and his father from Kenya, from a Muslim family.
The question is whether you have no home, or many homes.”
Goodman takes that approach into his teaching work, and into his viewpoint on Judaism. It also makes him a perfect participant in the forthcoming Kfar Blum event. “Lo Bashamayim is an attempt to create a conversation where there are many different topics and different kinds of people having that conversation.”
Goodman feels the time is ripe to conduct open dialogue between the different camps, and that people on both sides of the religious divide are more open than ever to lending an ear. The proof of the pudding is in the eating.
“Look at my book The Secrets of the Guide to the Perplexed, which has been a best-seller for 22 weeks. Can you believe that?” The said tome casts a broad light, in layman’s terms, on the 12th-century seminal work by the Rambam (Maimonides).
”I have been signing copies at the Hebrew Book Week, and most [buyers] have been secular people. People are starving for this.
“I think Lo Bashamayim is testimony to a tremendous trend we have in Israel today, of a new hunger for Judaism that is not a hunger for becoming religious,” Goodman continues. “It is about bridging the identities we already have.
“For the religious, it is about opening up; for the secular, it is about connecting. The two ends meet somewhere that is very healthy. I think that is creating a new Israeliness.”
Goodman is very upbeat about the way things are moving here right now.
“When [musician] Ehud Banai wants to fill a hall, he sings piyutim [classical liturgical music] and [pop star] Kobi Oz performs ‘Mizmorei Nevuchim’ [Songs for the Perplexed]. We are the first people to tack into a new zeitgeist, and people realize something is changing.
“It’s an exciting time, when we are not trying to express who we are not, but who we are. Lo Bashamayim is going to be packed, and there is a real excitement about the festival.”
The issue of common ground will be addressed at 4 p.m. on July 5, at the opening session of the festival, called “Israel, a Country of All Its Tribes?” The first item features University of Haifa lecturer and historian Prof. Fania Salzberger and Bar-Ilan University lecturer and philosopher Prof. Yedidia Stern, moderated by media personality Tallie Lipkin-Shahak.
That will be followed by “Facing the Glass Booth,” which examines how the Eichmann trial in 1961 impacted on our national identity and the place of the Holocaust in our everyday lives.
The session features author Haim Gouri, who attended the trial and later wrote a book called Facing the Glass Booth: The Jerusalem Trial of Adolf Eichmann, and Jewish history professor Dina Porat, who also serves on the board of the International Center for Holocaust Studies and is the academic adviser to the Task Force for International Cooperation on Holocaust Education, Remembrance and Research.
The discussions and lectures will be interspersed with musical and other entertainment slots, the first day’s proceedings closing with media personality Jackie Levy’s comic Havruta show.
For Goodman, much of the meaningful enterprise at Lo Bashamayim will take place during downtime.
“I see people who skip some session or other and just sit around, religious and secular, to discuss and, yes, even to argue over some topic or other,” he says.
“That’s healthy. That’s what I like.”
For tickets and more information about Lo Bashamayim: call 1-700-70-77-76, or go to the festival web site at: