I am writing this at the end of my stay in Israel. I have been here for more than six weeks. Weeks in which I was not the only one to move from one profound experience to another, for the country did the same. For many months there have been protests, which only intensified over time. Four weeks into my stay here the Knesset approved Netanyahu’s controversial legislation, which curtails the Supreme Court’s power.
The weeks have also seen violence. On the day I arrived in June a group of settlers went into the village of Turmusaya and created destruction. Houses and cars were set on fire and one man was killed. I visited Turmusaya in the last week of my stay here. Then I spoke to the mayor and witnessed some of the burnt out places. More than 90% of the town’s inhabitants are American-Palestinians, who moved to the village on their retirement. It was hard to witness, yet there was also a sense of hope and defiance. Some of their children expressed the desire to join their parents and move to Turmusaya in the coming year.
Being here has brought the difficult political situation to the fore. It is of course on the forefront of everyone’s mind. One Sunday morning I joined a group of rabbis and comics, who meet every Sunday in a spacious grand café in Baka, Jerusalem, where they discuss life in general as well as the parashah of the week. I have rarely seen the bible read with more urgency for its time, in a way that was both funny (there were comics after all) and deeply serious.
And all of this is part of everyday life. On one of my first days in Tel Aviv I was introduced to the
city’s wonders by a friend: I drank my first etrog juice at Etrog Man, I saw the divided shops for
sabich (pita stuffed with fried aubergine, hard boiled eggs, salad and tahini) and falafel of the
brothers Frishman, and I walked through part of the white city. My bus back to the apartment was
delayed, yet I did not make much of that until much later, when I realised that its delay was a result
of an attack at a bus stop in the northern part of the city. One of my classmates at Ulpan lived in
that same street. “Close to the attack?”, our concerned teacher asked. “Oh no,” was the casual
response, on the other end.
My stay was mostly organised by myself and one fellow student from LBC, but from time to time we joined a group of reconstructionist rabbinical students on visits to the Westbank, the Galilee and the Negev. In the first week, I studied at Pardes, in Jerusalem, where I also attended the inauguration of a brand new, very white torah scroll. It moved me to see the new scroll and to think of the various scrolls I normally leyn from, including ours’, and of theirhistories. The scribe must have read my thoughts for he too spoke of scrolls with complex histories. A scroll, he said, is not just the text, but it is also its history. He hoped for a good history for this one. (In the picture you see him ready to write the last three vowels. The ink-pot is on the scroll, safely on a piece of paper.) My travels also brought me on a late night bus to Jerusalem, when the protests combined with a computer error completely stopped all trains in the country. A woman sat down next to me and we started talking. She had made aliyah forty years ago, from Hendon. The journey became a conversation about North London, Kabbalah and the difference between British and Israeli cucumbers.
There is of course much more to tell: of beautiful quiet nights walking back to my hotel in
Jerusalem, of praying with the Women of the Wall, of swimming in very warm water in Yafo, of the
many beautiful murals, of the enormous cockroaches, of erev shabbat service in the park, of the
wonderful hospitality I received. I am still gathering my thoughts and I am sure I shall return to
some of my experiences in the weeks and months to come. I am looking forward to seeing many of you in the first weekend of September when we start our preparation for the Yamim Noraim. The services on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, will be led by two wonderful future colleagues of mine, and many of you are leading parts as well. As always, do contact me for a conversation, with concerns, or with joyful stories.
The best way to contact me is to send an e-mail, so we can find a good to time for us to meet.