I spent Thursday afternoon in Arab East Jerusalem with my old rabbinical school classmate, Arik Asherman, who is the Israeli director of Rabbis for Human Rights, an organization that works to support the civil liberties of both Jews and Palestinians. Arik is a courageous leader. I don't always agree with his political stands, but I never cease to admire his bravery and his commitment to justice. Last week, he was hit by a rock thrown by a West Bank settler, as he was helping to protect a group of local Arabs plowing their fields in the face of resistance from some of the fanatical right-wing settlers.
We spent a few hours in parts of the city that Jews seldom visit. When Israeli politicians speak of "one Jerusalem, undivided" they are voicing a pipe dream. I don't have any solutions to the political quandry of Jerusalem, and I am not advocating its division. Yet practically-speaking, this is indisputably a deeply divided place.
We spent time talking with some Arab residents who are living in tents, having been evicted from their homes by right-wing settlers, supported by the Netanyahu government. The settlers' claims to these homes are based on their assertion that prior to 1910, this had been Jewishly-owned land. This is currently being disputed in court, but of course it is a very bad precedent; after all, there are certainly plenty of Jews living on land that was in Arab hands prior to 1910, and we surely don't want to say that gives the Arabs the right to throw those Jews out of their houses.
The most prominent of these evictee-protesters is a woman in her sixties, whose husband died of a heart attack just two weeks after they lost their home. Arik translated back and forth between Hebrew and Arabic. It was a fascinating, and very sad discussion. We don't want to believe that Israeli is capable of such unjust actions. I am a staunch Zionist who adamantly rejects the anti-Israel rhetoric coming from the media and most of the world, and I am well-aware that these matters are often quite complex. Yet I simply cannot see anything that justifies leaving a sick and elderly Arab couple homeless so that a few ultra-Orthodox settlers can live in Arab East Jerusalem for a pittance. This is both immoral and, politically, idiotic. My love for Israel does not make me uncritical. Just as I believe that American patriotism compels me to speak out when I see the United States acting unjustly, so, too, should Israelis and other Jews lovingly criticize Israel when it fails to live up to its own high ideals, grounded in our Jewish tradition. We are not Hamas or Hezbollah. We are a fundamentally good and decent nation here, which has done many remarkable things. But we are not perfect, and should strive to do better than we have done in such cases in East Jerusalem.
I returned home in time to celebrate the beginning of Shavuot, the celebration of the giving of the Torah. My in-laws joined with Janet and Jonah and Rachel and me for a delicious holiday dinner of blintzes and ice cream, as dairy food is the traditional fare for this festival.
On Shavuot morning, we all went off to Congregation Kol Haneshama, the Reform synagogue here in my neighborhood of Bakaa. It is about a seven minute walk from our apartment; one of the amazing things about Jerusalem is that you pretty much always have five or more synagogues within a ten minute walk!
The service was wonderful. Besides the usual holy day liturgy--Hallel psalms, reading of the book of Ruth, special prayers and tunes--the morning featured "STorah-telling," which is a dynamic, inspiring and creative presentation that truly brings the Torah portion to life for the community. In the middle of the traditional Torah reading, members of the community used drama, dance, music and dialogue to engage the congregation in the words of the portion. The leitmotif of the program was: "We were all at Sinai!" The STorah-telling asked us all to reflect on our own memories of receiving Torah. Jewish tradition teaches that we each heard God's voice according to our own power, in our own unique way. I left shul feeling deeply connected, over space and time, to Torah and the Jewish people.
Shavuot was followed by Shabbat, so I was back at Kol Haneshama for kabbalat Shabbat services in the evening. In between, we had naps and lunch, and a very nice visit with Rabbi Asherman and his wife, Rabbi Einat Ramon, who directs the Israeli rabbinical program for the Conservative (Masorti) movement here in Jerusalem. Then, on Shabbat afternoon, Janet and I attended a kind of Kaufman family reunion at the apartment that my in-laws are renting, around the block from us. I got to meet many of Janet's cousins and great-aunts and uncles, and we all had a great time, continuing to feast on dairy delights and share conversation about the joys and struggles that mark life here in the Jewish state.
Tanya finishes her program this evening and will be with us for the next few days before heading off to visit friends in Nes Tziyonna (near Tel Aviv) and then back to Boise on June 9. It will be good to have her with us.
Shavua tov--a good and peaceful week to all.