Thursday, December 1, 2011

Israel Education - Seamless Integration into our curriculum

It's been a while since I've posted. Here is something that I wrote on "The Seamless Integration of Israel into Supplementary School Curriculum," some time ago, back when I was still an Education Director as well as a Student Rabbah. Given all the craziness in Israel and the tenuousness of the relationship between it and today's young, I thought I'd post this. 

For far too many years, Israel has been taught in supplementary schools as the Land of Milk and Honey. It is discussed as a land of abundance, a safe haven for the Jewish people in times of persecution, the land of our forefathers (and foremothers), the land of our people’s inheritance as it states in the Torah. This view of Israel no longer works for the youth of the twenty-first century. They are growing up in a time when Israel has always existed – they have never yearned for Zion of old because modern Israel, today’s Zion, is an actuality. They do not remember what it was like to be Jewish before the existence of the State of Israel. The persecutions experienced by the first generation Jewish immigrants to the United States are not real and urgent, they are the stories of their great-grandparents.
Today’s youth have a different relationship to God and religion than those of the past as well. It is “cool” to question or be scornful of organized religion, the existence of God and one’s relationship to God. For some, religion is still an integral part of their daily lives; for others, religion barely exists in the periphery. The concept of spirituality has taken the forefront – but spirituality can be found without a connection to Judaism, even without a connection to God. Witness Buddhism, a religion and philosophy that is a cornerstone to spiritual practice but as a non-theistic religion does not have a God figure attached to it. Another popular spiritual venue is the study of Kabbalah, particularly in Hollywood. The spirituality being found in this popular Kabbalah is also not God-centered. The Kabbalah Centre International gives a definition of Kabbalah on its webpage that touts the attainment of spiritual wisdom without mentioning Judaism or God.
So where does Israel come in? How do we keep our children connected to Judaism and to Israel in a world that offers so many options? One solution is to take a close look at the curricula in supplementary schools and see how Israel is being taught. What message is the school giving and how is it making Israel relevant to the everyday lives of its students?
I believe that the way that Israel has been taught in the past no longer works. Designing a curriculum that has an Israel focus in one grade (usually fifth) as well as programs for Yom Ha’atzmaut and references during teaching the holidays is not sufficient. This tactic gives the message that “Israel” is a stand alone topic that is not really related to anything else that the students are learning. It is either an afterthought or a subject that the school doesn’t really know what to do with.
The following set of questions can be found in the document “Changes-Israel Then and Now"”: A CurricularGuideline to Accompany the Exhibition Changes” edited by Kiewe, Moskovitz-Kalman, and West.
“‘Israel’ as a learning subject must be revised. A few questions should be asked when approaching to create a learning framework for ‘Israel’:
·         What do we want to teach? “Israel” the concept? ‘Israel’ the holy land?; ‘Israel’ the land of refuge for all Jews?; ‘Israel’ the melting pot?; ‘Israel’ the modern state?, ‘Israel’ as an initial sign coming of the moshiach? (For additional insights, see Dr. Barry Chazan’s article: “What We Know About the Teaching of Israel.”)
·       How do we fill the gap between the land of Israel as perceived by someone whose primary source is the Bible, and reality in the year 2002 as shaped by the modern State of Israel?
·       How can we ensure that the subject of Israel will be periodically upgraded and integrated? What will the process of revising our curriculum include?
·       How can we equip educators, especially those who have not been to Israel, with the sufficient tools to create a change?
·         How can we present difficult issues that exist in the reality of a Jewish State/democracy with non-Jewish minorities in a fair and accurate way – without undermining a sense of loyalty or affinity to the State?”
The idea of seamless integration of Israel into curriculum does not seem very difficult on the surface. Instead of teaching Israel only as a discrete subject, it should be interwoven throughout the curriculum. When holidays are taught, link them to Israel; when discussing Tikun Olam, discuss Israel and ecology; when looking at text, find the link to modern as well as ancient Israel; and when reviewing life cycle events, discuss how they are celebrated by Israelis in addition to Americans. This seems easy enough. So what makes integration of Israel so difficult? And why did it take weeks of research until I could find even a few documents or templates for Israel integration? One answer is that this is still a fairly new endeavor so the examples are few and far between. The programs that do exist are still in the proposal stage or are just finishing their first iterations. According to Gerber and Mazor (2003) “The underlying issue it seems is not an absence of Israel Education but a lack of systematic national planning and thought. With only a few exceptions, comprehensive, multi-disciplinary, developmentally and sequentially appropriate approaches to Israel Education are lacking.”
Any type of change that is systemic, as full integration of Israel into the curriculum of a supplementary school would be, requires buy-in from several different categories of stake holders. In this case they would be Hebrew school committees, teachers, parents and possibly synagogue boards.
To fully integrate Israel into curriculum, several steps must be taken.
1.     The community (school, synagogue or both) must define what it means by the term Israel. Does it mean the modern state (and which aspects of it: religious or secular?), the historical state, or the religious Zion.
2.     The definition must be articulated and transformed into an educational goal. Curricula must be found or developed to support this new goal.
3.     Teachers must be trained to teach all aspects of Israel – with training programs, visits to Israel, etc.
4.     Finally, where do the Palestinians and the Arab-Israeli conflict fit in? How will they be presented? Who will train the teachers to present this information in an objective manner and is it possible? At what age should this be presented?

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

On the road again... redux

Sitting blogging in the airport - Ben Gurion this time.  Have tallit strap marks on my arms, toothpicks in my eyes to mitigate the 1 hour's worth of sleep that I had, and am munching on orange flavoured chocolate covered Elite biscuits. Could be worse. The 6 week summer flew by crazy fast though each day did seem of variable length, as usual.

Nice to be in an airport with free internet. Have a 6 hour layover in London later; Heathrow does not have free internet. Not sure how I'll stay awake, am too tired to go into London for a quick visit as I'd originally planned. Might have to do something terribly old fashioned like read a book!

Also nice to be in an airport where one doesn't stand out as strange when saying morning prayers. I did stand out a bit as a woman wearing a kippah, tallit and tefillin, but who wouldn't:)? At least others are scattered around the room praying as well. It's a nice feeling. Espeically as no one is even glancing in my direction. What a welcome relief after a month in Israel, the jewish homeland but also the nosiest country on earth. I think I might scream if I hear the question "why do you wear a kippah" one more time. Or my favorite variant - do you know what that is on your head? One day I might answer, a dead animal?

Perhaps i shouldn't blog when i am exhausted in mind and body. So I shall stop. Blessed day to all. See you on the other side. Arlene

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Truth - Emet

You shall know the truth, 
and the truth shall make you odd. 

Flannery O'Connor 

אמן סלה

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Pictures of Tantur

altar inside peaceful chapel in Tantur
Some pictures from Tantur.  (See post from 7/8/11 A Rabbah and a Priest)

Amazing view

The sign is right outside Tantur. It is located just outside of the Bethlehem checkpoint.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Shacharit (morning prayer) at Robinson's Arch

Robinson's Arch is the name given to an arch that once stood at the southwestern corner of the Temple Mount. It is informally called the "egalitarian" or Conservative or Liberal part of the Wall as that is where Liberal Jews can pray in mixed minyan - men and women together. Women can wear tallit and tefillin, read from the Torah and take leadership walls. I feel very comfortable at Robinson's Arch. But then again, I also feel comfortable much of the time at the main part of the wall, though I do greatly resent the fact that it has been hijacked by one section of Judaism - the ultra orthodox, and that I am not allowed to pray or dress as I feel is my right as a fully equal Jewish woman.

That being said, one morning the Conservative Yeshiva davened shacharit at Robinson's Arch. It was beautiful being able to daven at a place of such history in whatever manner I was moved to at that moment. Though I was wearing my tallit and tefillin and did have a siddur, I must admit I spent most of my time meditating. My thoughts centered on the awesomeness of the confluence of the space and time and company in which I was praying.  So okay, maybe it was a bit too early in the morning for me, but still, you get the picture :)

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Me and My Kippah

I gave this as a talk in my Homiletics class in the Spring of 2007. For the initiated, homiletics is “the art of preaching or writing sermons.” Anyone who knows me knows that I tend to “preach” as I speak – sometimes that’s a good thing, sometimes not. In this case, it seems to work out just fine.

My next several posts will be about “me and my Kippah.” In actuality they will be about the process I underwent when I decided to cover my head and how it has changed over the years. What is interesting about about this particular process is that several other important Jewish issues in my life seemed to be intertwined with this one particular issue – my comfort level in Israel (not about Israel, mind you, but being in Israel); my Jewish identity, particularly the Reconstructionist part; and finally, how I was able to sort out my relationship to halacha (Jewish law). That’s quite a bit to place “on a little round bit of fabric” as I mention later on in the piece. But it is very strong fabric….

Me and My Kippah
As a woman who wears a kippah all the time, I’ve been subject to the same question over and over - from Jews and non-Jews alike: Why do you wear a kippah? Or more bluntly: what are you doing with that thing on your head?  From non-Jews unfamiliar with a kippah I get asked to explain what the little round thing on my head is.

Sometimes I’m asked quite politely and other times - not so politely - especially in Israel! But I’ll get to that later.

Interestingly, I don’t remember the first time I put on a kippah for real. I say “for real” because as a child I would play at wearing a shmata on my head and a cape or towel around my shoulders and make pretend I was wearing a kippah and tallit like all the boys and grown men did at my day school. At one point I snuck into the principal’s office at the orthodox day school that I went to – looking for potato chips actually – and instead found a kippah, one of those big black ones, lying on his desk.  I tried it on for a minute – and then threw it back on his desk and ran out petrified. It’s a good thing we Jews don’t believe in hell or that would’ve been one of the first times I would have been sent there! For days I was sure Rabbi Cohen could read my mind – or fingerprint my head – and that he knew I had tried on his kippah. Luckily he never did find out – I was safe. 

Fast forward about 15 years. I was in my early 20’s, newly married and faced with a dilemma. What was I going to wear on my head when I went to synagogue now that I was a married woman? I had always assumed that I would wear head scarves – really I have no idea why as no one in my family and few of my friends actually wore head scarves. I was not yet ready to wear a kippah – so I began wearing a hat to shul. I don’t remember when the hat morphed to a kippah, but it was a fairly gradual transformation. A time came when I realized I was wearing a kippah in synagogue fairly often. 

I moved to Maryland in the mid 1990s and began learning to read Torah. I enjoyed reading Torah, practiced diligently and would read regularly. Anytime that I practiced reading Torah or practiced leading a service I would put a kippah on. Then I’d take the kippah off to go back to work (I often practiced layning during my lunch hour), put the kippah on again the next time I practiced, take it off to do whatever, put it back on… you get the picture. One day I just forgot to take it off and it was hours later before I realized that I’d been wearing my kippah all day – and in public!

After that I began wearing my kippah nearly all the time.  Wearing the kippah at home, in shul, in the Jewish agencies in which I worked  or at my childrens’ day school was (fairly) easy; wearing the kippah in public took thought.  I eat in non-kosher restaurants – do I wear a kippah there? I drive on Shabbat – do I wear my kippah when I’m driving or do I take it off? Does Marat Eyin really apply? In other words, will people get the wrong impression if they see me wearing a kippah while I’m driving on Shabbat? And does it matter to me if they do?

Well, it does and it doesn’t.  It’s taken me a long time to understand why I wear a kippah and that dictates when I will wear it. I do it for myself, not for what others may think of me, though I will take appearances into account when warranted.  I wear a kippah because it reminds me that I, as a human being, am not the be all and end all of the universe. There is an awesome power up above me – or perhaps all around me and through me -  and that awesome power is the reason for my being. My kippah keeps me humble when I need to be humbled and grounds me when I need to be grounded.

Some call this Yirat Shamayim – fear of heaven. In fact, in the Talmud, in tractate Shabbat 156b it states Cover your head in order that the fear of heaven may be upon you.  Translate fear of heaven as awe and wonder – and it works for me.   In another part of the Talmud, tractate Kiddushin 31a it states that Rabbi Honah ben Joshua never walked 4 cubits (2 meters) with his head uncovered. He explained: "Because the Divine Presence (Shekhina) is always over my head." And in still other places, the Talmud associates covering one’s head with humility. So I guess my reasons are bound up with all of these.  

Keeping me humble and grounded places a lot of responsibility on a little round bit of fabric. Yet I dare to pile even more on to this responsibility as I require my kippot to match my outfits or my moods –
So… when I am happy I wear a bright colored kippah to reflect my mood, when I’m sad I might wear a bright colored kippah to get me out of my funk – of course, since I can’t see the kippah once it’s on my head I’m not quite sure how this works, but I do it anyway. To continue:  in a silly mood I wear my purplish/pink kippah that has bananas on it – in a serious mood the black kippah, on high holidays the white kippah.

When I need a little extra help or comfort – I wear the grey kippah with white trim.  This is the first – and only – kippah that I ever crocheted; I made it back in 1982 when I was a student in Israel. I originally made it for my then boyfriend/ now husband – but we temporarily broke up so I never gave it to him.  Instead I gave it to my Dad who wore it for over 20 years. He returned it to me just before his Alzheimer’s got to the point that he couldn’t recognize anything anymore. I guess it’s my good luck piece. (*see update below)

I also have my grandfather’s fancy black kippah decorated with silver and gold thread that I have worn on occasion, and that my son wore the first time he read Torah. So kippot also have an intergenerational component to them for me.

In his book  "Guide for the Perplexed," Maimonides states that the early Sages were repelled by a bare head.  Using a twist on Maimonides observation, I will admit that when I am having a bad hair day I will forsake my kippah for a hat. I’m not repelled by a bare head, just by really bad hair!

As we all know, it has long been the tradition that only men wear kippot. In recent times this has changed, but it is still not the norm to see a woman out and about her business with a kippah on her head. In shul, in school – yes in most but not all liberal circles, but not in the street and especially not in Israel.

I have been very fortunate. For most of my time wearing a kippah I have been met with good will by those around me – friends and strangers – non Jews and Jews alike, both liberal and Orthodox. I might get some funny looks and the occasional question but usually I have been treated with respect. When someone – Jew or non-Jew - would ask me why I wear a kippah I’d respond with Yirat Shamayim – fear of Gd and humility, and then say that I am studying to be a rabbi (which technically I have been doing in an informal way for as long as I can remember.) In truth, saying that I am studying to be a rabbi often feels like the coward’s way out– but I am not always in the mood for detailed discussions about Gd or the place of gender in religion.

I do get the occasional dirty looks or snide remarks, usually from someone who is orthodox – but it is rarely from an adult – usually it’s a yeshiva student. I will either ignore them or tell them to treat people with derech eretz, respect.  Luckily for me they are the exception rather than the rule. A good friend of mine gets this reaction all the time when she wears a kippah – the rarity for her is to be ignored or respected with her kippah on. We have yet to figure out why we have such different experiences.

I recently was at Baltimore Washington Airport airport. I took the shuttle bus from the long distance parking lot to the main terminal. An elderly black man was driving the bus that day. He looked at me quizzically when I got on the bus but didn’t say anything. As I was leaving the bus, he asked me “what is that thing that you are wearing on your head?”  I replied that it is called a kippah, a Jewish ritual headpiece. He asked why I was wearing it. I explained that I am a rabbi. He asked what a rabbi is. I said it was a Jewish clergy person – he looked puzzled so I clarified – a Jewish priest.  “Oh,” he replied “I ain’t never heard of that!”

I move in such a defined space, my own little world, that I forget sometimes that there are people who don’t know what kippot are, don’t know what rabbis are – may not know any Jews. Another lesson in humility.

In general, my kippah has not prevented me from doing something that I wanted to do.  I might take it off, or wear a hat over it, temporarily, not because I am ambivalent about wearing a kippah but because I’m not sure of the message that I would be giving at that moment.   

However, there is one thing that my wearing a kippah full time prevented me from doing for far too many years - and that was traveling to Israel.  It troubled me that I was comfortable wearing a kippah in the States but uncomfortable with the idea of wearing one in Israel – the Jewish homeland. Dealing with reactions in the States is one thing – at least there are other women around who wear kippot – even in my own community there are a few other kippah sporting women. But in Israel – well that’s another story. I didn’t know what to do – so I avoided the issue and never went.

It would 18 long years from my last visit to Israel until I went again. And I struggled the whole time about whether or not to wear my kippah “ba-aretz.” I even wrote about it in my admissions statement to Rabbinical school which I wrote just before I left for Israel in the spring of 2006.  I interviewed at RRC just a week or so after I returned from my trip. The first question the interview team had for me was – Well, what did you decide – did you wear a kippah in Israel or not? The answer was yes.

As I explained earlier, I wear a kippah for me, not for what others will think of me. And I have to be myself, regardless of the country I happen to be in at the moment. So I wore my kippah in Israel.  The decision and the experience may have been a bit easier for me than it might have been, because I was with a group of Jewish Educators from the States,  but it was a challenge, none the less. I wore the kippah the entire 10 days I was there, even at the Wall – though I did cover my head with a hat during a walk in one of the more religious, haredi, neighborhoods in Jerusalem – out of a fear of violence.

I thought I’d end my discussion of “Me and my Kippah” with a few kippah related vignettes from my time in Israel.

Not a day passed when I wasn’t asked – lama at loveshet kippah? Or some Hebrew equivalent of what the heck do you think you are doing wearing a kippah on your head? I usually answered that I am studying to be a rabbi and for most that was sufficient. It was a great way to practice my Hebrew. But there were others for whom no answer would satisfy –

The 2 orthodox girls at a rest stop outside of Beit Shemesh who told me it was unnatural for a girl to wear a kippah and I’d never find a man to marry me. When I told them I was married and had been for 20 years – well, they impugned my husband’s reputation (I never told him that part of the story!)

Then, there was the food concession owner across from Nachalat Binyamin in Tel Aviv who got so angry at me because I wouldn’t buy shwarma from his restaurant. I had been going up and down the street looking for a place to buy kosher shwarma – and I couldn’t find one! This particular man became more and more irate as he insisted his meat was kosher even without a t’u-da – the kosher certification. As I politely and quickly backed out of his store – he and a female customer started berating me and my kippah and talking about “those kind of women” – to this day I have no idea what kind of woman they were referring to!

My favorite story though took place in our Jerusalem hotel. An Israeli tour guide was waiting for some people to meet her as our group gathered in the lobby. She began by giving me suspicious side long glances. Then finally she barged into our group and began peppering me with questions: why do you wear a kippah? Oh you’re American? A rabbi student? Which kind – reformi, conservativi? I never heard of reconstructivi – are you sure they are real? You should be careful where you go in Jerusalem – it will be dangerous for you in many areas, you will be stoned – I know, I am tour guide (envision woman with purple-er hair than mine beating her chest as she says this).  As my group stands around me with their mouths hanging open, I politely try to simultaneously answer her questions and rebuff her. She finally glares at me, hurumphs, and walks away – only to return again and say – in Hebrew mind you – what are you anyway, transgender? And then she walks away for good.  I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.

Not everyone I met in Israel was mean to me – for the most part, as I said, they were quite nice. My favorites were the older couple I met in the elevator of our hotel. They were thrilled when I told them that I was studying to be a rabbi. They didn’t know of Reconstructionism but were very happy for me. The gentleman asked when I’d have smicha because they could use me on the local rabbinic council! Whenever we would run into each other after that they would give me encouraging smiles and nods.

When I finally made the conscious decision to wear my kippah all the time, instead of just at the more obligated times of prayer or study, I knew that I was not choosing an easy path. There are still details of daily living to be worked out – in particular those decisions about wearing a kippah at what could be called “questionable” times such as in a non-kosher restaurant or while driving on Shabbat or a holiday. There may come a time I no longer need to wear a kippah to keep me humble and grounded – that I will find another way. But until then, if then, it’s just “Me and my Kippah.”

[*Update 2011 : That kippah literally flew off my head during my 6 month stay in Israel in 2009 when I made some important decisions regarding head coverings. More on that in a later piece of writing.]

Let me conclude with a quiz – what mood do these kippot represent?  (more pictures coming...)

2017 Update
A few things have changed since this was first written. I still cover my head the majority of the time. However, I am now equally comfortable wearing a kippah, hat, or scarf/tichel. I studied the laws of kisui rosh (head covering for women) at the Conservative Yeshiva back in 2009 and at that time decided that it didn’t matter what I covered my head with as long as it was covered. The reasons – yirat shamayaim and anava  still hold true regardless of what type of cloth covers my head.

My final confession – given the political climate of our country at this time, I find myself wearing my kippah almost exclusively. I realized that for the first time I was actually using my kippah as a political statement and not the one that I expected to be making. I always thought that I would be making a feminist statement by wearing a kippah but I find that I am making a religious statement : I am a Jew. And I’m proud of it.

Friday, July 8, 2011

A Rabbah and A Priest

Today's blog entry is a colloboration of sorts - parts are taken from the July 3rd entry of Living in Jerusalem: 40 Days and 40 Nights written by my friend, colleague and former teacher Wil Gafney  The Reverend Dr. Gafney is an Associate Professor of Hebrew and Old Testament at The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia. Wil's parts of the blog will be written in one font and colour, mine in another font and colour.

From Wil's blog: 
Today I had the privilege of walking the Old City with my former student, Rabbah Arlene Goldstein Berger. She took the very first Hevruta class offered between RRC (the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College) and LTSP (The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia) in which individual Jewish and Christian seminarians were partnered to study bible and other sacred texts together. It was a wonderful class, happily repeated two more times, each time co-taught with Rabbi Melissa Heller. Those courses were the vision of Rabbi Doctor Nancy Fuchs-Kreimer who invited Arlene and I to write an inter-faith reflection on our time together for her blog, MultiFaithWorld.

Arlene and I had a series of wonderful, rich conversations and a number of "interfaith moments." The two that stood out to us were our time in the Arab Quarter buying her a Palestinian thobe (traditional dress) that she could lead services in and our time in the (Lutheran) Church of the Redemption.

A priest, a rabbi and a couple of Arab salesmen... 

Our eyes caught the same thobe on the same mannikin at the same time. We went into the store and had a grand time oohing and aahing over the beautifully embroidered thobes. She tried on the one we both liked but it was too big. They had a smaller size and yoffi! (It was beautiful!) She spoke a little Arabic with the merchants and we all had a lovely time talking tennis shoes - New Balance - and music - James Brown and Frank Sinatra.

    (My – Arlene’s Comments – We had so much fun in this shop. Imagine two women in an American suburb go shopping at the mall, find a shop where all the salespeople are men, proceed to try on clothing while the men try to guess their ages (totally incorrectly of course),  try to sell them more than they want to purchase (but not too strenuously), and then a conversation ensues that reminds one a bit of Lucy and Ricky Ricardo.    
    Except… the two women are shopping in the Arab quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem, speaking to each other in English and a bit of Hebrew, and throwing in a bit of pigeon Arabic when entering the shops. With the male shopkeepers (of course the shopkeepers are men  - who else would be selling women’s clothing in the shuk?) we begin to play a game of comparing words in all languages.
    I’ve forgotten the majority of the little Arabic that I once knew – but I retain enough to smooze.  I especially like talking with Arab shopkeepers about how my children both have been learning Arabic for years (okay, my daughter for many years, my son for just 2) at their Jewish schools. This opens a conversation about children and family and values and peace.  Somehow I manage to have these conversations without dredging up too much anger or too many judgments -  just longing and wonder for and about peace – for us, for our children, and our children’s children.
    And when they learned that we weren’t just ordinary women but a Priest and a Rabbah (to be), things got even more interesting.  Where Nike and James Brown come in… I recommend that everyone take their own shopping trips, for the products to be sure but mainly for the conversation.  Words are the first step toward understanding.)

A Rabbah and a Priest Pray...separately, together.

Arlene and I went into the Church of the Redemption. It is a beautiful, quiet, open, light, inviting place. I said the Hail Mary and the Sinner's Prayer for Mercy and she said Ashrei (a prayer based largely on Ps 145). We sat and talked and shared. And when the other pilgrims and pray-ers had left we took some pictures.

    (My – Arlene’s Comments – When I was little I knew with the certainty that only young children have, that if I prayed in a church – if I even walked into a church - I would be struck down and sent to the hell that I was taught that we didn’t actually believe in. And I believed it! For a while anyway. Then I eventually went into churches but I wouldn’t pray, because, well just, because.
    Now, decades later, I will pray whenever and wherever the mood strikes me, in whatever format feels appropriate to me at that moment. For, as I wrote in a post back in February, it is up to each of us to make a Mikdash M’at, a small sanctuary, of ourselves. It is up to us to turn our bodies which are gifts from G-d into containers for the eternal flame of our faith/inspiration and our soaring neshamot/souls.  So on this afternoon, I sat in the back of an amazingly beautiful and peaceful holy space with a good friend who is a teacher of another faith and said the appropriate prayer for my faith’s time of day –– Ashrei Psalm 145, the first prayer of Mincha, the afternoon service.  Devekut can happen anywhere.
    A few lines really jumped out at me:

‎ט To all Your creatures, goodness flows, on all creation, divine love.צ You are just in all Your ways, loving in all Your deeds.
‎ק You are near to all who call upon You; to all who call upon You in truth.
‎ר Responding to the yearning of all those who fear, G-d hears their cry and comes to rescue them.
We will now praise the name of Yah, now and always.  Halleluyah! 

    We ended the day by spending time at The Tantur Institute for Ecumenical Studies where Wil is staying. It is located on the main road between Jerusalem and Beit Lechem (Bethlehem). It’s a quiet, tranquil space perfectly set up for contemplation with nice rooms, open spaces and delicious healthy organic vegetarian food (according to Wil). 
    Wil and I shared conversation about G-d, faith, being a woman clergy-person, what it’s like to work in congregations, in schools, in community, general things about our lives. Two woman.  A Reconstructionist  Traditional Jew in dialogue with Halacha and an Episcopal priest  who is a member of an historic African Episcopal Church as well as a Reconstructionist minyan.  Two women comfortable with G-d. A Rabbah and a Priest….

Next week…. A Rabbah (or 2 or 3) and A Priest go to Kabbalat Shabbat Services on Friday night and Reconstructionist Minyan on Saturday morning (we hope!)

Baruch Hashem – Blessed is the Awesome One, for giving us such amazing opportunities.

Shabbat Shalom

Sunday, July 3, 2011

I am a creature of God and so is my neighbour.

The sages of the academy in Jabnah expressed their regard for all human beings, learned and unlearned, in this manner:

"I am a creature of God and so is my neighbour. He may prefer to labour in the country; I prefer a calling in the city. I rise early for my personal benefit; he rises early to advance his own interests. As he does not seek to sup plant me, I should be careful to do naught to injure his business. Shall I imagine that I am nearer to God because my profession advances the cause of learning and his does not? No. Whether we accomplish much good or little good, the Almighty will reward us in accordance with our righteous intentions."

Abaygeh offered the following as his best advice:
". . . Let him be also affable and disposed to foster kindly feelings between all people; by so doing he will gain for himself the love both of the Creator and His creatures."

Rabba always said that the possession of wisdom and a knowledge of the law necessarily lead to penitence and good deeds. "For," said he, "it would be useless to acquire great learning and the mastery of Biblical and traditional law and act irreverently towards one's parents, or towards those superior on account of age or more extensive learning."

"The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; a good understanding have all those who do God's commands."

Rabba said, "Holy Writ does not tell us that to study God's commands shows a good understanding, but to do them. We must learn, however, before we can be able to perform; and he who acts contrary through life to the teachings of the Most High had better never have been born."

The Talmud: Selections, by H. Polano, [1876], at
Pages 250-251

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

A day of learning in Jerusalem - different voices

Walking around Jerusalem can be amazing. The stone is so white that one is literally blinded by the light. It can take a few minutes for one's eyes to adjust upon entering a building. Then there is the cacophony of languages that is heard on the street. This morning,  as I walked to the yeshiva, I heard Hebrew, English, Russian, Arabic, Spanish, French, something that sounded Slavic but am not sure, several variations of dog and cat languages, birdsong and lots of honking horns. Couldn't understand most of what I heard but things were said quite forcefully.

Had a good day of learning. Rabbi Joel Levy led a shiur on Co-existence. Coming from my world I automatically assumed it would be about interfaith relations but it was actually about intrafaith pluralism focussing on Beit Hillel and Beit Shammai. We learned texts about Machloket L'shem Shamayim - arguments for the sake of Heaven. In other words, arguments or disagreements that are undertaken where both parties are going at it for a good cause, with good intent, not trying to one-up each other, not having base political reasons for this argument. The argument/discussion/exercise itself becomes a true act of Torah. The thing is - can these arguments just go on forever or do they need to be resolved at some point? or, put differently, Do communities, true pluralistic communities, need basic rules and standards by which to live or can they just flounder about forever "in process?" In one text, the Bat Kol (basically a heavenly voice) intercedes and provides a ruling thereby providing us with an answer.  There is much more to it than that, of course, but that's enough for now.

The basic question in Talmud and today is: How are those with different strands of Jewish practice and belief expected to get along? Can they? Who makes the rules and who determines who will go along with them? Equally importantly, when do these rules get to be changed and by what process is change made? Do these questions sound familiar? They should. These are the questions that define the age in which we live. The answers define our current Judaism, will determine the Judaism that our children see and will determine the Judaism that our grandchildren will live.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

What if? by Rabbi Menachem Creditor

Jun 27, 2011

(c) Rabbi Menachem Creditor

What if...

...books only answered
questions actually asked?

...people listened intently
for those real needs?

...time's passage affirmed
decisions already made? allowed for
its own peaceful unfolding?

Rabbi Menachem Creditor

Monday, June 27, 2011

Into the Second Week

So, I finally landed in Israel this past Thursday at 5:30ish a.m. Zari lovingly picked me up at the airport then took me to Aroma in Jerusalem for breakfast. Am staying in a great apartment with Marissa and Barbara off Aza right in the center of Jerusalem, a very short walk from the Conservative Yeshiva (CY),  my home away from home in Israel.

Turns out most of my friends in J'slem live nearby. Quite convenient. My routine is quite simple. I wake up whenever I feel like getting up. At some point in the day Barbara insists on giving me a coffee and then serenading me with the lovely tones of the Contrabassoon as she practices for her concert with the Israeli Philharmonic. One can truly get spoiled by all this love going around!

BTW, mazal tov to Marissa and Barbara on their somewhat secret but not actually secret wedding in CT before they left for Israel! Many blessings and wishes for years of love and happiness and lots of laughter!

Coming soon: picture of Barbara playing the contrabassoon
After coffee I head to CY for studying. Have the ever present incompletes to make up so that I can enter my final year at RRC and be ordained next June. Yes, folks, you heard me, I, Arlene, plan to be ordained a year from now. Come the-hell-that-we-don't-believe-in or high water. Wish me luck. The luck is for finishing all the work that I have yet to finish. Anyone who knows me knows that I am not so good with deadlines when it comes to school related matters. All efficiency related vibes are gratefully accepted.
Me finishing up homework summer of 2009 in Israel. Funny how somethings never change. And no, it is NOT the same work that needs to be finished now.

The problem is,  my phone keeps ringing, my contact book on the phone is full with over 20 phone numbers in it and I've spoken multiple times in multiple languages to each person and I've only been here 5 days - and one of those was Shabbos!  Oh, to always have such problems! Shabbos was spent watching the sunset over the Mediterranean Ocean while sitting on the beach in Tel Aviv with Zari. I am truly blessed. Lilah tov y'all.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

My summer of R&R&R - Day 1

Welcome to My Summer of R (Rest) & R (Relaxation) & R (Reflection)

Day 1 – Wednesday June 22, 2011  London Town Musings

    There is something so uniquely British feeling about a rainy day – especially a cold, grey rainy day in summer.  People should be shivering and staying indoors, instead there is a riot of colour out on the street as people go about their business under a canopy of umbrellas – solid colored, striped, patchwork, polka dotted, plaid, paneled, bannered, with or without words or medallions, with decorative edging, extremely large or so small one cannot figure out why they are being used at all. It’s totally cool!

I spent a period of time in a pub off Tottenham Court Road as I finished up a strange lunch that included minty mushy peas. As much as I enjoy peas, I deeply regret that I cannot recommend minty mushy peas to anyone. Even to people that I do not like. Enough said.  The waiter at the restaurant was very nice to me, noticed how exhausted I was from traveling so many hours (nearly 20 at that point), brought me countless refills of Coke and encouraged me to stay for as long as I wanted. So I did. I stared out the window, sipped my Coke, stared at the rain, and watched the parade of umbrellas pass by.

I also occupied myself with interesting reading – articles on the concept of devekut in Hassidut.
The readings don’t necessarily match the surroundings except that devekut (clinging or cleaving to Gd) is all about determination  and if going about in this chilly, icky, wet weather in not all about determination, then I do not know what is!

 Of course, I’m hard put to find a parallel between the plethora of umbrellas and ecstatic elevation of spirituality and devotion to the Kudsha Brich Hu – unless one really wants to stretch and reference Mary Poppins and her flights into the air of the Supernal Realm with her umbrella. I am in England, after all!
Interfaith Experience #1
    I did manage to daven (pray) Ma’ariv as we waited to take off last night and Shacharit this morning. Davened in the back of the plane (British Air) after having a chat with the 2 Irish flight attendants and explained what tefillin were. One of them had seen tefillin before, one hadn’t - both knew they were not bombs, B"H. They both had many questions including what are they for, what is in the boxes, what do the straps represent, why do you wear them, and of course the biggie – (no, not are they used for S&M but) we didn’t  know women could be rabbis.  Both were Irish Catholic and didn’t know of any female Catholic priests, so a woman clergy figure was outside of their experience. They were quite pleased.  I got out my handy dandy Tanach, showed them where in Deuteronomy the Shma can be found, showed the passages from Hosea 2:20-21 that we say as we wrap the straps around the middle finger and what that symbolizes. Discussed the marriage metaphor of Gd/Israel and man/woman and all in-between. Was fascinating. Only got a few strange looks from other passengers on their way to the bathroom (asher yatzar…).  Interesting way to pass the time before breakfast.


Interfaith Experience #2
    At British Museum, while waiting to meet my wonderful friends Sara Bucciarelli and her adorable son Dov (3 yrs, 4 mos old), I was asked to take the picture of a couple that was sitting on the steps of the museum. As we began to talk (because of course we had to begin to talk) I learned that the woman had just been ordained from the Fuller Theological Seminary in California and was about to being a Hospital Chaplaincy Program (yea CPE).  We seminarians are all over the place. She and I exchanged stories and email addresses and plan to keep in touch. Mazal tov to Karen Bolte! I wish you blessings and much luck as you find your way through your calling and do Gd’s work in the world. 

The day ended with a wonderful conversation with Sara about head versus hair coverings for liberal Jewish women – how we make these decisions and how other people view the decisions we make. 
    We also talked about how people with different religious practices interface. Life is different for those of us who live in the grey spaces as opposed to those who are able to see things quite concretely or are comfortable with black and white. I am very happy to have Sara back in my life
    I land in Israel at 5:30 a.m. tomorrow (Thursday) morning. Zari will pick me up and take me to Marissa and Barbara’s apartment. Where would be without friends in our lives?

Wall in Tube station at Tottingham Court Road Station. Cool, huh?

Look! They still have phone booths. And ones with style!

Okay, so maybe there not too much style or class on the inside but the outside looks good.

The British Museum. It was pouring!

Don't think I'll get to Afghanistan in real life so....

Jennie, this shoe is for you!

Soho - Gotta love it!

I love London!