The WORD 4/11/13. Just yesterday, my 7th grade students had their laptops and tablets in class. They were using them for their graduation projects. So, I asked them to go to any news website – Google News, CNN, Yahoo News, etc. Then, I asked them to put the word “Israel” into the search engine.
We then spent the next 45 minutes or so discussing the different articles that came up in their searches. We discussed archaeology because there was an article about the giant monument discovered under the waters of the Galilee. We talked about Israeli drivers because there was an article about a fatal car crash on a highway outside of Tel Aviv. Our conversation turned to energy and technology due to an article about the Tamar natural gas reservoir in the Mediterranean Sea.
Finally, we got to the topic that I had hoped we would discuss – religious freedom in Israel. This week, Natan Sharansky – at the behest of Binyamin Netanyahu – laid out a plan to ease tensions at the Western Wall. Currently, there is a men’s section for worship at the Wall and a women’s section. There is no place for egalitarian or mixed-gender worship. Women have been arrested for wearing tallitot and reciting the Mourners’ Kaddish.
Sharansky’s proposal is to create a third section at the Wall where men and women could pray together. It would be one of the first instances in which the State of Israel put non-Orthodox Judaism on the same footing as Orthodox Judaism. Although we take it for granted in this country that we can choose to worship in any setting we wish, this has not been the case in Israel where the Orthodox rabbinate has a tremendous amount of state-sanctioned power.
The great thing about this exercise with my 7th grade students is that it made Israel come alive for them. They were excited and animated. It was great to see as we prepare to celebrate the 65th anniversary of Israel’s independence this coming week.
As wonderful as that experience was, though, it was nothing compared to the real thing. Talking about Israel, watching videos, reading articles and looking at pictures are merely a small glimpse into Israel. Nothing can compare to actually being there.
That is why I am organizing a congregational trip to Israel this coming December. This will be the second trip to Israel since I’ve been a part of the JCC community. It’s a wonderful opportunity to strengthen our relationship with Israel, learn about our history and create some special bonds with fellow members.
If you are interested in being a part of this incredible experience, please be in touch with me.
In the Haftarah that we are going to chant this Saturday morning, the Israelites were afraid to go outside their walled city because of a siege by the Arameans. They could not enjoy the bounty of the land. It was not until a prophecy by Elisha and the courage of four outcasts to investigate the camp of the Arameans that the Israelite could leave their city and enjoy the land.
We can all find reasons not to go to Israel and stay within the “walls” of our own town. But if we do that, we are missing out on something special. So, please consider joining us on this exciting trip.