Writings from the Rabbis

Dispatch from Jerusalem: Excitement and Activity in Israel
Sep 19th 2019

Elul 5779

The summer heat of Israel was matched by the political rhetoric of a down and dirty election campaign. The election this week will not turn on security (there is general agreement by the leading parties) or economics (very little attention has been paid to income inequality).

It will be determined by personality (is Netanyahu still “in a league of his own”?), as well as the cultural and religious divisions of the society. Look for Lieberman to attract those opposed to the Ultra-Orthodox andfor the Haredi and Arab parties to mobilize their constituencies. Labour and other more moderate parties will lose seats in the Knesset to Blue and White. And don’t forget: the coalition negotiations can take up to six weeks, giving new meaning to the common Israeli comment, “after the Holy Days.”

While the elections have been the backdrop to our most recent visit to Israel, we have been more impressed by the vitality and variety of Jewish and Arab life, which highlights the diversity of the various “tribes of Israel.” I have seen Haredi men driving semi-trailer trucks; Arab-Israelis working as doctors and pharmacists - not only in construction; Ethiopian young adults in army uniform; hijab-wearing Muslim women enjoying a water park; and women with ornate head coverings in friendly discussion with others in tank tops.

The shopping malls, restaurants and cafes were full, despite the awareness of the dangers of Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas. Soldiers were on duty north, south and around Palestinian territories. National parks were crowded during August as families took children camping or on hikes, while city parks are jammed every Shabbat afternoon with traditional and more religiously liberal families — Jewish and Arab — enjoying their day off. Construction cranes seem to be everywhere, while Jerusalem and Tel Aviv are being dug up for light rail.

Our grandchildren attended Camp Sabba and Savta during our time in Israel, as most children’s programs do not operate at the end of August. One person told me that if grandparents went on strike, the country would stop. We were also able to witness the ritual return to school. Ilana began grade three at Hillel, an experimental school in East Talpiyot; Amichai started the same school with two synagogue kiddushes in honour of entry into grade one; Shachar commenced kindergarten at the Hand-in-Hand bilingual school near her home.

Meeting people often occurs in conjunction with food. I shared a pizza with Ziva, the daughter of Reb Steve and Jodie Wernick, who recently came on aliyah. Brunch with Ambassador Deborah Lyons and Martin Larose, the new Chef de mission adjoint of Canada, was full of discussion about North American and Israeli politics and culture. Our family hosted Rev. Richard Sewell, Dean of St George’s College, and his wife, JulieAnn, for Shabbat dinner (her first, his second!)

St George’s hosts the Sharing Perspectives (Path of Abraham) initiative. You can register for the February 2020 course on their website.

We celebrated with Beth Tzedec members visiting Israel. Judy Shiff co-hosted a sheva berakhot dinner in honour of the marriage of her grandson, Noam, to Noa (both fathers are CHAT grads). It was a delightful evening, with many guests (including Rabbi Dow and Fredzia Marmur) originally from Toronto. I joined Neil and Naomi Warshafsky and their family at a special reception at Hebrew University hosted by them and by Orah and Mark Buck, to learn from researchers whose work is sponsored by the family. Rachel Rosenbluth was ordained as Rabbi in early September — she’ll be at Beth Tzedec again for the Days of Awe — and we enjoyed a late and light meal with Rachel and her parents, Allan and Ellen, to mark this important moment.

Much of our time was spent overseeing the shiputz of our apartment in Jerusalem. Not only did we experience the complications and costs associated with all renovations, but we discovered unusual patterns of operation. Appliances, for example, are purchased from one store, delivered by an agent and must be installed by a third party. And everyone must be paid. We also learned new terms for familiar items: the flush mechanism for toilets is called a Niagara!

Music was everywhere! From Koolulam concerts and Galgalatz radio to evenings of live Selihot music — both traditional and contemporary. Ilana introduced me to two new and popular songs. “Tribes of Brothers and Sisters” features 35 well-known entertainers singing of their love for Israel, where “parents were the roots and we are the flowers, and the melody.... This is our home and our love, where we shall remain.”

Ishai Rebo, a popular singer who fuses contemporary music and lyrics with traditional Jewish ideas, just released “Seder ha’Avodah” which recalls the special sacrificial service (avodah) of the High Priest on Yom Kippur, his walking and the movement of all spiritual seekers. “One enters the Place to be entered. One stands in the Place to stand. One comes from the place and goes to the Place.” The entire people are included in this song-ritual of repentance and reconciliation, assurance and aspiration.

We return to Toronto this week, exhausted and excited, fatigued and refreshed, looking forward to seeing many of you during the autumn. Josette and I hope that the current uncertainty and anxiety of world events gradually will be transformed by faith, good will and responsible actions to a world of more calm and coherence. May you and yours be blessed with a year of good health and much love and the Jewish people with dignity, honour and peace. L’shanah tovah tikateivu v’tihateimu.