We sent a group of Greater MetroWest rabbis to Israel last week. And they heard two messages.
Along with rabbis from the Philadelphia Jewish Federation, our rabbis took part in an intensive five-day seminar. Each day focused on a different aspect of Israeli society: Israel as a Jewish and democratic state with minority populations, issues of separation (or not) of religion/church and state, security concerns, sovereignty in the land, and Jewish pluralism/renaissance of Jewish renewal in Israel.
It was bigger than that, though. It was about engagement.
The first message was one of partnership and gesher chai – a living bridge between Israelis and Americans.
They heard it in meetings with current and former members of the Knesset.
They heard it in dialogue with Israeli rabbis and leaders of the pluralistic Israeli learning communities and midrashot. Our Federation has been at the forefront of the struggle for religious pluralism and diversity in Israel. It’s critical that we learn the issues and engage in the discussion about Jewish identity. And it’s critical that our rabbis are part of that conversation.
And they heard it in the mifgashim – encounters – with our Ethiopian partners in Rishon LeZion. These inspiring leaders shared candidly with our rabbis the struggles of being a Jewish minority in Israel. We’ve worked so hard, for so long, with Ethiopian-Israelis, many of whom are among Israel’s poorest and most vulnerable citizens. So many of the projects and programs in places like Rishon LeZion or Ofakim/Merchavim (two of our partner communities) were built and are being sustained by the living bridges we helped create.
The second message that our rabbis heard was to change the focus. We keep focusing on the small percentage of issues that divide us. But instead, we should try to think wider about the high percentage of issues that unite us. When we say klal yisrael (the collective People of Israel), we should mean it – we’re bigger than just the sum total of our institutions. Community is bigger than bricks and mortar. It includes values, and learnings, and belonging. It includes all of us.
Our rabbis on the mission came from different religious backgrounds, they serve different types of synagogues and communities, and they have different religious practices. But they came together for a week in Israel with a common purpose – to engage with Israel in a deep and meaningful way, to learn together and to gain better understanding of our Israeli connections.
That’s pretty good for a five-day mission.
I’m grateful to my colleagues Amir Shacham and Aviva Roland, who organized and staffed the mission. And to the rabbis who lead us.
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