A community of communities

August 2014

Fri, 08/29/2014 - 2:47pm -- Rabbi


Sunset in the Carmel forest

Rabbi Zeff is in Israel, helping his family set up for the year before he returns to the U.S. on Tuesday. He wrote this reflection.


"During this past week, one Hebrew word has been a constant refrain in my conversations with people here in Haifa:  migvan, meaning 'diversity' or 'variety.'  I heard it from Rabbi Dubi Hayun of the Masorti congregation Kehillat Moriah, when he was explaining how the congregation not only welcomes people from all walks of life but also celebrates multiple traditions of prayer and Torah chanting, from Iraqi to German to Yemenite, something uncommon in synagogues in Israel.  I heard it from Osnat Gershon, the principal of my son's high school, when she was describing the widely varying economic levels, religious orientations, ethnic origins, and academic goals of her students. And I saw it when we joined the wide variety of Israelis - Hasidic Jews, Orthodox Christians, Arabs, Druze, urban and rural, secular and religious - who like us have been enjoying the last few days of summer by visiting natural parks and attractions in the Galilee."


"I also heard migvan on the radio and read about it in the newspapers after, thank God, the latest ceasefire took hold and the rocket fire and mortars from Gaza finally stopped. Immediately, different political commentators and politicians began to stake out their positions.  Parties to the right of the Prime Minister criticized him for not going far enough to eliminate Hamas.  Parties to the left criticized him for agreeing to terms that, in their view, could have been arrived at weeks ago without bloodshed.  Even leaders in his own party criticized him for, alternately, lack of decisiveness and making the wrong decisions.  A recent poll showed that 54% of Israelis believe that neither side won the most recent round of conflict.  The diversity of opinions - migvan de'ot - within Israeli society about this conflict and what should come next is truly amazing."


"It is this diversity - this migvan - that characterizes much of Israeli life:  people of very different backgrounds, attitudes, opinions, practices, and goals, who somehow manage, however fractiously, to live together.  As we at GJC, like Jews in other communities in the U.S., grapple with our feelings and reactions to the very difficult events of this summer, I urge all of us to keep in mind the value of migvan, a value that has always been at the heart of our community."


"This Shabbat we will be in Jerusalem at the Bar Mitzvah of Adam Bonn-Yavneh, grandson of GJC member Hannah Bonn (and son of my college friend Jessie Bonn).  May we always know joy and peace in year ahead.  L'shanah tovah!"

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Fri, 08/22/2014 - 11:51am -- Rabbi


Justice Melcer with USCJ Exec. Dir. Steve Wernick

Rabbi Zeff is in Israel with his family during this difficult time. He wrote these reflections for us:


"This week I had the privilege of joining a joint RA/USCJ Solidarity trip in Jerusalem for a day, hearing from Israeli leaders about the many challenges facing the country.  To me, the theme of the day was drawing difficult distinctions and making hard decisions in a complex environment."


"We met with Supreme Court Justice Hanan Melcer, who spoke about the immense work of the Court, which, unlike any other Supreme Court, accepts petitions from non-Israelis - including from Palestinians in Gaza - who feel that they have justice claims against Israeli authorities.  He talked about how they weigh different factors and precedents in attempting to administer justice, and he recalled past cases, including one regarding the distribution of gas masks to Palestinians during the threat from Saddam Hussein.  One case on which the Justice could not comment is one that he will soon be hearing about whether the current conflict is an 'operation' or a 'war,' which has implications both for the application of international law and for compensation for wounded soldiers and civilians.  Justice Melcer also spoke movingly about the experience of his family when his son was seriously wounded several weeks ago while fighting for the IDF in Gaza.  Thank God, his son is recovering well."


Dr. Abu Rass

"We also heard from Dr. Thabet Abu Rass, an Arab Israeli who is the co-director of the Abraham Fund, a non-profit that works to build a shared future for Israeli Jews and Arabs.  He spoke of the complexity of his life in Israel, where he is a proud Israeli and yet his mother's side of the family lives in Gaza.  'We are here but also there;' he is both an Israeli citizen and a part of the Palestinian people.  So the current conflict puts him in a difficult position.  He feels that there needs to be a concerted effort both to find paths toward peace and coexistence and, at the same time, to work to involve Arab Israelis more in the political system and to increase efforts at economic development for them.  He condemned the discourse of fear among some political leaders within Israel.  He was happy to see a sign near where we were meeting saying, 'Racism is outside Jewish tradition," but he would like the Prime Minister to be saying that and acting against the racism that he sees as rampant within Israel.  He argued that most Arabs would love to become more integrated into Israeli society, but for them to do so we need to fight against extremism on both sides."


MK Herzog

"Last, we met with MK Yitzhak 'Buji' Herzog, the leader of the opposition in the Knessset.  Although he has supported the current government during this crisis, he was very critical of the Prime Minister's approach to resolving the crisis and creating peace. He strongly believes that the only way to peace is to partner with the moderate forces in the region, including Palestinian President Abbas and Egypt, who have common interests in combating terrorism.  He said that a peace process and a two-state solution is still possible, and people have to remember that the alternative is a one-state solution and the end of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.  He also believes that time is not unlimited.  Eventually, there will be even more pressure on Israel internationally, and even the U.S. could withdraw its diplomatic support, which would be disastrous for Israel.  Hard choices need to be made now."


"Meanwhile, the situation on the ground is a study in contrasts.  Record numbers of missiles are falling on the southern part of the country, while in the center, in Jerusalem, and especially here in Haifa, life goes on as usual.  Every day there are new reports of violence but also new reports of possible pathways toward a ceasefire and peace.  'Ulai yesh tikvah - perhaps there is still hope' (Lamentations 3:29).  Tonight we will join with members of Masorti congregation Kehilat Moriah in Haifa to welcome Shabbat together and pray for peace.  May our prayers and yours and those of people around the world be heard."

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Fri, 08/15/2014 - 4:05pm -- Rabbi

Rabbi Zeff is in Israel,
helping his family set up for the year before he returns to the U.S. at the
beginning of September.  He wrote this reflection.

Our first days in Israel have
been a whirlwind of arriving, setting up our apartment (you can see the view
from our balcony at left), negotiating getting our kids into schools, shopping
at the Talpiot marketplace, and determining exactly where we can find the best
falafel in Haifa (so far, it's Falafel HaZkenim on
HaWadi Street).  The most striking thing to me about our experiences so
far is how ordinary they have been.  Part of the miracle of Israel is the
creation of an ordinary life for millions of Jews, right here in the place
where we first became a people.  In the midst of news of conflict and
struggle, we can sometimes forget that every day, Israelis are working,
praying, shopping, studying, playing, caring for children and elders, and doing
all of the things everyone in the rest of the world is doing.  Our prayer
is that Israelis along with all people will continue to be able to live such
ordinary lives in peace.  Ken
y'hi ratzon
- so may this be God's will.

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Fri, 08/08/2014 - 6:55am -- Rabbi


Israeli flag mosaicI will be in Israel for the next few weeks, helping my family set up for our sabbatical there before returning to Philadelphia to prepare for the High Holidays.  Israel has preoccupied many of our thoughts in the last month, and reports of renewed attacks from Gaza this morning have heightened our feelings of fear, frustration, anger, and pain. Rabbi Lewis and I have spoken with many of you about this difficult situation and the complicated emotions and reactions it raises in us. Several people have suggested that it might be helpful to form a small group, with rabbinic facilitation, to provide a safe space for those who would like to explore their reactions with the support of community.  We would like to provide this pastoral service to the congregation if there is interest.  If you would like to be part of such a group, please be in touch with Rabbi Lewis.  May all of our prayers for peace be answered.

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Fri, 08/01/2014 - 2:54pm -- Rabbi

I am grateful to have made it home to Mt. Airy this morning, though my heart lingers in Israel. When I heard a siren outside, I wondered where the nearest safe room was before realizing it was a fire truck and not a warning of a nearby rocket. Turning on the news, I waited for the sounds of Hebrew. 

Moving into Shabbat, I am holding onto the faces of the family members, friends, and strangers I encountered around the country. Last Friday night, I sang the psalms of Kabbalat Shabbat with my cousin Barbara and immigrants from Holland, Hong Kong, Argentina and Missouri at her Reform kehillah in Netanya. The rabbi, Edgar Nof, invited the community to join him at a number of interfaith gatherings of Israeli citizens praying for peace that would be held in the week ahead.

 I was blessed to join Rabbi Nof at one such gathering on Wednesday at a home in the Druze village of Daliyat al-Karmel. Jewish, Muslim, Christian, and Druze faith leaders came together to mourn for those who have died and to call out for God's help in pursuing peace. We sang and conversed in the living room of Druze leader and proponent of peace, Ali Birani. Then we sat under grape vines on the terrace, sharing plates of hummus and pastries. 

At the El Jazaar mosque in Acco, Imam Samir Aasi preaches love and boldly reaches across walls. He was the first Imam in Israel to take a group of Muslim students to Auschwitz to face the shadows of the Shoah. On Wednesday, he stepped away from his community celebration of the Eid al-Fitr holiday to speak with our group of fellow clergy about how human life is more important than land. 

Father Yacoubos Abu Aqel and Father Dmitri Mussa represented the Arabic Orthodox community of northern Israel. Father Abu Aqel wept for all those throughout the world who are left without a home because of their religious convictions.

Druze educator Sheikh Samich Natur told a story of Yitro, the father-in-law of Moses and prophet for the Druze people, encouraging us to embrace one another.

I prayed that despite the layers of pain that harden our hearts, we might find the courage to love our neighbors as ourselves, as we are taught in Leviticus. All of the other clergy shared passages from their sacred texts that instill a similar message.

In the midst of these weeks of devastation in Israel and Gaza, we kindled flickers of hope. As we continue to confront unbearable realities, may the Source of Light help us to hold onto a vision of the world as it could be.

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