Shabbat at the Namal – Tel Aviv Port

I have to say, after Shabbat at the Tel Aviv port, aka, the Namal, I may never want to go back inside!

After a full day of exploring Tel Aviv, from the Ayalon Institute to lunch at Abulafia Bakery, to exploring Nachalat Binyamin with all the the artists sharing their crafts, we ended up at the Tel Aviv port, aka, the Namal.

Beit Tefilah Israeli is a group who started holding services at the Namal about 6 years ago. The vision is to create a Jewish life experience for all Jews, especially Tel Aviv’s diverse secular Jewish community. Jewish practice in Israel was once relegated only to the Orthodox, but Israel’s entire community is discovering that they too can enjoy the beauty of Jewish life through Shabbat and celebrating through life cycles together. More and more Israelis are discovering that a child’s Bar/Bat Mitzvah (Bat of course being more recent) can be celebrated with understanding of what is actually taking place versus just being called for an aliyah to Torah and then never setting foot in the synagogue again. Services like that at the Namal and the many other progressive synagogues in Israel are opening new doors for all Israelis to find their connection to community through prayer and a Jewish spiritual self.

We arrived at the Namal as the leaders from Beit Tefilah were doing a final sound check and the chairs were set facing the Mediterranean. We stopped at Aroma, a local coffee shop on the pier, for an ice coffee – which I have to say should become a new tradition before services. 🙂 At 6:30 pm, hundreds of people started to arrive. They were sitting on the chairs, playing on the pier – some dressed in white, others in shorts and t-shirts riding bikes with their children. All coming to welcome Shabbat.

The music began and at first, it seemed more like some were there for a concert. But after a few minutes and a gentle applause after the first of the Kabbalat Shabbat Psalms, we all began to realize that this was no concert, this was our coming together to welcome Shabbat and acknowledge all that we are thankful for in our week and who we were able to share this moment with.

As the sun began to set in the Mediterranean, we stood chanting L’cha Dodi – לכה דודי by Nava Tehila“, facing the sea as we welcomed Shabbat in all of her beauty.

The breeze coming off the water was as if Shabbat herself came to kiss us and welcome us to this moment in our week. God’s creation laid before us to appreciate in all of the awesomeness that we sometimes forget to acknowledge. And here we were, one people singing and praying together.

As the service ended and the final Adon Olam was sung, everyone started off in different directions on the pier. Yet, there were still songs on our lips and as I passed different families singing and strolling, I couldn’t help but be swept up into their song.

Shabbat Shalom!

A Day in the West Bank

It’s been a busy week and this is the first opportunity I’ve had to finally post this from my tiyul to the West Bank/Judea-Samaria.

The issues surrounding the West Bank or Judea/Samaria (depending on what some refer to these areas call it) are very complex. There are no black or white answers to all the questions we have regarding a future Palestinian state. While this tiyul was amazing and eye opening in the location of both Jewish and Palestinian towns as well as the difficult typography that covers the country, many of us still walked away with more questions and insights than when we began the morning.

We were fortunate to meet with top government workers as well as developers for a future Palestinian city. The goal of the tiyul planners was not to insist on one answer over another, rather to provide us with more information to show the complexity of the situation. I did walk away with the clear answer that it’s easy for all of us to be arm chair generals but the reality is, we can’t be, and I have more respect for those who are dealing with the issue on a daily and hourly basis. Below are the notes I took from this tiyul through the West Bank:

Our morning began boarding a bullet proof bus. That right there gave rise to the curious excursion we were about to embark upon. Our goal for the day; to understand the building by both sides and the land in an effort to create the borders of a two state solution. What is interesting to note is that it is believed that if it is not completed in 2-3 years, then it may never get done as both sides keep positioning themselves in certain areas requiring map drawers to have to return to the drawing board, so to say.

To what extent are our issues driven by the reading of the other side? There are two dynamics: one group of Israelis who are able to sit and enjoy food together. The other who say, there will be those who will shoot us when we walk together.

On one hand, there is a narrative that says that all of this land belongs to Jews. But on the other, there is the realization that we have to find a way to live together in peace…if possible.

And more thoughts and hands: The stakes are high and there are two thoughts: it is only Arabs who can give us the recognition that will give us peace, but there is also  a requirement to defend ourselves.

As we drive through the streets of East Jerusalem, specifically, the area of Shekh Jarrah, a clear Palestinian neighborhood, we find Haredi Jews who lay claim to a small tomb of Shimon HaTzadik, that will require map drawers, such as Danny Siedemann, a lawyer and leader in the Peace camp in Israel, to redefine future borders.

What is interesting about the tomb of Shimon HaTzadik is that this tomb was closed 364 days out of the year. No one visited it or made a fuss over it except on Chol Hamoed Pesach, when the community had a carnival that included Jews and Arabs alike. However, ten years ago, as talks began regarding Jerusalem and peace, the Haredi Jews began to make pilgrimage to this place and ensuring that it would be open 24/7 for all to visit and pray.

Following the 1967 war, the areas around Jerusalem were annexed and neighborhoods were created to surround Jerusalem in order to never divide Jerusalem again.

Later, from Mt. Scopus, looking down the sharp decline into the Jordan River Valley, we look upon Maalei Adumim. This was the first city to be built in Judea/Summaria and now is home to over 20,000 people. Yet, it is right in the middle of where borders can be drawn, and again, another area in which safe travel has to be considered for Israelis into Jerusalem and around the country.

Our next meeting, after traveling through East Jerusalem and now into the heart of the West Bank, to the town of Beit Aryeh, was with Colonel Danny Terza. Beit Aryeh is a beautiful settlement with 750 families. Placed here as a security town as it looks down into Tel Aviv and especially with Ben Gurion Airpots runways in clear sight. Unlike those at the tomb of Shimon HaTzadik, those who have settled here are not religious, but live here to ensure the safety of the land of Israel. When sitting in this town, it looks like any other Israeli town with it’s playgrounds, schools and community center where the kids were playing at the pool and getting ready for tiyul.

Colonel Danny Terza was responsible for creating the route for the security fence, which must be noted, that only 5% of the fence is actually a wall that we see on TV. Most of the fence is literally just that, a wire fence.

Terza shared that in 1947, there were not many  Arabs. At that time, as we know from history, the UN created a mandate for a two state solution, one for the Arabs and another for the Jews. But Arabs did not want this and Israel was alone created and the following day after Israel declared Independence, the surrounding Arab nations tried to destroy her. In 1967, they tried again to destroy Israel. The land taken in that war was not annexed to Israel because Israel truly thought that there would be peace. But, as with any battle, the Palestinians have another story. They do not see that Jews have the right to a country for as Jews, they are a religion, not a nation, therefore, why should Jews have a state. No other religion has a state.

Most Arabs think there will come a day that Jews will simply go away. But others say let’s help get them out. And the 1967 war, the Arabs insisted that they believed Israel was only trying to enlarge the borders. (keep in mind, the Israelis did not start the war) What Israel calls “terror attacks” against Israel, Palestinians  call “resistance”, part of their struggle against occupation.

With two narratives: one’s belief and one’s story – it makes it very hard to reconcile the two.

But there were times that Israel was so close to peace. 1993, Oslo; 1995, more moves. Even in summer 2000, there was an offer to the Palestinians for almost everything; 94% of territories including the Temple Mount. Ehud Barak said to Arafat at that time, the only thing that is needed by him is for him to sign the  agreement that this is the end the conflict. But Arafat walked away saying that he just couldn’t sign that.

As a side note: there are two terms that are used in describing towns in the West Bank: Settlement: the government agrees to have a settlement in a particular area of the West Bank, especially for security reasons. Outpost: these are caravans of trailers and temporary facilities where people are living on private Palestinian land that the settlers did not purchase.

Terza went on to explain that creating the lines is not just about creating lines as so one people can live here and the other live there – the land is so small that you still have to live together. There are issues that have to be considered:  issues of sewage, water, roads (such as bridges that connect Palestinian areas to Palestinian areas and Israeli to Israeli.) it is so challenging that Americans cannot just come in and make these decisions, as much as many Americans and other countries have tried to do. One has to walk all of the land and talk to all those who are living in it. There must be talks about security and borders, borders and environment, everything must come together.

Since the fence was completed, only 14 people have been killed. Before the fence, over 1600 in terrorist attacks in less than two years.

Next stop, Rawabi, (outside Ramalah) Palestinian development in what is called area A, that will absolutely go to Palestinians. (Note: when looking at a map of the West Bank, it is divided into sections, A, B and C. Area A is under Palestinian control, while Area C is under full Israeli control. Areas B is where Israel is in security control while Palestinians maintain civilian control.

Rawabi is an active building site with city plans that take into consideration everything from infrastructure to environmental concerns. The developers are hoping to have 1000 units built in next couple of years. Yet, there are many issues that they need to overcome, including the need to build a road through Area B to help connect two other areas so trucks and construction supplies can more easily be brought in. And the recent Boycott Bill passed by the K’nesset that prevents companies in Israel to sign the agreement from Rawabi that they will not do business with Israeli companies that are in the West Bank.  The developers are hoping to buy supplies from Israeli companies which could bring in millions of dollars into the Israeli economy.

In meeting with Bashar El Masri, the developer for this project, and a wealthy Palestinian, we heard him and his staff speak eloquently about their hopes for building a future for their people. Their plans are to transform this area from in the distance one sees Ramalah, into a city where Palestinians can “Live, Work, and Grow.” It is their hope, like that of so many youth in the region, to create a place where they are proud to live peacefully. Masri said that it is his hope and belief that if they are able to build such a prosperous and successful city, one in which the people feel proud to live, that this may help bring peace to the region. That when there is hope, there is peace. He said, ‘is it possible that there may still be attacks against Israel – yes, but at least we need to try to do something to try and make a peaceful place for all to live.’

What did this day for me? While I did not come back feeling that the situation was now so clear, I can say, the perspectives it left me with were important.

It’s easy to look at a map and say, ‘it’s so clear what the borders must be.’ But until you are in the land, driving the land, hiking the land, one has no idea the challenge the land poses. The hills and valleys make it difficult to just draw lines. The holy sites, the established communities, make it difficult to just draw lines. The emotions and the many, many years of anguish make it difficult to just draw lines. But still, there is a glimmer of hope that both peoples will be able to find a way to live in peace, the question remains….when?

Rainbow Shabbat

We walked into Kol Haneshama last night and hanging from the ceiling and on the reader’s desk were rainbow flags. This Shabbat Balak was dedicated to the plight for equality for all people, especially the GLBT (Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender) community.

Parashat Balaam, hired by King Balak, was sent to curse the Israelite people. However, as Balaam learns from his donkey, who speaks to him with the aid of an angel from God, cursing the Israelite people is not in his cards. Balaam is instructed that while he is hired to curse the Israelite people, that he is only to look down upon them and speak the words God tells him. All that Balaam can speak are words of blessing. And Balak, not wanting to give up this opportunity to curse the people, sends him to three different locations on high, hoping that these different vantage points will result in a curse. Yet, only blessings pour forth.

Balaam does not just bless some of the people. He never says, ‘you over there, wearing the red robes, or you by the fires or the tents, I’m only going to bless you.’ No, Balaam blesses ALL the people.

Mah tovu o’halecha ya’akov, mish’k’notecha Yisrael – how beautiful are your tents O Jacob, your dwelling places O Israel!

All people, no matter the color of their skin, their religion, their sexuality, are blessed. One cannot say, ‘I will only bless you, but you, who are created in the image of God; I will not bless you.’

Our prayer last night was this:

Shekhina whose name is Love, God who created us in Your image: We thank You today for the pride and strength You have given us to live our lives, each of us in our own way, as equal members of our community and of society.

We honor the memory of pioneers who challenged, received wisdom and demanded their right to renew the old and to sanctify the new. Gay men and lesbians, bisexuals, transgenders and their supporters tired of labels and diagnoses and brought upon us, like the blessing of their rainbow, countless ways to understand and realize Your counsel: It is not good for a human to be alone.

As we sought to live our life faithful to the nature You implanted in us, those who profane Your name, claiming that they hate in Your name of God, rose up to humiliate and criminalize us, to brutalize us and erase us. In Your great mercy, You stood with us in our time of trouble and gave us the courage to stand together, to open our eyes and the eyes of the world around us, to see that all Your creations deserve the freedom and the right to love. Today, too, strengthen us that we might witness and create wonders, be who we are and love whom we love – not in the shade, but in the light of life; that we might live as Jews in the embrace of community, sanctifying our unions and celebrating before each other and before You.

The stone that the builders rejected has become a cornerstone. May we never know shame again.

And let us say: Amen.

Yom Rishon – Let’s Get Ready to Experience It All!

Yom Rishon, aka, Sunday, is akin to our Monday. The streets are bustling early in the morning with people heading off to work and even school kids going to cheder or summer camp. The buses get an early start and this morning, so did the Cohen clan. With bus schedules on our ipods and tickets in hand, we were on our way!

JediYeled began his first day at Camp Rammah in Jerusalem. He was very excited but a little nervous about not wanting to be late and miss a thing. GeekAba and JediYeled found there way through to the center of town and then back into the little neighborhood where the camp sits nestled on private park grounds. Yesterday, we all went walking over to the camp wanting to make sure that we could find the mysterious unmarked green gate that would lead to the wondrous camp world for JediYeled. We found the green gate, but the grounds still seemed like a mystery. This morning, JediYeled and GeekAba, with the help of some fellow travelers on bus 22, managed to enter the gates and the wonderful world of camp! By the time we picked him up in the afternoon, JediYeled was exhausted and ready to head back to the apartment – ok, I think he just wanted to finish the game of Monopoly since he did already own Park Place and Boardwalk with two houses on each!

DovLev and I headed out even earlier. Today is Rosh Chodesh Tamuz and the Women of the Wall were gathering for their monthly service at the Kotel and reading of Torah at Robinson’s Arch. But to DovLev’s and my surprise and reminder that it is a small world after all, DovLev’s friend from Morasha, who moved to Colorado, was becoming Bat Mitzvah at the same time at Robinson’s Arch.

Not sure if she was doing this with Women of the Wall or not, DovLev and I headed out on two buses, to the Jaffa Gate. Thinking that this was going to be the only stop in the Old City walls, I led DovLev through the wondrous labyrinth of streets that I have come to know over the years. As the early morning sun was starting to shine on the stones, the city was truly golden and excitement began to fill me as we grew closer to meet with both of these wonderful groups.

DovLev and I approached the security gates entering into the Kotel plaza and there, standing at the side were two women, one of whom was holding the sefer Torah belonging to the Women of the Wall. I asked if they were still in there and if they knew if there was a girl becoming a Bat Mitzvah with them this morning. They did not know, but the group was definitely still at the Kotel.

DovLev and I went through security and on the other side of the gate I heard the kol ishot, the voices of women singing together, the voices that cause such a stir in the hearts of those who love them and unfortunately, those who don’t. They were singing: Ozi v’zimrat yah, vayihi-lee, lee’shu’ah – My strength balanced with the song of God will be my salvation (Psalm 118:14 and Exodus 15:2).

Tears welled up in my eyes, I took DovLev’s hand and we joined in the song and march with the Torah and the women and men who joined with us.  Some friends encouraged DovLev to march in front with the Torah for she truly is the next generation of women to raise up her voice in song.

We walked slowly through the streets to the Robinson’s Arch on the south side of the Kotel. As we approached DovLev and I looked down to the Herodian street, completed in 64 CE, and saw our friends already with their service in progress.  We took our leave of the Women of the Wall and continued down to our friends, yet the two services voices mingled magically together. While we were in different parts of the service, the harmony of Jews openly praying together, women and men, was the greatest harmony of all.

DovLev’s friend had no idea that we were coming – thank you Facebook for helping us Mom’s to get together and make this happen. Hearing her daven the service and chant Torah was so wonderful and DovLev was excited to be there to support her friend, thousands of miles away from home.

Jerusalem is magical and paved in gold in not only the stone but also the people and experiences. And this is only yom rishon, the first day of the week!

Let’s Get Ready for Shabbat in Jerusalem

Friday morning and we were all up by 5:00, except JeliYeled, he slept until 8:00! The goal for the day, get some food for the apartment and figure out where we are!

After the Frosted Flakes we got the day before at the local makolet, we were off to find a bigger supermarket. I asked someone the night before where a larger market was and they said, up the street a ways – not totally clear if “up a ways” meant many kilometers or a few blocks.

Driving in Israel is an experience! I have to say, driving in LA has prepared me for some of the craziness, but you just have to not let all the honking throw you off. I think they actually honk just for the fun of it! We attempted to find the large grocery store with no luck, but decided to try and find Camp Rammah where JediYeled will spend the next two weeks. Found the cross streets, but not the gate – we’ll try again…Being that we were out, thought we would try to drive to Mahaneh Yehudah for some vegi and fruit shopping. But finding parking is nearly impossible. After a few circles, we decided it was going to be a lot easier to just go back to the apartment, park the car and either walk or take the bus. We did manage to find the larger grocery store, a mere few blocks from our apartment. I think we’ll be able to walk next time. (Again, no parking except on the street. Really, don’t businesses have to have parking around here?)

We decided it was time to brave the buses. However, finding a map on the internet for the bus system is a bit tricky. The best resource, call and ask a friend! With bus numbers in hand, we were off to Mahaneh Yehudah!

Mahaneh Yehudah, aka, the shuk, is the open air market in Jerusalem with over 250 stalls and the best fruits and vegetables anywhere! The place was packed and the vendors shouting at you can be overwhelming! JediYeled held tight to my hand while GeekAba and DovLev were quickly ahead scouting out the best prices – sorry guys, no coupons here. But as the afternoon wore on and Shabbat was getting closer, vendors were quickly changing their signs so that they did not have to sit on their merchandise till Sunday.

One is always guaranteed to see someone you know in the shuk. I ran into a colleague here with his congregation and the Zimmerman’s from TBS! It is truly a small world!

Finally, with bags in hand, it was time to find the bus, head back to the apartment and get ready for Shabbat.

After a brief nap, we were dressed and walked over to Kol Haneshamah, about 10 minutes from our apartment. The music and the congregation were just as I remembered from 1993-94, except the building now has walls and a roof.

Jet lag was still an issue and JediYeled fell asleep on me during service and DovLev could barely keep her eyes open. We managed to get back to the apartment, fix dinner, start a game of Monopoly (which I am sure will last for a few days), and then to bed. We must have been tired, because we all slept for over 12 hours! Now that’s a way to start Shabbat!

Shabbat Shalom from Jerusalem!