Category Archives: Sabbatical

What I Did On My Summer Sabbatical

The following is an article written for the TBS Kol Sholom.

Since coming to Temple Beth Sholom in 1998, I have been privileged to be a part of each of your lives, both collectively and individually in times of simcha and sorrow, celebrations and milestones in each of your lives. And now, in my 13th year, my Bat Mitzvah year, I am thankful to my congregational family for giving me my first Sabbatical since coming to TBS and my rabbinic career.

This sabbatical gave me the opportunity to do things that during my regular schedule I was not able to do. My summer sabbatical provided me with time to learn with colleagues, personal study and most importantly, reconnect with my family.

The first few weeks at home allowed me to participate in the daily lives of Dahvi and Yoni, something that I don’t regularly get to do. I was able to take them both to school each morning and be there for them in the afternoon. I volunteered in the end of year school activities and celebrated with Dahvi as she graduated from elementary school.

Our family spent a majority of our summer in Israel. During our time there, each of us took the opportunity to experience Israel in a very personal way. While it is always amazing to tour Israel and experience her beauty with groups of individuals visiting for the first time or the fifth, this summer we were able have to experience of living in Israel.

Both kids attended Israeli camps. Yoni attended Ramah Day Camp in Jerusalem while Dahvi spent two weeks at an overnight camp, Camp Kimama, north of Netanya, on the Mediterranean coast. Both of them made new friends from all over the world and thanks to the internet, they will be able to stay in touch with friends from Israel to France, Canada, and even Japan.

Matt took the opportunity to explore Jerusalem with friends also in the country and experience the Israel weekly life rhythm.

I spent time studying with colleagues from not only the Reform movement, but rabbis from every movement and country. From 8:30 in the morning to 10:00 at night, I studied at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem. Mornings began with the teacher of the day presenting us with a topic and a packet of texts. For two hours I joined in chevruta, small group study with colleagues, deciphering and challenging what the text said in light of the day’s topic. The teacher returned and unraveled the two hours we just spent wrestling with the text and wove it into a new perspective for us to consider and challenge yet again.

The afternoon was filled with more learning, dinner at home and then evening programs discussing the current state of affairs in Israel.

I came home each night from my classes excited about what I would share with the TBS community. And these High Holy Days, I look forward to sharing some of these thoughts with you and beginning the conversation that will take us into this next year.

This summer in Israel was not only in the text that I studied, but also in the text of the land and the people. We traveled throughout the entire country not only to see the places, but to connect with the people and communities. My goal was successfully achieved in creating connections in Israel that I will in turn share with the TBS and Orange County community. At every opportunity, I asked Israelis their opinions about peace, land, and the world. While I was hoping to find more defined answers that would help us understand the issues of the Middle East, I found that it is even more complicated than we can imagine, let alone solve. Yet, the discussion is extremely important and vital, even for us on the other side of the sea.

I also spent time meeting with Da’at Travel, our Israel travel coordinators, in creating a unique and exciting TBS Israel adult tour itinerary for this coming January.

These final weeks of my summer Sabbatical were spent preparing our family for reentry into our year activities: Dahvi going to a new school and preparing for her Bat Mitzvah this coming April. Yoni practicing his reading and gearing up for 2nd grade and his Tae Kwon Do Black Belt test this November. Matt getting ready to juggle the busy Cohen calendar. And me, I have already begun preparing for my High Holy Day sermons as well as looking forward to reconnecting with everyone at my TBS home.

Thank you for this summer. Thank you for these 13 years together. And thank you for the many years we have ahead of us.


Tisha B’Av In Jerusalem

I just returned from the Old City in Jerusalem. Tonight begins Tisha B’Av, the 9th day of Av, during which is said that the First and Second Temples were destroyed and Jerusalem herself was left in flames and the people were exiled. This is a day of fasting and reading Eicha, the book of Lamentations.

While I do not connect with this holiday on a religious level, meaning, I don’t pray for the Third Temple to be rebuilt; I don’t feel that it’s such a bad thing to be living outside the land of Israel and that all Jews do not need to return to Israel; I am not in any rush for the reestablishment of the sacrificial cult – I love being a Rabbi in California and I can’t imagine trying to get the blood stains out of my husband’s clothing every day after he came home from the Temple service since he is a Cohain.

What I do connect with on Tisha B’Av is the historical significance of this day. We can say for sure that there is historical proof that the city of Jerusalem and the Temples were destroyed, first by the Babylonians and then by the Romans. We can say that so many Jews/Israelites were killed in the city of Jerusalem and we see this evidence in the burnt homes that are found still buried under the streets of today. We know that there was pain in the alleys and we know that so many died. I lament over the destruction, the pain and the death. But I hold hope in today and the future.

Tonight, I joined with some friends and the Masoreti (Conservative) movement at Robinson’s arch, at the very edge of where the Western Wall and the Southern Wall come to meet. In some ways, I find this space to be even more holy in that we are able to stand under the arch that led up to the Temple Mount. That on the Southern Wall, we are able to see the remnants of the gates that the people entered when they went to visit the Temple, the Beit haMikdash. That tonight, we sat on the very street where people passed to visit the mikvah before going up to the Mount and also visited the stalls to buy what they needed for the sacrifices. And what was truly chilling was the cool wind, or ruach, that swirled around us, even though we were in an area that one would think was protected from the elements.

That on this street we sat amongst the rubble, the stones that were cast down from the top of the Temple Mount. We sat with the destruction in front of us and my mind could only wander to a place 2000 years ago and through reading Eicha, I could hear the cries and feel the fire.

Following the haunting chant of Eichah our service concluded with all of us joining together to sing Hatikvah, Israel’s national anthem. How appropriate it was to sing this song of hope and the future. How appropriate it is that at this time, while we remember the destruction, we also remember that today is the future. Yes, Jerusalem was destroyed 2000 years ago, but we are here now. The people have returned. The Jewish people hold on to Jerusalem today, and we will not let her go.

However, there was still some sadness around me. As we walked to the Kotel plaza, the place where people go to visit the Western Wall, the mechitzah, the wall that divides the men from the women (so that a man should not be distracted from his prayers by the sight of a woman or her voice) was extended even further into the plaza. While it was awesome to see so many people sitting on the ground with copies of Eichah, it was sad to feel that this is not my place unless I adhere to the rules of the Orthodox.

A young woman and her parents were talking in front of me in the plaza and she told her parents how she was just yelled at by one of the “Kotel Police” (who will ask you to cover yourself up with one of their scarves if your legs are showing too much or your shoulders are not covered) who told her that she could not stand where she was for she wandered into the “men’s side.” She was so disturbed and angry because they were so rude to her. Her father looked at her and said that this was crazy! And then they looked over at me, standing so close. I smiled and said, ‘yes, I know and I agree.’ To which her father came up to me and said, ‘was it not because the Jewish people could not get along, that they argued so much, that the Beit HaMikdash was destroyed?’ ‘Yes’ I said. And he responded, ‘the Kabbalah teaches, that which seems to be real is fake and that which is real is fake! Now, I have to go find my son. Thank you, you have a beautiful neshamah! (soul)’ and they left.

Yes, it is taught that the Temple was destroyed because the Jewish people could not get along; that there were too many divisions amongst us. Today, we need to listen to that lesson and rather than trying to make the mechitzah, the barrier larger, we need to tear it down and try to unite as one people.

Tonight, I experienced Tisha B’Av in a way I never expected. To stand here in Jerusalem, to be in the place where it happened, was moving and awesome. And now, as we approach our final week here I have to ask, how will I take Yerushalayim l’malah, how will I take Jerusalem home with me to keep it in my heart but also to share it with so many others?

The Desert Holds So Many Secrets

I kept looking at the forecast and was a bit nervous that we were going to be traveling to Eilat, crossing the border into Jordan and up to Petra and it was going to be in the 110’s! Really!?! What was I thinking going there in this kind of heat? But there is no choice if we want to go this summer so the heat was a reality. Thankfully, we were at the Dead Sea and Ein Gedi a few days before and already experienced the heat. Words to the kids (and ourselves) before the trip: ‘Guys, it’s going to be hot! We’re going to sweat and we’re going to get dirty! We’re all going to be in it together, so no one gets to complain!’ I’m proud to say, no one did!

Our experience began in the morning from our hotel in Eilat, the Royal Tulip. Anyone thinking of staying there in the future, go for it! Very simple, but beautiful! And the breakfast buffet is amazing – even the Israelis’ loved it so much that they were stuffing their bags with breads and fruit to enjoy for the rest of the day.

The taxi dropped us at the Rabin border station and there we met our guide and others who were on our bus. I’ve heard rumors that crossing the border into Jordan would take hours and just be prepared to enjoy the obligatory gift shop. Surprisingly, we were through the Jordanian border in a matter of minutes and aboard our bus driving through Aqaba, the Jordanian city that shares the Gulf with Eilat and whose King is working to rebuild sections of the city, making it a grander destination city.

As we started out of the city, our guide described the landscape and gave us a few minutes of quiet time to catch a small nap. When the bus stopped, our guide welcomed us to the Jordan Starbucks – a 14 year old boy, with a small shelter, gas burner, small table, and glasses for coffee. Oh yeah, and a mom and baby camel. Quite convenient when ordering a cappuccino.

Finally, we arrived in the area of Petra, also known as Wadi Musa – Moses’ Valley, where the Israelites traveled through during their 40 years of wandering and it is said that Moses struck the rock seeking water. It is from here we see a mountain top that is said to be the place where Aaron, Moses’ brother, died and was buried. A golden mosque glints on the top of the mountain.

We get off our bus and begin the walk to the front of the park. Conveniently, there is a store, Indiana Jones’ Gift Shop. Our guide informs  us that our journey will take us four kilometers down into the canyon. “Down” being the operative word. He explained that there would be numerous ways that we could return: by foot; horse and carriage at $30/person; camel for one part of the way; donkey for another; and horse for only the top section. No, we were not going to be able to reinact the scene in Indiana Jones by galloping through the canyon to the great Treasury. Oh, well, nice try.

Petra with it’s beautiful carved facades were created by the Nabataean people some time between 100 BCE and 200 CE. It was the center of the trade route and a great location to collect taxes as people passed through from different trading areas in the region.

As we journey down the four kilometers, we are struck by the beauty of the rose colored canyons. Every corner we turn is a new experience. On the sides of the canyon walls we find water channels used during the Nabataean and Roman times. But finally, we turn one more corner and before us slowly emerges the Treasury, the building we have been waiting to see. It’s incredible to think that that this has been hidden from western eyes until 1812.

The grand buildings in Petra are deceiving. When one looks upon them, one assumes that there are many rooms and this must have been some beautiful home of a very wealthy person. Half of this is true, it did belong to someone quite wealthy, but it is their final resting home. Each one of these buildings are tombs. Nothing more. There are no labyrinth of rooms inside these great facades, only a grand exit for someone from this world into the next.

Each building is carved into the stone in a most unusual way – from top to bottom. The craftsmen had to carefully plan exactly what they were going to do, and with the help of scaffolding, they would carefully carve the design into the rock from the top to the bottom.

The Treasury got it’s name because of the large urn carved at the top. Grave robbers thought for sure that it must hold some large amount of treasure and would shoot at the urn, hoping to break it and spill it’s contents. After a number of shots, they finally figured that there was no such treasure and moved on.

Each building in Petra is more and more beautiful. The Treasury is only the beginning. One starts to see Roman influence as we move along Roman paved roads and see how they too built their own tombs into the mountain along with those who came before them. The Byzantines also added their own monastery which is reached by over 900 steps. It was 112 degrees that day, we decided not to climb the stairs!

We stopped at the bottom of the canyon and our guide escorted our family into a restaurant and bid us farewell.  He and the rest of the group would meet back at the bus in two hours and we were left on our own to explore the canyon until 7:30, at which time, we had to find our way back to the travel office so we could be transported to our Bedouin camp site for the night. We were grateful to have the extra time to explore and not worry about having to rush back to the bus. As we made our way back from the bottom of the canyon, the colors began to change with the changing sun and again there was always something new to see.

DovLev and JediYeled fulfilled their mission of riding a camel and a donkey that day but we passed on the carriage ride back to the top – it looked a bit bumpy over the Roman cobblestones. Every site was beautiful – even the bathrooms were beautiful as they too were carved into the rocks.

As we wove our way back up through the canyon we were inspired by a man singing a beautiful Halleluyah. So what do the Cohen’s do…sing of course! And the canyon walls reverberate the sound so beautifully!

Finally, we reach the top entrance, get some ice cream and sodas, and head to the travel office to be driven to our Bedouin camp. Funny thing about this night, it cost us $10/person more to sleep in tents rather than the hotel. But in the end, it was very worth it!

We were the only ones in the camp when we arrived. We were greeted by a Bedouin host who showed us to our “rooms,” a large tent with a metal frame. Each room had two mattresses with very soft sheets and each room was separated by fabric alone. Yes, it was a “Goodnight John Boy” kind of evening.

Once we settled in, we all ran for the showers, masked by the tent fabric of course, but with modern plumbing. While we forgot to bring towels. it didn’t matter, in that heat, we dried before we could even get our clean clothes on.

Our host showed us to the area JediYeled picked for us to eat dinner. A wonderful nitch in the rock with cushions and a low table. He and another Bedouin host started bringing out platter after platter of salads, chicken, rice and drinks. There were only six of us, but they must have thought we were bringing hundreds of friends. Within seconds of the food being uncovered, five wasps quickly joined our feast and we ran calling out for Ahmad to help us move the food to the inside tent. Away from the wasps we were finally able to enjoy the amazing delicacies.

Another group shared the campsite with us, however, they were at a host home for the evening. While the electric lights would normally go off at 8:30 pm, they needed to wait for the other group to return. Try as we might, we could not keep our eyes open. The older Bedouin who spoke no English, brought a simple instrument with a square body, one string and played with a bow to play us a Bedouin song. That was it, we were exhausted and were fast asleep under a desert sky.

We woke to a warm morning with coffee, cheeses, honey, breads, vegetables, and yogurt. In no time our bags were tossed up to and tied to the top of our jeep for our trip to Wadi Rum. We meet Isa, our driver and guide for the day. He is a retired school teacher now working as a guide in order to help supplement his very small retirement and provide for his family, including one in university and another about to start.

Our first stop was to Little Petra, a small area that few people see during their one day journey to Petra. It too has beautiful tombs, but also caves that were used as homes. Isa explained to us that he grew up in Wadi Musa and during some of the winters during his childhood there was so much snow that he and his family would join other families in the caves in the canyon. The canyons were a natural barrier to the harsh weather and a safer place to live for the few months.

A striking surprise was the painting found on the ceiling in one of the caves dating back to the Nabataeans. The colors are bright and the image of the cherub is clear in the center. A secret held by the caves for generations.

After Little Petra we began the climb out of Wadi Musa south to Wadi Rum. Here we would meet the desert in a way we could never imagine.

I have hiked through the Sinai and the rock canyons make you feel small, but here, in this desert, you can’t help but feel insignificant for the desert goes on and on, untouched except by one or two jeeps we encounter during the entire day. There are no roads and we are amazed how Isa knows his way through these ever changing sand dunes. The numerous rock formations, from arches to balancing rocks are his gps. Again, the colors are incredible and every turn is exciting.

Of course, being in a jeep affords us the opportunity for some crazy donuts on some areas of packed sand and driving down steep sand dunes, much to the delight of JediYeled and the rest of us hanging on praying the jeep will not flip over. JediYeled’s squeals of joy encourage Isa to push his jeep even more and he really knows his jeep!

We stop for lunch in the shade. Isa unloads the back of his jeep with food prepared by him and his wife. JediYeled gets to help light the fire and skewer the vegetables. What boy does not like to play with fire and sharp sticks? And in the desert, sure, why not?

As I look out from where we are, there before us is a valley that is breathtaking and inspirational. I cannot help but think that it was here that the Israelites, 600,000 men, 2 1/2 million people in total, came through this place. As I looked out into the vast space, I could imagine the tents and masses of people, each in their own tribal area. It is here in the desert that the Torah comes to life and the journey seems to play out before me.

We continue through the sand and rocks. For hours we are alone in the vast wilderness. But then Isa brings us back to the paved highway leading us back south to Aqaba and the border crossing.

We bid Isa goodbye and thank him for an adventure of a lifetime. (I have his email if anyone wants it and let me tell you, he’s awesome!) The desert holds secrets around every corner and within every canyon. Each moment is exquisite with the changing colors of day into night. Voices from the past call out from the sand and our songs are co-mingled. And Israel calls us back to her borders, just as the Israelites were called to enter her land. Our journey might not have been 40 years, but the memories will last as long if not longer.




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!

The Long Journey…So Worth It!

JediYeled says, as we begin our journey, “Ima, I’m scared! I’ve never taken a trip this long before? Am I going to be ready to go to camp on Sunday?”

“Yes, honey, if anything, you’ll bounce back faster than any of us.”

17 hours, two planes, a hotel in LA for five hours, and a sheirut from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, we are finally in our home for the next six weeks. (Don’t worry, the cat is being well cared for in California with our amazing house sitter, who, did we mention is allergic to cats?)

There is always a feeling of being at home when I come back to visit Israel. The view of the farmland from the air was spectacular! Tel Aviv is a sprawling city reaching to more suburbs, and the land is green and the air is fresh. The people are moving quickly, especially the sheirut driver who maneuvers the streets and alleys with ease – kids, don’t try this at home! People smile as you walk down the street and the man in the fruit stand is more than happy to get you an even bigger and sweeter watermelon from the back.

But the day is made perfect for being in Yerusalayim shel zahav, this city of gold, with the most beautiful sunset right outside our mirpeset.

DovLev, GeekAba and I can’t wait to share it all with JediYeled for his first experience as we welcome him to the land called Yisrael.