Friday, June 29, 2007

Erev Shabbat - Jerusalem

I think it will be impossible to do justice to the traditional "review of the week" during Kabbalat Shabbat services tonight. Too much happened in the past seven days. To even spend a few minutes on the highlights will take the entire service.

What stands out most of all right now are the contrasts... In Tel Aviv, we spent some time at the Jaffa Institute for at-risk kids... and heard from Mitch Chupak about the staggering degree of poverty in the country... estimated as high as 30% of the population... and about some of the heroic efforts which the Jaffa Institute and others in the country are doing to try to alleviate the worst manifestations of it. Later that afternoon, we were walking through the streets of North Tel Aviv with art-critic Smadar Sheffi, getting a tour of the eclectic architectural styles of the city... and noting the astronomical prices these houses were selling for.

Some places are self-contrasts. We visited a new site in south Tel Aviv... known as the Hiriya Project at Ayalon Park, it is a massive initiative to turn a garbage dump into an environmental education center and a vast park and public green space. The site is implementing cutting-edge technology for recycling... including turning organic matter into methane usable for fuel and construction debris into building materials... gives new meaning to the passage from Psalms that we read during Hallel... "the stone that the builders rejected has become the foundation" of the new building. And the park will provide green space for hundreds of thousands of people in the surrounding area... mostly the impoverished and underclass... turning what was an eyesore, a stink pit, and a health hazard into the Central Park of Tel Aviv.

We spent all too little time in Tel Aviv... a dynamic city pulsing with creative life... and soon found ourselves cast back thousands of years and into a totally different eco-system as we visited Masada and the Dead Sea. And then into Jerusalem.

In our first two days, we spent a morning studying with Mellila Hellner and Menachem Lorberbaum at the Hartman Institute (more below)... followed by the afternoon at the new Yad Vashem... a strange juxtaposition, yet somehow appropriate and even comforting. And today we had a security briefing from Uzi Arad, former head of the Mossad, who warned in no uncertain terms about the mortal danger posed by Iran's development of nuclear capacity, followed by a tour of East Jerusalem with Arik Ascherman, the head of Rabbis for Human Rights, who warned about the moral danger posed by Israel's ignoring its responsibility to treat all of its inhabitants with respect and decency.

I asked the group to give me some reflections of things that they have learned or that surprised them or that moved them. Here's a sample:

Commenting on Menachem Lorberbaum, an Orthodox Jew, reflecting on the problem of "Orthodox supremacy in Israeli society (in terms of religious rights). It surprised me that he recognized the problem and felt so strongly about it."

Another participant commented: "Waking up this morning in Jerusalem, walking outdoors, my eyes took in not only the beauty of the stonework and skyline, but the number of construction cranes which ring the city. The amount of construction surpassed my expectation and raises questions of political and religious motivations."

Another: "I was surprised to learn that the marital laws, based on religious practice, seems to promote a system which diminishes the value of marriage as an institution."

Another: "One thing I was surprised to learn was that Ben Gurion meditated for an hour a day, standing on his head, and would get furious if he was interrupted... for any reason."

Another: "The response to what is a simple question to us -- Where do you live? -- is often quite complex... easat or west of the Green Line... "settlement" vs "city" vs "community"... each has different meanings. It is fascinating to look at a map here and see cities which are omitted in those I've seen at home. There are no simple answers."

Another: "Israel is a country distinct and separate from the United States. One cannot apply United States values and perspective to events and circumstances in Israel. Issues in Israel are far more complex than I initially believed one week ago."

Let me end this post, as Shabbat approaches, with a Yehuda Amichai poem that Mellila shared with us:

Jerusalem stone is the only stone that can
Feel pain. It has a network of nerves.
From time to time the Jerusalem crowds into
Mass protests like the tower of babel.
But with huge clubs God-the-Police beats her
Down: Houses are razed, walls flattened,
And afterwords the city disperses, muttering
Prayers of complaint and sporadic screams from churches
And synagogues and loud-moaning mosques.
Each to his own place.

Shabbat Shalom... Next week, we'll figure out how to post some of our photos.


1 comment:

Yoni Rosenberg said...

Shalom Le Koolam,

Ma Shlomchem ?... seems like Hakol Tov.
Following your blog daily, enjoying it,and wish I was there with you !...waiting for photos...

Shabbat Shalom,