Saturday, July 18, 2009

Shabbat - A Time for Reflection

We slept in Saturday morning (and loved every minute of it). Having decided to participate in the Reconstructionist minyan meeting at HUC (Hebrew Union College) just a block away from our hotel (the Eldan), we got up in time for a quick breakfast here at the hotel before we left.

As we entered the gate at HUC, we could hear the singing wafting out into the entrance courtyard. A gentleman noticed our hesitation as we tried to figure out where the sound was coming from and asked if we were looking for the services. We answered affirmatively and he directed us in through a door and up a flight of steps.

As we approached, the sound of voices raised in song and joy swelled. We were greeted at the door and quickly found two adjacent seats on the right in the almost-filled room. As we settled in, I looked around and discovered - much to my delight - that a rabbi I'd worked with in the Washington area was davening just a couple of rows ahead! Ever since we'd planned this trip, friends had said to us - "You'll run into people you know, even if you don't think you'll know anyone in Jerusalem." Last night, it was Mark - today it was Rabbi Steve. It is truly a small world we live in!

In short order, I realized that the service was not the Reconstructionist one we'd hoped to attend, but rather a Reform one. Although initially disappointed (we'd hoped to connect with Charlie and Marilyn and a couple of others we thought might be there), we found ourselves absolutely uplifted by the singing, the communal participation and interaction, and the drash/words of Torah.

The drash was given by someone who's name we never quite caught. Obviously knowledgeable, he also had the gift of being a magnificent speaker. In short, his message for the day was threefold: 1) Don't look for the short cuts in your journeys (metaphorical or actual); 2) Stuff happens when you don't expect it to; and 3) It's not all about me.

Woven into his talk were references to the three weeks of mourning leading up to Tisha B'Av; Israeli current events [he cited the part from the Torah portion that delinates the Israelites' 42 stops from Egypt to Canaan and referenced the "pauses" to parking lots: a hot issue among the Haredi in Jerusalem these weeks]; some discussion of repetitions of specific words and inversions - and the interpretation he took from them; and allusions to the science fiction classic "The Fantastic Voyage" (made into a movie in 1966 starring Raquel Welch) to both begin and end his remarks.

Our experience with this community was absolutely what we needed this morning - and a good example of the "stuff happens when you don't expect it to!"

We caught the tail end of our hotel's brunch for our lunch and then came up to the room. After a nap, Neal went out to explore some more - I decided to stay in (in the a/c) and process some of the thoughts rolling around in my head after our visit to the Old City yesterday.


It's taken me a bit of time to be able to articulate some of the thoughts and feelings rolling around in my head as we walked through parts of the Old City yesterday - especially our visit to the Kotel.

When Neal and Arnie joined me near the women's section, Arnie mentioned that he's observed over time that the impact of being in the Old City and at the Kotel doesn't always arrive instantaneously - and it's not always a religious impact. For some, he said, the impact is historical; for some it's religious; for some it's a sense of connection among people. I appreciated his comments immensely, because

[Deep breath here]

being at the Kotel left me cold.

My ability to participate fully in our people's "people-ness" is denied to me by the ultra-Orthodox who refuse to accept the signatures on my conversion papers.

Despite my attempts to undergo an "acceptable conversion," one of the rabbis who partipated in my bet din did not sign my papers before he left the mikvah that day. My papers instead include two "acceptable" signatures and the third is of my converting rabbi, Rabbi Eugene J. Lipman, z"l. I knew the instant I saw the papers, that my conversion would not be accepted. Neal and I subsequently arranged for our children to undergo a ritual immersion and conversion with acceptable signatores. I was proud that Gene's signature is on my certificate, but at the same time I didn't want to deprive my children of their Right of Return.

So here we are, 28 years later. Without boasting, I think I can honestly own that I've made signification contributions to our Jewish communal life, through my work as an educator, an administrator, a Jewish parent, a role model and a participant in the work of trying to bring repair to the world around us.

As I participated in the IEI (Israel Educators Institute) program these past 15 months, I've struggled with how I am perceived by segments of our people. It makes me angry. It makes me sad. It hurts.

But most of all, I don't understand why "the rest of us" - Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist, Renewal - and all other Jews who don't choose to affilitate - allow a numerically small number of people to define who we are and how we are.

When did we cede the right to self-identification?

Or do we subconsciously agree that we "are not Jewish enough" -- allowing others to define the "enough?"

Prejudice and bigotry are ugly - even more so when practiced by one group of Jews against others and done in the name of the Eternal.

Oseh shalom bimromav, hu ya-aseh shalom. Aleinu v'al kol Israel. V'imru: Amen.

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