Hello from much-loved Jerusalem - although today we experienced a side of Israel that is a bit harder to love. Let me start by mentioning something about which everyone complains and over which no one has control. Namely, the weather! Israel has been experiencing an abnormally cold and rainy winter, and the arrival of WRJ’s president and executive director has not changed that! Today was exceptionally windy, wet, and chilly. In some ways, appropriate to our experience of participating in a Freedom Ride on public bus #56. As you are probably aware, IRAC (Israel Religious Action Center) recently succeeded in the Israel Supreme Court to prohibit gender segregation on any public bus. Men and women may sit anywhere on any public bus! Of course, enforcing that law is a problematic issue. Furthermore, enabling people to internalize the concept of mixed seating on buses is also a long-term proposition. Therefore, hundreds of volunteers spend time riding buses to encourage and ensure that women may sit anywhere on a bus.
Shabbat in Israel! I have said it before and I can only reiterate that it’s an experience everyone should put on their “bucket list”! Marla and I have had a most wonderful Shabbat together. It began on Erev Shabbat at the warm and inviting Congregation Yozma in Modi’in, one of the growing number of congregations that are part of the IMPJ (Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism). For those who followed my posts from Israel last year, you may remember the heartwarming story of the mothers and daughters who, while studying together in preparation for Bat Mitzvah, jointly created talitot for the ceremony. This is a program that WRJ’s donations to IMPJ make possible. Services were beautiful and the music was amazing! Picture a young man playing the flute and another playing the piano! Envision a teenage girl and her father playing guitars and singing! In honor of our visit, the musicians chose many melodies that would be familiar to us. That said, I also loved the new and distinctly Israeli melodies. Finally, imagine singing the beginning of the Mi Shebeirach in Hebrew (as usual) and then instead of switching to “Bless those in need of healing…” continuing in ALL Hebrew. I must really be in Israel!!!
With a quiet Shabbat afternoon, Lynn and I finally have time to relax a bit and collect our thoughts about our past few days together. Yesterday (Friday) was another incredibly full day. Our Thursday overnight stay was in Jaffa, which we spent at Mishkenot...
Anyone who has traveled to Israel knows how exhausting the first day can be after an overnight flight with no sleep, fighting jet lag and struggling to stay awake through the inevitable full schedule from the moment of landing. So went today. The moment we landed, our friend, guide, chaperone and WRJ Israel maven, Resa Davids, shepherded us through visits with the leadership of the IMPJ (Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism), Beit Daniel (Tel Aviv’s premier Reform congregation) and the WRJ-Israel leaders of one of our newest progressive congregations in Even Yehuda, a growing ‘exurb’ of Tel Aviv. I almost wrote that these were ‘meetings’ but in fact, they were not. To me, the word ‘meetings’ implies sitting around a table, listening to a presentation, deliberations, and decisions. We did some of that, to be sure, but these opportunities for connections were so much more. We engaged in conversations. We shared our common challenges and struggles. We traded insights and secrets and best practices. We wrestled with big-picture issues like the future of Reform Judaism, the changing landscape of Jewish institutional life, the role of women in North American and Israeli society, the visions that we share and what we can learn from one another.
With so much attention devoted to the URJ Biennial convention in National Harbor, MD it is easy to overlook the Women of Reform Judaism (WRJ) Assembly taking place concurrently. As the incoming Executive Director for WRJ, this is not my first chance to work with our Movement’s sisterhoods, but it is my first opportunity to participate fully with them at this historic assembly.
Where else but at a WRJ Assembly would you hear Waco-born, Baptist-bred Cecile Richards talk about the importance of 'tikkun olam' and being 'verklempt' upon her first visit to Israel with Jewish women? Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, and daughter of former Texas governor Ann Richards, reminded participants at the WRJ Assembly of how important our continued activism is in an age when conservative elected officials would undermine decades of progress in women's health and reproductive rights to pursue a right-wing political agenda.
Women of Reform Judaism's 47th Assembly is well underway with committee and board meetings completed and our first round of workshops taking place this afternoon. This first workshop block shows the diversity of the interests and the issues that are important to the women who make up Women of Reform Judaism. There are walking tours of Kensington Market and Toronto, as well as an introduction to assembly itself; what a thrill it must be to be attending for the first time! WRJ is all about the bonds that women create and that is reflected in this workshop block. These bonds exist between each other ("Women Connecting with Other Women"), between themselves and the next generation ("The Special Bond of Sisterhood and Temple Youth") and between leadership ("For Sisterhood Presidents: A Conversation with Your Peers").