It is such a privilege to be here in Yerushalayim!
This is the completion of a journey that began 5 summers ago!
I had a sabbatical coming that I could not find a way to take. Three months to renew my rabbinate and refresh my learning – had been included in my contract and I found people very encouraging – but comments went something like this: “Oh rabbi, I know how much you will benefit from some time to recharge your batteries, but --- make sure you are here for my son’s wedding…or my daughter’s bat mitzvah!” And then I discovered the Rabbinic Leadership Institute at the Hartman Institute in Jerusalem that offers a variety of learning opportunities for rabbis of all denominations from all over the world with some of the finest scholars in Judaism. So I came on my vacation in the summer of 2006 for two weeks to check out their RTI – Rabbinic Training Institute which is open every summer to hundreds of rabbis from around the globe. I fell in love – with the learning, the place, the people and I applied to their prestigious Fellowship program that accepts an elite group of 27 or so rabbis once every three years to an intense program of study and fellowship.
And then in the summer of 2007 I began a three year journey that brought me to Jerusalem every July for three years. In addition I came for one week in February and on 22 Mondays I participated in video conference learning from my office – where all 27 of us joined form our offices with our teachers in Jerusalem. The timing fit perfectly into my schedule and the rhythm of my life at Beth Sholom. And, now this summer we came to participate in a tekes siyyum – a graduation ceremony where we would be awarded the title of Senior Fellows of the Hartman Institute. It was a moving ceremony that included Natan Sharansky as the honored speaker. I was proud to be chosen as a speaker to present comments on behalf of our class of 27 rabbis.
I have taken the liberty to post my address on our tbsroslyn youtube site – you can access it at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EozAVNrweGI.
We have also been busy with our usual regimen of study here at Hartman that begins early on the morning and continues till late at night. This year the theme is: Engaging Israel: Jewish Values & the Dilemmas of Nationhood.
We are wrestling with the issues that confront all of us who care about Israel and the challenges she faces in a hostile world. We study and argue over the meaning of Israel, the challenges of Israel and the unique relationship and responsibilities that we have as American Jews.
Our courses include: Legal and Moral Dilemmas in Countering Terrorism: An Insider’s View taught by Tal Becker an International Associate at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and a member of the Hartman Institute's Engaging Israel Project. From 2006-2009 he served as senior policy advisor to Israel's Minister of Foreign Affairs and was a lead negotiator in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations during the Annapolis peace process. He has represented Israel in a wide variety of bilateral and multilateral negotiations, and served as director of the International Law Department at the Israeli Foreign Ministry, as counsel to Israel's UN Mission in New York, and as an international law expert in the Military Advocate General's Corps of the Israel Defense Forces. We have studied with Rachel Korazim, David Hartman, Michah Goodman – an incredible young scholar who is doing remarkable things here in Israel. We have discussed such issues like: The Value of Peoplehood, The Question of Sovereignty – that go to the very core of what this place is and what it is trying to be.
While study is most of what I am doing here we are also here in Jerusalem, catching up with old friends – soaking in the sights and sounds of this remarkable city. Last night we went to the opening of the Jerusalem Film Festival which featured an incredible French Film- La Rafle – about the roundup of Jews in Paris in 1942. It is a powerful movie but was even more remarkable to watch it while sitting in the midst of thousands of other Israelis – outdoors under a beautiful clear and cool Jerusalem night at Sultan’s Pool outside the walls of the Old City. One of the special moments was when they introduced the producer, writer and some of the actors – and the screenwriter explained how they felt about screening this movie in Jerusalem – and how everything in the story was true with the exception of one conversation she felt she needed to add. At a poignant moment, right before the Jews were herded onto the trains that would take them to their deaths – there is a brief conversation between two of the leading actors over where their salvation will come from. One suggests that Jewish salvation will come from the communist revolution, “Ah a Bolshevik!” says the other. And then he replies that what we need is our own country, where Jews can defend themselves! “Ah a Zionist,” says the other. But to watch that movie, in this place – surrounded by thousands of Jews who had built a country – a place where Jews could defend themselves. Well, it was truly a remarkable movie. When that very sad movie was over, we were in Israel. So many had died – and we were alive, in Jerusalem – in a vital and vibrant country – truly remarkable.
Tonight is Shabbat. Nothing in the world better than Shabbat in Yerushalayim.
The plan is to take a walk after dinner – to visit the Hasidic shuls in Meah Shearim – to “tisch hop” -- go from one Rebbe Tisch to another. These get togethers take place late (near midnight) on Shabbat – when the Hasidim gather to be near their particular rebbe – to learn from him but more importantly to imbibe his presence. It should be quite an experience – hundreds (thousands?) of Hasidim in a room with their revered rebbe – singing, dancing. I will be sure to let you know how it goes.
Until then – warm wishes of Shabbat Shalom from Edy and me from Jerusalem!
[ view entry ] ( 45 views ) | permalink
PS -- after three weeks in Jerusalem -- my still pale skin is ample proof that I have been spending most of my time in doors studying.
PPS I want to thank my good friend and colleague Rabbi Steve Moskowitz of Old Brookville for the use of his Flip Video.
[ view entry ] ( 60 views ) | permalink
Here is a picture we took of the 25 or so Rabbinic Fellows who have been studying together for the last few years:
[ view entry ] ( 46 views ) | permalink
Clearly one of the highlights of the past week was Jessica Barnoy’s Bat Mitzvah aliyah at the kotel. Jessica was outstanding – she led the davening and chanted beautifully from the Torah. Those of you who traveled with me to Israel may remember the spot that we had our Service at what is being called Hakotel Hamesorati that is located at Robinson’s Arch – it was a wonderful Service and a wonderful simcha.
The program at Hartman continues to occupy ALL of my time. The subject for this past week has been “Pluralism and Diversity and their Limits”. We have studied Jewish sources and had many extensive conversations on the subject of Boundaries and the Limits of Tolerance. Our readings have been as diverse as the Tamlud and Tosefta and of course of the Bible, to contemporary Israeli poets, William James, Charles Taylor and Erich Fromm.
Our faculty is equally diverse. We have studied with Dr. Noam Zohar a professor of Jewish Philosophy at Bar-Ilan University, Rabbi Dov Linzer the Rosh Yeshiva and Den of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Rabbinical School, Rachel Korazim a Jewish educational consultant and one of the leading educator on Israeli literature, Ori Goldberg who recently received his PhD from Tel Aviv University School of History – he is interested in religious thought and it role in shaping global culture and politics. With Ori we studied Shia texts on diversity. And the list goes on and on.
Of course all of this is going on against the backdrop of what is happening here in Israel. I don’t know how much the media has been covering it in the states but here in Israel there has been a lot of tension between the very right wing segment off the Hareidi Ultra-Orthodox community in Mea Shearim who have been rioting and demonstrating against the police and local government.
If you want to read more about it you can take a look here:
http://www.ynet.co.il/english/articles/ ... 48,00.html
Last Thursday night we were invited to the home of Professor Jacob Milgrom who is a scholar and professor emeritus in the field of Biblical Studies at the University of California. He is most known for his research on the book of Leviticus and the purity regulations of the Torah. He is also the father of fellow Hartman Rabbinic Fellow Rabbi Shira Milgrom. Prof Milgrom who is now 86 years old and his wife Jo who is an accomplished artist live in a remarkable home in Jerusalem. We were invited into their home for a lovely evening.
You can see Prof Milgrom addressing us in his living room and his wife's artwork on the walls. She is quite a controversial artist using religious artifacts in very provocative ways.
We had a wonderful conversation on the subject of "how do you lead a life of faith and combine it with a critical understanding of Judaism?"
His wife has been involved in a wonderful project of collecting artistic representations of Biblical themes and making them available for educational purposes on the internet -- you can check out her work at:
http://www.tali-virtualmidrash.org.il/A ... px?art=497
Friday was a day to get ready for Shabbat. There is nothing better than Shabbat in Jerusalem - the sounds and smells. We visited our favorite bakery to buy challot and rugelach:
We went to our favorite place to buy ready made foods for Shabbat. The owner Eli makes you taste everything before he lets you buy so by the time you leave you not only have purchased food for Shabbat but taken care of lunch on Friday!
I davened in no less than 5! shuls during the course of Shabbat. Friday night we davened at Shira Hadasha with its wonderfully spirited davening, Saturday morning we davened at the Hildesheimer Shul -- a local small shul in the neighborhood that I have been attending daily at 5 PM we attended a lecture at the Ramban synagogue at 7:20 we went to Mincha back at the Hildesheimer Synagogue and at 8:30 I went to Ma'ariv at the Yehuda HaLevi Synagogue right near our apartment. None of these were more than a 10-15 minute walk.
There is so much more to tell you -- but the hour is late and tomorrow is another full day -- but I did want to try and keep you informed of what was happening here.
I understand that things have been going beautifully back home and I have gotten great reports about the davening on Shabbat. Yashar Koach to Norma Grill and David Rosenthal for leading Services this past Shabbat as well as Moshe Ostad reading Torah and Warren Rubin doing the Haftarah and to Beatrice Karten and Saul Waxman the week before with Madeline Yousefzadeh reading Torah and David Wasserman doing Haftarah -- it is great to know that the shul is in such good hands while I am away!
[ view entry ] ( 44 views ) | permalink
What a remarkable experience to see your baby having a baby. To see your daughter responding with love and maturity to the demands of a new life. It is hard to know where to look first at the baby or at the mother – both are an incredible cause for amazement and thanksgiving. We are grateful that our grandson is healthy and well. We are grateful that mother and father are fine and blessed with everything they require to raise our grandson well. We are truly blessed.
And now we are in Israel – studying at the Hartman Institute. I am participating in the Rabbinic Torah Study Seminar, which has as its subtitle: “Foundations for a Thoughtful Judaism.”
The topic for this summer is: Crisis and Uncertainty: Paradigms of Response.
It has indeed been an amazing year and many of us have “felt the ground moving under our feet” – this year it became almost an earthquake. There is an uncertainly and vulnerability in the world that many of us have never experienced before. Things look very different this summer than they did just one year ago – and the future looks much more challenging for us as individuals and for our institutions than it did just a year ago.
As a result our teachers at Hartman decided to focus our learning this summer on how our tradition responds to crisis and uncertainty.
Rabbi David Hartman gave an opening lecture entitled: “The Contingent Feature of the Jewish View of History.” A religious person is tempted to believe that everything that happens is ultimately part of God’s plan. David Hartman showed that is not the only religious response to crisis and that our sacred sources have other complex ways to respond to history – not only by ascribing everything to God’s will. Sometimes it is very much the absence of God that is experienced in the things that happen to us.
In dealing with crisis we recognize that there is personal crisis and national crisis – and while they are very different in some ways – they are also very similar in the responses they demand from each of us.
We have sessions with colleagues from around the country where we speak about our own sense of how each of us is experiencing: “The ground moving under our feet” – there is a comfort in knowing that others are experiencing what you are experiencing and a wisdom that comes from sharing.
On Tuesday and Wednesday Rabbi Donniel Hartman gave a two-part shiur (lesson) on “Ethical Responses to Uncertainty.”
On Tuesday evening we met with the new mayor of Jerusalem Nir Birkat and were briefed on the challenges and opportunities he sees for this most unusual of cities.
Last night we had a most remarkable lecture presented by one of my favorite scholars here at the Hartman Institute, Dr. Michah Goodman – that was titled: “Personal Crisis and Theological Audacity – Job and the Rabbis” It was one of the most incredible presentations on the book of Job that I ever heard. I am sure you will hear much about this in the months to come.
This morning, Thursday July 9 our study session is led by Dr. Melila Hellner-Eshed whose expertise is mystical literature and poetry. We studied Midrashic, Zoharic, and Hasidic strategies for surviving and transforming crisis. We read sections of the Zohar and sermons delivered in the Warsaw Ghetto during the Nazi occupation by Kalonymus Kalman Shapira the Rebbe of Piaseczno. We studied poems by the contemporary Israeli poets Zelda and Yehuda Amichai as well as one poem written after the war in 1945 by a polish Jew, called “The Bridge” – it goes as follows:
I didn’t believe,
Standing on the bank of a river
Which was wide and swift,
That I would cross that bridge
Plaited from thin, fragile reeds
Fastened with bast.
I walked delicately as a butterfly
And heavily as an elephant,
I walked surely as a dancer
And wavered like a blind man.
I didn’t believe that I would cross that bridge,
And now that I am standing on the other side,
I don’t believe I crossed it.
[ view entry ] ( 45 views ) | permalink