by Rabbi Ruth Abusch-Magder
Rabbi in Residence at B’chol Lashon
On the first night of the Northern California Rabbinic Mission of Israel, Rabbi Stacy Friedman opened our Federation sponsored trip by pointing out that just as we have seasonal Halloween pop up stores throughout our region, in Israel there are pop up Purim stores which similarly sell costumes, make up and accessories. For Rabbi Friedman, these stores are a reminder of how public life in Israel moves to the rhythms of Jewish life.
But Purim differs from Halloween. At Halloween, we don costumes to scare others. At Purim, we don costumes to see the world through different eyes. To literally put on a different point of view.
So it is only fitting that this trip is happening in the weeks leading up to Purim. The 17 rabbis traveling the country this week represent the full diversity of Jewish life in Northern California. We have different approaches to religion and observance, we serve big and small congregations as well as non-profits and in chaplaincy. We have many points of view. By traveling together we are learning to see Israel through each other’s point of view.
We are also “trying on” all sorts of Israeli points of view. Our itinerary is purposely introducing us to many different Israelis, who each tell a unique Israeli story. On our first day alone, we met with the founder of a youth movement for Orthodox gay teens, with the head of Israel’s premier civil rights organization, and with the leadership and students of a secular Yeshivah in Tel Aviv. At each stop we not only saw Israel through their eyes, but also saw the changes they are affecting on Israeli society and culture.
Paintings, too, capture different points of view. We saw the retrospective of 82 year old Naftali Bez. Bez came to Israel during WWII as a young man and has been painting what he sees since his early teens. Even our food came with a story and a new way to look at the world. Liliyot, a fine dining restaurant, fills its kitchen with an apprenticeship program for at risk youth. Graduating them to full time jobs in culinary arts. Good food and good works.
In Haifa, we learned about the thousands of foreign educational and non-profit leaders who make their way through the leadership training institute founded by Golda Meir. Each teacher from Ghana, social worker from Thailand, or government employee from Ecuador who spends three weeks learning from the best of what Israel has to offer becomes an unofficial goodwill ambassador. At the Technion, Israel’s leading technical university, we learned how the school is committed to reaching out to every sector of Israeli society from the Ultra Orthodox to the kids in crisis. At Beit Hagefen, a center dedicated to religious and cultural dialogue, we heard from a rabbi and a Muslim leader about how religious leaders come together to speak out against discrimination.
But while some points of view are easy to try on, others stretch us and make us see the world from places we may not choose to get to on our own. On Thursday, we experienced two radically different points of view. First we visited with the settlers in Hebron and had a chance to visit the holy burial site of Abraham, Sarah, Rebecca, Isaac, Jacob and Leah. We heard from a young army spokesman who is responsible for the security of over 600,000 individuals. And in the afternoon we went on a tour with Ir Amim where we learned about how the current political and security realities are effecting the Arab population. Whatever our points of view, we are challenged to consider opinions that we may have not considered before.
Next week, we return to Northern California to our congregations and organizations. We will be bringing back the new visions and experiences to share. And when Israel or Purim ‘pops up’ we will have a great many perspectives to draw upon.