I sort of knew it would happen, expected it to happen. But even so, it felt like surprise, not inevitability, to run into people I knew in Jerusalem.
Yesterday it was Rabbi Rich Kirschen while I was wandering around the beautiful campus of Hebrew Union College, where I’d spent my first year of rabbinical school. We had known each other during rabbinical school in New York but mostly from when we’d both lived in Park Slope, Brooklyn. He works for NFTY, the Reform youth movement, in Israel.
Today it was “Captain Sunshine” solar energy pioneer Yosef Abramowitz, married to my friend and classmate Rabbi Susan Silverman. Knowing I wouldn’t get to see Susan this visit since she is in the US, Yosef and I had made tentative plans to see each other at synagogue services tonight, which ultimately wasn’t going to work for me, since I will be visiting my friend Bili’s parents outside the city for Shabbat. So, voila, the magic of Jerusalem abra-kadabra’ed a serendipitous meeting while buying fruit and vegetables before Shabbat.
Susan and Yossi are, indeed, a power couple, both regularly featured in world and Israeli news: Susan for her activism on behalf of Women of the Wall and most recently on behalf of Miklat Yisrael, a organization opposing the deportation of the African refugees residing in Israel and finding homes in which to hide them. There is a growing movement in support of these African refugees, including Holocaust survivors who “remember when,” human rights activists, and now even some ElAl pilots who are refusing to pilot the planes that would return these refugees to Africa. Susan has been called a “Zioness Lioness” for this human rights work. She was recently in the US on a different tour to promote her new book, Casting Lots:Creating a Family in a Beautiful, Broken World, about adoption and raising a transracial family (Susan and Yosef have 5 children; their two sons were adopted from Ethiopia). For his part Yosef was co-nominated 3 times for the Nobel Peace Prize, brought solar energy to Israel, and now is expanding accesss to renewable energy in Africa. A film is currently being made about his work (for which crowdsource funding would be welcomed.)
But, most essential to my Jerusalem experience is my time spent with Bili, the friend I’ve had since I was 10 years old and she was my penpal practicing her English on me. Bili has also been in — and on — the Israeli news of late, saving the Israeli TV archives (which she directs) from short-sighted governmental near-destruction. Bili vs. Bibi! (Bili, it’s worth my spelling your name my old way, rather than your newer way — Billy — just for that play on words!)
Yesterday I had the great honor of travelling to the Jewish Kessem school in Neve Ilan and to the Arab school in Abu Ghosh to participate in classes of fifth graders as part of my friend Simon Lichman’s program The Centre for Creativity in Education and Cultural Heritage. The CCECH is a nonprofit that brings Arab and Jewish school kids together around folklore programs. When I emailed Simon when I was coming to Israel, he wrote, “How wonderful! Would you like to come to the Abu Ghosh and Kessem schools on Thursday morning? I’m preparing them for a shul visit in 2-1/2 weeks so you’d be the perfect companion.”
In the Jewish School, we spoke about Jewish ritual objects which the kids had brought from home, and in the Arab school, the kids had prepared presentations about Jewish culture, such as Jewish garb, Jewish food, etc. In both schools I got to practice my Hebrew, and they all got to meet a woman rabbi. A win-win for all. Plus I then got to eat the famous Abu Ghosh hummus over lunch with Simon. We also visited the wild and crazy Elvis Diner outside of Neve Ilan, owned and run by a big Elvis fan. Simon also took me for a tour of two Arab villages, Ein Nakuba and Ein Rafa (where everyone seemed to know him) and explained the cultural differences (one is more traditional, in which the daughters marry early and don’t get educated) and history of each.
If you want to read more about the real impact of CCECH’s work, this article about what Simon accomplished in these two villages (and why they all know him) will warm your heart and perhaps spur you to make a donation to support his educational co-existence work.
More to come; I’ll be in Israel for almost a month. Shabbat shalom!