Prayer, Poetry, Art, and Music

Our Shabbat began at Birkat Shalom on Kibbutz Gezer, the congregation that Rabbi Miri Gold serves. She was the first non-Orthodox rabbi in Israel to have her salary paid by the government after petitioning the Israeli Supreme Court (a case that took 7 years to resolve).

Rabbis Miri Gold and Steve Burnstein lead services at Kehillat Birkat Shalom on Kibbutz Gezer





After a lively musical service, I had the honor of attending Shabbat dinner at Miri’s home with a number of other rabbis from my trip, as well as other guests. While helping wash dishes in the kitchen, Miri reminded me that I had taught her a number of years ago while on a healing center work trip (sponsored by UJA Federation of NY), in which we had brought some of our best pastoral practices to rabbis and social workers on the ground in Israel.

Miri’s husband David is a gourmet ice cream maker (I counted three ice cream makers in the kitchen, but I think there are others, and he spoke about 3 different freezers!). We had such fun tasting his many extraordinary flavors.

Miri’s husband David serving up his gourmet ice cream

On Shabbat morning, several of us attended services at Kol HaNeshama in Jerusalem. There I was delighted to see my friend Yosef Abramowitz again, as well as my friend Rabbi Arik Ascherman, social justice activist extraordinaire. Arik currently runs a new interfaith human rights organization called Haqel —Jews and Arabs in Defense of Human Rights.

The service was lovely with a siddur all its own (Kehillat Birkat Shalom also had its own siddur with lovely readings). One of the changes that made me chuckle was the use of the word “chalutzim” (pioneers) rather than “chasidim” (pious ones) in the Shochen Ad prayer, since Chasidim hold such negative connotations for the Reform movement in Israel.

The round wheel stone on the left would have been rolled in front of this crypt, believed to be that of King Herod’s family

After services, we met the rest of the group plus our superlative guide Uri and his wife Meryl for a literary walking tour, during which we read some of Yehuda Amichai’s poetry at opportune spots. Meryl apparently was an old camp friend of one of the rabbis in our group (as I said previously, all roads lead to Jerusalem!)

Yemin Moshe neighborhood with view towards Old City. Yemin Moshe was the first Jewish neighborhood outside the Old City.

“Yizkor” Memorial for soldiers who died in ‘67

For instance, at this memorial we read and reflected upon the following poem:

The Little Park Planted
By Yehuda Amichai

The little park planted in memory of a boy
Who fell in the war begins
To resemble him as he was twenty-nine years ago.
Year by year they look more alike.
His old parents come almost daily
To sit on a bench
and look at him.
And every night the memory in the garden
Hums like a little motor:
During the day you can’t hear it.

At the remodeled Tachana (old train station)

Ai Wei Wei exhibit at the Israel Museum (these are not photos — he made these images of himself with LEGOs!)

After lunch, some of us went to visit the Israel Museum. (If interested in more of the museum and its permanent holdings, you can read my post from January 2013 entitled “A Day in the Museum.”) This time I was very interested in viewing the temporary exhibit of Chinese dissident artist/political activist Ai Weiwei. You may recall a 2015 news story when LEGO refused to sell him their product because they didn’t want to be associated with politic artwork. As a result of this news coverage, Weiwei received donations of LEGO bricks from supporters all over the world! I found the exhibit as a whole to be exciting and breathtaking — he uses a plethora of media and to make his important political statements.

I also saw a humorous temporary exhibit by Russian immigrant artist Zoya Cherkassky in which she satirizes her community. (Note the bread and the pork, with the title “Passover in Bat Yam.”)

“Passover in Bat Yam” by Zoya Cherkassky

Farewell dinner, our last group photo

Over our farewell dinner (where one of our waiters was Sivan, a typical Jewish Israeli name, and one was Ahmed, an Arab name, indicating yet again how diverse the mosaic of Israel is) before half our group departed for the airport, we reflected on this rich experience we shared in Israel and how to bring it home. (And offered our gratitude to Uri who was a magnificent guide.) This trip so intensified my love for Israel and its complexities. As Uri reminded all of us (none of whom are right-wing extremists by any stretch), we all have skin in the game and we are all on the front lines — whether we serve in the Golani Brigade or are supporters of the Israel Religious Action Center. Loving Israel, being a Zionist, does not mean having to treat Israel as a sacred cow that does no wrong. Israel is a vibrant democracy with a diversity of opinions — we all need to get in there and hold its feet to the fire, just as we do in our own imperfect country.

The following piece by Amos Oz seems opportune:

Loving the Land
By Amos Oz

The Land of Israel is not a museum of God.
No place is a museum of God.
No person and no inanimate object is a thing of worship.
It is permissible to both touch and change these things
on the condition that you yourself are prepared
to be touched and be changed.
The condition is love.
I know: it is impossible to “educate to love” —
You cannot “educate someone to love the Land,”
nor can you “educate someone to love the scenery.”
With love, you can “infect” someone else.
Sometimes love can be awakened,
Sometimes but not with a strong hand,
not with an outstretched arm,
and not with burning anger — rather through an approach of mutuality.
You come to a place — a hill, the desert, a spring, a house…
You can change it and make your mark upon it,
but it is also important to be open
and give it the opportunity to leave its mark on you.

And so it is that Israel has once again left its indelible mark on me. I do hope that some of you who have never been will consider coming to Israel. I’d love to lead a trip one day in the not-too-distant future with Uri, especially for newcomers (but not exclusively so).

Dancing to “Miriam’s Song” at Debbie Friedman Memorial Concert at Hebrew Union College

Last night happened to be the memorial concert for my friend singer/songwriter Debbie Friedman (of blessed memory ) at my alma mater, Hebrew Union College. So a few of us headed over there for music and dance and to memorialize someone whom we all miss so much. (Debbie had given me and Chaim a beautiful silver mezuzah to honor our marriage, a cherished gift.)

View of the Old City by night from Beit Shmuel

One of the unexpected gifts of this trip was meeting two rabbinical students from the Abraham Geiger Rabbinical School in Germany who are studying in Israel this year. Anita (unpictured) is from Hungary, and David from the Czech Republic, each with unique stories of their Jewish upbringings in Eastern Europe and finding their way to rabbinical school. Both are dealing with interesting pastoral care situations for which they sought my advice.

With David and his wife Juditka. David is a rabbinical student from the Czech Republic on his year in Israel from the Abraham Geiger Rabbinical School in Germany.

Chaim arrives to Israel tomorrow, and we will head up to Haifa and the Galil for two full weeks. More to come…


3 thoughts on “Prayer, Poetry, Art, and Music

  1. Amazing commentary … as always. So glad you have been able to partake in such rich and wonderful adventures this week. Travel safely to Haifa to meet up with chaim!

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