“Caught in the thicket?”
Notes from Jerusalem #3 – as I write this, my wife, Joyce is en route to land here in two hours. Being away from her and my children, their significant others, my siblings, extended family and close friends has been my most difficult challenge.
My best experiences in Jerusalem so far have been going to places where Hebrew is the only language spoken. If I can get the gist of what’s being said, I feel a great sense of accomplishment. Last shabbat I went to Kol HaNeshamah. Many of the congregants are native English speakers, but the entire service is conducted in Hebrew and the dvar Torah is given in Hebrew as well. I’m fairly sure I understood most of the talk and want to share the ikkar/the essence of the teaching that I received and my own take on it.
Just before Avraham is about to slaughter Yitzhak, the Angel of G-d calls to him and tells him NOT to harm the lad. (Genesis 22:12) Then we read: “And Avraham lifted his eyes and saw, a ram caught in a thicket by its horns.” (in Hebrew – neh-eh-chaz basbach b’kar-no). The ram is sacrificed instead of Yitzhak.
What does it mean to be (neh-eh-chaz basbach) “Caught in the thicket?” One way to interpret it is: “stuck in your own mindset.” This was the teaching. I’m looking at it through the lens of a foreigner. It is very easy to do this regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Many of us think we understand what the main problems are. Many of us, especially we who do not live here and do not actually experience the day-to-day reality of being an Israeli or a Palestinian think we know what the solution is or the solutions are to all the problems between Israel and Palestine, Jews and Arabs. I try to speak to as many Israelis as I can and will hopefully have the opportunity (once things calm down) to speak with many Palestinians and to go into the Territories to hear their stories. I am trying very hard not to get “caught in the thicket.” There is no one solution; no silver bullet (bad metaphor – sorry) to solve all the problems facing Israel. Whatever you may think, think again, and then again….. and as we learned in a wonderful Talmudic story, ‘one should always be soft/flexible like a reed and not hard like a cedar.’ (Babylonian Talmud, M. Ta’anit 20a-b).
Rabbinical Student at Hebrew College
“A vision of peaceful coexistence in Jerusalem”
This past Tuesday evening I intended to get to bed early in order to be able to get to the CY by 7:15 the next morning. At that hour I planned to get on a bus arranged by the Yeshiva to take us safely (there and back) to what some refer to as “the liberated Kotel,” near Robinson’s Arch. The necessity for the bus is sadly due to the current security situation. There is a tradition at the CY to davven there once a week, weather permitting. This part of the Kotel is an extension of the Western Wall that is used by many in the liberal Jewish community, to pray according to our own traditions, and where women participate fully as leaders and are counted in a minyan. I intended to be out the door in time to take my fast paced, cardio-pumping, uphill morning walk to school.
As the saying goes, “the best laid plans…” I went to bed very late, decided to skip it, and set my alarm for my normal wake-up time. For some inexplicable reason I woke up way too early, 5AM, to very strange sounds seemingly surrounding my street; sounds I had not heard since my arrival three weeks ago. At first it made me nervous. Was something going on? Should I force myself to get out of bed and look around? I decided to relax and tune into the sound. After a few minutes I began to understand what it was. The crisp morning air was acting like a giant microphone, carrying the sound of a Muezzin to my neighborhood. For a short while I wondered where it was coming from but then let go and simply listened.
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“Hebrew is the heart and soul of the Jewish People”
Earlier today yet another Israeli was stabbed in Hebron and a little while ago there was vehicular terror in the West Bank wounding two Israelis. We heard many sirens outside the CY building this afternoon. It always makes me wonder what’s going on. Since there was no instantaneous report of an attack, we assumed it was something benign, perhaps a traffic accident. Needless to say, this is a tough time to be in Israel. For me it’s the first time in my six visits here that I feel a fairly constant hum of anxiety while walking around and exploring the neighborhoods. We’ve been advised to avoid the Old City, unless going to the Kotel in a bus hired by the CY. This security problem means I cannot visit a very friendly Palestinian acquaintance of mine who owns a wonderful shop there. He and I have had several good, spirited and meaningful conversations during my two previous visits to Israel and he was one of the first people I went to see as soon as I got here (before all the attacks began). He is a Sufi Muslim and a man of peace in possession of a quiet dignity. He asked me to come see him as often as possible and I said I would. Right now this isn’t possible and it makes me sad and angry. The Israeli trope goes, “ye’heyeh b’seder,” which idiomatically means, “It’ll get better.” Reasonable people on all sides hope so.
On the other side of the coin, it is possible to completely enjoy this amazing place. I had dinner the other night at Tmol Shilshom, a wonderful restaurant/bookstore tucked away in a charming alley near Jaffa and Ben Yehudah Streets. It’s named for a novel by SY Agnon, the Nobel Laureate, whom I always enjoy attempting to read in his magnificent mishnaic Hebrew. The name translates as “Those Were the Days.” There is a certain irony to the fact that we were eating inside a restaurant named for this novel which evokes a time when tensions in Jerusalem were not high at a time when they are. And yet, my young friend and I lucked out in going there because that night there were two folksingers and a poet reading from her new book. Both of us were delighted that the singers and the poet sang and spoke slowly enough that we could actually understand much of what was being said. So, in a sense, we felt as though we were back in “those days.” Incidentally, I just ran into the very same poet on my way home from class today on Emek Refaim. We had a lovely conversation in Hebrew and she was sweetly patient when I was halting with the language. Moments such as these are not uncommon.
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