As A Progressive Jew, I am Committed…

As I attempt to write these lines whilst sitting in a train traveling North from Alicante to Barcelona in Spain, my home country, I can’t help but appreciate the beauty of the land of the region of Valencia. To my left, endless fields of orange, pine and palm tress with arid and rough mountains in the background. To my right, the Mediterranean Sea, source of food, life and inspiration for generations. And above all, a peaceful blue sky, only crossed by unconcerned birds, maybe seagulls. My mind drifts away intentionally towards Eretz Israel, where, under the same sky and sun and along the coasts bathed by our beloved Mediterranean, a dreadful war of fire and human hatred prevents longed promises of security and peace for all its inhabitants.

As we all know, Sfarad was at a time a true light to the European kingdoms throughout the dark Middle-Ages, where medicine, literature, poetry, science and philosophy flourished in the fertile ground of a relative peaceful coexistence of the three monotheistic religions present in the peninsula: Islam, Judaism and Christianity. The expulsion of the Sefardic Jews in 1492 was interpreted by some Kabbalists of the time as a cosmic drama, a new episode of Shevirat ha-Kelim (the breaking of the vessels) with the dispersion of the shards of light represented by the individual Jews who went on exile along the Mediterranean basin. The town of Sfat received some of these exiled Kabbalists and the wisdom of the Zohar would continue to enlighten the Torah with a specific Mediterranean way of conceiving hope, reunion and redemption.

From the darkest events of the 20th century for European Jewry, Zionism emerged with the promise of hope and redemption for scattered and oppressed Jews throughout a hostile continent. Many were those who embraced the new project since the beginning of the century, some on a voluntary basis, some as the last recourse to preserve their lives and their families’ or to restart a new life where the land flows milk and honey, far away from a European land that was still wet with blood. Palestine, Eretz Israel, welcomed them all, providing not only shelter and protection, but also human dignity, a Jewish life where secular and religious sensitivities would be respected and encouraged, a Jewish present and a Jewish future ledor vador.

As a Progressive Sionist Jew living in Diaspora, I am committed to the realization of the Zionist vision, and the accomplishment of the ideals of the founders of the State of Israel. However, I could not envisage my own commitment if it was not put within the framework of the current challenges being faced by my own generation: the on-going conflict with the Palestinian people and the subsequent territorial disputes, Israel’s recognition by its neighbouring countries, the growing tensions within Israeli society between religious and secular conceptions of modern life, civil rights and responsibilities, economic disparities and lack of opportunities for the youth and marginalized sectors of the society, a fair approach to the issue of immigration and inclusion of minorities, but to name a few. For most of the challenges evoked above, the Israeli society has shown innovative and unique expressions of dealing with them in a constructive manner, however the antagonist positions of the political spheres make progressive and daring solutions seem slow to come, limited and insufficient. Yet I believe that tensions in every human community are necessary and healthy. They mobilize forces, energy and passions by its individuals that otherwise would become stagnant and therefore unproductive, unfertile. Our Zionist history has shown us that more difficult challenges were overcome when the right doses of idealism and pragmatism were applied.

As a Progressive Religious Jew, I believe that the realization of the Zionist project and the prerogatives of the Jewish State of Israel need to be based and inspired on the high ethical standards and values that our Fathers, Mothers and Prophets envisaged for the Jewish people, which were preserved and transmitted from generation to generation. But it is necessary that they are interpreted and put into action according to the challenges and opportunities of modern times. I realize that this is not an easy task, however every generation is illuminated with individuals and communities whom, by sharing a unified vision, can work towards this accomplishment. I have found in the Reform and Progressive Movement, both in Israel and in Diaspora, and in organizations such as ARZENU, the living expression of the moral responsibilities we share as Jews. Help building and developing together a fair, inclusive and progressive State of Israel where justice, peace and prosperity prevail for all Jews and all its inhabitants, should become our priority – this is the only way we can become legitimate, inheritants of our tradition and the land we were promised.

My train is arriving at its final destination, the beautiful city of Barcelona, which counts the oldest synagogue in Europe amongst its treasures. In this city, a young and vibrant community of Reform Jews will meet again this Friday evening to pray for peace among Israelis and Palestinians. Standing for our Israeli friends in these difficult times, we will stand to the final verses of Lekha Dodi and will welcome Shabbat as our Kabbalist sages taught us to do. And as every night, I will pray facing Jerusalem, on the other side of the Mediterranean, asking for divine protection to all Israel and all humanity, wishing that only white clouds and the fragrance of the flowers of the orange trees will cross the blue sky and the songs of birds will be heard. May the thought of Zion direct our hearts and our spirits towards justice and love.

—–

Jose Luis Martin is a  member of Bet Shalom, a Progressive Jewish community in Barcelona, Spain.

 

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What is Israel and What Makes It Our Land?

My affiliation into Judaism began when I joined Hashomer Hatzair Hungary at the age of 16, and became a member of Sim Shalom, a Hungarian Progressive congregation shortly afterwards and have been a Reform Jew ever since that turning point in my life. However, these communities were not much more than grounds for socialising  for me until three years later, when I visited Israel for the very first time in my life. My Taglit trip and subsequent volunteering on kibbutz Grofit made me fall in love with the country and finally realise that the existence of a Jewish State is indispensable in keeping Judaism alive. My short stay in Israel made me gain a deeper insight into life in Israel and see that this land is the source, the centre, that fuels Judaism in the Diaspora.

The inevitable questions raised by this topic are how to define Israel and how Israel relates to the Diaspora. I am presently volunteering on kibbutz Lotan where I recently attended a session led by Benjie Gruber (rabbi of the Arava Region), where he asked what exactly we can call ours and what it means to do so. This question is a major one on a traditional kibbutz like Lotan, where private property does not exist at all, but, evidently, the question might be broadened to the whole State of Israel, and in this case, the following problems arise:  If Israel is defined as the land that we, as Jews, can actually call our own, as opposed to the land Jews of the Diaspora have been living on, then what exactly is it that makes it ours? What makes a Hungarian Jew, for instance, not live on his own land, as opposed to an Israeli one, who does? Moreover, if a Hungarian Jew should decide to make alia, then will he finally live on his own land, even though he sees it for the very first time in his life? If after being unable to provide a satisfying answer to these questions, one should finally reach the conclusion that Israel had better not be defined as “our land”, then he has just returned to the starting point and is once again faced with the problems of what to call ours and, maybe even more importantly, what Israel is.

Given the fact that these questions have caused innumerable disputes and splits in Judaism, I am evidently not going to provide a black-and-white answer for them, but I would gladly welcome any viewpoints, comments, on the topic and I am also going to share mine. To me, calling something my own – or our own, for a nation – originates from a deep spiritual attachment towards that entity, rather than from material sources. Therefore, a Hungarian Jew having lived only in Hungary but loving Israel can call Israel his land just as well as he can call Hungary his land provided that feels it to be so. That is why, even though I have spent only roughly three months of my entire life in Israel so far and regardless of where I might live later on or to what extent I should agree or disagree with the current politics of Israel, it is and will always be my land, and to all of us who share a deep love for the country, it will always be our land.

—-

Isabelle Menczer is an active member of Sim Shalom, a Progressive Jewish Congregation in Budapest, Hungary. There she serves as a teacher and is head of the youth group. She is also a valued member of the ARZENU community. 

ARZENU Press Release – July 9, 2014

As Progressive Religious Zionists, we grieve over the murder of the three yeshiva boys, Gilad Shaar, Eyal Yifrah and Naftali Fraenkel.  We extend our deepest condolences to their families and pray that the perpetrators of such a heinous act will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.  As Progressive Religious Zionists, we grieve over the murder of Mohammed Abu Khdeir.  We extend our deepest condolences to his family and pray that the perpetrators of such a heinous act will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

For Jews and Arabs in Israel, the Middle East and around the world, we perceive this time to be one for mourning and healing, not for revenge and continued bloodshed.  We shall continue our efforts to transform the fist of hatred into the handshake of peace.  We pray that in our days Isaiah’s vision shall come true that “they shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation shall not take up sword against nation; they shall never again know war.”  We also subscribe to the teaching of the Rabbis:  “Who is strongest of all?  One who turns an enemy into a friend” (Avot de-Rabi Natan 23:1).

“G-d will give strength to the people-G-d will bless all people with peace” Operation Protective Edge has gone on for two weeks now with a heavy toll of deaths, and injuries in Israel’s effort to defend the cities, towns and rural settlements in the south. The IMPJ is continuing its mobilization to bring relief to the people living under fire. In the last few days and planned till the end of this week we will continue to focus on the following specific spheres of intervention:

Volunteering in Shelters and Emergency Facilities throughout the south- Organized by our humanitarian relief arm, up to now over 200 volunteers have lead activities in shelters, community centers, and other locations in cities and regional councils throughout the south. These volunteers lead activities and hand out “Activity” packages that include games, books, and interactive fun experiences. Where needed we are also handing out “Food and Hygiene Packages” in shelters. Our volunteers have worked directly with over 1500 people. We will be continuing to facilitate volunteers from IMPJ congregations, mechina alumni (those that haven’t been drafted), and others from our institutions. We have already handed out close to 2000 activity packages.

Recreation and Relaxation Days for Children and Families at our centers in Haifa, Jerusalem and Tel Aviv- Starting this past Thursday and scheduled to continue every day until the crises ends, we are bringing children and families from areas of missile bombardment to our centers for fun, cultural activities, and relaxation. Four of these days have already taken place at the Leo Baeck Campus in Haifa with around 50 children each day including a day with Bedouin children from the Negev this past Sunday. Starting later this week groups will be hosted in Beit Shmuel in Jerusalem and in Mishkanot Ruth of Beit Daniel in Tel Aviv.

Hosting of Families with special needs in our Movement Locations- Families with special needs children and adults from areas impacted by the crises have a more urgent need to be taken away from the constant sirens, moving to shelters, and pressure. Therefore our two Reform Kibbutzim along with Beit Daniel in Tel Aviv and Beit Shmuel in Jerusalem will be hosting special needs families from weak economic backgrounds. Up to now we have arranged for 100 such families to be hosted and this number will be increased over the next few days.

Cultural and Spiritual Care in Frameworks for Emotionally Challenged- The IMPJ was asked by the Ministry of Health and by many municipal welfare departments to bring educators, cultural coordinators and song leaders to closed frameworks for Emotionally Challenged people to help them deal with the crises. We created three teams of Rabbis, song leaders, and facilitators for this purpose and have begun daily visits to facilities in Kiryat Gat, Beer Sheva, Kiryat Malachi, and Ashkelon where we lead cultural events, singing, and discussions to help relieve stress and build resilience.

It is important to note that in addition to all of the activities listed above that we are involved in, our congregations and communities also have to cope with the situation. This is especially true of our communities in Gedera, the Sha’ar HaNegev Regional Council, and in Beer Sheva. All of these communities are dealing themselves with the stressful and dangerous situation every moment of the day and night. A good example of this is the activity of our student Rabbi in Sha’ar HaNegev Yael Karrie who every day leads activities with elderly, participates in the regional emergency center, visits hospitals, participates in the programs noted above with emotionally challenged, has reached out to Bedouins in Rahat, lead Shabbat services and is a model for initiative and tireless effort during the crises.

We want to make special mention of the support from our communities throughout the world and the fact that our North American partners from the URJ and all the other arms of our movement in North America are partners in the JFNA “Stop the Sirens” campaign which is providing the IMPJ with funds to help us carry out all the activities described above. We are grateful to JFNA for supporting the IMPJ emergency relief efforts. We continue to pray for peace.