Blogging my AIPAC Rabbinic Mission – Day 4

I wanted to share a few of the more inspiring moments I have had so far on my mission:

1. Visiting the new planned city of Rawabi, just outside of Ramallah in the Palestinian territories, a community compared to the Israeli city of Modi’in, which is just outside Jerusalem. This extraordinary and magnificent $1.2 billion project is soon to be home to 700 Palestinian families (the developer’s ultimate goal is a population of 40,000), and will include an industrial zone, schools, hospitals, entertainment centers, cinemas, restaurants, shops, nightclubs, churches, mosques, a classical-style amphitheater, and a soccer stadium. The hopeful vision behind Rawabi (who’s motto is “The Best is Yet to Come”) is to peacefully, proactively, and dynamically contribute to the building of an independent Palestinian state. As the developer, Bashar Masri, told us (and I’m paraphrasing here): A Palestinian state is in the making. It may take a long time, and it will require the people’s participation in building. But ultimately, we have the responsibility to decide what kind of state it will be, and to work to make it so. You can read more about Rawabi here.

2. Talking with the head of an incredible Israeli NGO called Tevel B’Tzedek (The Earth in Justice), which promotes sustainable development in countries like Haiti and Nepal, and does so with the deep conviction that they are called to this work as Jews and as Israelis. The organization is committed to stemming poverty, and sends young Jews to live with communities and help them develop agriculture, schools, education, and community structures, so that they don’t feel compelled to move away from home and live in city slums in the hopes of having more food security. Not only is Tevel B’Tzedek doing holy work, but they are also deepening the incredible reputation Israel has in the developing world. People in poor countries are amazed at Israelis’ capacity to succeed despite the many significant challenges it persistently faces. Tevel B’Tzedek’s work is, in this sense, the very definition of kiddush Hashem (sanctifying God’s name). And, in leading the way toward tikkun olam (repairing the world), they help realize Israel’s promise of being a Light Unto the Nations. You can read more about the organization here.

3. Though it was not an official part of my AIPAC trip, Praying with Women of the Wall,an organization dedicated to making the Western Wall a more inclusive space for all Jews. In particular, Women of the Wall demands that the Western Wall, Judaism’s holiest site, be a space where all Jewish women can worship however they choose, including wearing prayer shawls and praying and reading from the Torah collectively and out loud. I stood with a group of supportive men behind a partition at the back of the women’s section of the Wall, which was itself distanced from the women’s section to prevent us from passing a Torah scroll to the Women of the Wall group worshipping in front of the divider. A female board member of Women of the Wall tried herself to bring a Torah to the prayer group, but was arrested, taken to prison along with the holy scroll. A venomous and hate-filled group of ultra-Orthodox men stood around us, spewing insults, denying our Jewishness, and doing everything possible to disrupt and drown out our prayer and provoke us into confrontation. A smaller, but still quite vocal and corrosive, group of ultra-Orthodox women stood closer to the Women of the Wall prayer group and attempted to do the same. Now, I know on its surface that this does not sound like a particularly inspiring experience, but I was inspired by the courage and passion of hundreds of women (and men) who were willing to withstand these indignities and threats in order to advance a vision of a more inclusive Jewish state, where men and women, regardless of their approach to Judaism, are free to worship however they choose at Judaism’s holiest spaces. This, to me, is a deeply Jewish expression of indignation and yearning, a striving for the soul of the Jewish state.

Finally, some items for your Shabbat reflection. As the conversation around the Iran deal swirls in the U.S. and in Israel, I wanted to share with you a few articles that, I think, offer nuance and thoughtful analysis, from a range of perspectives, and mostly written by Israelis. In no particular order, I have found the following pieces helpful as I wrestle with the issue:

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