A Grain of Sand

"I will multiply you as the stars in heaven and as the sand upon the shore." - Genesis 22:17

"I can see the master's hand in every leaf that trembles, in every grain of sand." - Dylan, Every Grain of Sand (on Shot of Love)

Friday, June 19, 2009

shabbat shalom from Jerusalem

I'm soaking in the beautiful tranquility of Jerusalem before Shabbat. Quiet, the sound of just a few cars below, the streets empty.

Israel is a center of conflict to those in the diaspora. It has become even more clear to me that the simple political categories in America and Europe are insufficient to understand the conflict. On this trip we heard both from a peace activist who spoke convincingly about the real security risks facing Israel if the territories are given to the Palestinian people. This is also a woman with five children in the IDF. A few days later we heard from an analyst positioned firmly on the right who said that Israel must constantly seek peace and return to the negotiating table. He spoke personally about not wanting to send his seven year old son into an IDF facing war. Here political positions often reflect the complexity of real life instead of party or ideological allegiance.

But Israel is not just a place of conflict. It is a nation with a purpose, still, after all these years: to provide a home for the Jewish people. A diverse society to be sure, and an idealistic one - in spite of some of the unhinged charges of its more extreme critics. But a place for the Jewish people to be secure, to learn from its past and to discover its future. It is a place of great beauty and inspiration. We should all have a chance to be here at some point.

There are those among the Jews for whom Israel's future is guaranteed by its very existence - as if our status as Jews is a gaurantee of God's protection. In this week's parshah Korach challenges the priest's special status, affirming that all Israel is holy. We are taught though that Korach's mistake was in thinking that holiness is given rather than achieved. He and his followers felt it was there right to lead simply because of who they were - they did not need to become anything more to have power. Perhaps this is why there is the mysterious object-less verb, "Korach took," at the beginning of the Parshah. Maybe there is no missing word: it is just a statement of Korach's essence, an explanation of why he was punished. He simply wished to take, rather than give. He saw power as something to be given to him, an acquisition. Israel must continue to derive its security from is sense of purpose, its mission, its righteousness. This is not guranteed by the fact of its existence - but it is a promise of our past and a future that we must build.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Into the Wild

Half of the group left tonight. The rest are staying for the extension. We head into the Negev tomorrow, into the largest crater on Earth.

Today we walked the Old City. We were in the tomb of king David, housed inside a synagogue inside a building that was a monastery that is inside a building that was a mosque.

Being here has such a profound effect. It just feels like the right place to be - a country with a purpose, struggling constantly to survive and building all the time.

Monday, June 15, 2009


We began the day at 4am to prepare for our sunrise ascent to Masada. Just after we got to the top the sun broke through brilliantly. How great to have to face north to pray the Amidah instead of east.

A tour de force...tour of Masada and its history from Yishai our guide.

This symbol of resistance was once occupied by the zealots, frowned upon by the rabbis for their commitment to violence and death over life. And this week we read Parshat Korach, about another band of rebels disliked by the authorities. But we learn that the fire pans on which these rebels offered the incense rejected by God were used after the rebellion as part of the mishkan. To dissent becomes part of the altar. So too with the Great Revolt that culminated in mass death at Masada, rejected by rabbinic authorities and crushed by Rome - it becomes a symbol of resistance and freedom as the temple is destroyed and Judaism is reborn without Temple service. A new altar is created.

Now we're in Jerusalem. We started with a kiddush and shechechiyanu at Mt. Scopus. Tomorrow is Yad Vashem. Everyone is infused with the city's spirit. More later

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Israel Journey

An unbelievable jouney so far. Several people in the group have never before been to Israel - for them it is even more powerful. We've just spent Shabbat in Dor-Nachsholim, a beautiful beachside kibbutz. The Meditteranean is crystal blue. It was here that the blue dye techlet was made - and we are commanded to put a blue fringe on our tzitzit at the end of the parshah that we read on the Shabbat that we spent here (shalach l'cha). B'sheret.

Our guide for our Shabbat morning stroll on the archaeological mound on the coast was just the guy from reception at the hotel. He turns out to be a world famous marine archaeologist named Kurt Ravel, the guy who recovered the 2000 year old Galilee boat.

Too many beautiful moments to tell. Some highlights: meeting Avraham Dar, member of Palmach (the original military force that fought for independence) and later mossad agent. Rafting on the Jordan, meeting a peace activist with five sons who are IDF officers, celebrating Shabbat with our sister congregation in Zichron Yaakov, all of us united in literal and symbolic harmony as we sing in our ancient language.

Our pace has been crazy but we have seen so much. Masada and Jerusalem await.

What a magnificent country. So much investment in making this dream real. Ein zo aggadah, it is no legend, because of the work that people do every day.


Sunday, June 7, 2009

To Israel, With Love

So the Har Hashem Israel trip is about to leave. We are sitting on the runway at JFK antitpating ten hours of fly time. There are 14 of us and we are meeting 7 more in Tel Aviv. So far not much to report except the miracle of the ordinary: flight announcements and instructions in lashon hakodesh, the holy language. Not the elevated language of prayer of course but even more miraculous: who could have dreamed that we could have the privelege of hearing the banal in Hebrew? Well actually they willed it and it was no dream. More from Israel - we're buckling down for a nasia tovah.