June 1, 2018 – Shabbat Shalom

In anticipation of the biennial Conference of the Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism (IMPJ), we had a later start than usual.  I took the opportunity to get a little taste of home with a walk along the beach, but the water was cold and the stand-up paddle boards are football shaped. No matter how attached I am to the land, the people, and the state of Israel, I am still an American. Confirming this knowledge heightened my anticipation and appreciation of the Convention.  To participate with this new form of Reform Judaism, developing organically from within Israel was an opportunity to see our Judaism from a new perspective.

As we registered, we met Reform Jews from all every continent but Antartica.  But the day belonged to the Israelis.  We were given headsets to hear a simultaneous translation of the opening plenary.  Representatives of all parts of the IMPJ and international partners were given chances to speak, greet, and excite the crowd with praise of the IMPJ, where we are and where we are going.  This was an easy sell, as the movement has more than doubled in size within the last ten years to somewhere between 50 and 70 Reform communities, depending upon how you count.  An award of merit was given the Israeli folk-rock superstar, David Broza, who then performed one of my favorite songs, Mitachat Lashamayim (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pT4O7hzcaZ0) and a piece from a new album about which a documentary has been made, East Jerusalem/West Jerusalem, of the same name (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PSU5YxIkyko).  The only problem was that the conference organizers pulled Broza off the stage rather than cutting some of the speakers, an unforgivable sin, in my humble opinion. 

Kabbalat Shabbatand Maarivwas wonderful.  Though the service was all in Hebrew with no audible translation, a written transcript of the remarks were.  But the most outstanding and moving aspects of the service were the music and participation of the congregations.  The Youth Movement of the IMPJ danced their way through the service with music that was unique to Israeli Reform Jews.  Even when settings composed by Americans and familiar to us, the instrumentation, tempo, phrasing, and even the kids shtick was unique and organic to Israel.  I am excited to say that I will be getting a copy of the music to bring home to Bat Yam. One of the outstanding aspects of their musical liturgy was the incorporation of secular, popular music into their liturgy.

A communal Shabbat dinner with over a thousand people followed, quite an experience.  Progressive and secular Jews from all over the country, breaking bread and sharing Shabbat wine, lots of learning and interpersonal connections were made.  I am fascinated that many in attendance identify not as Reform or progressively religious Jews, but as secular.  So why are they there?  Adult Jewish learning, communal worship and singing, connecting their daily lives to thousands of years of Jewish values and tradition within the land of our people has infused their lives with greater meaning and value.  This is a valuable lesson for us and especially me.

The small group session that followed, “From Crisis to Vision: Israel-Diaspora Relations,” was a lively and at times heated discussion about the current connections and challenges of relationships of Jews around the world with Israel and Israelis.  Even what to call those of us who live outside Israel was debated: are we Diaspora Jewry (a term which associates our dispersion with exile: historic and biblical, divine and political) or are we World Jewry (implying a more conscious and free will choice to live outside of the land and state of Israel).  It was fascinating to see the differences expressed by individuals from different lands, from larger and smaller Jewish communities, in different languages.  The backgrounds and circumstance from which these individuals and representatives come had a profound effect upon their view of Israel, Israeli religious issues, Israeli politics, and of other Jewish communities around the world.  A fairly disturbing realization was of the power struggle that seems to exist between the power brokers of American Jewry and the power brokers of Israeli and World Jewry.  I would hope to create a much greater partnership sense of than competition.  

The evening was capped off with an Oneg Shabbat concert, which like the service was infused with both secular and liturgical music, this time utilized for celebration.  But even as entertainment, the use of this music infuses the moment with meaning and connecting it to thousands of years of Jewish tradition and values.  And though I did not get back to hotel until after midnight, my enthusiasm for the next day overcame my exhaustion.

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