May 29, 2018 – Contemporary Challenges within Israel

Today’s program included learning focused on the challenges posed by changing immigration patterns into Israel and a changing role of Judaism in Israel, not the challenge posed by my still missing suitcase.  While the two topics seem to be very different, there is a major connection between the two.

After leaving Jerusalem at the crack of dawn, we found ourselves in a lecture hall in the Museum of the Jewish People on the campus of Tel Aviv University.  Dr. Galia Sabar, a leading authority in the world in African studies and the history of African migration to Israel, gave a detailed history of immigration to Israel from African nations like Ghana, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Eritrea, South Sudan, and Darfur.  We learned about the different factors that pushed people out of their homelands and pulled them to Israel.  Generally speaking the earlier immigrants came to Israel looking for jobs, labor migrants, while the later came seeking to escape persecution and existential danger. And though Israel was one of the earliest signatories of the Geneva convention, Israeli law provides few avenues if any for the naturalization of non-Jews and never anticipated being a destination port for migrants other than Jews.  These factors have created a crisis in Israel.

Later in the day, we met with Rabbi Tamir Nir, an ordainee of the Israeli Reform Movement’s seminary, who is the Director of Bina, the Secular Yeshiva in Tel Aviv.  The goal of his program is to use Jewish text and tradition to enhance the sense of fulfillment and satisfaction participants have with their lives.  The program combines study with action rooted in the values of Jewish tradition while making little or no demands for change upon the ritual lives of the students. In other words, while Israelis are steeped in Jewish tradition: living in the Jewish homeland, speaking the Jewish language, and living according to the Jewish calendar, they don’t see themselves as living out Jewish values.  For example, a medic may not see the care they provide for others as a Mitzvah.  Rabbi Nir seeks to change this.

The connection between the two issues stems from this idea of Jewish values.  The question for Israel is how to be a Jewish nation, not just a nation for Jews.  The must answer questions like what does Judaism tell us about how to treat the stranger?  What conditions are we Jews permitted to allow other human beings to endure?  With our help and support, Israel can find answers and continue to be a true Jewish nation and light unto the world.

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