Wednesday, October 08, 2008

City by the sea, people before the gates

The sidewalk tables at a fashionable cafe, the ubiquitous presence of two-wheeled conveyances (both the people-powered bicycles and the gasoline-fueled scooters) -- these things you find in the above pic are typical elements, along with the warm Mediterranean sea, of the Tel Aviv Minna and I got a taste of in a short visit there this week shortly before Yom Kippur (which starts this evening!).

The Tel Aviv of today is a bustling, diverse and economically booming city. While the newspapers we read there very much reflected the concern that is rising worldwide over declining stock market prices and other elements of the current international financial crisis, one of the major questions the papers addressed was one that would only be asked by people who are still looking optimistically foward to how they will spend their money: how the crisis would affect Israelis' overseas travel plans. It turns out Europe is looking real good because of the strong Shekel, but the United States is still a bargain for Israelis as well.

We used our time here in Tel Aviv to mix work and play, using the cafes as (wireless internet-equipped) workplaces. We walked along about two miles of beachfront one late afternoon and evening to the South Street Seaport-like old port complex where we sat and drank coffee by the sea for a bit and reread (on my phone courtesy of the cafe's wireless internet connection) a New York Times travel section article on Tel Aviv that came out this past summer. It was interesting to read how the writer described things that we had seen now with our own eyes. He starts his article at the "separated beach", which men and woman use on alternate days to accomodate Orthodox concerns about men and woman bathing together. I wasn't expecting the visceral negative reaction I had to seeing the beach itself. I think it was probably because -- and I wasn't expecting this -- the beach is not only separated, but they have built a wall around it so you can't even see it (or the sea) from the beachside pathway.

We also took a daytime walk through some of the once-downscale neighborhoods in the south that are becoming gentrified. This plaza at a renovated school complex in the Neve Tzedek neighborhood was a perfect place for some folks (and their children and their dogs) to pass a peaceful late afternoon:
While we were sitting in one cafe near Neve Tzedek, Minna found a flyer for an organization that is working to advocate for the interests of non-religious couples in Israel. One of the unusual characteristics of Israel is that the Orthodox rabbinate controls matters of family law for Jews. This means it can be very difficult, for example, for some people to marry legally in Israel. This has led to the phenomenon of some Israelis flying to Cyprus just to get married (Israel, as part of the practice of recognizing marriages legally performed outside the country, recognizes these marriages as legal). The organization is called משפחה חדשה/mispahah hadashah, or New Family.

I really enjoyed our time in Tel Aviv. Jerusalem has the spiritual force and focus that attracts me -- and countless others -- there for study and spiritual growth. But the future health of the state of Israel -- something very dear to my heart -- will depend much more on what happens in Tel Aviv than Jerusalem. It is here that Israel strives for its success in the "knowledge economy" that has become the key for success -- especially for a very small country without much in the way of natural resources -- in the world marketplace. Here are high-tech engineers and dealmakers. Here are the artists and media creators who can make export their products (like Betipul) to foreign markets.


More than once since I have been here in Tel Aviv I have felt reminded of the war that started on Yom Kippur exactly 35 years ago and that cost Israel dearly in lives lost before the invaders were beat back. As we enter Yom Kippur -- the holiday that more than any other in Judaism asks us to contemplate our own mortality -- I wish for peace for all. May war once and for all disappear from our earth and may it be the will of the Blessed Holy One that we will all come to see the wisdom of the peaceful ways in which the Holy One has instructed us.

[x-posted to smamitayim]

Friday, October 03, 2008

Death of a Leader

Minna traveled to Jerusalem in search of opportunities for study and to experience joy in this ancient (and now modern) home of the Jewish people. But sad events can follow us wherever we go. Yesterday, we found ourselves at a funeral for the father of one of Minna's most beloved teachers in her rabbinical school at Boston Hebrew College. The funeral was at Jerusalem's main municipal cemetery, Har HaMenuhot, pictured to the right. It's built around a huge hill on the northwest side of Jerusalem, just south of the main road to Tel Aviv. There were quite spectacular views to the north from the burial site.

The funeral was attended by many of Minna's classmates. I found the below picture on a memorial page to the deceased, Zelig Leader. From right to left is Zelig, his son Ebn (Minna's teacher) and Art Green (the leader of Minna's school).

In the Israeli fashion, the words spoken at the funeral were short and intense. Ebn spoke first and, very much in his style, led the assembled in the wordless tune of a niggun.

I did not know Zelig, himelf, but I very much knew of the famous "Leader Minyan" here in Jerusalem, which is known for the intensity and length of its Shabbat and holiday services and which has been an important spiritual home for many American rabbinical students and others coming to spend a year or so in Jerusalem. I was suprised therefore that the second speaker was not a participant in the minyan, but was a leader in the Jerusalem scrabble club who spoke in English. Apparently, Zelig's inspirational spirit was an important force there as well.

Zelig's youngest son also gave a powerful and tearful talk, begging for forgiveness. Zeglig's brother also spoke powerful words.

After the words of those הספדים/hespidim were spoken, Zelig's body was carried out by members of the black-hatted הברה קדישא/hevre kasisha (burial society) on a stretcher wrapped in a burial shrowd (no coffins are used here in Israel). The stretcher was placed in a van that we walked behind to the burial site where he was laid to rest in the presence of his family and friends.

May his memory be a blessing.

[x-posted to smamitayim]