Wednesday, April 29, 2009

A day of independence

Life just seems so much more intense -- so much more real -- to me here in Israel. In some ways, the Independence Day beachside bbq's that we witnessed when we arrived in Ashkelon, today (after pedaling 50 miles from Tel Aviv) were not much different from the ones you find in the States on July 4. But there was some incredible energy to it here. Minna told me a female cab driver here told her that if they were to pull over the car right there, the bbq-ers would run over to share their food with them -- עם ישראל פתוח/am yisrael patuah, the nation of Israel is open, the cab driver told her.

And, of course, the Independence of this holiday is so much more recent than the US of A's independence -- it only happened in 1948. And, even more importantly I think, the price of this independence is so much more current and intense, with all the wars and such that have touched this land and this people. Independence Day here is immediately preceded by Yom HaZikaron, Israel's memorial day for fallen soldiers and victims of terrorism. That holiday began on Monday night with a one-minute siren. All the shops were closed in Tel Aviv where we were staying. We turned on the television to a children's channel and watched a show where the host interviewed a small group of young children in depth about what it was like to have lost a parent to war. I just could not imagine something so intense being on a major network in the States as part of a national holiday.

The ride, today, was the first part of our trip from Tel-Aviv to Eilat. Here's a shot of Minna near an amusement park we took a break at just south of Tel Aviv:

And here are some of the other riders outside the amusement park:

And here we are by the beach when we finally got to Ashkelon:

It was a great day!  .. .  And it was so great to be in Israel for Yom HaAtzmaut (Independence Day). I almost didn't mind when the disco music of nearby celebrations kept us up way past our bedtimes last night, or even having to dodge the debris left over from the street celebrations on the narrow streets of Tel Aviv's Neve Tzedek neighborhood as we rode through it this  morning.  . . . I really felt free -- independent -- riding today!

[X-posted to smamitayim ]

Friday, April 24, 2009


Well, ready or not, next week Minna and I will be going on the Hazon-Arava bicycle ride -- all the way from Tel-Aviv to Eilat! Today, I went on my last training ride, my fourth ride of the week. On Sunday and today, I took challenging rides through the Aminadav National forest, which includes the mountaintop Yad Kennedy monument to JFK (see pic on the right). Twice this week, once with Minna and once with our friend Amy (who will also be on the Hazon ride) I went to Yad Kennedy itself.

I really enjoyed my ride, today. I went past Har Herzel on my way to Ein Kerem and then down past Sataf to the Nahal Refaim entrance to the national forest. For a number of kilometers from there, I followed the Nahal (a Hebrew word for a stream) on a dirt road. It was so beautiful to be in the Nahal's valley and looking up at the hills around. From there, I climbed up almost to the Yad, and then down to get towards home. I was out for six hours all told. Oh, how I will miss riding in these hills!

The approximate route I took today (up until a spot below Yad Kennedy where Minna and Amy like to rest) is below in the red [part of today's route was on the path of a trail from Tel-Aviv to Jerusalem that's called מים אל י-ם in Hebrew and "From Coast to Capital" in English]:

View Spring 09 Jerusalem/Israel Rides in a larger map

Shabbat Shalom!

[X-posted to smamitayim ]

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Stopping everything

"It's a memorial for the Holocaust. It's Yom HaShoah ."

That's what I said to the young (British-sounding) tourist who turned to me after the ceasing was over and the people got back in their cars at one of Jerusalem's busiest intersections. She asked, "what was this? What were people doing?"

By the ceasing, I mean one of the most short -- but powerful -- ceremonies in all of Israel, the way Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day) is marked. At 10 am, a siren goes off everywhere in the country and everything comes to a stop for two minutes. At the busy intersection Minna and I were at, there was horn honking right up to the moment the siren went off. But then it all stopped and the honking drivers all got out of their cars to stand at attention for the silent observance. A similar observance will be held next week for Yom HaZikaron, which honors the dead from war and terrorism.

Last night, Minna and one of her classmates had the honor of being at the official national ceremony for Yom HaShoah, which was held at Israel's main Holocuast Museum, Yad VaShem.The Prime Minister and many other dignitaries were there.


It was kind of an important step for me to be so intentional about engaging such an important part of Israeli life as Yom HaShoah -- on this visit I have been so consumed by the work and such I brought with me that I've been more "just living" here as opposed to "visiting" here. On one hand, that's great -- it's an expression of how much I feel at home here in Jerusalem. On the other hand, this is such a special opportunity to be here, and who knows when I will ever be able to be here, again. I have about four weeks left -- I'm going to try and enjoy them! :) . . . . . I have _definitely_ enjoyed the bicycle riding that I finally managed to get to this week. I posted here about one great ride I took Sunday. Yesterday, I took a shorter, but still challenging ride up to Yad Kennedy. . . . . The beauty of the hills on that ride -- and in all the hills in and around Jerusalem -- is something that speaks to me in a way I just cannot describe. As I write this I am sitting in a park overlooking one such beautiful hillside not far from where Minna is at class now at Machon Schechter. . . . . It really is these things -- the hills and the people of the city -- that speak to me so much here, and not necessarily so much the famous holy sites like the Western Wall. . . . I've been reading Karen Armstrong's book on Jerusalem. In the opening pages she talks about what it is that makes a place holy to people. She says it has something to do with an association a place gets with the _experience_ of the holy. . . . Somehow, for me, God is closer here. Here, in the people. And in the hills.

[X-posted to smamitayim]

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Back on the bike

I got out today on a 30-mile ride through the beautiful mountains, full of spring wildflowers, to the west of Jerusalem. It was great!

View Spring 09 Jerusalem/Israel Rides in a larger map

The Hazon (Tel-Aviv to Eilat) ride is only a little more than a week away now, so I wanted to work on getting my "sea legs" before we go, and I brought so much work with me from the States that before today I was only able to get out once before.

The ride, today, was extremely challenging and involved a lot of climbing, but I really enjoyed it. The Judean hills are so beautiful.

[X-posted to abayye]

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

This feast feeds freedom

A touch of jet lag and a sore shoulder had me up in the very early morning hours, today, laying down aluminum foil on every exposed surface of the kitchen here in Jerusalem in preparation for חג המצות/hag hamatzot -- the Festival of Matzah (otherwise known as Passover). Suddenly I found tears in my eyes.

The tears were related to the music in my ears. I was listening to Billy Bragg's version of Woody Guthrie 's "All you fascists are bound to lose. " I heard such courage in Guthrie's words. It sounded to me like a prayer. A prayer for a day where hate and violence would come to an end, a prayer, in Guthrie's words for a time when there would be "people of every color marching side by side." A prayer in line with what was in my heart as I was "making a spaceship" of this kitchen to follow in the thousand's years old tradition of my people to clear their houses of all leavened products for the week-long holiday. . . . Guthrie made me think of my rabbinical school colleague, Rabbi Scott Slarskey, whose teffilin bag while we were in school had on it the words Guthrie had on his guitar -- "this machine kills fascists."

I never asked Scott what those words meant to him, but I know how powerfully it spoke to me to see it associated with a part of the Jewish religious tradition. . . . Because I really believe that it's not enough to just want a world free of the hate (of fascists and others) -- a world of peace and love and freedom. In the last 100 years, too many dreams for that have ended up leading to all sorts of unintended and tragic consequences. To stay on course for our goal, we need God. We need our devotion to God. We need a way to express it. A way that's rooted. That's ancient. That keeps us hand-in-hand with the generations that passed before.

I was trying to keep faith with those generations and their own hopes for a world of peace as I was laying my foil. I was asking God for peace. . . And for freedom.

Have a great Peasach!

[X-posted to smamitayim ]

Sunday, April 05, 2009

This year in Jerusalem

For countless generations Jews around the world have ended their Passover Seders with the words, "next year in Jerusalem!" This year I will, God willing, be spending my Seder -- for the second time in my life -- there. As I write this, I am still amidst last-minute packing and wrapping up things here in the States, but at 6pm or so tomorrow I should be above the Atlantic on my way towards Israel. I can't wait to see Minna!

May this year's Seders and Passover be Kasher -- and joyful! -- for everyone.


At the Seder, our tradition asks us to see ourselves as if we ourselves -- and not just our ancestors -- have been brought out of the bondage of Egypt into freedom. The last year has been a time when I have started to see great hope that many new freedoms and many new paths are being opened up before me.

First among these have to do with Minna. Long have I dreamed of being able to have a partner on so many levels. Our shared commitment to a Jewish life -- and our respective deep commitment to finding paths to Jewish leadership -- has deepened my own Jewish life in ways that I am deeply grateful for and in ways that make me hopeful for a continued blossoming in that part of my life in the future . . . A year ago this time, Minna and I were really just at the very beginning of getting to know each other, and were struggling to find ways to spend time together amid the challenges of a long-distance relationship. But, over the last 12 months, we were able to find a way toward having over two months together in Israel (and are planning on having more time together now).

New paths to freedom have also appeared in my professional life. Most importantly, it was just about a year ago that I passed a big hurdle in my chaplaincy educator/supervisor training process and was officially certified as a supervisor candidate. This put me on the path to writing a series of papers about my approach to chaplaincy education (getting those papers passed is the next big hurdle towards certification).

I got so excited about what I was writing (especially ideas like evaluation as blessing) that I decided I wanted to extend my research and knowledge about how people learn -- especially about understanding how the Jewish tradition has shaped its unique way of forming leaders (rabbis and not rabbis) and how empathy -- caring -- can be taught (here's a recent New York Times article on empathy training in a public school that is interesting, but I think misses the point a bit by confusing being "nice" with being empathetic). . . And that led me to applying to a great doctoral program in Jewish Studies and Education at NYU. I'll be starting there in the fall (don't worry -- I'm not giving up chaplaincy and will continue to be a part of the hospital here)! . . . . . It will be important for me in the coming year, however, to remember how easy it can be to confuse freedom with bondage. . . . The people Israel, after their liberation at God's hand, got pretty confused about this during their long wandering in the wilderness and even made a Golden Calf for themselves in the "freedom" they had when Moses left them alone to go up on the mountain for the tablets. I have taken on quite a heavy task for myself to be starting a doctoral program while still working towards my certification and while still being a contributor to the chaplaincy services at my hospital.

I believe, especially with having Minna's support, that this is the right path for me. But I also know that, for all its benefits and joys, that it may test me severely at times. I pray for God's help and support amid that -- to help me make all my life, and not just Passover, a Feast of Freedom!


I can't resist including this. . . Have a great Passover!

[X-posted to smamitayim]