For a variety of reasons, I have now ceased posting here.
Moving forward I will be blogging at http://www.rabbidanny.com – all of the posts from this blog have been moved across, so please do visit the new site…
I think that this will be my penultimate blog post, with one more to follow with reflections on the trip as a whole.
Wednesday was the last day of the mission and unsurprisingly it was filled to bursting. The morning began with Shacharit at Beit Daniel in Tel Aviv, the flagship Reform community in the city. There we met with the newly ordained Rabbi Or Zohar. His story was fascinating, and a reminder that Reform Judaism has a unique opportunity in Israeli society to appeal to both the Orthodox and the Secular, possibly serving as a bridge between the two. The music he used to lead us in the service was spiritually uplifting, and I am excited to see what he and his community, Kehillat HaLev will be able to achieve, and how they will continue to grow.
After this we heard from Colonel Bentzi Gruber about the ethics of war and how the Israel Defense Force conducts itself against the terrorists to minimize the loss of life and the harm inflicted to the civilian population. It was shocking to see the way in which the terrorists use this Israeli ethical imperative to protect themselves and put others in harms way.
We saw a video of a terrorist carrying a kicking and screaming child across the road, knowing that because of this, the Israeli sniper would not fire. And then we watched as missiles were detonated in open areas, away from their targets, because the terrorists had sought refuge amongst a group of civilians. Israel gets a lot of bad press in the media, but it was quite amazing to hear from someone on the front line about what is done to try and conduct a war as ethically as possible. I am so very proud that this is the way the army of the Jewish State conducts itself!
One of the other challenges Israeli society is currently facing relates to how it deals with immigrants and asylum seekers coming there from Africa. These people are fleeing persecution and oppression in their own countries, undertaking a hazardous journey in search of safety. The situation is far from ideal in Israel, and none of them have been accorded the rights which accompany being recognized officially as refugees. We visited a kindergarten for the children of these immigrants, and spoke with a woman who fled from Eritrea to save her life. Her hope is that things will get better in own country, so that eventually she can return home. This is a group within Israeli society in need of help and support, and maybe Israel also needs our help and support in working out how to deal with this challenge.
Our final official part of the program involved a visit to Leket, an organization which collects food in order to redistribute it to the poorer members of Israeli society. We sorted through vegetables (eggplants, lettuce and tomatoes), separated them into boxes and then gathered together the boxes to fulfill the various orders they had received. It was a tangible way for us to help the poorest sectors of Israeli society, and it was a very appropriate way to finish our tour.
All of our visits on this final day were a reminder that there is work to be done. Work to be done to help to continue the growth and development of Israeli Reform Judaism. Work to be done in reminding people about the type of ethical army Israel has built. Work to be done to help the African refugees in Israel. And work to be done to help the increasing number of people living in Israel below the poverty line. In many ways our trip was simply a first step in finding ways to help overcome these challenges.
When I flew back to England, to visit with friends and family, during the summer, people offered the usual comments to a person going on holiday. Among the standard greetings I received, I was told to ‘have a good time’, ‘have a great holiday’, ‘enjoy your trip’. Beyond wishing me a ‘safe flight’, no-one seemed in the least bit concerned about my impending travel plans. People do not worry about another person going for a visit to London.
This has been in stark contrast to the greetings and wishes I have received before departing on the CCAR Mission to Israel. People have of course told me to ‘have a good time’ and to ‘enjoy the trip’, but from almost everyone I have also been told to ‘stay safe’. I recognize that some people would consider visiting Israel at any time to be a little dangerous. And as a delicate ceasefire holds (so far) after Operation Pillar of Defense, I understand that there is more concern after all of the images we have seen of the rockets and attacks of those eight days. But nevertheless it saddens me to think that visiting my grandparents and family in Israel is so appreciably more dangerous then when I visit my family back in England.
As a child I was in Israel visiting family once a year without fail. In the way that other people went to France or Spain, we went to Israel. At that time I did not realize that the security line was appreciably longer, and as a child I never fully understood that we always had to walk so far, because the flight to Israel was placed at the very end of the terminal in case of any trouble.
After spending a year in Israel at the age of 18 the frequency of my visits increased exponentially as there were numerous opportunities to travel with my youth movement (RSY-Netzer) for seminars and conferences. As the second Intifada took hold I understood that there were some added risks with traveling to Israel, and there was a time when I avoided public transport. But despite this one precaution, on the whole I was never concerned for my safety, and considered Israel to be a second home.
In advance of this trip, as so many people have expressed concern for my well-being, either with their words or the looks they have given me when I have told them about my visit. I have been struck by the way that Israel is perceived. In the aftermath of Operation Pillar of Defense people are worried about safety and security in Israel.
Having heard so much concern I was, for the first time, delighted to hear that the flight I would be taking was full. People may be worried about the situation in Israel, but there are 57 rows filled with people who have not been deterred. One way that we can express our support for the people of Israel is by taking trips there. But as I prepare for this mission I wonder what else we can do?
Israel is the one Jewish country in the world, and it is by no means perfect. But as we often say: kol Yisrael aravim zeh bazeh – all the people of Israel [the Jewish community] are responsible for one another, and we have an obligation to our Jewish brothers and sisters who are there; the same way that we did for Jews in the Former Soviet Union or Ethiopia in recent history. So what can we do to help the people of Israel? I hope that this trip will provide me with some answers; so that one day, whether my children are visiting family in England or Israel, there will be no concern for their safety, and they will simply receive the same greetings wishing them a good trip.
Dear Rabbi Danny,
I’ve been dating this great guy I met on JDate for about a month now. We’ve had 5 dates and I’m really enjoying getting to know him. On our last date, though, he dropped a bit of a shocker on me. After we finished a nice meal at his flat, we started to really get into chatting about our past and he opened up to me about a few things. He told me that he is an alcoholic and goes to Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). He’s been sober for a couple of years now but the whole thing is making me feel uneasy and I’m not sure what I should do. The thing is he’s a great guy, we share the same values and want a lot of the same things. I’m not bothered that he can’t have a drink, I’m just a bit worried about him being tempted into having one in the future and how that could change him.
Is it best for me to just break things off now and spare myself any upset in the future? Rabbi Danny – HELP!
I can see in your letter that you are feeling very conflicted about what to do, facing a complicated situation in relation to this guy.
In your letter you say that he is a great guy and that you’ve really been enjoying getting to know him, which sounds like exactly what you would be looking for after a few dates. The one problem is the alcoholism; were it not for this I am sure that you would be very excited to explore the possibilities in this relationship. What you have to decide is whether him going to Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is a reason to give up on the relationship now, before it gets too serious.
I think it is important to acknowledge that most people do not speak of alcoholism as something which you cure; instead it is something which is controlled by maintaining a sober lifestyle, giving up alcohol completely. You say that this guy has been sober for a couple of years and attends AA, which suggests that he has found a way to successfully control his problem. Although, I do understand that this situation might make you feel uneasy.
Judaism believes very strongly in the idea of teshuva – repentance. Every year on Yom Kippur we have a chance to atone for our sins. One can view the process of AA as a process of teshuva, whereby the person admits their problem and then undertakes actions to avoid making the same mistakes again. Judaism speaks of all people struggling to control their inclinations towards negative behaviour in all areas of life; alcoholism is the inclination which he is controlling and has done so successfully for a couple of years.
It is also important to recognise that it must have taken a lot of courage to share this with you and it is a sign of the closeness which he is beginning to feel with you. He is unlikely to have felt the need to open up to you if he did not feel that your relationship was moving in a positive direction. And things were progressing nicely; as you yourself said you have the same values and want a lot of the same things.
The fact is that relationships can be hard and there can be a variety of challenges along the way. Sometimes that challenge is a difference of opinion over values or different aspirations over life and the relationship. In your case, the challenge has emerged early on, with the revelation of his alcoholism. You have to decide if this is a challenge which you are willing to confront and whether this is a challenge which you feel your relationship will be able to overcome.
All the best,