Thursday, July 21, 2011

A Baker's Dozen of Extracurricular Activities

Rabbi Michael Feshbach
Temple Shalom
Chevy Chase, Maryland

Studies continue for many hours a day, with so much to say about them.
But there have been a few "extracurricular" activities as well.  Some of these (such as the West Bank tour and the movie night) were organized by the Machon, the Shalom Hartman Institute, and the program I am in.  Others were things I did on my own.  Each of the baker's dozen of activities below would be worth a blog of its own, and I may expand on this, but for now, a quick survey:

1) A tour of the West Bank was one of the most interesting and eye-opening experiences I have ever had in Israel.  (Or do we even say "in Israel" for part of the day?)  We began the tour with an American-born Israeli attorney named Daniel Seidemann, a colorful character who has advised American and Israeli governments on security issues in an independent capacity, whose claim to have had significant influence is backed up by others, and who often has taken the Israeli government to court to attempt to force it (also sometimes successfully) to change the route of the security fence.   His claim is that there remain only two or three more years for a viable two-state solution, that the creeping settlements will soon surround Jerusalem and make a workable and contiguous Palestinian state almost impossible.  Our first stop was where the border will probably run in any future agreement, and our second one at the infamous and controversial Sheik Jarrah, where Jewish settlers and squatters have taken up homes in the middle of a Palestinian neighborhood, attempting to demolish homes and brandishing the very new and historically dubious claim to have found the grave of an ancient figure known as Simon the Just.  The very first sign of a typical "Israeli" type of complications that day came when we tried to go back to the bus, only to find it locked, and all of us waited for 20 minutes in the sun while, we later discovered, the bus driver had gone off to daven (pray) and put on teflillin!

After meeting with Daniel Seidemann, we then headed north from Jerusalem, entered the heart of the territories, discussed what the implications of language were for the region (anything that one chooses to call this area reflects a political bias of one form or another), and then picked up another Danny... this time Colenel Danny Terza, the former chief planner of the "Seam Zone" Barrier.  In other words, he is the one who designed the route of the fence, which the man we met with earlier challenged.  The two men have often met on opposite sides of court cases!  We visited the settlement of Beit Aryeh, and looked down from what Palestinians want as their territory... right onto the runways of Ben Gurion, and the coastal plain of Tel Aviv.

And then things got... really interesting.

We had plans to go into Area A, the part of the West Bank totally controlled by the Palestinians.  Israelis are not allowed to enter this area, and we were going only with permission from the Israeli army and an invitation from the Palestinians.  But one of the bus drivers -- our friend from the morning, of course -- refused to go in.  I put up my hand and asked the organizer incredulously why the company had not known, in advance, where we were going; the reply was that the company had but the driver had not!

So somewhere near Bir Zeit we pulled over, and, at the entrance to Area A, in front of a sign in Hebrew indicating that one was risking one life, we hopped off our bus, and waited... while the other driver shuttled the first group in.  Eventually, escorted on the other bus, but a white van with a sign in Arabic saying something like "don't worry that the bus behind us has Hebrew on it, because they are with us," we went in... and headed to the site of the new Palestinian city of Rawabi.

The place is incredible.  The presentation was slick, professional, with fund raising videos outlining future plans, envisioning a thriving, middle class, environmentally friendly, world-funded but eventually self-sustaining city of thousands, bringing jobs to the Palestinian areas, ameliorating a significant housing shortage, and serving as a cornerstone of what the planners call "the peace economy."  And yes, 12 of 13 steps of the approval process needed from the Israeli government have been met -- the last one being the Prime Minister's approval.  And yes, there are issues with access roads and water rights.  But if you see me in person, ask to see the fancy brochures and detailed plans; it seems that these Palestinian entrepreneurs, at least, have learned from the very best of Israel's Zionist successes.  Hearing from the developer, Bashar El Masri, was inspirational, and a source of hope in an otherwise bleak landscape.  I am not sure that the fact that they are being attacked by both Palestinian extremist and settlers who do not want to see Palestinian development succeed is automatic proof that they are doing something right, but it was certainly an argument in their favor.

2)  Abu Ghosh.  On returning from the tour of the West Bank, it seemed appropriate to maintain the theme of the day, so two friends piled into my car and we headed off to the Israeli Arab town of Abu Ghosh, for a meal at the Lebanese Restaurant, widely considered one of the best places for hummus in all of Israel.  It was interesting being in a friendly, educated, thriving Arab village outside of Jerusalem.  In its own way, breaking bread in total comfort was another sign of hope.  It certainly felt like a perfectly normal thing to do.

3) Two days after the tour of the West Bank, we got a dose of Western culture at the highest levels imaginable.  The entire Hartman program -- at this time both my group and the much larger Rabbinic Torah Seminar -- had a special guided tour of the newly renovated Israel museum.  We went off into different sections; I made a mistake, I think, in choosing Archeology, the one section of the museum I had seen already, last year, thinking I could learn more from the guided tour (other friends reported great satisfaction with their tours of the other parts of the Museum), and then we gathered on the balcony overlooking the Knesset and the Judean hills, for a first-rate dinner and a world-class talk by the Museum's Director, James Snyder, who had been at the MoMA in New York before coming here.  He was a New York figure of a certain type, holding on to the leash of what I later found out was his wife's dog while gesturing and describing the renovation.  The Israel Museum is now one of the ten largest museums in the world, and their display of items went from 10,000 objects in 100,000 square feet to a much more spacious, intentionally calming arrangement of 7,000 objects in 200,000 square feet.  The Museum is, indeed, totally world class; an amazing evening of art and culture.

4) We returned to the Israel Museum tonight for a concert by Israeli artist Chava Alberstein.  In some ways I felt as if I was in the heart of the (older) secular Ashkenazi elite... The performance was packed, and in the beautiful setting of outdoor upper level of the museum.  (At the same time, on the same night, I heard that almost 200,000 Israelis are gathering up north for an annual Israeli folk-dance festival in Carmiel... hard to believe those numbers but I am assured that I heard that correctly.  And Paul Simon, tonight, perfomed in a northern suburb of Tel Aviv, defiantly breaking the informal artists' boycott and bringing joy and comfort to thousands who were able to attend,)

5) The same spot, on the upper level of the Israel Museum, featured in the opening scene of the new award-winning, critically acclaimed and amazingly popular Israeli movie "Footnote."  It stars Israeli actor Lior Ashkenazi, who Julie and I loved in "Walk on Water."  He looks totally different here, barely recognizable as the same actor... and this movie is about the cutthroat competition in the ivory-tower academic world of arcane Talmudic research.  (Really.  Seriously.  Could I make that up?)  It is a surpisingly powerful film about family rivalry, academic insularity, honesty, truth and integrity.  We saw the film together with a group of academics... we rabbis accompanied the Hartman Institute's North American Scholars' Circle to the Jerusalem Theater to see the film, and some of the academics were deeply disturbed by the movie.  I hope it comes to the States with subtitles soon, and I recommend it.  (The Hartman Institute had a subtle mention in the movie, product placement which certainly made the organizers of our evening proud!)

6) Another cultural experience was a bit different from the world of academia and museums.  Apparently there is American funding for cultural renewal in Jerusalem in a setting that is neither political nor overtly religious.  So, this past Monday night, the Hartman folks made sure we had an evening out... at Balabasta, the musical and dance extravaganza held every Monday night, during the summer, in the already crowded corridors of Machane Yehuda.  Amazing to see bands playing from rooftops, people dancing on balconies, clowns and costumed characters walking all around.  Great experience, great meal at an Eastern (Iraqi?) style restaurant called "The Skewer."  I would not have known this whole thing was going on without it being on our program, so I am grateful... and I think we were the only English speakers for miles around. 

7) The school I visited the other day, with Arabs and Jews studying together, I described in a previous posting.

8) We heard earlier today from one of our teachers, Alick Isaacs, a postmodernist philosopher who brought us all squarely into the world of the unity of opposites... and who is now leaving Hartman to pursue what he views as his calling... an organization called "Talking Peace," which he founded with others, aimed at bringing about an internal, Israeli, Jewish values discussion of what peace really means, with participation from committed right-wing settlers to well known leftist peace activists, who are having an impact on each other by listening to each other in ways they never have before.

9) Tel Aviv last weekend was... amazing.  Both the service at the Tel Aviv port (which I first wrote about last year in a post called "Facing West" and which I will return to again in a future post) and wandering around the Carmel Market and newly redeveloped areas of southern Tel Aviv, Nachalat Binyamin and Neve Tzedek, were amazing experiences.  The contrast between the two cities, an hour apart, could not be greater; different worlds, truly. 

10) Se'udah Sh'lishit -- the third meal, referring to a Saturday evening meal held before the end of Shabbat -- was a wonderful experience last week, as an American-born Reform rabbi who made aliyah upon his retirement a decade ago invited me over, along with some local and some other North American colleagues.  It was a great chance to hear a "home" perspective from relatively new Israelis, in the Anglo community here.

11) Driving and parking in Israel has been an adventure.  My trip to the municipality to get a "tav chanaya," a parking sticker, was a double adventure.  My colleague and roommate Rabbi Jonathan Hecht had paved the way for me with three hours worth of aggravation the week before I arrived.  He kindly took me downtown to show me which the right buildings (plural) to go to were, and in which order, and which papers I would need... but, of course, the offices were all closed on the Friday morning we went there.  (We thought they would be open until early afternoon.)  So I went back on Sunday, went through everything he told me to do, and then found out that I could not get the sticker because we were here for less than a month.  I pleaded (having gotten nailed with a ticket just that morning), indicating that I had already been here a week, had had no time to come in earlier... and the lease was for a month.  I was told that "only Shuli can decide" what to do, and had visions of said Shuli being off on a honeymoon in India or something.  But eventually they found Shuli, got approval... and, after giving me a real run-around, then reached out, took my ticket, stuck a note on it... and told me not to worry about it.  What a stereotypical taste of what I imagine Israel to be!  Impossible... and then a close family feeling... all at once.

12) I visited a colleague who was at Hartman, but had to go to the hospital.  I learned several things about Israeli hospitals.  First, there are no televisions or phones in the rooms.  Second, the doctors are good, but are out on strike.  And third, no clergy parking spaces.

13) I am looking forward to a return visit to some other places outside the city, including a visit to a home in Tzur Hadassah this coming Sunday night.  Jerusalem may be one of the centers of the world, but it is, in its own way, not necessarily the center of Israel.  Getting out and around is a reminder that the country is bigger than one enchanting, enraging, magical city...  that the magic and miracle that is this country is not limited just to Jerusalem.

More soon.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Catching Up and Looking Back I:
Overview of the First Two Weeks In Israel,

Summer 2011

Rabbi Michael Feshbach
Temple Shalom
Chevy Chase, MD

Delays and Departures
Despite getting to Dulles Airport in plenty of time, going through security and boarding, a storm blew through, closed the airport… and we sat on the airplane, for an extra two hours before take off.  I had a good book, but was worried about connections in London.  Well, I ran at Heathrow, and, out of breath, I made the plane, one of my bags made the plane… and one of the bags stayed in London.  Julie had advised me to pack medicine and toiletries in the carry on; guess I’ll listen better next time!  (The bag was delivered from London all the way to where we were studying 36-hours late, so as travel stories goes this is a relatively happy ending).

Renting a car at the airport was a new experience… as was driving on Israel’s roads.  The good news is that I was somehow awake enough to drive despite (characteristically) barely sleeping on either flight.  The other pieces of good news is that my Israeli cell phone rang, with a message, practically as soon as I turned it on (although it took me days to figure out how to set the message and get some other guy’s name off the machine, as well as reach someone who spoke English slowly rather than Hebrew at 100 miles an hour to explain how to get voice mail messages).  I am the proud owner of a permanent Israeli cell phone number!

The other thing that worked, to my very pleasant surprise…was the GPS we bought last summer.  Talia had called the thing “Miss Directions,” and I think it was one of the most fitting names I had ever heard.  But, lo and behold, once I had a stern talking to the thing, and threatened it with being tossed out the window, suddenly, she started to behave!!  She is finding addresses she would not find last year, I am figuring out what she means in terms of the timing of her turns, and her British accent was always kind of appealing.  We seem to have made peace.

The bad news was the traffic; totally stuck for over an hour with a bad accident on the way to Jerusalem.   Multi-car collision, as was apparent when I eventually passed it.  They say that, without any doubts, driving is the most dangerous part of living in Israel.  Felt that way, right off the bat.

Easing In
I am renting an apartment this year in the neighborhood of Rechavia (very close to where I lived during the second semester of my Junior Year at Hebrew University), sharing it with my colleague and fellow-student at Hartman Rabbi Jonathan Hecht and his wife Gladys Rosenblum.  Gladys was very nicely waiting for me when I got in, and introduced me to the two-bedroom apartment.  I was too late for the evening program at Hartman that night, so, essentially, I had missed the opening day.

But showing up on the second day was like coming home and being greeting as a long-lost friend.  It was a great feeling to come “back.”

And there are hundreds of rabbis around during the first two weeks.  Our program is largely rolled into the larger one, which any rabbi can attend, during this time period.  Sometimes it feels as if everyone  you know is saying hello, all at once.

The “theme” for the first two weeks of our studies this year was “Peoplehood,” which, personally, I think is the single most challenging concept on the North American Jewish agenda.  Do we still feel a sense of connection with a large whole, with a collective, when our ethnic Judaism fades into history, when we are now (often for good, by the way) a mixture of so many new people, and as an unrestrained individualism takes ever firmer control of the conceptual universe of American Jews?

I will cover some of the approaches to the topic as I review individual day in my next post.  But the program was well run this summer, with high-level presentations and important conversations, of which, more below.

Chevruta Study (Paired Learning): A Typical Day At the Machon
Last week I was able to take out to dinner one of my former Bar Mitzvah and Confirmation students, a young man I am very fond of who is about to enter his senior year of college and with whom I have had ongoing and fairly deep conversations about Jewish life.  To my great delight I discovered that he was in Israel for two months, working at an agency called the Association for Civil Rights in Israel… and that he had an apartment about a block and a half from mine.

When we went out to dinner last Thursday night (including Gladys), he was gracious and as interested in what I was doing as I was in his work; very poised, he asked me what a typical day was like for me.

The Hartman “method” is powerful (borrowed in part from the Yeshiva world) and worth explaining in more detail.

In the morning, we arrive early (usually at 8:30am), in the large Beit Midrash (study hall), with small tables and only some seats facing the speaker.  The scholar or presenter for the morning comes in, lays out the texts that we should be studying, outlines general issues and asks us a number of leading questions… and then sends us off on our own, for an hour and half to two ours.  Some people have the same study partners each time, others, you should pardon the  expression, “study around.”  Some remain in the Beit Midrash, others find places throughout the rest of the campus.  We study the texts we have been given, often in Hebrew or Aramaic but also, often, referring to the English translations.  Then, what typically happens, is that we come back at 11 AM and the scholar blows us away by taking us in totally unexpected directions and laying out perspectives we had not come up with despite the leading questions.  It is mostly an awe-inspiring experience, tinged with an occasional twinge of wondering why we couldn’t get it… or an even more triumphant feeling if, every once in a while, we actually did anticipate where someone was going.  (Those who have been here for many years or know the individual scholars’ writings well seem to be able to do that more frequently).  We have breakout groups after the presentation to de-brief, then lunch at the Machon, then afternoon electives (more on those later).  Then the two week students got a longer break, but my program often continued an hour later with “roundtables” in which each of us needs to make presentations to our group.  During the first two weeks this was followed by dinner at the Machon, and then the evening program.

So, for those first to weeks, the time was tight, and the days were long.  Those who did have families here barely saw them, but we were busy for almost 14-hours straight.

It continues to be, however, the highest quality study experience of my career, and I will go into more detail on the content of what we have covered in the next post.

Street Names and Stone Steps

Rabbi Michael Feshbach
Temple Shalom
Chevy Chase, Maryland

Paraphrasing a comment I heard: a rabbi I know who has lived in Jerusalem told me that attending “guide school” – training to be a tour guide in Israel – taught almost as much about Judaism as did rabbinical school.

I can believe that.  If it sounds strange, well, just take a walk around, in any Israeli city.

It’s not only the ancient sites and religious rites.  It’s simpler than that.  Decoding the street names is a major, profound history lesson all in itself.

In Jerusalem, I live this summer in a neighborhood called Rechavia.   My apartment is on Abrabanel… a  brilliant medieval Spanish Biblical commentator.  What are some of the other street names I can think of here?  Let’s see.  Ramban.  Ibn Ezra.  Ben Maimon (Maimonides).  Or: in the neighborhood of Baka, all the tribes of Israel.  Last summer I lived on Gideon.  It was near Asher and Shimshon and so on.  Closer in to town we have Ben Yehuda (who restored Hebrew as a spoken language) and Usshiskin, and Palmach (the fighting force at the beginning of the state) is not far away.  The Machon (the Hartman Institute) is near Kaf Tet B’November, the 29th of November (the day of the UN vote on partition, if anyone needs the reference).

The highways outside of town?  The other day I took the Begin to get to the Golda Meir interchange.  You take those roads to get to Ben Gurion (the airport).  In Tel Aviv names from early Zionist history come to mind: Allenby and, again, Ben Yehuda; medieval poet Ibn G’virol,

Walking around is simply a delight.  You look at a map, but you look back in time, and to know who the streets are named after is a lesson in history, ancient and modern, and Jewish life all unto itself.

Of course, in Jerusalem… in all of Israel, perhaps, when walking around one should watch one’s step.

This summer, just as last summer, the last step on the way out of the apartment, for some reason, is totally uneven.  It is, in other words, not at all the same depth as the other steps.

Why anyone would build this way is beyond me.  I am wondering, however, if it is something of a metaphor.

Because just as everything here, it throws you off your usual stride.  It requires extra concentration, a slight bit of extra thought.   Not everything is packaged and branded into conformity.  And not everything around us is what we think it will be.

If there is an added awareness, an extra intensity, a sense of concentration on important things that is needed just to get around here, well, you know… I think I like it.  The fact that the step is a different size…I don’t know if it was an accident, or a mistake, or part of some pattern I simply don’t see yet.

But it fits.  And here, in Israel, even an extra half step teaches us about how we stand, and who we are.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Balconies and Balancing Acts:
First Report from My Second Summer
at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem

Rabbi Michael Feshbach
Temple Shalom
Chevy Chase, Maryland

Two weeks and a day in Israel now, and this is one of the very first chances I have had to sit and reflect, to think and to write.  It has been a whirlwind, full days of learning and sharing, insight and opportunities.
            This was supposed to be a half day, and a slow one.  It is one of those minor fast days on the Jewish calendar – not nearly as well known, or as widely observed at Tisha B’Av (the 9th day of the Hebrew month of Av, the day in late July or early August most years when both the first and the second Temples were destroyed, and the same day on which the Jews were expelled from Spain.)  This is Shiva Asar B’Tammuz, the 17th day of the Hebrew month of Tammuz (which precedes Av),  the day on which the ancient walls of Jerusalem were breached.  Even many who observe Tisha B’Av do not fast on this day; shops and restaurants all seem open, and we were served by kippah-wearing bakers and chefs in a number of places.
            Still, what was supposed to be a half day at the Machon (the Insitute, meaning the Shalom Hartman Institute, where I am in the second of four Julys of intensive study in a multi-denominational program with rabbis from all branches of Judaism) quickly turned into one of the most interesting days of my trip.
            Immediately after the morning Talmud Study (a lesson from a fabulous teacher on the tractate of the Talmud dealing with fasts), my group of 28 rabbis was invited to meet with officers from the IDF (Israel Defense Forces) who were at the Machon at the beginning of what would be, for them, a two week program.  What are they doing there?  It turns out, as I had learned last summer, that all officers, of all branches of the IDF, once they reach a certain rank (captain?), are now required to take a course in Jewish identity, democracy and pluralism offered by the Hartman Institute.  Since the Machon I am at was founded by a liberal, pluralistically oriented, democracy supporting Orthodox rabbi named David Hartman, this has to be a good thing.  Indeed, the officers were learning about all different branches of Judaism.  There was even a Charedi (ultra-Orthodox) rabbi downstairs speaking with them – an incredible thing in and of itself since the Charedi tend to be anti-Zionist and do not support the symbols and institutions of the state, such as the military (whose soldiers, by the way, put their lives on the line to defend the Charedim who refuse to serve at all).
            Around fifteen of the North American rabbis stayed for this optional discussion, meeting with a group of twenty or so officers.  We wound up having a half hour to talk; I wish this had gone on for two hours.
            I spoke with one man and one woman, both of whom define themselves as secular, both of whom had all kinds of questions for me.  (My friend Debbie Newman Kamin, a Conservative rabbi from Chicago, was getting stunned questions at the next table.  A woman rabbi?  They’d heard of it, but, they kind of didn’t believe it.)  The male office said he grew up secular but was in the midst of wondering who he is, what it means to be Jewish, what it means to be Israeli, what kind of family he wants to have and what kind of world he wants to work for, and he was beginning to realize that there was a spiritual component to these questions.  He also said that many of his fellow officers had never thought much about what it meant to be “Jewish,” a question they had all been asked to reflect on a couple of days ago.  He was struck, he said, by how many of the stories these Israelis told about being Jewish had to do with trips overseas, questions raised by travel either to the United States or to Europe.  In his case, a trip to Poland and the death camps got him thinking about Judaism as a religion for the first time in his life.  The female officer I spoke with was of Iraqi descent, although her uncle had married a woman from London and belonged, in Israel, to a Reform synagogue.  She described herself as an atheist, but when I asked her what she meant by not believing in God she said that she did not believe that God wrote the Torah, and when I said that I agreed with her, and, further, that all the Reform and Conservative rabbis in the room did as well, she was a bit shocked.  The officer another friend spoke with said he, too, did not know how to relate to Judaism per se, and that he had never really thought about Judaism in terms of moral concerns until he was stationed, on the West Bank, in a place where he had to protect Charedi Jews who wanted to pray at some new site… and he had to occupy Palestinian homes in the middle of the night in order to protect these ultra-Orthodox Jews.  What is the right thing to do, and what is the proper way to behave.  Moral questions, certainly, but, he now realized… these are Jewish questions as well.
            From this too brief conversation, Debbie, my friend Sid and I walked down to Emek Refaim, the main street in the upscale, mixed modern-Orthodox/secular, heavily Anglo-oriented German Colony, and grabbed lunch (yes, I confess, I don’t fast on the 17th of Tammuz).  And then, at Debbie’s invitation, Ira picked us up.  Who is Ira?  He was known as Ira Cohen when he was in the States, before he made aliyah, and among other things he had opened the very first Kosher Kitchen, a kind of coop that I remember in White Oak, in the Washington area in the 1980’s.  Now, though…. Now, he works with a number of Federations, but also represents a school system called Yad B’Yad (Hand in Hand), and it was the Jerusalem campus of one of the three Yad B’Yad schools that we want to visit.  This is essentially a charter school in Jerusalem, with one-third government funding, one-third funding from tuition, and the rest from donations… which, almost uniquely, educates Jewish and Arab students together!  For readers in the United States used to the multi-cultural context in which we live, it is very hard to appreciate just how rare, how incredibly special such an institution is.  It is a bi-lingual school, with each class having one Arabic speaking teacher and one Hebrew speaking teacher (plus the kids learn English beginning in third grade).  There was neighborhood opposition to the school at first, but the beautiful campus and community outreach have won most people over.  Friendships form among children…and families.  Jews and Arabs invite one another into their homes.  A special curriculum had to be developed (rather than the state curriculum) for both history (teaching several narratives side by side) and religion (since there are students from at least three religions attending this school).  We spoke with some of the teachers and saw the youngest kids and the teenagers who attended the summer camp; what a breath of hope and fresh air in the midst of hostility and suspicion!  The students face questions from friends who attend other schools; some of their Jewish friends can’t believe the Jewish students go to school with Arabs, and (to my shame and sadness), the Arabs react with incredulity that the Arab students have had Jews in their homes who did not try to attach them.  Stereotypes have set in strongly and deeply during the past decade; the hope and openness brought by Oslo seem long past and deeply buried.  But, as I have written elsewhere, it was only a decade and a half ago.  It can happen again.  It can.  It really can.
            This is just one part, of one day, with more to come and lots more to reflect on concerning the first two weeks here.  I have been at services by the sea, and welcomed into homes; we have met in several contexts with the new leader of the Reform movement, and sat with leaders of all North American denominations.  The large group of rabbis (several hundred) who studied at Hartman for the first two weeks, with whom we interacted closely during their two weeks here are gone, leaving just my cohort for the next week and a half (along with Hartman’s North American Scholars Circle, and a group of Christian Leaders, with whom we will also study).  I have toured the West Bank (including entering into the closed portion of the Palestinian Authority, Area A), and gone off to an Israeli Arab town for dinner.  I have walked through Jerusalem street festivals, and seen the latest Israeli movie (a thriller about, get this, the cutthroat competition in the field of academic Talmudic research).  I have studied ancient text and the lastest Israeli rock music.  I have seen young adults, children, and several couples from our congregation, and heard from some of the leading thinkers in Israel and North America.  I have been on rooftops and in cellars.  And I have not, once, been to the Wall.
But this piece is getting long already, so I will try to write about some of those experiences later tonight.             
I sit near a balcony in my Jerusalem apartment, in the once secular elite and now, somewhat rapidly Charedifying (is that a word?) neighborhood of Rechavia.  It is quier, for the moment, and the breeze stirs the leaves while a warm humid blanket of air still sits upon the city.  In one direction, just beyond the balcony, is the Israel Museum and the Knessset, the centerpieces of modern Israel, the pride of Israeli sovereignty.  In another direction is the center of the city, and then, further away, the Old City I have yet to visit on this trip.  So many different perspectives.  So many different views, from one balacony.  Apart from missing my family greatly… how blessed I am to be here!
Until I can write again, my love to all of you.

L’shalom  (In Peace),
Rabbi Michael Feshbach