Rebirth Among Restrictions

The night that the leader of Hamas, Abdel Aziz Rantisi, was killed by Israeli forces, I was immediately affected. As I saw the news unfold on television, I could not restrain the pride I felt at the incredible intelligence and skill which enabled Israel to target the man directly responsible for the killing of scores of Israelis in numerous terror attacks. It was not lost on me that he was killed the very first time he emerged from weeks of hiding — despite having surrounded himself with women and children because he knew that Israel would not intentionally kill such innocents. However it was also fresh in my mind that we had just taken drops of wine from our cups at the Seder table as a sign of reducing our joy over the death of Israel’s enemies who are also our fellow human beings.

As I struggled with these conflicting emotions, I picked up the phone and called the leader of the Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) in Hebron. CPT is a non-violent movement among the peace churches that sends teams to the world’s trouble spots in order to promote peace and gather first-hand information. I was scheduled to meet the group from Hebron in Jerusalem’s Old City for lunch the next day. I had met with CPT volunteers before at an Arab rooftop restaurant in the Old City, but this time I felt uneasy about walking down the alleys of the Arab souk. The scenes playing out in front of me on my TV screen finalized my decision.

With complete understanding, we changed the location of our meeting to a garden café near my home. The next night was Yom Hashoah, Holocaust memorial day. As part of a coalition of Reform, Reconstructionist, Conservative and Orthodox synagogues that conduct several community events together each year in southern Jerusalem congregations, my (Conservative) synagogue participated in a service at Kol Haneshamah, Jerusalem’s flagship Reform congregation. As was the case last year at my synagogue, there was an evening service and a very moving reading of Megillat HaShaoah, the newly created Scroll of the Holocaust. While the service followed the Reform liturgy, congregants from all the congregations participated.

During the reading, I thought of my mother’s family in Czechoslovakia, most of whom died at the hands of the Nazis. I know their names, the dates of their births, deportations and deaths. I have their photos and see their faces in front of me. Tears streamed down my cheeks as I thought of Herta, my mother’s cousin and playmate, who died in the Lodz ghetto never having reached adulthood, while the megillah was read.

The ceremony closed with the singing of Israel’s national anthem, Hatikva —The Hope. Standing with fellow Jerusalemites and sharing with them a common past and present, unable to summon my voice through my emotions, I mouthed the final words, “We have not yet lost our hope of 2000 years: to be a free people in our land in the land of Zion, in Jerusalem.”

As is the case every year, the cycle of holidays this spring unraveled too speedily for me to adjust to the emotions they unleashed. Close on the heels of Passover and Yom Hashoah, Yom Hazikron (Israel’s Memorial Day) was immediately followed by Yom HaAtzmaut (Israel Independence Day). I watched the national ceremony at the Western Wall, attended by those whose loved ones died defending our lives.

21,782 people have fallen in the struggle for the State of Israel, including 185 soldiers we have mourned in the last year. The following night, at 8 p.m. the country switched its focus from remembrance to celebration as Israel turned 56 years old. During these days our ethnicity receded into the background, our class and education did not matter. We were all Israelis with a collective history and a common future.

This Shabbat I glanced at that future as I attended services with friends at their synagogue. It is an Orthodox synagogue in Jerusalem in which woman may be called up to read from the Torah and lead parts of the service. Amechitza divides the room, but the bold and creative character of this congregation is evidenced not only by their egalitarian stance within Orthodox Jewish law, but also by the spirit which infuses their songs of praise and the number and variety of people who attend ranging in age and background.

It has been more than two years since I have taken a public bus and there are sections of my own city where I fear to go. Yet Jewish life in Jerusalem is continually renewing itself. Ironically, on the one hand I feel restricted but on the other I am enjoying a blossoming innovative culture. Within this diverse country there is dialogue and creative collaboration among many segments of the population. While there are always forces that try to constrain and limit the growth of Jewish communities throughout the world, I am grateful to have the opportunity to be in Jerusalem where we are flourishing.

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