Celebrating 57: Israeli Independence Day

11:00 a.m.

The siren to commemorate Israel’s fallen has just sounded throughout the country. Each year, while standing at attention,  it never ceases to amaze me how those two minutes seem to last an eternity, and how my eternity cannot fathom the “true eternity” that exists for the bereaved of the more than 20,000 soldiers who have given their lives in the defense of this nation since its founding 57 years ago.

We live two worlds in Israel: the holy and the profane; the heavenly and the earthly. Never do these worlds come together so  profoundly than on the seam that runs betweenYom Hazikaron (Remembrance Day for Israel’s Fallen) and Yom Ha ‘ atzmaut (Independence Day). It is that confluence of mourning and celebration that propels us forward.

In that spirit, I share with you two articles that have appeared in the Jerusalem Post .

The first article, Saving Private Avraham , hits a more personal note, for “Abi” is my son. The article is yet another expression of a coming to terms with the “heavenly and the earthly” that all of us in Israel contend with on a daily basis.

The second article, Welcome to the Fold ,  highlights “Zionism at its best”: Rabbi Roberto Arbib, ordained at Schechter in 1991, has built up a thriving spiritual community in the heart of Tel Aviv through his Midreshet Iyun learning center and Kehilat Sinai.

At this time , The TALI Education Fund is establishing an outreach center in Tel Aviv based at Midreshet Iyun, which will work intensively with six Tel Aviv schools. The project, i n its first year (2005-6), will expose over 2,500 pupils, their teachers and parents to the beauty and inclusiveness of their Judaism, through TALI education. In these pilot schools, TALI will conduct teacher training, parent-teacher learning communities, family education, and curricular guidance.

Chag Sameach from Jerusalem,

Linda Price is Director of Communications at the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies.

Saving Private Avraham
By Linda Price

There is an ubiquitous axiom posted throughout the dusty barracks and long musty corridors of the training bases of Israel’s army Tank Corps: “ha ish b’toch hatank: who yinatzeach -the man inside the tank, he will claim victory.”

Up until two nights ago, those words, as important as I knew they must be for the morale of my two sons who have served consecutively in the Tank Corps since October 2000, fell on a mother’s deaf ears. Who is that “man?” I only saw young boys waving naively out of monstrous steel death traps 1000 times their weight. Where is that ephemeral “victory” that continues to dance with us in the dark?

In October of last year, my son Avraham was shipped down to Gaza with his tank unit for Israel’s latest operation, “Days of Penitence.” Facts on the ground had once again shifted his units’ schedule. He was to have returned home Sukkot Eve for an additional four days, and then fly out to the United States to visit his 87- year old grandma: an “army leave” granted to boys with close relatives overseas.

Reality had other plans for Avraham. On Monday morning he called to inform us that he was on his way to Gaza. He did not know about his Saturday night flight to Chicago.

As the Sukkot holiday ended, we received another call from somewhere near Gaza. His voice sounded strained. No, he had not slept. Yes it was hot. Yes Ema, I’m keeping my head in the tank! No word yet about his release. To me, it seemed more than doubtful. More and more troops were being rushed down to Gaza. But “Abi” closed the conversation with “my commander said he will try to get me out, Ema.”

Shabbat. The minutes ticked by. No word. Guests in our sukka helped the time pass, but by 4:30, with the sun starting its descent, I was coming to terms with the impossibility of Abi getting out in time to make the plane to visit his old grandma.

Just after Shabbat ended, Yehuda, our eldest son, received an SMS message on his cellphone: “Ani Yotzeh. Tezeh l’kivun Sderot. I’m getting out. Start driving toward Sderot.-Abi.”

The unbelievable story goes as follows:

At 5:30 pm, Abi learned that his tank was moving back a number of meters. An armored personnel carrier arrived to personally pick him up and take him off the front line of confrontation. They made their way farther back from the lines, where an army Jeep took him to his temporary base to pick up his “duffel bag,” and then he was put in an army pick-up truck and driven to Sderot. By ten-thirty that evening, he was in my arms, still in the smelly, dusty tank overalls he had been in for the last four days. One question remained: “Who took your place on the tank? For I knew that replacements in time of war were difficult, if not impossible. “The driver of my commander took my place on the tank.” I shook my head in disbelief as a pure and sweet shot of Zionism cruised through my entire being.

By one A.M., he was again in the car with his brother, this time headed for Ben Gurion Airport.

That night in October, I finally learned the meaning of the Tank Corps’ motto: that “man” inside the tank” is the “huMANity” residing within the ranks of our young soldiers. It is rooted in the basic tenets of our army, not only inside the tank, but embracing its entire ethos and its actions. Abi’s commander found it in his jurisdiction – not his military command, but his moral command – to do everything possible to get that boy (his “soldier”) out to visit an aging grandmother.

That Saturday night, I learned oh so poignantly what the “victory” is all about. It is not carved in the words of one battle this year, or last. It is written in the very creed of our Jewish people: that to live life fully and joyously is not only our greatest mitzvah, it is our key to survival. Our people’s history and its path are strewn with the pain and heartbreak of loss and sacrifice, but on that path, one also discerns the “victory” at every turn. I tasted that sweet victory Saturday night, as my son’s war- worn tank overalls fell into the suds of my beckoning washing machine.

Edited version of the original article that appeared in the Jerusalem Post, October 2004.

Kehilat Sinai: Welcome to the fold
By Rebecca Rich

April 29, 2005
The community of some 150 families has existed for 15 years and tries to balance modern life with traditional Judaism by presenting “Judaism with a modern face,” explains Roberto Arbib, rabbi of Kehilat Sinai since 1992.In the heart of Israel’s racing metropolis, Kehilat Sinai at 88 Rehov Bograshov, Tel Aviv, is a synagogue that caters to spiritual seekers from all walks of life.

After making aliya from Italy as a teenager in 1975, Arbib graduated from the first mahzor (intake) of Conservative rabbis ordained in Israel by the Schechter Institute in Jerusalem.

“We take a pluralistic and modern approach to Judaism, trying to raise a philosophical dialogue involving matters that confront Israeli society today, not just learning halacha,” explains Arbib.

The past president of Kehilat Sinai describes his first visit to the synagogue six years ago as a “warm and friendly” experience.

“Of the many synagogues we tried, Kehilat Sinai was the first one we walked into where we were actually welcomed by someone saying ‘Shabbat shalom’ and showing us in.”. He proudly describes the community as an open and accepting environment where people are given the opportunity to “find their individual place within Judaism. We don’t believe in imposing labels on people or judging them.”

Everyone is welcome, and the friendly and open atmosphere became quickly apparent to those who turn up unexpectedly halfway through a Shabbat service. Newcomers are warmly received with a welcome smile, and someone is always there to point out the page number in the siddur (prayer book). The service is conducted in Hebrew, in an egalitarian manner with mixed seating and both men and women called up to the Torah. A strong sense of participation and belonging emanates through the synagogue, where everyone is there to maximize the spirituality of the experience, not to gossip. There is plenty of time for socializing after the service, with a kiddush of cakes and burekas served in the pleasant rear courtyard.

This is when the diversity of the community becomes apparent.

It is estimated that at least 30 percent of the congregation is of American, British, or European background. Among the members are architects, journalists, university professors, and artists, including well-known poster artist Yossi Lemel, whose striking photos have been used in publicity campaigns for organizations such as Amnesty International.

One of the synagogue’s most popular activities is its bar- and bat-mitzva classes, that attract dozens of children and provide an opportunity for parents to meet new people and socialize. The community held 35 bar- and bat-mitzva celebrations last year. Preparatory courses run for approximately four months with two-hour lessons on Sunday evenings. Classes in English are held every two weeks, for groups of four to eight children.

The course, covering the basic concepts of Judaism, puts it all in perspective for the children so that Judaism and synagogue don’t feel so “foreign” anymore.

Many parents bring their children to Kehilat Sinai for bar/bat mitzva classes because they want this coming-of-age experience to have a meaningful and spiritual dimension for their children, rather than sending them to a series of classes to which they cannot relate, followed by a big party with no significance attached to it other than the presents they receive.

For many Israelis who feel alienated by the extreme forms of Judaism present in Israeli society today – and for olim who cannot find their “niche” synagogue in Tel Aviv – Kehilat Sinai seems to offer a way to stay connected to one’s Jewish roots while enjoying the modern facets of life in the big city.

“We’re a small community, but we believe that we have had a big influence on changing attitudes to Judaism in Tel Aviv through our many community activities,” says Arbib.

Kehilat Sinai is active in many fields, including tzedaka (charity) projects in conjunction with the Tel Aviv municipality, and the Derech Avraham project founded by Arbib that aims to bring mutual understanding between Jews and Muslims through religious learning and teaching by rabbis and imams. Derech Avraham held its first World Congress of Imams and Rabbis for Peace in Brussels this year.

The community is also active in outreach, with a program in Tel Aviv schools including the Gordon, Magen, and Tel Nordau primary schools where Arbib and others give children an insight into Judaism and its basic principles.

Midreshet Iyun, an offshoot of Kehilat Sinai, conducts weekly classes. University professors and other experts present classes and creative workshops on topics such as Jewish mysticism and meditation in Hebrew on Monday evenings, a “window into the Chumash and weekly parsha discussion in English on Wednesday evenings, and other lectures on subjects including literature and the kabbala. The classes are open to the public, and the community welcomes newcomers.

In a world of extremes and unknowns, Kehilat Sinai provides a peaceful refuge where everyone is welcome to pray and learn and find his or her individual place within Judaism.

Arbib explains that what fuels his participation in the synagogue’s and Midreshet Iyun’s many activities is his belief that only through a strong Jewish identity can Israel maintain its strength and unity.

“We would love to expand the field of our activities, but we are financially limited,” he says. The synagogue is entirely self-reliant and receives no government aid, despite its numerous community activities. It survives primarily from membership fees and occasional donations.

Kehilat Sinai is one of three Conservative synagogues in the Tel Aviv area. The Havurat Tel Aviv Masorti synagogue holds Friday evening services in the Gymnasia Herzliya high school at 106 Rehov Jabotinsky (inquiries (03)751-1743). Kehilat Tiferet Shalom at 36 Rehov Reading, Ramat Aviv holds services at 6:30 p.m. on Fridays and 9:30 a.m. on Saturdays (inquiries: 054 444-8150).

A large Reform congregation with more than 300 member families, Beit Daniel located in north Tel Aviv at 62 Rehov Bnei Dan holds services on Fridays at 6 p.m. and Saturdays at 10 a.m. (inquiries: 03-544 2740).

Kehilat Sinai Shabbat service times are 6:15 p.m. on Fridays and 9 on Saturday mornings.

For further information on any activities or classes, call (03) 525-3907.

Photo: Israeli Air Force Independence Day flypast, 2011. By: By Israel Defense Forces – IAF Flight for Israel’s 63rd Independence Day, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=34382887.