TBE Religious School students celebrate Tu B'Shevat at Thursday's "Top Chef Challenge." See more photos in our Winter Photo Album (scroll down)
Join us tonight for our potluck dinner and services. The service will be in the sanctuary tonight, as we are expecting a nice crowd, and of course, as always, lots of great music! Tomorrow and Sunday could bring weather issues. Since we don't cancel Shabbat services, please use your good judgment in deciding whether to make the trek on Shabbat morning, when snow is expected to be falling.
I'm grateful to Senator Blumenthal for his visit while I was away. I saw all the pictures and heard great things. See our album from his visit here.
Make plans to be here next Friday night! Our speaker, author Shulem Deen, was just awarded the prestigious national Jewish National Jewish Book Award for his heartbreaking and gripping memoir about leaving ultra-Orthodox life, All Who Go Do Not Return."
A number of people have inquired about our proposed Europe trip for the summer. The website is now up, but I am still waiting for air arrangements to be included there. The itinerary has been adjusted from the draft I shared earlier. You can find the website here.
TU B'SHEVAT - Spring is here???
This weekend is Shabbat Shira - a harbinger of spring, ironically, given the forecast, featuring the tree planting festival of Tu b'Shevat. We learned this week, to little surprise but to what should be great alarm - that 2015 was the hottest year on record. So Tu b'Shevat takes on even greater significance as the official Jewish Sustainability Holiday. See my source packet on Tu b'Shevat and sustainability.
Tu b'Shevat also turns our hearts to Israel. In Tel Aviv last weekend, the temperature hit the upper 70s, the land was lush and green, and signs of spring were everywhere. So despite the predictions of snow, Tu b'Shevat calls upon us to dream of greener days to come, here, and in particular, in Israel.
This week I'm featuring two photo essays from my trip, both featured on my blog:
Circling the Night in Jerusalem - Photos of my visit to the Old City at night. The quiet of the night is exquisite yet deafening. The quiet is in itself a prayer for the peace of Jerusalem, a beautiful, if fragile, gift, as well as a reminder that for tourists less intrepid (or foolishly impulsive) than I was that day, the dream of a united, peaceful Jerusalem remains far from fulfilled.
The Words of the Prophets - showing pointed and hopeful messages from the graffiti of Tel Aviv’s Florentin quarter, and elsewhere in Israel.
Lod: A Mosaic of Hope
My son Dan has been participating in the Yahel Social Change program in Israel this year, focusing his attention on the small, diverse city of Lod.
Israels typically laugh when I tell them that my son is working in Lod. Derision concerning Lod seems to unite Israelis more than just about anything this side of hummus. Left-leaning friends call it an armpit of corruption, crime and neglect. Right wingers, even those from the most far flung settlements, say they would never set foot in Lod because “it's too dangerous.”
Those who have read Ari Shavit’s book, “My Promised Land,” will recall that Lod (also known as Lydda) was the place where tens of thousands of Arabs were evicted at the time of Israel’s creation. He writes, “Lydda is our black box. In it lies the dark secret of Zionism. The truth is that Zionism could not bear Lydda. If Zionism was to be, Lydda could not be....If a Jewish state was to exist in Palestine, an Arab Lydda could not exist at its center.”
Even more than, perhaps, Jerusalem, Lod, then, stands at the center of the conflict.
And I sent my son there, to this godforsaken, dangerous, miserable armpit of central Israel.
Lod is one of the most ancient cities in the world, by some estimates over 8,000 years old. It’s mentioned in the Bible and was home to famous leaders of the rabbinic period. Conquered by the early Muslims and then the Crusaders, by the Middle Ages only a handful of Jews remained of what was once a thriving Jewish center.
The city might be considered a poor man’s Armageddon. Megiddo, which lies at the juncture of the Carmel mountains and the Jezreel Valley, right on the central trading route known as the Via Maris, is the site of the New Testament Armageddon, where apocalyptic battles are forecasted to take place. But Lod is even more centrally situated, at a place where the central mountains meet the coastal plain, where armies from Africa, Asia and Europe have always had to pass as they crossed over land on their conquests. And unlike Megiddo, Lod remains an indispensible center to international trade and transport to this day. Israel’s main airport, once known as Lydda Airport (now Ben Gurion), is just a couple of miles to the north. The strategic presence of that airport is what Ari Shavit was referring to in emphasizing Lod’s strategic importance. And unlike Megiddo, Lod actially still exists as a living, breathing city.
I discovered something interesting during daily visits to Lod: The city where Israel‘s original sin is alleged to have taken place in 1948 just might become a gateway to redemption and reconciliation in 2016.
Lod is where hope is being reborn.
Lod, which now boasts a gorgeous, recently discovered archeological mosaicfeaturing animals harmoniously coexisting, prides itself on being a Mosaic of Cultures and is one of the few places in Israel where Jews and Arabs of all backgrounds find literal common ground. Featured in this recent article, the city of 77,000 is gaining notoriety for its mix of Muslim and Orthodox Christian Arabs, including Bedouins, which comprise more than a quarter of Lod’s population, added to Jewish immigrants from the former Soviet Union, Ethiopia and elsewhere, an assortment of religious and secular Ashkenazim and Sephardim - all of these plus, for this year at least, my son.
Lod, like Stamford, demonstrates that in an increasingly polarized world, diversity can be a priceless asset (which is why I love our Stamford public schools). While the rest of Israel and the West Bank have been reeling from the recent violence, Lod has been peaceful.
Last week, Dan Hammerman’s parents made a visit to his Arab school and we were greeted like royalty. The school is a place of vibrant learning, where co-existence and friendship are at the core of the curriculum. Classrooms and halls are plastered with banners and quotes, like the one in Hebrew below, from Pirke Avot, “Don’t look at the flask but at what is contained within it.” The students are being taught precisely how not to have hatred toward the Other.
The kids engulfed us. “You’re Dan’s mother and father,” they said to us in English -
having looked forward not only to meeting us, but also to having the opportunity to practice the words “mother and father.” They asked us about America, wanted to see pictures of our dogs, and were especially interested in hearing us talk about the wonders of New York and Disney World. (On another day, three Ethiopian Jewish children, who are taking an afterschool music class with Dan, regaled us with a song and dance performance to “Let it Go.”)
One of the Arab girls, Hilba, who is really bright, came over to tell us that until recently she wasn't confident speaking English. “But because of Dan I love English."
I’m not naïve enough to say that one volunteer program is going to change the world. But I know that at least one group of Arab middle schoolers now have had a positive encounter with Jews - and I must add, with Americans - one that differs greatly from the images that they undoubtedly have seen both in the media and on the street.
I don’t know at what age people begin to mistrust, but I do know that hatred can be arrested, because I saw that in Lod. While there is undoubtedly horrific incitement happening in other places, especially in the Territories, where children are encouraged to hate, even to kill, right here, in this place, there is only excitement, the excitement of learning.
The teachers were also thrilled to see us, posing for selfies and sharing small talk. When one of them asked what I do and I replied “I’m a rabbi,” she seemed shocked. I guess I also didn’t seem like rabbis she has met before.
We are all the face of Judaism, and, at least in this school on this day, Lod was able to get accustomed to that face, quite easily.
Deputy Mayor Aviv Wasserman says of the turnaround in Lod, “I think it comes from the people, who have been together here for so long and have forged social and economic ties. Lod can really serve as a model, a symbol of sanity in Israel today.”
Lod, the poor man’s Armageddon nestled on the rolling lowlands where the Sharonplain meets the Shfela, could end up as Israel’s City on a Hill. Islamic lore posits it as the place where the Devil will be slain, and Christians believe that at the city's Church of St. George, Jesus will slay the Antichrist. Maybe those ancient prophecies are in some manner prescient.
So can Lod also be the place where the unwritten rule that Jews and Arabs must be enemies comes undone?
The Lod Mosaic’s imagery has no overt religious content, making it impossible for experts to determine whether it was commissioned by a pagan, a Jew, or a Christian. Yet each of its animals appears to thrive in their shared habitat. Even the animals, it appears, are able to look not at the flask, but at what it contains.
On our final night, I stopped at my regular gas station at the outskirts of town to fill my tank before heading to the airport. The guy there, a Jew, asked me about New York - how tall the buildings are, how cold it gets in the winter. I imagine how he must feel, a lifetime resident of a place everyone laughs at, imagining a city that glistens and gleams. “I want to go to New York some day,” he tells me.
“I want to come back here,” I reply.
“Nesiah tovah,” he says as he tops off the tank, which literally means “a good trip,” but is usually meant as a wish. For me it was more descriptive of the part of the trip that was ending right there - it most definitely was a “nesiah tova” - a great trip.
And I finally understood why Dan has entitled his blog, Live. Love. Lod.
I leave you with a few photos from the school.