Finally finding a moment to blog after a busy first few days in Israel! This will unfortunately be a quick trip, but I’m so glad to be here to take part in CCAR Convention, the annual conference of American Reform rabbis, held in Israel every seven years.
There are over 300 of us participating in the convention (mostly rabbis from the US, but others from all over Israel and all over the world), and it’s a small enough world of Reform rabbis that part of the fun of coming here is catching up with friends from rabbinical school, mentors and teachers, and rabbis from all walks of Jewish life whom I’ve gotten to know at previous conferences. The first meeting comes before I’ve even left the U.S., when I bump into my classmate Rabbi Noam Katz (we’ve been singing some of his music at Beth David, including “Roll into Dark“) at Newark airport.
After an El-Al flight that included my favorite airplane breakfast (admittedly,the competition isn’t so tough, but the hot cheese blitzes win me over every time) – we land in Ben Gurion airport and make our way to Jerusalem by sherut, a group taxi. I always find it exciting to ascend into the hills of Jerusalem, even if that morning’s route, which included our van driving backward downhill on a narrow street of Jerusalem stone, directly ahead of a garbage truck doing the same thing. It was hard not to fall asleep immediately in my hotel room after the long flight, but I stayed awake long enough to eat a little more delicious dairy. It was a pretty standard Israeli hotel breakfast buffet, which meant three kinds of eggs, potatoes, eight kinds of cheese, more than a dozen different vegetable and salad options including olives, tomatoes, peppers, and an array of fruits, cereals, pastries, and three different options that featured some kind of chocolate.
My plate included a helping of Israeli cottage cheese, and cucumbers, both of which are too delicious in Israel to bear much assocation to the foods that go by the same names in the US.
The conference began with a political update. The Van Leer Institute led a panel discussion about some of the issues preventing the full equality of Arab citizens of Israel, from practical ways that Arabic’s role as an official language of the state is undermined, to socio-economic and health inequalities between Jewish and Arab citizens of Israel. And in two presentations, Member of Knesset Benny Begin, and separately, a panel with Member of Knesset Hilik Bar, and Elias Zananiri, the Vice Chairman of the PLO Committee for Interaction with Israel Society, shared their views about the viability of the two-state solution.
Benny Begin, the son of Former Prime Minister Menachem Begin, and now a member of Knesset in the center-right Likud Party, emphasized the impossibility of peace in the face of the Palestinian leadership’s refusal to see the Jewish people as a national group entitled to sovereignty, as well as the difficulty in finding a partner for peace in the context of so much hatred. A fundamental change, he argued, can occur only following a deep change in the Palestinian leadership. Most of our neighbors are decent people who just want to raise their families, he said, but they are held captive by their leaders.
MK Bar, of the center-left Labor Party, was unsurprisingly the most optimistic for the viability of a two-state solution, arguing that peace is “possible, it’s reachable, and it’s totally in our hands.” Already, he argued, Israeli and Palestinian leaders have a shared understanding of what 90% of a peace agreement would look like, and Israel’s Arab neighbors have a strong interest in helping us to resolve the remaining 10% if we would engage with them. There is no solution other than the two-state solution, he insisted. The approach of “managing the conflict” has failed, as the recent attacks should illustrate, and what Israel needs is leaders who will solve the conflict, not continue trying to manage it indefinitely.
Zananiri concurred that the parameters of solving this conflict are largely agreed upon, arguing that the challenge is how to get there, how to move from “this very dark time” to an arena where the remaining problems can be solved. “There is a dangerous lack of hope,” he warned. “We have been listening to our president talk about a peace process for too long without it going anywhere. I think this is our last best chance – I hope Israelis will wake up to the fact that what is possible today might not be possible in the future.”
At the end of the day, we gathered at Dormition Abbey, a Benedictine monetary in the Old City of Jerusalem that welcomes German-speaking Christian pilgrims to Jerusalem, and that has been vandalized several times, including last month, in connection with several of the recent extremist “price tag” attacks. The most recent vandalism, which was condemned by Prime Minister Netanyahu, and for which 3 Jewish teenagers were arrested, consisted of hateful anti-Christian graffiti on the abbey’s outer walls and doors.After a short prayer service led by the Benedictine monks and several of our rabbis, we continued in a March for Tolerence to protest the recent extremist attacks.
All that was enough politics for day one, so we ended our march at the Reform Movement’s Jerusalem headquarters, Mercaz Shimshon, and sat down to a delicious dinner overlooking the Old City. “Well that was a great meal – I’m stuffed!” one of the rabbis at my table declared after the abundant second helpings of hummus and other salatim had been passed around the table. We hated to break it to her that we hadn’t even been served the main course yet … But somehow we all managed to eat it!