Shabbat in Congregation Shira Hadasha in Arad:Wow! What a Shabbat we had today. [Sorry, but no pictures of course!]
Last night we walked 10 minutes from the hotel to Shira Hadasha, our Masorti sister synagogue in Arad. Together with about 15 members of the shul, we sand the songs of Kabbalat Shabbat and walked back to the Hotel for dinner.
After another huge Israeli Hotel meal, we sat in a circle as one combined community, tossing a ball back and forth with the person catching taking a few minutes to talk about themselves. What wonderful stories! The people of Israel, all touched by the Shoah and the wars, are a fascinating mix of cultures, countries and visions. We quickly warmed up to each other, and were laughing and teasing, or solemn and supportive, as people lives were shared. We stayed late into the evening, cherishing the special nature of this time.
In the morning everyone came to synagogue, and many of our members took aliyot to the Torah in Israel. Our own Noel Meltzer was the Maftir, and led the shacharit service. As Rafi Freeman, one of the leaders of Shira Hadasha told us, the phone call to God here is a local call. It sure did feel like it. I gave a sermon about the daughter's of Tzloph'chad and how the rabbinical tradition unabashedly declares them to be wise women, torah scholars, and prophets. The education of Jewish women at the highest level of Jewish learning is ancient, natural and good.
After lunch, we had free time in the pool or for a nap. In the mid afternoon, friends of Francesca Peckman and Ken Krauss came from a kibbutz to visit us. Real kibbutz life still exists in Israel, but it is hard as the younger generation has tended to move away. Nevertheless, the hard work and idealism of these now middle aged veterans of Israel is another testament to the spirit of Israel and the care for the common good that the culture is based upon.
A Pirkei Avot study, minchah and seudah shlishit followed, and in the evening we were treated to the highlight event of our time in Arad. Mayor Tali Ploskov came "for 10 minutes" and stayed 45 minutes with us. An immigrant from Moldova, she started as a maid in a Dead Sea hotel, and today is the Mayor of Arad. Only in Israel! When asked about the future of Shira Hadasha, she said clearly and deliberately: you will always have a physical place in Arad.
We then heard a moving presentation from the director of Ethiopian absorption here in Arad, and from an Ethiopian Jewish rabbi who came here and now leads his community's synagogue. Once again, the stories we've heard a shadows of the reality when you meet the real people. Thanks to the generosity of a NJ donor, they have a beautiful synagogue, and thanks to Shira Hadasha's Rafi Freeman the local Arad community created a strong non-profit to aid the families as they integrated into Israeli life. When asked if he had advice for Shira Hadasha, this Orthodox rabbi responded: I am ready to help you anytime. An open mind, pluralistic outlook that comes from personal relationships and understanding. It was a very encouraging evening all around!
This relationship between B'nai Shalom and Shira Hadasha is now very real. Each of us were touched by the other, and we are members of this synagogue here. We have new friends and family now in Arad. And they were particularly grateful not only for our support and our memberships in their community, but in our commitment to be here "at this time, despite the situation." Our steadfast presence here does more than tell them that they are not alone: It proves it.
Tomorrow we are in the outdoors, with a jeep tour of the desert, an exploration of Tel Arad, and picnic and hiking in the JNF's Ne'ot Kedumim, as we say goodbye to the south for now and turn to the center of the country for our last few days.
Shavu'a Tov from Israel,