Monday, July 9, 2007

The Challenge of Jewish Power

David Hartman, founder and guiding spirit of the Shalom Hartman Institute, has written that the contemporary moral challenge for Jews today is the use of power. Briefly, Diaspora Jews have lived in a condition of powerlessness. (In my opinion this is not true of American Jews, and Moshe Halbertal, the most senior fellow at Hartman, said the same in his lecture last week.)

Israel aspires to be both Jewish and democratic but how that works out in practice is very complicated. I am happy that we are not shying away from exploring this challenge while we are here.

I have a close friend in Jerusalem, a fellow Conservative rabbi, who is very active in working to protect the rights of the Bedouin. Yesterday afternoon after classes finished, he took Keleigh and I to visit some of the Bedouin with whom he works, who live right off the road between Jerusalem and the Dead Sea. While communication was difficult using language -- my friend speaks a bit of Arabic, I speak only a few words and Keleigh none at all -- the human connection was able to transcend the limits of words. Keleigh in particular had a marvelous time as the young women of the tribe took her for a tour of the sheepfold and she hold a young goat and a young lamb. It may have compensated her however briefly for the fact that she misses our dog Zeke so terribly.

Tomorrow the program is taking us out of Jerusalem to explore contemporary social problems in Israel. The tour Keleigh and I have chosen will take us to the Israeli Arab communities of Baka El-Gharbiyeh, Umm el-Fahm and Barta'a, a town which is half in Israel and half in the West Bank with all the complications that ensue from its divided status. Unlike the Bedouin we visited yesterday, the people we will meet tomorrow are Israeli citizens and generally fluent Hebrew speakers. It should be an interesting day.

Tomorrow night when we get back Arnie Eisen, the new head of JTS, and David Ellenson, the head of HUC, will discuss the contemporary state of American Jewry. It should be very interesting.

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