A poster hanging at the old train station in Jerusalem, which has been renovated for public celebrations. Note the Hebrew and Arabic texts.

The good news from Israel

It has been a difficult week in Israel.

The bleeding has come from both internal and external wounds.

First, the internal -- the flap over the Kotel; the conversion crisis, and the Chief Rabbinate rejecting letters that were written by numerous rabbis, both non-Orthodox and Orthodox, attesting to the Jewish status of conversion candidates.

And then, the external wound -- the terror attack on the Temple Mount, that claimed the lives of two Druze policemen.

But, even in the face of all these events, it is too easy to ignore the greatness that is emanating from Israel -- greatness that is far more powerful than the religious Lilliputianism of the hareidim, far more typical than terror, and even far more persuasive than the fabled "start up nation" mythos of the Jewish state.

Let me introduce you to the true spiritual geography of the Jewish world.

I have been spending time in what author Yossi Klein Halevi and I have dubbed Jerusalem's "Jewish pluralism square kilometer" -- a roughly hexagonally shaped piece of the southern part of the city.

It stretches from:

If you seek the places that embody soulful modern worship, social justice, and intellectual vigor, that area of Jerusalem is Ground Zero.

It is the most creative area in the Jewish world.

Because here is what you might not have noticed. With all the heat that has emanated from certain sectors of Israeli Orthodoxy, there has been an equal, and no less vigorous, response.

It is the response on the part of so-called "secular" Jews...

  • Jews who are crowding into the Tachana Rishona, the "first station" in Jerusalem, on Friday afternoons, preparing for Shabbat with spirited singing from such groups as Nava Tehila.
  • Jews who crowd into the port in Tel Aviv, late Friday afternoon, as the sun goes down over the Mediterranean, to greet Shabbat with the enticing music of Beit Tefilah Yisraeli.
  • Jews who are buying recordings of piyut -- medieval Jewish liturgical poetry -- as recorded by the hottest pop stars in contemporary Israeli music.

Here is what "secular" Jews are saying to the hareidim: "You don't own these texts and ideas. They are the patrimony of the entire Jewish people. They belong to us, as well.

And we intend to give them light, and heat, and spirit, and power, and depth.

This, frankly, is why I love Israel, and why I am a Zionist. I guess I believe in the Zionist vision of Ahad Ha'Am, who believed that Israel should become a cultural powerhouse fo the entire Jewish world.

If we were paying attention, we would notice that this has, in fact, come to fruition.

This truth is so powerful that it eclipses so much of the darkness that seems to emanate from the Jewish state.

My friends ask me: "Aren't you frustrated by the cynical power politics of the ultra-Orthodox?"

My response is simply this: "Yes. But, I love the Jewish state far more than I dislike their machinations. Their mischief is not powerful enough to put a damper on my ardor for the Zionist vision."

So, too, they ask me: "How can you continue to support Israel with its right-wing government?"

My response is simply this: "The same way I still love the United States of America -- even with its right-wing government."

Yes, there is much cause for frustration over what is happening in Israel -- both internally, and with its relationships with the larger Jewish people, and in with aspects of its foreign policy.

But, I find myself reflecting on the Hasidic story -- of the man whose son constantly disappoints him and hurts him.

He goes to his rabbi for advice: "What should I do?"

The rabbi counsels him: "Love him even more."

That is my response to what is happening in Israel.

I will simply have to love her even more.



  1. While I do love when peoples. groups, begin to “liberate” and live the Word of God. When they look at the current religious incarnation of their faith and begin to breathe new life into it. There is one caution I can see heading down the pike, apostasy.

    What happens with these “movements” is they more often then not begin to define religion/faith based on their own perceptions (taking their own paths), and invariably becoming lost, diverting from the path to God.

    Will this movement be based on biblical teachings?

    Will this group be removed from the current, albeit rigid/exclusionary, religious leaders/scholars when they should be interwoven with them?

    The other problem I see as well is that “leaders” of new movements are not exclusively about the mission, but about power and cult of personality. Will these new leaders be chosen/followed because they have wisdom, humility, true sacrifice of self to honor and obey God in this new vision, or will they be chosen based on charisma, intellectual credentials all the while they are actual fools.

    A real and lasting movement does not storm the status quo like a flash of light, but is based on the lasting and undeniable truths they hopefully represent and the acceptance by those who have had ample time to ponder and challenge the validity.

  2. The ultra-Orthodox already consider each of the six groups mentioned in this article to be “not really Jewish.” Let the ultra-Orthodox have their Kotel, I’m more interested in what these groups are doing.

  3. Amen, Jeff. You get at some of the things that continually bug me. I have been in Orthodox, Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist shuts and have participated in the Havurah movement. Every one of these is a path to God–and remember, it’s one God. Anyway, that’s what we keep telling goyim.

Leave a Comment