Click here for Part I, here for Part II.
We resume our story with a trip to Beit haTefutsot, aka The Diaspora Museum.
I love the idea of this museum: To memorialize Jewish existence in communities outside Israel, since all of us will eventually move to Israel and those communities will disappear. My only problem is that while the communities are, indeed, losing their relevance, it's not really happening because we are making aliyah. The communities are, by and large, disappearing into the landscape.
Unfortunately, the exhibits clearly have not been updated in a while. In particular, their once-vaunted genealogy/community database is now far outstripped by Internet resources, and should either be converted into an Internet search tool or seriously mega-updated.
Then we went to the Palmach Museum, which I thought was absolutely wonderful. With its personal story and its way of incorporating the visitor into the exhibit, this creative presentation draws you into the Palmach experience of defending Jewish lives in Israel in the 1940's, before and during the formation of the State.
Here I began to think about the glaring need to draw religious and secular Israeli society together. Does the haredi in Geulah know the story of the Palmach fighter – not in a vague historical sense, but in a personal and emotional sense? Does the grandson of the Palmach fighter know the story of a Bnei Braker – again, not in a distant sense but in a direct and emotional way? What if every resident of Meah Shearim would be paired with a kibbutznik for a week, for them to really sit and talk, but also to live life together, to see the passions and emotions of the other?
Yes, I know, I'm naïve regarding the effect this would have, but I still dream.
For Shacharit this morning we tried another shul, a small Sephardic shtiebel close to the hotel (21 Gruzenberg).
I am already a closet Sephardi; Sephardic davening and minhag pull at me, not just because they are different from my lifelong norm but because of the authenticity of their roots and the sincerity of so many of their adherents. My Cordovero blood rebels against my Torczyner Ashkenazus. This morning was no exception; I drew a lot from the experience.
Also: Today, (or really with Maariv last night), Israelis began saying v'ten tal umatar, davening for rain. Per the Mishneh Berurah's counsel, I didn't recite it, but that was really uncomfortable. How could you be in Israel at this time of year and not daven for rain?!
Our travel day began with a trip to Sderot and two nearby kibbutzim, Ruhama and Sa'ad, the latter a religious kibbutz. The disclaimer UJC insisted on giving us beforehand, regarding potential harm, reminded me of my first year in Kerem b'Yavneh. It was the year of the Gulf War, when many chutznik parents asked (or insisted) that their children come before the war. In KBY, very few of us left. My family came to Israel to be with me. To alter the Disengagement mantra, יהודי לא בורח מיהודי, a Jew does not flee from another Jew.
Turns out that forty kassams were launched at the region that morning, and they hit Ashkelon while we were in the Sderot area, but we were fine, thank Gd.
Credit is due to UJC for not skirting the problem of the Disengagement. Twice today, in Sderot and then in a program I'll describe in a few minutes, we came face-to-face with its failure.
We met with kids, saw the bomb shelters and schools, and had discussions with school personnel. My favorite part: When the principal was surprised to hear there are still Orthodox communities in America. He won my heart with that line; forget Zichron Yaakov, Kibbutz Sa'ad is for me.
In the afternoon we traveled to a few different programs in the Yoav region, our community's UJC Partnership 2000 partner area. I was approached by a man whose brother is a developer in moshavim; he wanted to know if I and a few others from the Lehigh Valley might be interested in starting a moshav for ourselves.
We also saw a play put on by families evicted in the Disengagement, and had a chance for Q&A with one of the evacuees. We talked about what the evicted families were doing now, and how people deal with the depression. I asked about political preference in the current Israeli elections, but didn't get a clear answer. As I said earlier: I'm glad the mission dealt with the Disengagement issue head-on, and didn't try to skirt it.
One post left to go - Day 4, Thursday.