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Poverty and Plenty — Two Israels

“By the time they hit seven years old, most Jewish children perceive Israel as a place of poverty and of danger.” So laments super-researcher/educator Sivan Zakai, of the University of Judaism.

It makes me sad. I know that there are dangers in Israel, of course there are. But what of the danger on the streets of America? And I know that there is poverty in Israel, but there’s also a great deal of wealth. Like in America.

Sivan and I began discussing how it is that even by this early age kids have learned that Israel addresses only two of our four questions, and only in a narrow way. They are learning (from parents? From school? From fundraising campaigns?) that Israel lives under a permanent existential cloud (To Be), and that Jewish Peoplehood requires that we pity the poor Israeli. Freedom, creativity, democracy, even the beauty of the Land – these aspects of Israel don’t make it through to these kids.

It’s love. It’s connection. But from a place of anxiety, concern, and burden.

I went to synagogue on Shabbat morning. (It’s my minhag when I’m in the Diaspora.) IKAR is an inspirational community, led by the wise, ideological and charismatic Rabbi Brous. Prior to reading the Prayer for the State of Israel, the Rabbi called attention to reports of a stabbing in Israel that morning. The timing was careful and deliberate. She did not want the reading of the prayer to be a dry ritual, but a heartfelt prayer from a place of meaning and compassion. It totally transformed the recital of the Prayer itself.

Later, we talked about this prepping for the Prayer for the State of Israel. Of how she would sometimes set up the prayer with other social justice news from Israel. I got to imagining how great it would be if communities’ pre-prayer of the Prayer for the State of Israel could touch on all four questions. If, prior to the Prayer, the Rabbi were to raise awareness of Israel not only in the “To Be” mode, but also – I don’t know – mention a cool new song that’s been released, or talk of the latest social justice protest, or the attempts to fix the damage done to the Dead Sea.

We talked about Makom working with IKAR on coming up with a weekly Israel pre-prayer for rabbis.

The Rabbi thought it could be fun. Me too.

More work for Makom when I get home…


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