Jerusalem, October 2018
How blessed I am to be on this trip. It is far from my first, but in several ways, it has been my most gratifying.
I have not gone to the Dead Sea, Masada, Tsevat, Tel Aviv and all the other places Pastor Dr. John Danner and I look forward to seeing with our group from Bat Yam Temple of the Islands and Sanibel Congregational UCC at the end of April and the beginning of May.
No, on this trip I remained exclusively in Jerusalem. I have had the joy of witnessing the Bat Mitzvah of Zahra Levy, a young girl I have known for four years now from the work Vickie and I have done in Germany where she and her family live. Zahra’s mother, Yancy Sol Velasquez Levy translated my first book, ״What’s in It for Me? Finding Ourselves in Biblical Narratives,” into Spanish, and I am so grateful to her.
When, over a year ago, Yancy invited me to come to Zahra’s Bat Mitzvah ceremony at Robinson׳s Arch at the Western Wall, I knew I wanted to be here. I have also had the joy of delivering Divrei Torah, in Hebrew and English respectively, at Kehilat Har El, Israel’s oldest Reform Congregation, and to first-year Rabbinical and Cantorial students at Hebrew Union College in this city.
By far, though the biggest pull that brings me to Israel this time is the presence of our older son, Leo.
At the age of 42, Leo decided to step away from his successful career as Principal of Learning Without Limits in Oakland, CA. LWL is the academic elementary school Leo and a group of others founded to give inner city kids a better shot at life. By all measures it has been a great success. In his role as Principal, Leo stressed to his overwhelmingly Latino and Afro-American student body the importance of knowing their roots and on whose shoulders they stand. Increasingly, in recent years, while encouraging his students to be in touch with their roots, he was feeling the pull of his own. So, “b’kitzur” (“in brief”) as we say in Hebrew, that is why he decided to study to become a rabbi. The HUC program mandates that all first-year candidates to be Rabbis and cantors spend their first year of study in Israel, and that is why Leo is here.
My great joy is sharing a small slice of his experience. We get to hang out together after classes, to stroll the streets of Jerusalem and just talk. How often does a father get to spend with an adult child the amount of quality one on one time we are sharing? I thank the Eternal One continually for these shared hours. As objective as I can be, I was amazed at Leo׳s sensitivity, skill and poise in co-leading with an Israeli Rabbinical student, the first shared worship service between the American students in Leo׳s program and the Israeli rabbinical students.
I have also gotten to see and observe many of his future colleagues. This purpose-driven group is well-aware of the issues of assimilation and declining synagogue involvement that has Rabbis, Cantors, Educators and lay volunteers wringing our hands with concern.
I admit that the Jewish leaders of my generation have not found effective solutions to these realities. But the qualities of intellect, spiritual depth and compassion I observe in the current crop of HUC students gives me real hope for the Jewish future.