Israel Mission Remembrance (III)

From December 22, 2016 – January 2, 2017, almost 30 members of the CBS community traveled to Israel as part of the CBS/Kol Shofar Intergenerational Communal Family Mission. The trip itinerary was thoughtfully designed by Rabbis Aubrey Glazer and Susan Leider (Kol Shofar), and we've heard from many participants about how extraordinary and memorable an experience they had.

Today, we continue to share participant remembrances with another report from Lu Zilber on what she learnt about the West Bank and northern Israel during the trip. If you read these contributions and wish to join a future congregational mission to Eretz Yisrael, please let us know.

Facebook_LuZilberPhoto1_GolanTzafon (North)

On the long ride to Tzfat, our wonderful guide, Abraham, gave us the skinny on the territories – or the West Bank or Judea and Samaria. You get to pick what to call the place.

We travelled a road that parallels the Green Line. What, you ask, is the green line? It is the armistice line from the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, also known as the War of Independence. It's referred to as the green line because that's the ink color used when they drew the armistice map. Geography shows you what's really going on here. In the old days, circa 1000 BCE, Jews lived in the hills of Judea and Samaria, which was located at a critical juncture point in the fertile crescent. The Philistines and other peoples of the region were in the coastal plains below. This made them vulnerable to the Jews; the Jews could easily attack from the heights. Concerned about this vulnerability, the Philistines attacked the Jews. There aren't any more Philistines, so you can see how well that plan worked out for them. Fast forward to the 19th century. Jews have discovered Zionism and start moving back to the land. Guess who is occupying the hills of Judea and Samaria? This gives them a clear shot at Ben Gurion Airport with nothing more than a shoulder-fired missile. Tel Aviv is also in range of a slightly larger weapon. The country is only 11 miles wide at this point!

So the point of the Israeli settlements is to surround the Arab towns located in the hills, thus preventing them from attacking. The same idea is at work in the Golan, except the Golan is unpopulated. So Israel has a "trilemma": it must keep itself secure while keeping itself a Jewish state while keeping itself a democracy. Netanyahu keeps getting reelected because he is doing NOTHING, which many view as preferable to change.

As of this date, there are no settlements on Arab land. (Land ownership is a debate for another day.) But as you ride north from Jerusalem, you understand the trilemma clearly. By the way, who lives in the settlements? The world press likes to focus on the right wing nut jobs but, in reality, most of the residents are commuters with jobs in Tel Aviv (remember the settlements are only 11 miles away!).

We got to Tzfat just before Mincha and visited the Yosef Caro Synagogue. After the expulsion from Iberia in 1492, several tzadiks settled in Tzfat: Isaac Luria, Yosef Caro, and others. They formed small havruta (communities) and basically invented Kabbalah. We were granted an hour for shopping, but the shops, which on my last visit were manned by the artists themselves, are now gone quite commercial. You can find magnificent Judaica at magnificent prices, but I was disappointed on the whole.

The Golan

We got into Land Rover jeeps and drove from our lovely kibbutz hotel, the Pastoral at K'far Blum, to the Golan Heights. Golan is the mountainous region looking down on northern Israel. We stopped at a lookout point that was once a Syrian gun emplacement. I took pictures, including the one you see accompanying this post. The emplacements were aimed directly at the kibbutzim below. Our guide grew up in the nearby town and told us he couldn't count how many shells rained down each day of his childhood. Rained down on a civilian population, mind you. As our guide, Abraham, says, "they didn't want us in Europe, they don't want us here, they don't want us anywhere."

In 1973, during the Yom Kippur War, there were only 50 manned tanks on guard duty. Everyone else left to go celebrate the holiday. The tanks were manned by terrified 19-year-old soldiers; the senior officer was 23. Because the Syrians had to line up in single file in order to move through the pass between the volcanos, the Israelis were able to hold off several hundred Syrian tanks and 1,200 military vehicles in all. They aimed at the first and the last in a group, immobilizing them, then they could pick off the middle tanks. The ones that got through eventually turned back because they were running out of gas. The 50 Israeli tanks were reduced to seven during the Syrian attack, but those seven then attacked the Syrians. Their commander told them there was no one to stop the Syrians getting to Haifa but them.

During the Six-Day War in 1967, the Israelis finished capturing Nasser's forces in Sinai and then started on the Golan. The United Nations (UN) was about to vote on a resolution to end the fighting. Abba Eban was the UN rep and was told to filibuster until the Israelis had time to take the Golan. He spoke for 12 hours.

There was a Mossad agent who had grown up in Egypt, was fluent in Arabic and had a swarthy complexion. His name was Eli Cohen. He posed as a Syrian business man and befriended the Assistant Defense Minister of Syria. He wrangled a trip to the Golan and noticed the emplacements were hidden behind clumps of trees. This info was passed on to the Israeli army, who then knew exactly where to strike. That's how the Israelis were able to capture the Golan in 12 hours.

Israel Mission Remembrance (I)

From December 22, 2016 – January 2, 2017, almost 30 members of the CBS community traveled to Israel as part of the CBS/Kol Shofar Intergenerational Communal Family Mission. The trip itinerary was thoughtfully designed by Rabbis Aubrey Glazer and Susan Leider (Kol Shofar), and we've heard from many participants about how extraordinary and memorable an experience they had.

Beginning today, we'll occasionally share participant remembrances on the blog. If you read these contributions and wish to join a future congregational mission to Eretz Yisrael, please let us know.

We're kicking this series off with a lovely note from congregants Robert and Irene Minkowsky.

We came as a group of 30 or so with Rabbi Glazer, some of us totally virgin to Israel and this part of the world.

Avraham Silver, our primary guide, gave us a rich window into the history – or should we say, the memory and spirituality – of our people and into this land of honey and grapes, mountains and valleys, springs and seas, culture, language, architecture, and creativity.

Jerusalem and Tel Aviv flanked for us a journey of a lifetime.

We bounced – thanks to our driver, Yosi – over rocky roads, both inland and by the coast (eretz to yam), and moved through narrow streets. We saw the tips of the land, north and east, bordering Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan, trying to understanding the borders where the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) watch from jeeps idling between mine fields.

We think we may understand now the old and the new, the religious and the secular, the rabbis and the Zionists, the Declaration of Independence and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict. Yet, as Avraham tells us, the conflict does not define the country; life and beauty define Israel, really.

Facebook_IsraelMission_WortzmanTalk_IsraelMuseum_JerusalemWe got a glimpse into the secrets, the magical, the miraculous survival from the fires, the anti-Semitism, the pogroms, the camps, the isolate dunes.

We saw the proud and beautiful new generations climbing Masada, defending the streets, educating the young, and supporting the aged. We floated in the salt of the Dead Sea and hummed tunes of hope. It was sometimes hard to believe we were alive in the land of our ancestors.

We are about to turn a new leaf in our book, one that includes Israel in every breath of our being. We embrace this exciting new passage in our lives, ready to explore more – so much more! – in the future.

Todah rabbah, Avraham. Todah rabbah, Da’at Educational Expeditions, and to Yosi, our Da'at guide, for the knowledge, the physical experience, and the memories you imparted us. Thank you, Rabbi Glazer, for making it the trip a reality for us, and for adding your knowledge and inspiration.

Make no mistake of it, as Avraham would say, we will be back! We leave our hearts in Israel.

With love and gratitude,
Irene and Robert (Minkowsky) Facebook_IsraelMission_GroupPhoto2_Jerusalem

Vayishlach — Genesis 32:4–36:43

facebook_coverdesign_vayishlachI recently had the pleasure of sitting with a Bay Area Jungian analyst who also happens to be Jewish. In a trialogue with a colleague of mine who also teaches Zohar through Lehrhaus Judaica, we together sought another way into our respective readings of scripture as a journey of the psyche, of the soul.

I've always been suspicious of how a Jew could reconcile his or her study of Carl Jung with the analyst’s apparent anti-Semitism – yet I continue to be surprised. This verse jumped out for us: "The voice is Jacob’s voice, but the hands are the hands of Esau." (Genesis 27:22) Israelis today are only beginning to appreciate the influence of the remarkable psychologist Eric Neumann, who devoted much of his early thinking in Eretz Yisrael about the Jacob and Esau story in Parashat Toldot, as a pair of opposites that reflect the division between the inner voice of the spirit and the outer hands of action. For Neumann, this story of sibling rivalry is archetypal insofar as it also reflects the sense of inferiority, fear, and threat that invisible interiority experiences in relation to the hands of action symbolized by Jacob, and the skills of the extraverted symbolized by Esau. Having learned much from Jung, Neumann challenged his teacher’s understanding of the archetype that is the innate tendency, which molds and transform the individual consciousness.

This matrix influences the human behavior as well as ideas and concepts on the ethical, moral, religious, and cultural levels – Jung often referred to the archetype as a "primordial image." If such archetypes are inborn tendencies which shape human behavior, then how might this archetypal story in scripture explain the nature of human consciousness?

Neumann’s Zionism caused him to take leave of his teacher and return to the Holy Land. In so doing, Neumann experienced his own inner conflict that was captured most poignantly in this story of Jacob and Esau, leading him to conclude (but never publish) his feeling that what Jungian analysis misses is imbedded in this very story. Namely, that the one who wrestles with their conscience, like Jacob wrestling with the angel, is attempting to come to terms with what it means to be an "intuitive introvert." Neumann’s upbringing in the particular narrative of Zionism instilled a deep loyalty and passion for Israel, culminating in his aliyah. But while in Israel, Neumann struggled with his conscience, in attempting to formulate a way of balancing the particular pull of Zionism with the universal calling of the collective unconscious now living the dream in the Holy Land. Now that he and this early wave of pioneers were in the Holy Land, how were they going to tap into the richness of the collective unconscious that is liberated once the particularity of one’s identity is fulfilled?

Hopelessly hopeful for a reconciliation with his brother, Jacob returns to the Holy Land after his twenty year extended stay in Haran. While gifts and prayers are offered to appease his estranged brother, Jacob remains restless.

As he ferries his family and possessions across the Jabbok River, Jacob tarries behind and encounters the figure with whom he wrestles till daybreak. Jacob suffers a dislocated hip, but vanquishes this supernal creature who renames him as Israel, meaning "the one who struggles with the divine and prevails." (Genesis 32:29) This new name, Israel, suggests Jacob was struggling with no ordinary being, not merely with his conscience or the archangel of Esau, but with the divine itself.

To really be present to the community of Israel, henceforth, is for every one of us to dare to be engaged in our relationship with the divine as a holy "god-wrestler" like Jacob and to acknowledge that longing itself can be redemptive.

- Rabbi Aubrey Glazer

Artwork note: This week's artwork is inspired by Jacob's mysterious nighttime encounter. I understand the story to be a metaphor for the clash between humanity's aspirational, metaphysical identity and our brutish, animal core – the vital and intimate relationship between the yetzer tov and the yetzer hara. The dynamic tension between the yetzer tov and hara drives all life, and, in this illustration, the abstracted faces of the interlocked combatants form an atomic nucleus. Illustration by Christopher Orev Reiger.

Beraysheet -- Genesis 1:1-6:8

facebook_coverdesign_bereshitNew Beginnings: How do I want to begin again this year?

Whenever a new chapter in life is about to begin, it is wise to take a step back and ask: How do I want to begin? What are my hopes, aspirations, and dreams?

The Jewish New Year is a time to ask ourselves similar questions: How do I want to begin again this year? And, as we begin again at the Torah scroll's start, with Genesis, what role does my kehillah kedoshah (my sacred community) play in this new beginning?

Six decades ago, on Yom Ha'atzmaut, the American Jewish community was searching for a way to begin again with its religious Zionist dreams. Rabbi Yosef Dov haLevi Soloveitchik (z”l) delivered a now-classic talk about religious Zionist philosophy at Yeshiva University. "The Voice of My Beloved Knocks (Kol Dodi Dofek)" elaborates upon God’s tangible presence in the recent history of the Jewish people and the State of Israel — does this relationship constitute a "covenant of fate" (berit goral) or a "covenant of destiny" (berit yi’ud)?

Let's contrast fate and destiny. Although Jonah did not necessarily experience the joys of fate once the lots were drawn and he was cast off the ship by the sailors, we can still discern four positive consequences of the awareness of a shared fate: 1. shared historical circumstances; 2. shared suffering; 3. shared responsibility and liability; 4. shared activity. As opposed to the "covenant of fate," which was made with an enslaved people without free will, the "covenant of destiny" was made with a free nation which could, and did, make up its own mind. God does not simply impose the Torah on community; God offers it to us. And every year, God is still awaiting our response — anew. As a "people" (‘am, from the word ‘im, meaning "with"), therefore, we have no way to determine our own fate; as a "nation" (goy, related to the word geviyah, meaning "body"), however, we have the ability to forge our own destiny.

The story of creation we read of this week in Genesis 1:1-6:8 is a story of beginnings and creative inspiration, and all of this transpires within the creation that has already occurred – the divine Creator creates more than once. God as Creator forms the first human body from the unformed earth, blowing a living breath into it to form a soul. A help mate, Eve, is then formed for Adam. Moving from a state of radical loneliness to begin building community happens in relationship. But not all beginnings bode well or even last, and creation begins again with Noah, a righteous man alone in a corrupt world.

Are the end and the beginning of these episodes in the human condition "always there"? If so, what does this teach us about the way we wander and dwell in the here and now? I suggest that God offers us the opportunity to begin again by becoming a goy kadosh ("holy body") not only at Sinai (in the Book of Exodus), but also at the beginning of each year's Torah cycle – we have this opportunity for real growth.

Whether we live up to the challenge and take hold of Torah in our lives is really our choice – and our destiny. Each of us has the potential and creative power to harness a renewed covenantal relationship with our kehillah kedoshah, our sacred community at CBS. May this year give us all another opportunity to join and deepen our relationships to each other as we take hold of Torah – once again at the beginning everafter...

- Rabbi Aubrey Glazer

Artwork note: This week's artwork is inspired by one of the best known lines in the Torah. "And God said, 'Let there be light,' and there was light." (Genesis 1:3) The image was created with both the Kabbalistic creation story (the nitzotzot, or sparks of the divine) and prevailing cosmological theory (the Big Bang) in mind. Illustration by Christopher Orev Reiger.

Introducing Zion(ism) Matters

facebook_zionismmattersThis year, our popular Thinking Matters: Modern Jewish Philosophy mini-course series is introducing an offshoot series dubbed Zion(ism) Matters!

Although we think we know what Zionism means, it is always helpful to revisit its past and present, as well as to consider its future. This exciting new series will explore Zionism through lectures, celebrations, and art exhibits.

Details and readings for upcoming Zion(ism) Matters single classes and mini-courses are included below. (The full 2016–17 course overview can also be viewed as a simple .pdf file by clicking here.)

All classes meet on Thursday evenings from 6:30 – 8 p.m. All sessions are FREE for CBS members, but students are encouraged to make a donation to CBS. For nonmembers, each single session is $12. Alternatively, nonmembers can purchase an 8-session pack for $84, or the full semester subscription for $180.


On Love Of Israel
November 10, December 8, January 26, & February 23
(4 sessions w/ Ephraim Margolin, Esq.)

Course Description: Ephraim Margolin is a longtime professor of law who, before moving to the United States, served as Secretary to Menachem Begin, leader of the Irgun. He is a Hebrew University and Yale Law School graduate who has a rich knowledge of Israeli politics and culture.

His four-session mini-course will consider Israel through a contemporary lens, drawing on the country’s remarkable history and much Jewish thinking.

Session 1: Limits On Criticism of Israel
Session 2: Glorifying & Rejecting Jewish Power
Session 3: Roots Of Peace And Justice In Israel
Session 4: Self-Hate In Modern Israeli Culture

Readings: TBD

Zions: Home & Exile Beyond The Middle East
December 1
(1 session w/ Aaron Hahn Tapper, PhD)

Course Description: Dr. Aaron J. Hahn Tapper’s one-session class will explore Jewish "zions" outside the State of Israel, with special attention to the dominance of the Diaspora/Zion binary and subordination of non-Middle East Jewish homelands. Dr. Hahn Tapper is the Chair of the Department of Theology & Religious Studies, the Mae and Benjamin Swig Associate Professor in Jewish Studies, and the Founder and Director of the Swig Program in Jewish Studies and Social Justice at the University of San Francisco. In June 2016, Dr. Hahn Tapper published Judaisms: A Twenty-First-Century Introduction to Jews and Jewish Identities (University of California Press).

Readings: TBD

Philosophy Of Zionism In Ahad Ha'am
January 5
(1 session w/ Ovid Jacob)

Course Description: Ovid Jacob joined Rabbi Glazer on the Irving Rabin Community Building Mission To Israel last year. Following that trip, he has become interested in exploring novel ways of connecting members of the Bay Area Jewish community to Israel. This single-session class will explore what Zionism meant to Ahad Ha’am, the pre-state Zionist thinker who found himself at loggerheads with Theodor Herzl. Herzl’s priority was political Zionism, whereas Ha’am is credited as the founder of cultural Zionism.

Readings: TBD


Lead image credit: The background appearing in the Zion(ism) Matters title image is a 1902 illustration by Ephraim Moses Lilien, who was known for fusing Zionist iconography with an Art Nouveau style. Lilien's biographer dubbed him "the first Zionist artist."

Shul School: Spring Thinking Matters Series

Our popular Thinking Matters: Modern Jewish Philosophy
mini-course series continues this spring!

Join our impressive line-up of teachers to wrestle with the exciting and challenging questions of modern Jewish philosophy! How have Jewish traditions participated in the philosophical canon? How are Judaism and Jewish ideas relevant to the modern relationship of ethics, theology, and philosophy? (For an introduction to Jewish modern thought and philosophy, we recommend Steven Katz's essay, "Eliezar Berkovits & Modern Jewish Philosophy.")

Details and readings for the Thinking Matters mini-courses taught in April - June 2016 are included below.

April 7, 14 & May 5, 12
Philosophies of Early Zionism
(4 sessions w/ Ephraim Margolin, Esq.)

Ephraim Margolin's class will meet on Thursday nights in the CBS Board Room from 6:30-8 p.m.
April 7: Biblical Zionism
Source Sheet 1: In-depth outline, Sessions 1-2
Source Sheet 2: Zionism 1 (w/ imagery)

April 14: 1800 Years of Diaspora; Political Zionism

Reading: Stefan Zweig, In The Snow
Source Sheet 1: In-depth outline, Sessions 1-2
Source Sheet 2: Zionism 2

May 5: Political Zionism, Cultural Zionism

Recommended Reading (Not Required): New Essays on Zionism, Edited by David Hazony, Yoram Hazony, and Michael Oren, 2007

Recommended Reading (Not Required): The Jewish State: The Struggle for Israel's Soul, by Yoram Hazony, 2001
Reading: Ahad Ha'am
Source Sheet 1: In-depth outline, Session 3

May 12: Socialist Zionism, Birth of the State, & Personal Comments
Source Sheet: In-depth outline, Session 4

June 2
On the Prejudice of Philosophers & the Search For Authenticity
(1 session w/ Rabbi Aubrey Glazer)

Rabbi Glazers's class will meet on Thursday night in the CBS Board Room from 6:30-8 p.m.

June 2: On the Prejudice of Philosophers & the Search For Authenticity

Reading: Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk, Amud ha'Emet (selections)

June 16
Interrogating the Academic BDS of Israel on Campus
(1 session w/ Tammi Rossman-Benjamin and Russell Berman)

BDSlogoTammi Rossman-Benjamin & Russell Berman's class will meet on Thursday night in the CBS Board Room from 7-8:30 p.m.
June 16: Interrogating the Academic BDS of Israel on Campus
Reading: TBD

Image credits: "Visual History of Nations, Israel (1948)," by Arthur Syzk (CC BY-SA 4.0); the logo of the BDS movement

"Current Dilemmas In Exhibiting Art In Israel"

This past Thursday evening, the Achshav Yisrael committee of CBS presented its third program, "Current Dilemmas In Exhibiting Art In Israel," in Koret Hall.

Dr. Noam Gal, the Horace and Grace Goldsmith Curator of Photography and the Head of the Noel and Harriette Levine Photography Department at the Israel Museum (in Jerusalem, Israel), provided an enthusiastic group of congregants and members of the general community with an engaging and occasionally provocative survey of some of his recent curatorial efforts for the museum.

In addition to his Bachelor’s degree in Visual Communication (Bezalel Academy of Art and Design) and Master's in Cultural Studies (The Hebrew University), Dr. Gal received a doctorate in Comparative Literature from Yale University. Perhaps he was drawn to comparative literature because of his special affinity for documentary photography, which is a highly narrative art form and one plainly informed by and connected to other spheres of human activity, including history, politics, philosophy, and science -- just consider the prominent social role of contemporary photojournalism.

Yet, although documentary photography is among the most obviously socially-oriented mediums, Dr. Gal insisted that "all art is necessarily political" because of what we, the viewers, bring to it. We're all political animals -- even those of us who like to claim otherwise! -- and we automatically bring our experience and ideologies to bear on any artwork we view. When an audience member asked if politics could be "taken out" of art (a question that resonates especially in the context of contemporary Israel society), Dr. Gal replied that it would be "blasphemous" to do so. All art is part of our visual culture, he insisted, and should therefore be considered through the lens of critical cultural theory.

Dr. Gal is dedicated to educating the public -- especially younger audiences -- about photography's political and social significance, and his curatorial choices reflect this commitment. For example, in order to enhance the resonance of artifacts and artworks in the permanent collection of the Israel Museum, Dr. Gal made what could be described as a series of curatorial interventions. A particularly compelling instance of such an intervention was his installation of four photographs from the turn of the 20th century, two by Russian-born Israeli photographer Yaakov Ben Dov (1882-1968) and two by Khalil Raad (1854–1957), known as "Palestine's first Arab photographer." These four photos were hung nearby iconic Israeli painter Reuven Rubin's "First Fruits" (1923). "First Fruits" famously depicts Israel's "new kind of Jew" -- in Rubin's words, "the halutzim with their bronzed faces and open shirts." Ben Dov's photographs of Jewish pioneers engaged in agricultural activities in Palestine ("Planting young citrus trees" and "Youngsters carrying saplings," circa 1910) echo Rubin's early Zionist imagery, whereas Raad's photos of Palestine's Arabs ("Olive harvest" and "Picking oranges," 1910) highlight another, soon-to-be-competing national narrative that was taking root in the land.

Following the screening and lecture, some of the guests gathered in a small group for an intimate discussion of the photography and ideas presented by Dr. Gal.

CBS gives a hearty todah rabbah to Dr. Gal for his time and insight, the Achshav Yisrael committee for its work on this program, and congregant Gary Sokol for greasing the wheels that made last night's program possible! Thanks, too, to the Israel Museum for letting us borrow Dr. Gal, and for donating copies of the Israel Museum magazine for program guests to take home.

Check out some photos from the program below.











ABOUT ACHSHAV YISRAEL: Achshav Yisrael’s mission is to provide quality programming about Israel to Congregation Beth Sholom and the broader community. Achshav Yisrael programs are open to all age groups and will occur on a regular basis. We intend to create a safe space at CBS for community exploration of Israel.

Achshav Yisrael Steering Committee Members: Eileen Auerbach, Alex Bernstein, Becky Buckwald, Sandra Cohen, Betsy Eckstein, Eva-Lynne Leibman, Ephraim Margolin, Lucia Sommers