THE Anita Saltz International Education centre in Jerusalem is an exciting, innovative initiative of the World Union for Progressive Judaism. It offers many seminars and workshops, one of them being the Beutel Seminar for Progressive Jewish Leadership.
I was privileged to be chosen by the South African Union for Progressive Judaism (SAUPJ) to represent South Africa at this year’s seminar, which lasted ten days.
There were 16 participants from Australia, Canada, Denmark, England, France, Germany, India, Israel, North America, Poland, Spain and South Africa. Together we studied aspects of Judaism from Biblical times to the present.
With Rabbi Levi Weiman Kelman of Kehilat Kol Haneshama Synagogue, we explored the important connection between prayer and spirituality. This took place in a room at Hebrew Union College (HUC) facing the walls of the Old City, giving one a true sense of our connection to Ancient Judaism.
We studied sacred texts within the majesty of sacred space. These texts truly came alive when visiting the different sites both in Jerusalem and the Negev. Among the interesting and fascinating activities were:
Walking Jerusalem through the Psalms. We reached Zion Gate and David’s Tomb, on the way studying amongst others Psalm 126, Shir HaMa’a lot, A Song of Ascents.
We went to the Second Temple Period Model of Jerusalem and then on to the Jewish Quarter of the Old City where we visited an underground village which has recently been excavated.
We spoke about building and destruction on our extended stay on Mount Herzl and Yad Vashem. This was of course a most emotional and draining experience for us all. Our guide was superb in imparting information and certainly helped our understanding of the incredible but horrific exhibits and memorabilia of those dreadful years.
We discussed the building of a Jewish State on visiting the Trumpledor Cemetery in Tel Aviv. Bialik and Shalom Aleichem’s daughter, among other famous people, are buried there.
By contrast, modern Tel Aviv offered the fun of shopping and bartering at Carmel Market.
We went to the Tayelet where we looked down on Jerusalem. We spoke about “Old Jerusalem” which was in the centre – the obviously wealthy Jerusalem, full of trees to the left and the poorer Jerusalem in an arid area to the right.
Our discussions included ethical issues within the Jewish society and between Jews and Arabs. Coming from South Africa, with our background of discrimination, I found this particularly interesting.
A night time visit to the Kotel including the Tunnel tour which goes under the Moslem Quarter of the Old City, revealed evidence of a village being there thousands of years ago.
On our way to Kibbutz Yahel, a reform Kibbutz in the Arava, we stopped at Sde Boker, Ben Gurion’s home and final resting place. Although I thought I knew much about Ben Gurion, I gained a better insight into his personality.
During our stay on Yahel we were fortunate to come into contact with pioneers of the Kibbutz who spoke about leadership on the early days of Yahel, the strategies for working in a small community and building a community from scratch. Yahel Kibbutz is truly proof that people can live and work together in harmony.
Another Reform Kibbutz in the area, Kibbutz Lotan, where they are very ecologically minded, has an eco-park, organic garden and constructed wetland for migrating birds. Their motto is ‘Le’ovda u’leshomra’ (to till the earth and to preserve it). All the rooms or house are built with straw, mud and used tyres – certainly ecologically friendly.
While in the Negev, walking the paths of ancient times, we spoke about modern day Israel, its political situation and “where to from now?” This was most timely as it was just prior to the national elections. It gave us all a better understanding of Israel’s governmental issues.
One particular incident which had an effect on me was sitting at the City of David studying the text of David’s ascension to Jerusalem with the Ark, when at 11.50 am the Moslem call to prayer was heard all around us. Because we share so much common ground both literally and figuratively, it gave me a feeling of hope for peace and tranquility in Israel today.
I feel the success of the seminar is the fact that throughout the 10 days we learnt to build communities and connect with one another, making world-wide contacts and friendships that I hope will endure for many years to come.
PICTURE AT LEFT:
Top row: Jasper Andersen (Denmark);Phyllis Sewall (USA); Barbara Rosel (Germany); Joshua Reuben (India); Andrew Monk (England); Ludmila Krzewska (Poland)