Fire and Water

In the course of last year I stopped repeatedly to think what my message would be for the reception party of our new Sefer Torah.

It is — after all — a very special night for all Kehillat Netzach Israel, and also for me personally. For the first time, I have written a Sefer Torah for the congregation of which I am a Rabbi.

However, three weeks ago I knew what to say, as a result of two phone calls that took place within a few days of each other.

We are looking for an apartment in Ashkelon (four rooms, balcony and near the sea, by the way …) and I called regarding a notice.

“What do you do?” The homeowner asked.

“I have been a conservative Rabbi in Ashkelon for the past twelve years “,  I replied with pride.

It was then that he said to me, “I did not know that such a thing still existed in Israel. May HaShem bring you back to Teshuvah soon” and hung up.

The second conversation took place only a few days later. I was looking for a group of klezmer players and percussionists who could play and rejoice with us for the event.

“Good evening,” I say.

“I’m looking for a band of percussionists for a party for the conservative congregation of Ashkelon.”

On the other side of the line a woman took care of me. “I will consult with my husband to see if we can collaborate with such a” thing “.

A few minutes later, I receive a text message from her saying: “We do not want to, it’s not right for us”.

As for the first conversation, I thought that I may have to repent or ask for Teshuva for some of my actions, but not for my beliefs.

Regarding the second conversation, I thought: I am very happy she told me sincerely that she did not want to collaborate on “such a thing”.

We are happy that tonight we are joined only by people who accept us as a legitimate Jewish voice within the wide spectrum of Jewish voices that make up the people of Israel. And I am very happy that we are joined here tonight by people who may not choose our congregation as their own, but still consider us as brothers, as part of the wide range of ideologies that make up the Jewish people. Not repudiating us as “those people” who deal with “such things.”

Because the message of this Sefer Torah, of our community, of our movement, is  “The ways are ways of graciousness and all paths lead us to peace” (Mishlei 3:17).

Our congregation is conservative (Masorti) but always open for those who want to enter our doors.

Men and women. Native Israelis and new olim. Jews by birth and Jews by choice. Traditionalists and secular. Orthodox, reform and anyone who shares a vision of a pluralist world.


As it is known, the Torah comes from the sky.

It is no coincidence that everything started there.

When Rashi explains in his commentary the etymology of the word “shamaim” (heaven), he says that they combine “Esh” (Fire) and “Maim” (Waters).

“He mixed this with these and made heaven with them” (RaShi, Bereshit, 1, 8).

It is surprising. Fire and water are staunch enemies. Two elements that should not go together anywhere.

If the fire wanted to evaporate the water, it would do it without difficulty. The water, too, would have no trouble putting out the fire.

And yet they are there, together, as living testimony that the world stands by merit of the mutual will of fire and water to coexist in peace.

Heaven is a “pluralist” creation in essence.

From there, from the sky, comes the Torah.

It is no coincidence that our sages have said that the Torah can be compared with both fire and water (see Bemidbar Rabba 1, 7).

The Jewish calendar has two festivities that span eight days. On the one hand, Sukkot-Shemini Atzeret; the other, Hannukah (the second book of Maccabees 10, 6-7 argues that this is not accidental).

The interesting thing is that the first deals with water (Sukot-Shemini Atzeret) and the second of the fire (Hannukah).

“Fire and water”.

Like the Torah. Like the sky from which they come.

Perhaps that is why in tefillah we say repeatedly “Osé Shalom Bimeromav Hu Ya’asé Shalom Aleinu” (He who establishes peace in the heavens, grant us peace).

It is not easy for the Holy One to make peace between fire and water….

This Sefer, which we have finished writing today, is identical in form and content to any other Sefer that inhabits the Ark. However, it will always carry the voice of our congregation and of our movement.

A voice of liberal and moderate Judaism, rooted in the tradition of Israel. A Judaism that crosses ages and geographies, which contains and dignifies both men and women and places the focus on love for each one of Gd’s creatures.

Fire and water together.

Mixed and united.

Like in the sky.

As in the Torah.

For “His ways are pleasant ways, and His paths lead us to peace.”

Mazal tov!

(Kehillat Netzach Israel Ashkelon celebrated our 50th Anniversary)


About the Author
Rabbi Gustavo Surazski is the Rabbi at Kehillat Netzach Israel, the Masorti (Conservative) congregation in Ashkelon.