For exactly ten years now most of our winters (in Uruguay, in the southern hemisphere) we’ve spent in Israel. June has been the kindest month, breeding wise words out of our holy land: it’s been the best of times, it’s been time for Hartman. So no matter where we travelled before or after, how long we stayed in Israel or where, the learning week at the Shalom Hartman Institue in Jerusalem was the heart of the whole one-month-travel project. As Diaspora Jews with family scattered all over the world, we need time: a married daughter in London, a mother and a sister in Kfar Saba, a sisterly friend in Raanana, and all those people you just want to see, again. And of course, if you take a twelve hour flight to Europe, will you not spend some time touring? Will you not see yet another site, another West End show, another cathedral? But at the heart of it all lays this week in Talbyieh or Emek Refaim, the walks to the Institute up the hill (in Jerusalem you always ascend), the cool evenings after a day of learning and sharing.
Traveling became a whole different experience after our first stay at Hartman in 2009, and travelling to Israel more so. Because that’s precisely the point: attending Hartman, in any program, gives one the sense that not only that you’re Jewish, but also that you love it. Not only that you love it, you come to terms with its complexity, ambiguity, and what once Donniel Hartman called an “empty space” (“What is Jew”, 2016) in your understanding of what you are. So, putting the Hartman experience at the centre gives you meaning, transcendence, and even purpose, should you be so inspired… If Judaism is a journey, attending Hartman summer programs is about making sense out of it; if Judaism is a journey, and you need more than Halacha and rites and davening, the Hartman discourse is what you’re looking for. You leave with a sense of fulfilment not only of the senses (sightseeing, socializing, family) but of the spirit. Understanding the complexities and nuances of you identity enhances any other personal experience.
As this year we cannot come to Israel, it sinks upon us the sense of a lost opportunity, of yet another year, another layer of intelligent questions, honest answers, and admitting that the issues at stake either exceed us or need some time. Although the focus is much, much too centred on the Jewish American community, sooner or later those issues become a part of the reality of Jews anywhere in the world. Last year when we returned from Hartman I wrote a piece called “Hartman Revisited”, where I suggested that the programs were becoming too “American”, overlooking the challenges and solutions of Jews elsewhere: I mentioned Argentina or France, both countries with large Jewish communities. But as a year has passed, and as I’m permanently looking for new discourse to deal with new issues, I realize that the SHI in Jerusalem is the one with the means, the minds, and the ideals to grapple issues out of the box.
So, we’ll miss seeing the people we love, the touch of Europe (a part of our culture), the walks on Rostchild Bld. in Tel-Aviv or through Mamila in Jerusalem; but mostly we’re feeling the abstinence syndrome regarding Hartman. The expectation for each lecture, the challenges of every group session, the socialization during meals, the walk back to our rented flat after the day is over in that unique, pure Jerusalem air out of Noemi Shemer’s Jerusalem of Gold… we miss it all. Eventually we’ll catch-up with the ideas and discussions put forward, but it’s not the same. It never is when you’re not there; there being Israel.
As I checked Facebook today I saw a picture of the great Rachel Korazim giving a tribute to Amos Oz Z’L. I thought, we should have been there. We ourselves have given already four lectures on Amos Oz so far this year: three here in Montevideo, Uruguay, and one at Limud Buenos Aires, Argentina. You can never do enough to put forward honest, sensitive, sensible, courageous voices that strive for a Judaism embedded in its essence: how you treat the other, how you act doing the right and the good, and how you cope with the challenges of the time. As we Jews have always done. That’s Hartman to us.
Wish you a great week in Jerusalem!