Of 8, 18 and 118 — An Activist Reflects on Rosh Hodesh Av 5777

As dusk descends on the Upper West Side, I reflect upon this last remarkable week.  Last Tuesday, I was with over 400 Jews singing Jewish music of all sorts at the North American Jewish Choral Festival in Kerhonkson, New York.  The Festival, sponsored by the Zamir Choral Foundation, is a five-day gathering of Jews of all kinds who are joined by their love of singing, pure and simple.  It is also the place where Jewish musicians network and make projects happen, bringing dreams to life.  It was at the Festival 7 years ago that I embarked upon the Sacred Rights, Sacred Song Project.  5 years ago, in 2012,  the Zamir Chorale performed Benjie Ellen Schiller’s piece from “Sacred Rights, Sacred Song” about The Agunah.  Given the state of Jewish affairs in the Jewish State right now, I knew that this year’s Festival would be a place where the mission of SRSS, giving voice to the Concerns of our community, would be a topic of great interest.  It certainly added to my story that once again, I would be on the ground at the Kotel on the morning of Rosh Hodesh Av, this past Monday morning.  Being able to add new narrative to the spoken word of SRSS Concerts of Concern is one of the main reasons I travel to Israel.

The reason I found myself in Jerusalem on Monday morning, July 24/1 Av is that the Glickmans had chosen that day, months ago, to fly home to Cleveland.  After three years of residing in Jerusalem, mostly in the student housing in Bayit v’Gan, but also sporadically at our family’s apartment in the German Colony and also a summer in Mevassert, the Glickmans were returning to Cleveland.  My daughter Rachel and her husband Raffi are embarking on what they call their “pre-aliyah shichut,” returning to the eastern suburbs of Cleveland for some years, enjoying the benefits of the rich Jewish life that is found in Cleveland while surrounded by their closest family while their children are young. Three years ago, I flew to Israel one day before they arrived to catch my 24-year-old daughter, her husband and their 9-month old daughter, Shira. To be able to bookend their stay by being an extra set of hands for their return trip home justified one more trip to Jerusalem.  What a sacred synchronicity that I could also be a part of Rosh Hodesh Av, 5777, which I knew would be historic in the wake of the recent suspension of the Kotel Agreement by the Israeli Government.

However, I was not at the Kotel at 7 yesterday morning.  Rather, I set my alarm at 5:45 AM so that I could meet the Women of the Wall bus at Liberty Bell Park at 6:30 to wish them well at the Kotel that morning.  As our dear friend Avner was picking the family up at 8 for the noon flight, I deferred to my daughter’s maturely phrased request to forego my activism in the wake of the security situation.  It took but a minute for me to realize that my primary role yesterday morning was to be a Jewish mother, and not an on the ground Jewish Feminist Activist.  With Avner arriving at 8, there was simply no other way.

Not to worry, I had my opportunities to be active on the SRSS agenda.  When I recognized Rabbi Donniel Hartman at the park with his granddaughters, I took the opportunity to share with him that I have been using the phrase “modern Jewish democracy movement” for 7 years.  On Sunday, I dropped off an old program book from April 9, 2013, the Israel premiere of Sacred Rights, Sacred Song, at the Hartman Institute.  In a similar way, I insisted that my old USY friend Eric Fingerhut, now the professional head of International Hillel, sit with me  in the lobby of the Inbal, where we were both staying, so that I could share with him this niche musical project.  As I look towards producing several Concerts of Concern this year around the country, I know that Hillel is an important partner.  7 years ago on that Rosh Hodesh Av morning, I was struck by how much Nofrat Frankel reminded me of the CRUSY Regional President who preceded me in 1975, Brynna Fish.  On this trip, because Rachel recognized Eric in the dining room of the Inbal on Erev Shabbat, I had an opportunity to network with Eric who followed me as Regional President in 1976.  Say what you want about the Conservative movement today, back in the 1970’s, United Synagogue Youth produced some rather strong leaders, including the current head of the the Foundation for Jewish Camping, Jeremy Fingerman.

After hugging my dear friend, Women of the Wall Executive Director Lesley Sachs as she boarded the WOW bus at 6:30, I ate one last hotel breakfast and then headed over to the apartment.  We arrived at Ben Gurion Airport in plenty of time.  After a heartfelt farewell to Dod Avner, we began our check in procedure.  Also checking in was a Birthright group from a campus in California.  I witnessed a beautiful sight – a surprise visit to say one last goodbye from the dashingly handsome IDF soldier, one of the Israeli participants on the trip.  The connection that was made between the US participants and the Israelis on the bus was evident.  Nice work Eric!

We easily settled into our seats in Row 18, seats A, B, C and D.  The significance of the row number was lost on any of us, as the Glickman’s begin a new stage of life, chai in Hebrew, with this flight.  I was so proud of my children and my granddaughters and for once, thankful that technology has evolved to the place where an iPad is possible.  The first time I flew with Rachel to Israel in 1996 there were limited film options on the planes.  When I flew with Rachel, Sarah and David two years later, relative ages being 8, 5 and 3, I had an entire bag filled with activities.  I smiled as Rachel pulled out different items to keep Shira and Molly busy.  What joy I experienced watching the latest Disney offering, Moana, with Shira.  It was my grandmother, Dorothy Willen of blessed memory, (Gram for most of her life, then Honey as a great-grandmother) who took me to see “Mary Poppins” in 1964.  With a bow to another Disney classic, an obvious case of The Circle of Life, of Chai, of 18.

Upon landing in Newark yesterday a little after 5 pm after flying all day, I immediately checked on what had happened at the Kotel that morning with the WOW minyan.  According to WOW, 118 women and 20 men gathered to celebrate the month of Av, an auspicious month in our Jewish calendar.  There is no doubt that the number was not as large as anticipated due to the security situation on the Temple Mount, immediately above the Kotel.  Watching MSNBC this morning, I was struck that the banner referred to the Temple Mount as a “holy shrine.”  In the same way, our Kotel is a holy shrine.  So on the same morning, the Israeli police had to worry about prayer/protest in the holy shrine above and the holy shrine below.  From the WOW reports, the police presence in the Women’s Section was scarce and it was the Western Wall Heritage Foundation’s security people “protecting” the WOW worshippers from the verbal and physical abuse of those protesting WOW’s freedom of religious expression.  How sad that at a time when the Government of Israel needs all the friends it can get, especially Jews who care about Jewish practice in the Jewish State, the Prime Minister bows to his Haredi coalition partners.  At least he is listening to reasonable voices with respect to the holy shrine above as the metal detectors are being replaced with smart technology.  It is the least we can expect from the Start Up Nation.

Tonight Bill and I will settle in and I’ll catch up on the insanity in the United States, knowing that despite it all, the institutions of the US government will hold.  As far as the insanity in Israel, with the Palestinians growing more frustrated with their own lack of leadership, and new leadership emerging in Israel, perhaps something will change on the ground.  Until that time, I will continue to work on behalf of the Modern Jewish Democracy movement in its many forms through Concerts of Concern.  Perhaps we can aim for 8 Concerts in 5778.

About the Author
Francine M. Gordon is an artist/activist who maintains homes in New York and Cleveland. From November 2010 through November 2016, through The Sacred Rights, Sacred Song Project, she produced over 10 Concerts of Concern in the US and Israel. Since establishing her New York residence, Ms. Gordon has become a member of the New York Federation’s Israeli Judaism committee which focuses on exactly the same issues as SRSS. In addition, she has become a proud member of the Zamir Chorale which allows her to express her Zionism through song.
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