Once again, time in Israel is marked by what happened on a United flight. I flew home yesterday to New York after 4 days in Tel Aviv for the Jewish Federation of North America’s General Assembly. The theme of this year’s gathering, “Let’s Talk,” focused on the growing gap between Israel and the Diaspora. While I conversed with many Israelis, none of those conversations were of a tachlis, “Let’s Talk” nature. It wasn’t until my neighbor in 22B asked why I requested a kosher meal that the frank conversation began.
While we never exchanged names, we talked about our families, politics, and our views about religion. My neighbor works in his family business which is sourcing auto parts and selling them abroad. It is an international “family” business, with one factory in the industrial park in Barkan, the site of a recent terrorist attack, and the other factory in Thailand. His parents live in Bangkok where his father manages the other factory; there had been a second one in Israel, on the Gaza border, which they had to close after the Disengagement in 2005. It is only a matter of time until the son moves his family of 3 from his home in Petah Tikvah to Bangkok.
Curious that I asked for kosher food, we easily started talking about Jewish identity and Israeli identity. I explained to him that as a Jew outside of Israel, I needed to live in a way that created Jewish time and Jewish space, and keeping kosher was a part of that. I then asked him the basic questions about Jewish practice and of course, this secular Israeli fasts on Yom Kippur, participates in the Pesach Seder (even flying with fish, matza, etc. to Bangkok), became a Bar Mitzvah, plans for his sons to become B’nai Mitzvah (didn’t ask about his 5 year old daughter). In no uncertain terms, I told him he followed Jewish traditions more than many American Jews just by virtue of being an Israeli Jew. While proudly secular, this Hiloni Israeli, the grandson of an Auschwitz survivor, clearly observed his form of Israeli Judaism. As of yet, the Chief Rabbinate hasn’t interfered in his personal life and so he has no immediate cause of concern.
Sitting in seat 22C, flying away from the Jewish State, I had been given the opportunity to have a meaningful dialogue about the core “Sacred Rights, Sacred Song” issues. Five years ago at the GA in Jerusalem, SRSS had a booth where we promoted the project while inviting attendees to participate in the filming of our “Sh’ma Yisrael” music video. Yesterday, hoping to achieve the goal of sparking concern about the state of Judaism in the Jewish State, I relied on my words alone, without the music, to explain why the Status Quo is so detrimental to the future of the Jewish People.
Of course we showed each other pictures of our children. I proudly showed him a beautiful picture of Rachel, Raffi, Shira, Molly and Akiva, recently taken at the Cleveland Federation’s Super Sunday. While my neighbor was familiar with the Jewish Agency, he was not familiar with the Federation movement in North America, despite traveling around the US on business. I shared how our communities are organized to support the Jewish People around the world, especially in Israel. I also shared pictures from last June, the final day in the Jerusalem apartment, sitting at my piano with my beautiful garden in the background, framed by the green metal work of the glass doors, crowned with an archetypal Jerusalem stone arch.
Flight 85 was one of the older United planes, so it was no surprise that the outlet between our seats was not working. My neighbor kindly let me borrow his power source so that my iPad would stay charged. I smile at the metaphor – on a United plane, an Israeli Jew and an American Jew literally share a power source, a currency, a charge. Lucky for me that the the cord was long, stretching from the space between the window and the middle to the aisle seat. The foundation of my Judaism is the belief in a Power Source that animates life, is the source of our breath, that Divine Spark that connects us to the One Above. The essence of my Zionism is the belief that the Jewish People are commanded to be Covenental Partners with the Divine, destined to create a model society between the shores of the Mediterranean and the banks of the Jordan River. The motivation for my activism is the belief that the Jewish People of the 21st Century must find ways to support the Modern Jewish Democracy movement in the State of Israel. Those are my beliefs. The big question before us is what core Jewish/Zionist values will be the common denominator, the “united plane”, if you will, in this century? In other words, what will keep the Jewish People charged up on both sides of the ocean in the days ahead?
My neighbor and I didn’t delve into these deep questions. If we had, I would have suggested that the words of Israel’s Declaration of Independence are an excellent place to start. I may have even shown him our Sh’ma Yisrael-Listen Israel video, which is as timely today as it was five years ago. As we parted at the end of the flight, I expressed my hope that his son would have a good Bar Mitzvah experience, one that connected him to his Judaism in a meaningful way. I also wished him well when the family moves to Bangkok, quietly wondering if like the fish and matza, they will carry Jewish/Zionist values with them.