Chag Sameach! The Order of Freedom

April 10, 2014 by

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How do we celebrate our freedoms?

How can organization liberate?

If you were to design a Freedom Festival for yourself, how would it look?

Our tradition is pretty clear about the connection between Freedom and Anarchy. Lest we get carried away, our key ritual to commemorate the escape from Egyptian slavery is called The Night of Order – Seder Night.

As we approach Pesach this year, it would seem that the forces of freedom and chaos threaten and entice us from all directions.

Some rejoice and others mourn the breakdown of the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, as an attempt to establish a different form of order in the Middle East seems to have gone ‘pouf’…

North American educational establishments grapple with the demand for freedom of discourse about Israel, engaging energetically with different interpretations of unity and uniformity.

France and Hungary watch with concern as new-old forms of control and order raise their heads once more with the electoral successes of Le Pen and Jobbik.

And most importantly – who will spill the first glass of wine on that ever-white table-cloth?

These questions and many more follow us into the holiday period with depth and light, freedom and order.

Hag Sameach.

Coming to Peace with Storytelling

February 12, 2013 by

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Our Artist-in-Residence, Robbie Gringras gave a talk for JDOV at Limmud UK conference in December. In this visual, physical, and surprising presentation he offers a vision for maintaining the complexity of differing voices in Israel. 


Israel Sites – Arava


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The Desert (Getting Israel Together)









Reproduced from “Getting Israel Together”, 1986, © The Jewish Agency/WZO

“The State, the nation, the youth, the men of science now confront the supreme test in the history of our progress toward independence and the renewal of our sovereignty. Only through a united effort by the State in planning and execution, by a people ready for a great voluntary effort, by a youth bold in spirit and inspired by a creative heroism, by scientists liberated from the bonds of conventional thought and capable of probing deep into the special problems of this country, shall we succeed in carrying out the great and momentous task of developing the south and the Negev.

David Ben-Gurion


Since the 1950’s, close to 20 kibbutzim and moshavim (as well as an industrial center) have been established for the purpose of farming the Negev. But it hasn’t been easy. Agriculture needs land (fertile if possible), water, sun, and a number of other factors (drainage, minerals, suitable crops).

In the desert there is limited amounts of land suitable for farming and there is constant erosion of that which is available by wind and flooding. In order to create new farmland for the settlers evacuated from Sinai as a result of the Peace Treaty with Egypt, the Jewish National Fund has conducted large-scale land reclamation in the northern Negev, by means of flood control and massive landscaping. The lessons of this project may now be applied to other regions of the Negev, just as the use of drip irrigation and hot houses which was developed in the Negev (in order to maximize the use of water) has spread throughout the country – and even to Jordan!

Agriculture and industry also require large amounts of water. Even more critical is the need for cheap energy, in order to make mining the earth’s riches cost effective. Three directions are being followed today regarding energy:

  • The search for natural gas and petroleum
  • Research and development of solar power
  • The Mediterranean – Dead Sea Canal, first envisioned by Herzl.

Despite the hardships there has been development in the Negev and the Arave valley. Yotvata, the oldest Arava settlement, has a dairy that’s become famous throughout Israel. Immigrants from English speaking countries are well-represented in the Arava: Kibbutz Ketura was founded by members of HaShachar-Young Judea, and Kibbutz Yahel is affiliated with the American Reform Movement. They face a great challenge, not only in their attempt to make the desert bloom, but also in adjusting to desert life in small, relatively isolated communities, and in a difficult natural environment. It really is a heroic undertaking.

The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the

desert shall rejoice and blossom;

Like the crocus it shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice

with joy and singing.

The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it, the majesty of

Carmel and Sharon.

They shall see the glory of the Lord,

the majesty of our God….

 Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,

and the ears

of the deaf unstopped;

Then shall the lame man leap like a hart, and the

tongue of the dumb sing for joy.

For waters shall break forth in the wilderness, and

streams in the desert;

The burning sand shall become springs of water; The

haunt of jackals shall become a swamp, the grass shall

become reeds and rushes.

And a highway shall be there,

and it shall be called ‘the holy Way”….

No lion shall be there,

nor shall any ravenous beast come up on it;

They shall not be found there,

but the redeemed shall walk there.

And the ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come to

Zion with singing;

Everlasting joy shall be upon their heads;

they shall obtain joy and gladness,

And sorrow and sighing shall flee away.


Isaiah 5:1-10

Thoughts to Ponder….


The desert seems to have always exerted a deep influence on the feelings and senses of man. What is it that makes us so meditative in the desert?

Is it the great expanse? Is it the loneliness and quiet?

As far back as prehistoric times the desert was apparently a holy area – as it was for Moses and the people of Israel, for the Sectarians at Qumran, for the Byzantine monastics.

Is this because of the seeming purity of the desert? Is there something inherently mystical or spiritual about the desert?





The Song for our Troubled Times?

January 5, 2012 by

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“Point a finger at someone and you’re pointing three fingers at yourself.”

Yeah I know, it’s one of those annoying aphorisms that appear on Facebook with some cute photoshopped image. But as in many annoying Facebook aphorisms, it has something to it.

I’ve been thinking about this physiological morality tale over the past few weeks. Like an evil wind, uproar against one Israeli ‘tribe’ or another has been whipping from headline to headline, stirring up anger then moving on to the next issue, leaving pointing fingers in its wake.

I keep returning to the Prayer of the Secular. It’s a song by Kobi Oz that, to my mind, manages to point a finger at everyone, and yet finds a space for self-critique and harmony. (For a less polemic interpretation of the song, feel free to pop over here, where you’ll also find a full written translation and explanatory footnotes.)

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Ki Tissa


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Is Peace Always the Ideal?

Spark: Aaron is one of the most beloved figures in Jewish tradition, especially because of his dedication to creating peace. Peacemaking is hard. Aaron has many successes in this area. However, like all biblical leaders, his successes are not universal. In this week’s parasha, we seee how complicated peacemaking is and how sometimes we need to step back and examine our motives for creating peace.

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A View from the Galilee – the UN bid

September 20, 2011 by

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My wife had to go to the shop yesterday with the manager of our local store. The store had been given instructions to stock up on basics – water, rice, and other staples. Why? In case there are ‘repercussions’ following the Palestinian bid for State recognition at the UN this week.

Our privileged position on the top of a Galilean hill, overlooking the large Jewish city of Carmiel and the Arab villages of Majd Al Krum, Ba’ne, and Dir El Assad, is sometimes seen as something of a strategic liability. Were our neighbors to ‘rise up’, we’d be rather isolated on the top of our picturesque hill.

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The Honor and Dignity of my taxi-driver

May 29, 2011 by

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Had an interesting ride in a taxi the other day.

My driver had spent twenty years in Sweden, before returning here a couple of years ago. Not a particularly observant Muslim (he talked about being drunk a couple of times), he mentioned his first response to the Danish cartoon of Mohammed a few years back.

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Roger Waters and BDS

March 16, 2011 by

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Dear Mr. Waters,

I was deeply disappointed to learn that you have decided to build a wall between yourself and your Israeli fans. We love you here in Israel. Surely, you must know that from the warm reception you received when you performed here five years ago at the Jewish-Arab village of Neve Shalom.

What you may not realize is that most Israelis believe in a two-state solution. But this vision is not as easy to turn into a reality as you may think. Instead of recognizing the situation’s complexity, you have joined the campaign to boycott Israel, appointing yourself as a judge in a conflict between Middle Eastern tribes. (How British of you!)

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Dancing with Wikileaks

December 6, 2010 by

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Photo by: Olivia Fitusi

A great teacher once taught me: The opposite of peace is not war. The opposite of peace is truth.

His proof text was one of those famous Hillel-Shammai differentiators. What do you say at a wedding if someone asks you if the bride is beautiful? While Shammai would push for brutal honesty, even if the bride is far from related to Bar Raphaeli, Hillel urges us to say that she is beautiful no matter what. “Say she’s gorgeous and get dancing!” In so doing Hillel encourages peace at the expense of truth.

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When Shalom only means goodbye

October 23, 2010 by

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This year I had a tough Rabin Day.

So many replays of that night, so many archived appearances of Rabin on chat shows, and the speeches he made.

What struck me most was the number of times Rabin talked about Peace. These days it is so rare to hear someone talking about peace.

We hear much talk about “reaching an agreement”, we hear a great deal about recognition and borders and security arrangements and settlements, but I don’t hear anyone talking about peace any more. We talk about methods techniques and procedures to solve the problem, to find an end to the conflict, to divide or not divide the land, but it feels like we’ve forgotten to even dream about what that might look like beyond lines on a map.

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