I went to a wonderfully inspiring religious service. Beautiful singing, an inspiring sermon, a warm and welcoming community atmosphere. It was a snap shot of all that is dynamic and valuable about North American Jewry. And at the same time a snap shot of how sustainable Israel engagement is in real trouble.
If you have been to the Western Wall recently, you may have noticed that the women’s section is markedly smaller than the men’s section, despite the fact that the number of visitors on both sides is approximately the same. This leaves many women feeling disrespected, not to mention uncomfortable, while praying at one of the most holy sites of the Jewish people.
Probably the one text with which most of our students are likely to have continued and maybe even frequent contact is the siddur. The siddur provides opportunities for teaching about our connection to Israel on a number of different levels, each of which might be appropriate for different age levels and different ideologies. This lesson seeks to chart several different Israel connections in the standard weekday and Shabbat liturgy. Note that for purposes of illustrating these connections we use the traditional prayerbook; some of the passages may not be present, or may have been edited, in Reform and Conservative and Reconstructionist liturgy; these changes themselves can serve as teaching opportunities.
Israelis who define themselves as “chiloni” (non-religious) nevertheless choose to undergo traditional Jewish lifecycle events, circumcising their sons, celebrating bar/bar mitzvah ceremonies and weddings, and burying their dead according to traditional practice. Some of this participation is enforced by Israeli law (more on that in the lessons on marriage and death), but the rituals of childhood are entered into voluntarily (at least by the parents…). While the circumcision ceremony has remained largely identical to the traditional one, the bar/bat mitzvah ceremony has evolved and changed – perhaps because it is a relative newcomer on the scene. Other ceremonies contain different mixes of tradition and new invention.
In terms of the Israel connection in life cycle observances in the Diaspora, the liturgy of the brit, and of bar/bat mitzvah, does not contain explicit references to Israel or the hope of return. However, pidyon haben is wholly bound up with preserving the role of the kohanim and thus serves as a reminder of the Temple and its centrality.