Regards from Jerusalem!

Regards from Jerusalem! I’m blessed to be here for my last full summer as part of the Senior Rabbinic Fellows Program at the Hartman Insitute.


In essence, I am part of a large think tank, with opportunities to study, read, write and learn from some of the greatest thinkers on Jewish ideas today. Some particular highlights have been an intensive seminar on the Idra Rabba section of the Zohar with Melila Hellner-Eshed and an exploration of the ethics of civil discourse with Christine Hayes. Beyond the formal learning, there have been the joys of Israeli cultural life, including a concert with one of my favorite artists, Kobi Oz, and making use of my sorely underutilized spoken Hebrew and catching up with friends and colleagues from around the world who are in Jerusalem for the summer.  


Of course, one of the greatest joys of Jerusalem is the pervasive quiet of Shabbat. It is one thing to try to enjoy the stillness of Shabbat in the context of an American culture that is unable to refrain from commerce and from cell phones; it is another thing entirely to walk streets which are virtually empty of cars and enjoy leisurely gatherings at meals and at synagogues which can only happen when nobody is running off to a baseball game or an appointment or any of the other things that clamor for our attention. One of my favorite signs up in my old neighborhood of Nachlaot reads Close your Phone and Open the Gates of Heaven.


Being in Israel means also living with the same double consciousness we’ve come to be aware of in the US - the immediate circumstances of life are lovely while at the same time, the government is carrying out wickedness in our name and ostensibly for our benefit. In both America and Israel, unresolved conflicts of the 1960s continue to shape and deform life today. The state of Israel took control of the West Bank and Gaza after winning the Six-Day War in 1968, and now, 50 years later, there is no real hope that circumstances will improve anytime soon for the 4.5 million Palestinians living under Israeli occupation. So I continue to support the organizations which should be the pride of Jewish Israeli society - the New Israel Fund, Breaking the Silence and Encounter, among others - and pray for a just resolution to the conflict in my lifetime.


I hope that you have been enjoying your summers, and I very much look forward to seeing everyone at the picnic on Aug 3.


With blessings,

Rabbi Brent