Leaving Mitzrayim in EVERY Generation

“I cannot think of a more striking example of the Exodus in our own day,” concluded Anat Hoffman, Executive Director of the Jerusalem-based IRAC, Israel’s Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. As part of our January Mission to Israel the Northern California Rabbis had assembled to hear an up-to-date briefing on the status of Women of the Wall. We got that – and so much more.

Ms. Hoffman’s comment referred to the hundreds of refugees who make the journey by foot each month from the Sudan, through Egypt and across the southern border into Israel. She told us that in exchange for a brand new pair of New Balance sneakers, a social worker had recently collected one man’s shoes. The shoes were then mounted and preserved in a museum-quality box frame for display and sent to congregation in the US that had donated a sizable sum to support IRACs legal and social work on behalf of asylum-seeking refugees in Israel.

For days after returning from the mission I was haunted by the story and wondered whether it would be even remotely possible to raise the thousands of dollars needed to secure such a remarkable pair of shoes. I wrote to Ms. Hoffman asking where I could learn more about the project and she responded immediately. “We have another pair that made the journey from Darfur, but we are having difficulty interviewing the shoes owner because he works from dawn to midnight every day. We are thinking of offering him a day’s work pay to come tell us his story and also receive a new pair.”

Levinsky Park.  Photo: Rabbi Rosalind Glazer, January 2011.
Levinsky Park. Photo: Rabbi Rosalind Glazer, January 2011.

The impact of hearing this story powerful story was equal to that of seeing the Israeli neighborhood in which many of these refugees live. Our delegation visited BINA, a secular yeshiva in South Tel Aviv where students live and work with the most diverse of Israel’s ethnic populations. Our guide told us that refugees often find work as day laborers; yet their status remains precarious. As he introduced us to a volunteer-run, multi-lingual lending library they had set up in Levinsky Park, we witnessed one refugee taken into custody by a police officer. This is apparently not uncommon.

Refugee Library in Levinsky Park, South Tel Aviv.  Photo: Rabbi Rosalind Glazer, January 2011.
Refugee Library in Levinsky Park, South Tel Aviv. Photo: Rabbi Rosalind Glazer, January 2011.

It is heart breaking to imagine risking everything to begin a new life in Israel only to land in prison and face deportation. Yet many refugees say that they’d rather die in Israel than to be deported back to Africa. Speaking on the refugees’ behalf one social activist remarked emphatically that, “The failure of other countries to treat refugees properly does not give us an excuse to do the same.” Refugees are unlike migrant workers in that they simply have no option other but to flee for their lives.

Levinsky Library: Media are available in Amharic, Arabic, Bengali, English, French, Hebrew, Hindi, Romanian, Spanish, Tagalog and Thai.  Photo:  Rabbi Rosalind Glazer, January 2011.
Levinsky Library: Media are available in Amharic, Arabic, Bengali, English, French, Hebrew, Hindi, Romanian, Spanish, Tagalog and Thai. Photo: Rabbi Rosalind Glazer, January 2011.

These comments reminded me of a scene in “Out of Sight,” a new play by actress and playwright Sara Felder. In it she recounts her mother’s inability to forgive herself for not speaking against the FDR government when it refused entry of the SS St. Louis into the port of Miami thereby sealing the terrible fate of hundreds of Jewish refugees. Yet, in every generation, many courageous individuals do step forward to save the innocent. For example, I recently learned of Nicholas Winton, a righteous gentile from Great Britain who helped 669 Jewish children escape Nazi Germany and who until recently had never told anyone about it! When a youth activist asked him his philosophy of life he stated, “Don’t be content…just to do no wrong. Be prepared everyday to try and do some good.”

At Pesach we recall the Exodus, the Holocaust and all historic persecutions of our people. But remembering history is not enough. To live “as if we had personally gone forth” requires that we name and respond to the Exoduses of our own time; to put ourselves in the shoes of those struggling right now to escape Pharaoh’s death-grip. This Pesach let us refuse to indulge feelings of powerlessness; let us not surrender to paralyzing indifference. Rather, let us courageously step forward together to fight all forms of tyranny and oppression in our day – for the sake of our generation and generations to come.


Northern California Rabbis Meet with Anat Hoffman of Women of the Wall, Jerusalem

Rabbi Rosalind Glazer with Anat Hoffman
Rabbi Rosalind Glazer with Anat Hoffman of WOW at IRAC Headquarters in Jerusalem, January 28, 2011. Rabbi Moshe Levin of Congregation Ner Tamid peeks in from behind.


[From the WOW Facebook page 1-30-2011; See also J. Cover Story 2-11-2011] Northern California Rabbis Support Women of the Wall January 31, 2011 From January 24-29, a delegation of 30 Rabbis from Northern California various high-ranking officials in Israel. The delegation, which was arranged by Israeli Consul General for the Pacific Northwest Akiva Tor, included Consul Tor and Rabbis from the Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist and Renewal movements.

As participant Rabbi Rosalind Glazer explained, “Our joint participation is a model of Jewish diversity in the U.S. We hope that our unified voice can make a powerful statement about the underlying value of, and need for, religious pluralism in Israel. As American Jews, our voices need to be taken seriously at this critical juncture in the history of Israel and the Jewish people.”

The Rabbis met with M.K.’s Yuli Edelstein (Likud) and Nachman Shai (Kadima), Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, Supreme Court Justices Elyakim Rubenstein and Salim Jubran, and Jewish Agency Chair Natan Sharansky.

The delegation spent Friday, January 28, in the Old City of Jerusalem visiting the Kotel tunnels, Robinson’s Arch, and the City of David. The day began with an early-morning meeting with Anat Hoffman, the chairwoman of Women of the Wall, who shared the group’s political and legal history. Hoffman said, “Israel could choose to be a leader in the Jewish world. There could be a bat mitzvah at the Kotel.” The rabbis flooded Hoffman with questions and snapped photos of her wearing a Women of the Wall tallit and head covering. Hoffman encouraged supporters to sell the Women of the Wall tallit in their gift shops, invite congregants to write letters to Israeli government officials, and bring their synagogue trips to Women of the Wall services on Rosh Hodesh.

Many of the rabbis in the delegation have been long-time supporters of Women of the Wall. In October 2010, Bay Area Rabbi Pamela Frydman and Rabbi Menachem Creditor launched an international campaign called “Rabbis for Women of the Wall.” Over 600 Rabbis, 85 Cantors, 60 organizations and 1000 individuals have since signed a statement to Israeli officials demanding that that they define a time or place at the Kotel where women are allowed to lead worship, wear a tallit, wear tefillin, hold the Torah and read from the Torah.

Rabbi Frydman, who participated in the January delegation, presented a packet to each government official (and Head of External Affairs Natalie Kimchi on behalf of the Supreme Court Justices) containing the statement and accompanying signatures as well as a new set of letters signed by hundreds of rabbis, cantors, rabbinic and cantorial associations, social justice organizations, congregations and individuals. In addition, Rabbi Glazer presented a letter from Bay Area Friends of Women of the Wall.

In addition to the letter-writing campaigns, many congregations participated in Women of the Wall’s photo campaign last summer, when thousands of women all over the world were photographed holding a Sefer Torah. Rabbi Chaim Schwartz, President of Congregation Chadesh Yameinu in Santa Cruz said of the photo campaign, “Women were in tears. Many of them had never held a Torah before, because they had never been invited to do so.”

Rabbi Shoshanah Devorah of Congregation Kol HaEmek in Mendocino County, participated in the January delegation. She was present at Women of the Wall’s second gathering in 1988, and participated regularly until 1995 when she moved to the U.S. Rabbi Devorah remembers the tear gas used by police during one of Women of the Wall’s services in 1988, and said she felt like she was “at a civil rights protest in the U.S. in the ‘60s.” Devorah, who became a Rabbi at the age of 59, recalled fondly that “Women of the Wall was very important in my own spiritual development. It was the first place that I put on a tallit.”

Rabbi Rosalind Glazer of Congregation Beth Judea Israel in San Francisco is an International Vice-Chair of Rabbis for Women of the Wall and also serves on the Steering Committee for Friends of Women of the Wall, a San Francisco Bay Area group of women and men who advocate for the acceptance of all streams of Judaism in Israel. Rabbi Glazer was in tears as she spoke about women at the Kotel, “Mayor Barkat told us that the Kotel is for all Jews. But, that is not true today. Jews in the diaspora want a place to be spiritual. It is the first place they go and it is the first place they get slapped in the face. The message that they get on their first experience is ‘you’re not equal; you’re not welcome.’”

Rabbi Stephen Pearce, Senior Rabbi of Congregation Emanu-El in San Francisco recently joined Glazer and twenty-one others as an International Vice Chair of Rabbis for Women of the Wall. Explaining his decision, Pearce said, “I am thrilled to help pursue a sense of justice. The struggle of Women of the Wall is a model of how Israel can learn to compromise and pursue conflict resolution in other areas.”

Rabbi Mauricio Balter, President of the Rabbinical Assembly in Israel also recently became an International Vice Chair, joining Rabbi Andrew M. Sacks, Director of the RA in Israel, one of the original Vice Chairs. “I feel that it’s a very big z’chut [privilege] to serve” said Balter of his new role.

Northern California Rabbis Delegation to Israel

Rabbi Rosalind Glazer with Rabbi Levi Weiman Kelman of Kol Haneshama Jerusalem at Robinson's Arch in July 2010
At Robinson’s Arch, Jerusalem with Rabbi Levi Weiman Kelman of Kol Haneshama 

By special invitation from the Israeli Consul General, Akiva Tor, I will be joining a rare rabbinic delegation to Israel during the last week of January as the only female pulpit rabbi from San Francisco and one of only five female rabbis in the 30 member delegation. Encouraged to participate because of my outspoken support for religious pluralism and liberal Judaism in Israel, my role will be to advocate for these through the loosening of the overwhelming influence of the ultra right wing religious establishment (Rabbanut) on the Israeli government.  Why is this important to BIJ? BIJ’s congregants are strong supporters of Israel and are very concerned that there be a future for Reform and liberal Judaism in the Jewish homeland.  Our successful campaign of photos this past Fall for Women of the Wall, WOW, was an expression of this effort.  In December 2010 we  also hosted the launch of the Year of Civil Discourse on Israel (co-sponsored by the San Francisco Jewish Community Relations Council, the SF Jewish Federation and the Northern California Board of Rabbis) to express the urgent need for all members of our communtiy to learn and use constructive tools for sharing concerns about Israel without descending into hurtful, hateful, and distructive vitriol.  As this delegation approaches I will speak about why I am making this trip – with individuals, at services, meetings and events.  While in Israel, I hope to publish daily posts on this blog with comments and observations about my experiences.  I will be speaking about delegation on Friday night February 11, 2011 at 8:30 PM  in the BIJ Fireside Room following the Oneg Shabbat. Who else is on this delegation and why now? Participants from San Francisco and other Bay Area and Peniunsula rabbis from Orthodox, Conservative, Reconstructionist, Reform, Renewal and Post-Denominational streams of Judaism will include Rabbi Doug Kahn, JCRC Executive Director, Rabbi Eric Weiss, Executive Director of the Bay Area Jewish Healing Center and President of the Northern California Board of Rabbis (NCBOR), Rabbi Marvin Goodman, NCBOR Executive Director, Rabbi Steve Pearce and Rabbi Jonathan Jaffe, of Reform Congregation Emanu-El,  Rabbi Micah Hyman of USCJ Congregation Beth Shalom, Rabbi Yonathan Cohen and Judah Dardik (both Modern Orthodox Rabbis) and others.  Our joint participation is a  model of Jewish diversity in the US and our unified voice can make a powerful statement about the underlying value of and need for religious pluralism in Israel.  As American Jews our voices needs to be taken seriously at this critical juncture in the history of Israel and the Jewish people. What is the delegation’s itinerary? This 7-day delegation, with 5-nights in Jerusalem and two days of air travel, is composed of back to back exclusive meetings with high level Israel officials including President Shimon Peres, Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon and other senior staff of the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Anat Hoffman of Women at the Wall and Israel Religious Action Center, MK Natan Scharansky and the committee for Jewish identity (conversion, Reform), Supreme Court Justices Michael Cheshin and Justice Yitzhak Engelhard,  and senior research fellows at IPCRI, a joint institution of Israelis and Palestinians dedicated to the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Please stay posted for more information!

It’s Not Easy Being Green – But it is a Mitzvah!

We cannot underestimate how powerfully the values and practices we embrace as a community powerfully influence our personal habits and choices.

Succulents in the Rock - Dor Nachsholim Preserve, Israel.  July 2010.  Photo: Rabbi Rosalind Glazer
Succulents in the Rock - Dor Nachsholim Preserve, Israel. July 2010. Photo: Rabbi Rosalind Glazer

The Talmudic rabbis wisely warned their generation, “If we destroy our world, there will be nobody to repair it after us.”  Far more than those who came before us and with all we have learned in the era of globalism, our generation can fully appreciate this message.  We’ve witnessed many environmental disasters in our lifetimes and have come to acknowledge the inconvenient truth of global warming.  We know that ours is a delicate and fragile planet; that it is vulnerable to ignorant, greedy and destructive human actions. Yet individually and collectively we’re still struggling to incorporate pragmatic and effective habits into our daily lives.  The first Earth Day in April 1970 introduced the world to the 3 Rs of caring for the earth; Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle. Yet in the 40 years that have ensued we’ve witnessed the devastating impact of increased waste and overconsumption.  It’s particularly evident in the US where per capita use of the world’s resources is grossly out of proportion.  

Echoing the Talmudic sages, preeminent scholar, authority on Jewish mysticism and author of the book Radical Judaism, Rabbi Arthur Green regards our need to embrace a sacred relationship with the earth as THE critical spiritual challenge of our time.  While this is a universal spiritual issue, Jews are already called to engage in the mitzvot of tikkun olam (repairing the world), bal tashchit (preventing needless waste and destruction) and tzar ba’alei chayim (protecting living creatures).  Thus it should be no surprise that Jews are at the forefront of the environmental movement.  More than a dozen new Jewish initiatives (and growing) have enthusiastically embraced the issue.

At Beth Israel Judea we’ve also taken up the challenge.  Over a year ago we added an Eco-Kashrut clause to our kitchen and food policy.  When sharing meals at BIJ, we encourage the use of dishes and silverware over disposables and we advise careful conservation of water.  When purchasing single-use items we recommend eco-friendly products.  With the help of Karen Kerner, we recently purchased and now display sets of clearly marked blue bins for recyclables and green bins for compostables.  And we use non-toxic, eco-friendly products for most of our cleaning and custodial needs.  

We cannot underestimate how powerfully the values and practices we embrace as a community influence our personal habits and choices.

After recent screenings of the new environmental documentary, “Bag It,” several BIJers told me they are now making a greater individual effort.  While this pleases me, I hesitate to say dayenu because I know it is possible to do better. Recycling is good, but reducing and reusing should precede it.  And a fourth R – redesign – is more critical than ever.  As consumers we should vocally reject manufacturers ‘planned obsolesce’ and insist that electronics and other big ticket items be built–to-last rather than designed-for-disposal.  We can no longer purchase goods wrapped in heavy plastic packaging and simply assume it will all be recycled.  Like other viewers of the film, I was stunned to learn that the large majority of the items I place in my curbside recycling bin are shipped by barge for sorting by impoverished workers in China!  Other plastic items are incinerated to toxic smoke or dumped into the ocean to become part of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a growing island of plastic larger than the state of Texas. Our relative affluence offers freedom and power, but it requires that we exercise greater responsibility.  Just because we can buy more, doesn’t mean we should. The acquisition of knowledge is far more valuable, but it also increases our obligation to act. 

The “Bag It!” film emphasizes the impossibility of throwing things away.  There simply is no such thing as away!  For the 16th c. Kabbalists, the smallest act or decision had spiritual consequences.  Let us embrace the challenge and do right – for our planet, for ourselves, for one another and for future generations.   Keyn yehi ratzon – So may it be.


WE WON!  Celebrating the Prop 8 Court Decision

WE WON!  Celebrating the Prop 8 Court Decision in San Francisco’s Castro District,  Wednesday August 4, 2010.  I am in the middle with Margee Churchon of the Jewish Community Relations Council on my right, Rachel Biale and Susan Lubeck from the Progressive Jewish Alliance on my left, Rabbi David Cooper of Kehilla Community Synagogue and Marilyn Golden, Policy analyist Disabled Rights and Defense Fund in front of me.  After the Rally, we marched down Market Street to Civic Center and continued with speeches from local constituents and officials on the steps of San Francisco’s City Hall.   A small but significant step along the path to full equality for all, and despite the cold summer weather, it truly was a glorious day.  Hooray for liberty and justice.  Today I am especially proud to be an American!

More Jews for Equality!  Here I am with Eileen Blumenthal at the Prop 8 Rally in front of SF City Hall
More Jews for Equality! Here I am with Eileen Blumenthal at the Prop 8 Rally in front of SF City Hall

At Home and Far Away

To alight in peace, safety and joy in a troubled world – was such a gift. Blessed are the peacemakers!

United Religions Initiative Delegates and Friends at the Tayelet Promenade in Jerusalem. June 28, 2010
United Religions Initiative, URI, delegates and friends at the Tayelet Promenade in Jerusalem. June 28, 2010. My godson, Lev Hirschhorn, is seated in front of me and a Peace statue is behind us.

Earlier this week, my godson, Lev Hirschhorn, and I were fortunate to  attend a peacebuilders event in Abu Tor, Jerusalem.  The invitation came from my dear old friend and colleague, Jerusalem Peacemakers co-founder, Rodef Shalom, Eliyahu McClain with whom I taught Hebrew School at Beth Chaim in Danville, CA, some sixteen years ago.  

Eliyahu is a remarkable person who has spent more than a decade working in Israel, Palestine and around the globe doing critically important and needed peace building in the interfaith community.  These efforts are so needed during these difficult times and Eliyahu has modeled for all of us a way to do this important work with grace, unflagging commitment and joy.

This evening’s gathering took place at the Abu Tor, Jerusalem home of Tzvi and Elena Rozenblum who warmly hosted an enormous group of guests on a scorching hot day – feeding and watering us with food, kindness and generosity.  The gathering was convened to welcome and to celebrate with a delegation of URI, United Religions Initiative, an organization that promotes peace through dialogue among religious leaders to foster an end to interreligious violence. 

The guests, many of whom had just come in from Jordan where they were celebrating the 10th anniversary of URI, included visitors from many countries and religions:  Buddhist (from the Himalayas), Christian (from Ethiopia, Brazil, the UK, Israel and the US), Muslim (from Jerusalem and elsewhere in the Palestinian territories), Jewish (from Israel, California and the UK), and Hindu (from India and elsewhere), etc. 

I was surprised to learn (but why be surprised at all, anymore) that the main URI office is located in San Francisco, CA, at the Presidio!  Hence, more connections upon which to build upon when I return home. 

After the walk, noshes and drinks, blessings and greetings, prayers and invocations of many traditions were offered in multiple languages.  Then came the sharing of the missions of the various represented peace and co-existence groups and each attendee (possibly as many as 50 of us included 8-10 youths) introduced him or herself and spoke a word or phrase that described their present experience.  I heard Lev say, “at home” and I was warmed by the knowledge that he had found a place in Jerusalem where he could truly feel this way.

Following the sharing more food and drink, animated conversation and networking ensued. The evening ended with a remarkable musical collaboration – including the extraordinary talent of Biswadeb Chakraporty, URI staff member from India and world class tabla player!

To alight in peace, safety and joy in a troubled world – is such a gift.  Blessed are the peacemakers!  May they be strengthened and may their efforts be amply rewarded with good.