Kotel Tales

By Loren Sykes, Director of Israel Immersives

I have visited the Kotel HaMa’aravi – The Western Wall – more often in the past two weeks than I have in the past four years. One day this week, groups of NFTY in Israel teens saw two very different faces of the kinds of people that visit the Kotel. They joined with people that celebrate “Ahavat Chinam” or unconditional love and they had to listen to those who bring “Sinat Chinam” or pointless hatred into the world.

Ahavat Chinam – Unconditional Love

In the morning, a group of our teens were at the Western Wall. Like all of our groups, they toured Ir David – the City of David – walked through the tunnels, and emerged back in the Jewish Quarter right near the Dung Gate, also known at Sha’ar Ha’Ashpot. Upon arrival, they walked right into the start of a Mizrahi or Sefardi Bar Mitzvah procession. The family immediately welcomed them to the singing and dancing. Our teens got completely into the fun, singing, shouting, and dancing their hearts out. The teens were having a blast! And the family of the bar mitzvah boy were smiling from ear to ear. They were not only watching but became part of a celebration of the unconditional love that Jewish people should feel for one another. It was magnificent to see!

Sinat Chinam – Pointless Hatred

In the afternoon, NFTY in Israel teens unfortunately had a different kind of experience. Their visit to the Kotel was powerful on many levels. Teens talked about how meaningful their time was at Ir David and how moved they were by their private, prayerful moments at the Kotel. Unfortunately, they also saw the ugly side of the Western Wall Plaza. They were confronted by an elderly ultra-Orthodox man who felt the need to share his opinions about the authenticity of Liberal Judaism or the Jewish status of our participants. Rather than argue with the individual, our teens sat by quietly as a NFTY in Israel staff member clearly and respectfully let the man know that his opinions were neither solicited nor welcome.

Earlier in the day, after spending time at the Kotel and waiting in the Kotel Plaza, one of the young women who works for the chief rabbi of the Western Wall came and instructed some of our girls to put on “modesty” scarves. The chief rabbi is trying to impose his own rules on the Kotel Plaza, beyond the dividers or mehitzot of the male and female prayer areas which he views as an Orthodox synagogue. Our NFTY in Israel participants saw firsthand the impact of the Chief Rabbinate’s hegemony over religious life in Israel and the privilege that they believe they possess to question the authenticity of other forms of observance or Jewish religious thought.

Our teens also saw their madrich, counselor, model how to respond to these challenges and to do so in a respectful, firm, and thoughtful fashion. They learned the meaning of Pointless Hatred – Sinat Chinam – and how to respond differently.

Pointless Hatred, The Fast of the 9th of Av, Unconditional Love, and Redemption

From sunset Saturday night until Sundown Sunday, many Jews around the world will observe the Fast of the 9th Day of Av. Traditionally, the 9th day of Av is the day when a series of disasters befell the Jewish People, most notably the destruction of both the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem. The Talmud teaches that the Second Temple was destroyed not because the Romans had a superior army but because of Pointless Hatred among the different Jewish factions in the Jerusalem. Some of our teens saw just what Sinat Chinam or Pointless Hatred looks like, and they saw it right near the spot where the Second Temple stood. Fortunately, other groups of our teens saw what unconditional love of and for the Jewish People looks like.

Redemption will come when Pointless Hatred is eliminated, and Unconditional love prevails not only among the Jewish People but among all people everywhere. This is why Reform Judaism strives to create a more whole, just, and compassionate world.

International Day of Women & Girls in Science

International Day of Women & Girls in Science

"I don't walk into the lab in the morning thinking, 'I am a woman, and I will carry out an experiment that will conquer the world.' I am a scientist, not male or female. A scientist." - Ada Yonath, an Israeli who was the first woman to be awarded the Nobel Prize in...

Contemplating the End of Summer

Contemplating the End of Summer

By Corey Rudman, Bus 18 Hello to all. My name is Corey Rudman. In contemplating what to write for this very blog post that you, the parents, are currently reading, I had a variety of options to choose from; I could've written about the past week in a basic format,...

The Beautiful Land of Israel

The Beautiful Land of Israel

By Rabbi Loren Sykes, Director of Israel Immersives This week, I visited our teens in Northern Israel while they were at the Sea of Galilee, the Kinneret. It was a typical hot, humid summer day in Israel, making the cool waters of the Kinneret even more attractive for...

Feeling Welcome in the Jewish Homeland

Feeling Welcome in the Jewish Homeland

By Alexa Coultoff, Bus 14 Being 6600 miles away or more from our homes in the United States, it’s been incredible to find familiarity in Jewish traditions here in Israel. For example, this week we traveled to the holy city of Tzfat in the North of Israel. Stepping off...

GET READY FOR TAKE OFF

Incentive grants of up to $3250 available!