About Me

I'm the Rabbi of B'nai Israel Synagogue in West Bloomfield, MI, a highly-participatory, traditional, egalitarian synagogue.

Thursday, April 15, 2010


I’ve learned the Israeli way. Carpe diem. Sparkle in the highlights of life here. Build that life, as I would anywhere. Consider the complexities (and tensions, ambiguities, paradoxes, ironies, and tragedies) in which I live, but don’t dwell on them.

Dwell on them, however – and they are literally everywhere I turn – and they may land me in an existential pit of Josephan proportions.

As an illustration, yesterday, a pedestrian 10-minute drive to neighboring Modi’in Illit.

Leaving Modi’in, I cross route 443, the city’s northern boundary. Simple enough.

I immediately pass Shilat, a discount zone best known as the local address of Israel’s prime cut-rate supermarket, Rami Levi. It’s a subject of unresolved debate in Modi’in whether we do our food shopping in the West Bank, because it’s not quite clear whether Shilat is in the West Bank -- or not.

Going along, I know I’m in the shtachim, “the territories.” Everything betrays the relative lack of investment – and the coming investment. For Israel, it’s frontier.

I feel its freedom. The untamed, hardscrabble Biblical landscape. Dust kicking up off the side of the road.

I feel its fright. Running down the gauntlet of the suffocating, fenced-in two-lane highway. The fences of the security-guarded yishuvim, settlements.

5 minutes hence I turn into Modi’in Illit, an enormous Charedi (ultra-orthodox) enclave, and its twilight zone of Middle Eastern life. We’re one-week away from Yom Ha’atzmaut, and every municipality in the country is decorated with the blue and white. There are plenty of flags flying in MI, touting the city and its mores, but no blue and white ones. I feel sick about the message conveyed, the message not conveyed, to all who live there.

It’s a yishuv teeming with children and rising buildings to house them. Hundreds of Arab construction workers sit on the street corners by the construction sites, waiting for rides home after work. Or waiting for work, as far as I know.

Isn’t there a construction freeze in the settlements? I’m only asking for clarification, not making a political statement. Is my government saying what it is doing? Doing what is saying?

I’m confused and distressed, riding along the rim of Joseph’s pit.

But then the kids and I arrive at our destination, in the West Bank, in a dungeoned storage room, in an apartment building on the outskirts of town, across from a fence separating the yishuv from everything else. It’s a meeting with our 5-year old’s feeding therapist. She’s helping us build a normal life in Israel.

I heave a sigh of relief. Today, I am lucky.

The turbulence subsides. The discontent is in its place. I stand up, sit up, drive straight.

I’m happy in my portion. Troubled by ours. Obsessing about neither.

The Israeli way.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Coby Speaks Hebrew

For years, its possibility made my mouth water. Now, it’s the most succulent taste of aliyah.

Coby is speaking Hebrew. Spitting it out rapid-fire. While playing with his friends. And while talking to us.

The self-confident demands of the wise child. Tayn lee et zeh (“Give it to me”).

The rejections of the wicked child. Lo rotzeh (“I don’t want to”). (Or even the more chic Israeli, Lo ba lee.)

The loving affection of the simple child. Aba, anee ohev otcha (Dad, I love you).

The absent-minded non-sequential ramblings of the child who does not know how to ask, which I’d repeat if I could understand them….

It’s an absolute miracle how it happens, though not an overnight one. (The truth about most miracles, huh?) You place a 5-year old who doesn’t know Hebrew in a gan chova (kindergarten), with maybe 3 or 4 other kids who speak English, and then you hope and pray for the next ¾ of a school year.

Every time you walk into his gan, you feel (at least what you imagine is) the pain of your child’s lack of understanding of, his muteness in the language. You wonder whether you could make it one day in that environment, let alone 6 days every week.

And then it happens. The synapses of the fertile brain, the strivings of young enthusiasm. Helped by a little swab of God’s paint brush.

Coby speaks Hebrew. A delightful, independent-minded, mischievous, articulate, Hebrew-speaking little Israeli, well in the making.

Next stop, my guess after the summer, Adina. Following her little brother. Good for him, and her. Her parents? Well, there, a story for a different time.