We Are Family
On the day before I return home, I think of all that has happened, all that I have experienced since arriving here on June 20 to participate with the Centennial Mission of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh. The program was crafted to accentuate togetherness, peoplehood and connection, which we affirmed from Karmiel-Misgav to Jerusalem to Masada to Tel Aviv. After the program ended, I remained in Jerusalem to participate in the Rabbinic Torah Seminar of the Shalom Hartman Institute, where I serve as a Senior Rabbinic Fellow.
I have learned from scholars, journalists, politicians, colleagues and lay people in an environment of what I can only describe as “intense integrity.” That is to say, every person who gets up in front of 150 rabbis from all streams of Judaism believes passionately in his or her point of view.
But, to be perfectly honest, all of Israel is a classroom teaching the highest level studies in the areas that matter most to us Jews: History, politics, Torah, ethics, social justice, pluralism, you name it.
You learn from everyone you meet, whether it is a social worker in Karmiel trying to bring immigrants together who come from 75 different ethnicities or from the most wide-eyed high schooler visiting Ben Yehuda Street in Jerusalem on Saturday night after Shabbat, when the city thrums with energy.
Most of all, you learn that we are family. We are black, we are olive-skinned, we are anglo. We are Reform, we are Charedi, we are Conservative and we are secular. We find each other unexpectedly with delirious hugs from different tours, groups and seminars.
In America you are an individualist, hearty, brave and singluar. In Israel you are connected to somebody, whether you know it or not. Whether you like it or not. This is why our rules of public discourse don’t always apply here. There is much more of an emphasis on accommodation than strict adherence to a particular principle, even when it involves the law. Getting along is almost (I said almost) always more important than being right. This is because of what occurs when people’s needs are not taken into a account, which is not pretty.
I met in a small group with a Member of the Knesset, the Israeli Parliament. His last name is Wahabi and he is Druze. He is a member of the governing coalition from the Kadima party. Mr. Wahabi is a veteran of the Israel Defense Forces where he served as a senior officer. After we sat down, he shook his head from side to side ruefully and declared, “You know, it’s tough to be Jewish!” He spoke of the stake the Druze have in the fate of Israel and how they are proud citizens of this land.
This sense of interdependence was best summed up for me at Tel Nof, the training headquarters of the Israeli Air Force, one of the finest in the world. There, despite the heat, I saw 18 year olds learning how to jump, how to fall, how to stay safe after jumping out of airplanes. They were being taught by their super experienced leaders – 19 year olds!
After watching some of the training, we were led to a very special room. This is where Israeli women (yes, only women) pack the many different kinds of parachutes that are used by this elite unit.
On a far wall, there is a handwritten motto that reads in English: ”Remember that their lives are yours.” Meaning, their lives are literally in your hands and how you pack the parachute. And lest you think that the responsibility for each other runs only one way, you cannot even walk into the building without seeing the office sign over the door, which translates into English, “Try to jump without us.”
I believe with all my heart that interdependence is what will save us in the end. Not only here in Israel. But home in Pittsburgh, in our state and our country, as we head toward yet another fractious and divisive Presidential election this fall. It is a lesson that seems to make sense to us, but the hard part is putting into action. And that is what I am rolling up my sleeves to do when I come home.
Beyond all the evidence to the contrary, I, as a Jewish man, community leader and rabbi believe passionately that we need each other more than we know. Despite interfaith divisions (the Presbyterian vote will not be the last one on divestment in the coming years), despite deep divisions in our own community (over resources and collaboration, needs and opportunities) I believe that at some moment we will embrace our interdependence for the good of us all – not just the community, but to enrich the life of each member of the community we hold so dear.
Well, this adventure is almost over. I am long past being starry eyed about this land, my second home, despite my US citizenship. I come here to work, not to push an ideology, but as my teacher and master negotiator for the government Tal Becker put it, to make things a little better for my being here. It may not be the most I can do, but certainly it is the least.
We are family. We as Pittsburghers know this in our hearts, especially now that the Pirates are in 1st place in the Central Division. We are a Pittsburgh family. We are a Jewish family beyond miles and borders. We are a human family, concerned about making the entire world a better place. We are a Reform family, holding up values like tolerance, pluralism, kindness and decency, even in the face of hatred and fear. We are a Temple Sinai family, dedicated to using our holy community and its incredible spirit to enlarge the possibility of Jewish faith and connection for all of us.
And, if I have anything to say about it, we will pack each other’s parachutes with care, with infinite care.
See you back home – I’ll be on the pulpit Shabbat evening, tired, but smiling and ready to be with all of you…