The Museum on the Seam in Jerusalem may not be an average tourist stop, but it should be. It offers powerful images and ideas regarding coexistence and peace. The museum is located on what was on Israel’s border with Jordan – literally, the “seam” — between 1948 and 1967. The seam divided Arab East Jerusalem from Jewish West Jerusalem.
To understand Jerusalem and the nature of the seam is to begin to grasp some of the realities underlying deep Israeli-Palestinian divisions. To appreciate the challenges of sharing land in this tightly populated, tiny place is a way to appreciate the compromises necessary for peace.
Some sections of East Jerusalem do indeed contain some significant Jewish sites (such as the City of David, Ir David, in the Silwan neighborhood) and Jewish neighborhoods, but it is largely Arab in population, culture and language and it is a Muslim holy city. Many of the Arab neighborhoods in East Jerusalem have a long history. Palestinians hope that this will be the locus of the capital for the future Palestinian state.
Jerusalem has been the Jewish capital for 3000 years. It has unified and spiritually nourished us. It was the Jewish longing for Jerusalem for nearly 2000 years of exile that gave our people hope. The Jewish cry for a unified city comes out of this history and longing.
However, unifying Jerusalem assumes that both East and West Jerusalem must be Jewish and Israeli. Yet, given very high Arab and very low Israeli birthrates, this would create a new reality in which the Jewish majority would very quickly be lost. As many sociologists and politicians are coming to acknowledge, demographically, this would be the death knell to our dreams for Jewish Jerusalem, and even the Jewish nation.
But there are also considerable humanitarian concerns regarding the Arabs of East Jerusalem and the West Bank. A Jewish state must strive to live by the values and principles taught in Torah, such as: “When strangers sojourn with you in your land, you shall not do them wrong…you shall love them as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Leviticus 19:33-34). (The use of the word “stranger”/ger is a reference to our neighbors who are not members of the Jewish people.) The success of the Zionist dream is to be found in how we treat each other.
In my opinion, there is no choice but to make compromises for peace, including the division of Jerusalem into two cities; one Jewish and one Arab. No less than the future health and well being of Israel is at stake.
Jerusalem’s Old City, where the Jewish and Muslim holy sites are literally right on top of one another, and adjacent to Christian holy sites, will require a unique international plan that will allow all three religious communities to share access. But the rest of Jerusalem can acknowledge its divisions with a new seam; a peace-promoting Arab-Israeli border.
I am a proud Zionist; I love Israel. For me this means that while we rightly demand peace and security from our Arab neighbors, we must also respect their dignity. For all of us, difficult compromises are necessary for peacemaking. The more peace, the more opportunity for reconciliation. Given the frightening external threats from Iran, Syria and their proxies in Hamas and Hezbollah, the need for progress on peace with willing Palestinian partners is even greater. Palestinians, most of whom want peace with Israel in a two-state solution, also need security. We need each other if we are face down these evils.
JStreet, is a new Jewish organization whose mission is to be: “the political home for pro-Israel, pro-peace Americans to advocate for vigorous U.S. leadership to achieve a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and to broaden debate around Israel and the Middle East in national politics and the American Jewish community.” It is creating quite a buzz in the Jewish world. In an environment in which dialogue about Israel has nearly broken down in the American Jewish community, a divisiveness is settling over us that is crippling our community’s strength. These issues, emotionally and spiritually charged, must be respectfully discussed in the interest of strengthening the Jewish people. JStreet is a welcome addition to this complex conversation. I encourage you to learn more at:
In 1967 Israel captured East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and other territory in order to achieve security. Our focus now must be on winning peace – a peace that is secure, just, and long lasting. Let us do this attentive to the complexities, and with an open heart and mind.

When our NILI group (National Interreligious Leadership Initiative for Mideast Peace) visited Israel in December, we had been planning to meet with former member of Knesset (MK) Naomi Chazan. Chazan has been a leader of the progressive community through her seat with the Meretz Party. We were disappointed to learn that she was unfortunately out of the country and we had to settle for reading a series of her most recent columns from the Israeli press. Through them we got a glimpse of her clear, passionate, articulate and visionary leadership in area of peacemaking and social justice.

That glimpse made me long for the time when we could meet with Chazan and other Israeli politicians who could speak to the issues that are most concerning to me. So it was serendipitous that such an opportunity would quickly present itself. The New Israel Fund announced a town hall meeting at B’nai Jeshurun in Manhattan, featuring some of the greats: Naomi Chazan, Avraham Burg (former speaker of the Knesset), Martin Indyk (former American ambassador to Israel) and the new executive of New Israel Fund Daniel Sokatch. This august panel was to be moderated by Jane Eisner, editor of the Jewish Forward, the national Jewish newspaper.

My husband and I trekked into the city for the event, which meant that it definitely qualified as a special occasion. The panel made it worth the while. While I can’t say that I learned much that was new to me, I was affirmed in hearing such well articulated arguments for change in five key areas of concern in Israel. The issues were each presented with a short news film clip, followed by a discussion by the panelists. The main issues were: Israeli Arabs, religious pluralism, the settler movement, and accusations (a virtual war of rhetoric in Israel and the Diaspora) accusing progressive voices of being “unpatriotic” – and how to air Israel’s “dirty laundry” in public, and the political climate in Israel.

The discussion touched upon each of the most significant challenges facing Israel today: all come under the category of the nature of Israel as a democratic Jewish state. It came amidst acknowledgement that the left wing in Israeli politics is essentially “missing in action,” a depressing reality that might have left us feeling hopeless. But there were encouraging reports of an increasingly active social justice network across Israel, through a variety of organizations that are working on Israel’s challenges one issue at a time. Rabbis for Human Rights, B’tzelem, Women of the Wall, Hiddush, etc. are some great examples.

Avraham Burg was inspiring and provocative, and I could have sat and listened to him – or better yet, talked with him—all day. He offered this ray of hope: many transformative ideas that became mainstream in Israel came out of the liberal, progressive left. This includes some ideas that seemed good at the moment, but became runaway bad policies. The initial policies establishing settlements came about under the leadership of Shimon Peres, now Israel’s elder statesman and president, who speaks so eloquently about making peace with Palestinians. Even the security barrier was initially championed by the left, and it has become the flashpoint for accusations of Israel as a heartless power ruling over a disenfranchised majority (the Palestinians.) When a disheartened Ehud Barak came home from the Taba  peace talks empty-handed, he proclaimed “we have no partner” and this has been the excuse of the politicians ever since for their hard-line policies. A notable idea that migrated from the left to the right was Sharon’s withdrawal from Gaza, an idea championed by the left for a generation (though the way it was done was Sharon’s.) And now even Netanyahu acknowledges the need for a “two state solution.” The historic influence of the left was touted as a reason to believe that the social justice issues that plague Israel today can be addressed with a strong voice from the progressive community.

The problems of religious freedom, rights of Israeli Arabs and the Jewish character of a democratic Israel may seem overwhelming. But with inspiration from great leaders such as these, there is hope that change can happen. The crowd that filled the sanctuary of BJ was encouraged to be activists – we were urged to write to American and Israeli politicians to tell them that we will not tolerate the abuse of power of the religious minority, the extremist settlers, or an intolerant bourgeoisie that has a blind spot in regard to Israeli’s minority communities. And of course, we were encouraged to support the New Israel Fund, whose advocacy and financial support for a host of organizations and projects is helping to change the reality on the ground.

The program was streamed live on the NIF ( website. I hope it is posted—it’s well worth watching. There are also other valuable resources on the site. It encourages a renewal of hope. We can do this, together.

Since returning from my trip with the National Interreligious Initiative for Mid East Peace in December, many people have asked me, “how was your trip?”  I have found it difficult to sum it up in a word. With a month of introspection I have come to it: “worthwhile.”  I’d like to share some of it with you.

Since NILI initiative began in 2003, we have been hoping to meet with religious and political leaders in the Holy Land. We felt that by adding a strong American religious voice for peace, representing many major Christian, Jewish and Muslim national organizations, we could lend support to the various civil society and government efforts working for peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

Most Israelis and the Palestinians, when polled, support a two-state solution and want to see an end to the conflict. Despite all of the wounds and mistrust, the vastly differing narratives that underlie the various views on the causes and effects in the conflict, when it comes right down to the core, everyone wants to reach a solution. And solutions to conflicts this complicated necessarily involve compromise on all sides. Our message is intended to help aid the emotional and spiritual exploration that will enable both sides to let go of some perceptions and even some hopes, in the process of coming to terms with those compromises.

Fifteen religious leaders went on this mission.  The trip was worthwhile for its ability to expand the NILI mission and deepen the relationships that are at the core of NILI’s success. We learned more about each other and about the conflict’s core issues. We heard many reflections on solutions to the problems that have for so long held final peace at bay: Jerusalem, the West Bank, and the Palestinian refugees.

One particularly valuable conversation was with the American Ambassador to Israel. We wished we could have had meetings of this nature with Israeli and Palestinian government officials. Insofar as we were not able to secure meetings with high-level political leaders in Israel and the Palestinian Authority, a part of our initial vision for this trip did not come to fruition. This was a learning experience for us.  But another significant goal was realized – we met with our counterparts, the Council of Religious Leaders of the Holy Land.  The frank conversations with the representatives of the Chief Rabbinate, the religious leaders of the Palestinian Authority, and the leaders of the major Christian groups in the region were a successful example of collaboration and partnership. We had been looking forward to this for a long time, and it was well worth the wait.

The trip was intense –we focused on difficult issues and worked to appreciate the various points of view. We held an important discussion to enable the members of the group to hear each other on deep questions that tend to reverberate below the surface: What does the Holy Land mean to you? What challenges you about this place? What delights you about this place?  This open and honest discussion prepared us to process the challenges that we faced when the issues became very emotional.

As we processed the lessons from our speakers, we came to understand how the difficult unresolved issues have solutions that a growing number of people on both sides are beginning to embrace. The division of Jerusalem into East and West Jerusalem, with the future Palestinian and Israeli in capitals in the two newly bordered cities, makes abundant sense. Many Palestinians are beginning to accept that most refugees cannot go back to towns and villages that are now in Israel. And many Israelis understand that the resolution will involve compensation to Palestinians who lost their homes in 1948.  Finally, the West Bank must return to Palestinians, in a viable contiguous area that is shaped by Israel’s withdrawal and negotiations over land exchanges to accommodate some of the largest settlements that may remain within Israel.

We learned a great deal on this trip. Through active listening, compassion and cooperation we were able once again, to agree on a joint statement at the conclusion of our trip. This reflects consensus views that we shared through this journey.  We are anxious for a continuation of our work together, building on the strong foundation that we built during this trip.

You can find more information about NILI and our trip statement at:

via American Jewish liberals finding their voice on ‘J Street’ –

I believe that a healthy debate about strategies for security and peace between Israel and her neighbors is long overdue. In the spirit of dialogue that is modeled in Jewish sacred texts, demonstrated by the sages of the Talmud, the the Jewish community can and should welcome differences of opinion. Surely, the sages stumbled when their views were too extreme for the mainstream, when their human foibles got in the way. In those moments, the rebukes, disrespectful comments and verbal attacks surely had consequences. And they taught us about this through the relationships they worked hard to maintain. Their lessons are a healthy caution to us, and certainly not a message that we should silence opposition.

In fact, the American Jewish community is struggling with its unfolding relationship with Israel. in 2004, the Jewish Agency launched an educational project, Makom, which seeks to address the growing disconnect between American Jews and the Jewish nation.  This is a tacit admission that there is a problem.  Makom’s tagline, “Hugging and Wrestling” with Israel, acknowledges that American Jews need a place to explore the challenges posed by Israel’s political challenges. They need a vehicle for developing their engagement with Israel on real terms — as a love for our people, our homeland and spiritual center, while honestly responding to the challenges of creating a democratic, Jewish nation in a hostile neighborhood.

At a conference sponsored by Makom and the Melton Center at Hebrew University in Jerusalem in December, Israel educators explored principles and practices of Israel education.  One of the most striking things that I noted while sitting in a  session of the conference was the series of presentations about dealing honestly and openly with painful topics. A highlighted program was “Encounter”, which brings Jewish leaders to West Bank communities to learn about the lives and views of ordinary Palestinians.  Having journeyed to Bethlehem last year with Encounter, a day which I found both profoundly painful and significant for my own learning, I was very encouraged that this mainstream Israel education conference gave voice to the need to venture beyond our comfort zone.

JStreet pushes many Jews beyond their comfort zone as well. But I feel strongly that it is in the category of “arguments for the sake of heaven” and thus morally compelling. If we are willing to face our fears and refract them against our hopes, our dreams and ultimately, our values as Jews, we can help advance the cause of peace.

Writing on the Opinion Page of the NY Times today, David Brooks warmed my heart by doing what is rarely done anymore in public space: singing the praises of Israel for its miraculous accomplishments. In the interreligious peace work that has been a focus of my attention, it is often the case that those of us who are supporters of Israel are constantly looking for ways to justify Israel’s existence as a Jewish nation. It is not only in interreligious circles that this conversation happens. A growing number of American Jews, many in progressive communities such as mine, are equally if not more squeamish about the Israel that builds settlements, walls, and dozens of checkpoints on Palestinian land. Aside from explaining the reasons for some of these security measures (which is also worth discussing), this perception clouds a view of an otherwise remarkable country that gives us reason for pride and celebration.

I enthusiastically seek opportunities to tout Israel’s many great successes to those who may only know her as the adversary of her neighbors. In today’s column, Brooks begins his column by talking about the Jewish people, patting us on the back:

Jews are a famously accomplished group. They make up 0.2 percent of the world population, but 54 percent of the world chess champions, 27 percent of the Nobel physics laureates and 31 percent of the medicine laureates. Jews make up 2 percent of the U.S. population, but 21 percent of the Ivy League student bodies, 26 percent of the Kennedy Center honorees, 37 percent of the Academy Award-winning directors, 38 percent of those on a recent Business Week list of leading philanthropists, 51 percent of the Pulitzer Prize winners for nonfiction. David Brooks, “The Tel Aviv Cluster,” NY Times January 12, 2010

I am often asked why the Jewish People is so accomplished and successful. I trace it back to our status as “outsider” and the need for creative, innovative thinking to survive. Our inwardness during a long history of persecution and separation from the majority culture led us to create a religious culture that focused on learning. Through that learning, and the practice of mitzvot, sacred action, we sought to control our own corner of the world, transcending painful life realities through acts of holiness. We have always believed in our God-given human potential to transform the world in partnership with our Creator. Nothing short of messianic optimism drove us to transcend our difficulties by reaching heavenward through learning and action.

Brooks observed:

In his book, “The Golden Age of Jewish Achievement,” Steven L. Pease lists some of the explanations people have given for this record of achievement. The Jewish faith encourages a belief in progress and personal accountability. It is learning-based, not rite-based. David Brooks, “The Tel Aviv Cluster,” NY Times January 12, 2010

With this drive and creativity, and a thirst for learning and knowledge, our people shaped the modern nation of Israel. I remember how I first fell in love with Israel as a child, through the stories of the miraculous accomplishments of the pioneers who built a thriving nation from the ground up. This story took on mythic proportions in the ensuing years, especially after 1967. In the complexities of the continuing conflict, its glory has faded for some, obscured by pain. But, it didn’t matter – the miracle has continued to unfold – Israel has continued to demonstrate ingenuity in many ways. Its successes in medical research and care, scholarship, environmental science and innovation, and technology are nothing short of amazing. Brooks makes it clear:

Israel’s technological success is the fruition of the Zionist dream. The country was not founded so stray settlers could sit among thousands of angry Palestinians in Hebron. It was founded so Jews would have a safe place to come together and create things for the world. David Brooks, “The Tel Aviv Cluster,” NY Times January 12, 2010

Brooks gives Israel her due, and I thank him for doing it so unabashedly in public space. But he rightfully exposes the challenges of this innovation. Successful Israelis now face a choice – living in the shadow of Iran and her proxies, and enduring hardships of the ongoing struggle; or consider living elsewhere. In fact, many now talk of Israel’s “brain drain”, as many accomplished Israelis have chosen the latter. Brooks put it succinctly:

During a decade of grim foreboding, Israel has become an astonishing success story, but also a highly mobile one. David Brooks, “The Tel Aviv Cluster,” NY Times January 12, 2010

I would like to add one twist to this conversation: What would keep Israelis in Israel besides peace? I know it is not a simple question. Among the issues, I can’t help but wonder if the spiritual yearning that filled our ancestors with a love for the Land of Israel could also be a part of the puzzle. Israel, the fruition of our people’s dreams, held promise as the spiritual center, the Jewish home for the Jewish people. It is the one place on earth where we have the opportunity to build a society based on the wisdom of four thousand years of Jewish experience, to nurture a Jewish civilization unfettered by the restrictions of minority status. Yet today, Israel’s Jewish character is challenged by the increasingly extremist and fundamentalist views of the politically powerful Ultra Orthodox rabbinate. Far from being a Jewish spiritual home, it can be an alienating place in which to live a meaningful Jewish life on modern terms.

There are many exciting and encouraging new start-ups arising all across Israel in which secular Israelis are reclaiming their tradition. But many Israelis have yet to have access to these richly rewarding expressions of Jewish renewal. Many now venture to Asia for spiritual fulfillment as young adults. This is a topic for so much more conversation. But for the moment, prompted by the uplifting, yet sobering words of David Brooks’ column, I will share my hope and prayer for the “mobility” challenge he cited. It is a hope that the enormous drive, creativity, imagination, and innovation that have enabled Israel’s many successes will be applied to the Jewish life within Israel for all Israelis. Perhaps if Israelis – and Diaspora Jews — are more spiritually connected to our ancient story and the treasure of Jewish tradition, the next great chapter of Israel’s success can be written. Then Israel will continue to captivate the hearts, minds and resources of the entire Jewish people.

I was recently complaining about the Americanization of hummus to family and friends. When I heard the word “hummus” pronounced on a cooking show as though it came out of the American Midwestern lexicon, I froze in dismay. “It’s Israeli, for goodness sakes,”  I told the TV.   Trying to teach Jewish kids how to pronounce Hebrew gutturals is equally as challenging, so I took this on as my one woman mission to both get my students to pronounce the guttural “het” in Hebrew, and to get them to honor the Middle Eastern nature of this cuisine, by pronouncing the word hummus with at least a little effort to say the guttural first letter and the “u” as “oo” and not “uh”.

But then, on a recent interfaith religious leaders’ trip to Israel, Christian colleagues who had just visited Lebanon on their way to Israel remarked that Israeli food really originates from Lebanon.  We smiled at how much of the region’s food is shared — yet possessively lauded as unique — by so many cultures, peoples and countries of the Middle East.  Hummus is probably at the top of that list.  (And by the way, I bristle at the definition of hummus as “chickpea paste”;  it’s so much more than that!)

So, I read with interest the story posted today by the AP, on the NPR website (following the airing of it on NPR) of the following:

Israel Bests Lebanon In War Fought With Chickpeas   by THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

On my recent Israel trip, I made the mistake of responding to a chatty taxi driver in Jerusalem by asking him to give me his opinion on the best hummus in Israel. I explained that this is a little competition in my family– my son likes Abu Ghosh the best, but so far, I have not found anything to equal the hummus in Akko’s old city.  Maybe it exists, but I haven’t found it. My cab driver asserted that his mother makes the best there is and started driving me to her house instead of my hotel.  It took quite a bit of convincing to get him to drive straight to the hotel — I was just asking out of curiosity!

Ah, so one more lesson in how personally folks take their hummus!  (Not the mention a lesson about the cab drivers in the region, but that’s a tale for another day.)

So, upon reading the AP story from NPR, I have an idea. How about all the adversaries in the region make a super huge hummus dish — even bigger than the satellite dish concoction in Abu Ghosh (see the story), and bigger than the ones being made in Lebanon to best the Israelis. But one that will bring together everyone’s recipes, everyone’s stories, everyone’s mother and father, and enough to share with a crowd of representatives of each group. Together, they can share bread and hummus and  stories —  and love of their region, their lands, their people, and life.  And peace.

via Women of the Wall Leader Interrogated by Police –

There’s distressing news from Jerusalem. For 21 years the Women of the Wall have been praying at our holiest site, providing crucial opportunity for women to worship together.  Recent tensions after the arrest of Nofrat Frenkel have highlighted the increasingly extreme nature of the rules and supervision at the Wall. It is ugly intimidation, now made that much more disgusting by the police interrogation of Anat Hoffman, who leads the Israel Religious Action Center. Clearly, Anat’s arrest signals just how threatened the Rabbanut has become by the solidarity of women seeking free access to worship, celebrate an gather as women.  The question of the Jewish character of the state of Israel, and the very connection of non-Orthodox Diaspora Jews to our Jewish homeland is at stake.

As Anat observed, “this is a sad moment”, and a painful violation.  We are united with Anat and the women of the wall in solidarity — you are not alone. We honor and thank you for standing for all of us and pledge to do whatever we can to support your efforts.

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