Did we come all this way to meet no one but ourselves?
“Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: ‘May those who love you be secure.'” – Psalm 122:6
Tamar Elad-Appelbaum was raised in an orthodox Jewish community in Jerusalem. But it was on a trip to New Jersey that she learned there were different ways to be Jewish, and first saw the possibility that a woman could be a rabbi. Today she leads ZION, an Eretz Israeli congregation that meets in the workout room of a community center in Jerusalem.
In a neighborhood where Orthodox Jews and secular Jews live blocks away from each other but have totally different bookshelves, and little interaction, she poses the question: “Did we come all this way to Israel to meet no one but ourselves?”
Crammed in tight on plastic chairs, men, women and children together, the congregation includes a fair number of Jews who aren’t sure they are even religious. But they have found themselves strangely moved by the experience of learning new melodies and praying ancient words. Is it any surprise this pluralistic congregation also gets a regular stream of Muslim and Christian visitors?
On the day we visited, two police officers had been shot, and their three assailants killed, at Islam’s third-holiest site, the Temple Mount. For the first time in seventeen years, the al-Aqsa mosque had been shut down, on a particularly hot day in the old city.
“There are people of kindness all around you doing God’s work in the world,” the rabbi said, in the midst of that heat. She was recalling her grandfather’s words, whenever he told the story of the Jesuit priest in the French resistance who rescued their Moroccan family during the Holocaust. “Notice those people” her grandfather would say, “because that is how they will help you.”
And then, ushering us into Shabbat worship, she joked, “This is Israel, so everyone except for you will be late.” So she instructed us not to clump together in our own group. “Spread yourselves out. Sit among us. Don’t be visitors. Pray with us. We need each other’s help.”
Dear God, I’m praying and I’m noticing, because I’m sure you didn’t bring us all this way to meet no one but ourselves. Amen.
Lillian Daniel’s new book Tired of Apologizing for a Church I Don’t Belong To: Spirituality without Stereotypes, Religion without Ranting is now available for purchase, but you can hear it all for free at 1st Congregational Church of Dubuque, Iowa.