Tzur Hadassah Reform Community

Friday, Feb. 26

Written by Rabbi Joel Nickerson

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Our whole group dressed up and ready for Shabbat – (from left to right) – Rabbi Joel Nickerson, Einav Ayalon (our tour guide), Ben Denckla, Ann Weisman, Janet Hirsch, Steve and Tina Fox, Honey Amado, Suzanne Solig, Mike Diamond, Marty Solig, Eileen Lewis, Dale and Barbara Joyner, Martha Sklar, Norm Solomon

We were lucky to spend Friday night with a wonderful Rabbi and her community.  It was a synagogue with a true ‘start up’ feel.  The energy and opportunity to build up Tzur Hadassah Reform Community, located in Tzur Hadassah, a ‘bedroom’ community south of Jerusalem, right on the Green Line. The community is led by American-born, but Israeli through-and-through, Rabbi Stacey Blank, who infused depth and connectedness into the intimate Shabbat service we had in her modest synagogue in the heart of Tzur Hadassah. With art by a local artist hanging around the room, and with the voices of Israeli -born and American-turned Israeli congregants, mixed with the voices of our Isaiah members, we had a wonderful Kabbalat Shabbat service that infused some contemporary Israeli music with traditional prayers (and melodies that we could all relate to).  There was even a HUC rabbinical student, Mike, who offered a short teaching in Hebrew and then in English, as part of a first-year internship program through HUC (a program that definitely didn’t exist when I was in school).  Rabbi Blank was kind enough to hand out English translations of her dvar torah so that we could all follow along as she delivered it in Hebrew.

After services, members of our community were matched up with congregants from Tzur Hadassah for home-hospitality.  I was lucky enough to have dinner in the home of Rabbi Blank, her family (husband and three adorable kids) and a couple of our members.  She talked about some of the challenges that come with being a reform rabbi in a community where Jewish practice doesn’t come naturally for people and that works very hard to bring judaism’s relevance and beauty to her community. She also talked about the challenges of being a female Reform rabbi and that while she takes every opportunity she can to tell people about what she does, she does have a colleague who finds it difficult to be open about what she does when she meets new people because of all the questions and assumptions they make about Reform Judaism and female rabbis.
Everyone who had Shabbat dinner with host families from the community had an incredible time and said it was a highlight of the trip.

Following was written by Ann Weinman

Rabbi Stacey Blank, a young, charming American- born woman, met our bus at the hotel this evening and told us her personal story on our way out to her lovely
suburban community, Tzur Hadassah, about 20 minutes outside Jerusalem.  There we joined with members of her small congregation in their small synagogue for a Kabbalat Shabbat service which she led, partly in English but mostly in Hebrew.
After the service we were assigned, in groups of 3 or 4, to various congregants who took us to their homes for dinner. This turned out to be such a unique and wonderful experience that each group thought, before we reconvened, that it alone had been chosen to be hosted by the absolutely best family. I know my group thought so. We – Martha, Eileen, and I – visited the home of the congregation president, Jose Bendor Taragano Cohen. On the way there, he regaled us with his story:  His ancestors were expelled from Spain in 1492 and emigrated to Israel. In 1992 the Spanish town where they had lived invited him to a celebration and gave him a key to the city, which he showed us. At his home, we met his wife and sons, two brothers and their wives and children, and his 92- year-old mother. His wife worked for the President of Israel for 20 years, and now edits and translates books (to my great surprise, she had edited my favorite book, a Japanese novel which I found in her bookshelf). His mother translates books from German into Hebrew. His older son does research in cucumbers at Hebrew University.  The dinner table was spread with a great variety and abundance of food and drink, and we all engaged in wonderful conversation. We all returned to our bus wishing that we could have had another hour with our host families.

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