Catch ’67 – A Shabbat Reflection

Friday, March 11

Written by Rabbi Joel Nickerson


There’s a story from the Talmud which speaks to the core of our recent Israel trip, during which 15 of us from the synagogue travelled through Israel for a week and a half.

For three years, there was a disagreement between the followers of Shammai and the followers of Hillel, with Shammai claiming that the law was in accordance with their view while the House of Hillel contended that the law/halacha was in line with their view. One day, a bat kol, the voice of God, called out and announced “both arguments are the words of the living God but the halacha, the law, is in agreement with the House of Hillel.” The rabbis ask – what was it about Hillel’s argument that warranted it to be the correct view? They answer their own question by stating that it was because the house of Hillel was kind and modest, taught their own rulings as well as the rulings of Shammai, and always mentioned the rulings of Shammai before their own.   (interpretation of Babylonian Talmud, Eruvin 13b)

This is one of the texts we studied at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem and it sums up two of the most important teachings from the trip. First, there can be two positions presented which are both equally valid AND considered ‘words of the living God’. The voices and positions we were exposed to during our trip prove this to be true. The second important teaching from the Talmudic tale is that disagreement is inevitable, unavoidable, and valuable; but what is most important is your ability (and willingness) to recognize the validity of the other perspective. But the text goes even further – our tradition suggests that in order for your argument to rise above the opposition, you have to immerse yourself completely in the other perspective – you almost need to ‘own’ your opponent’s position as if it were your own, and only then does your argument gain credibility above and beyond your opposition.

I wish I could spend a few hours walking through each one of the incredible sessions and locations we visited during our trip, but you can go to the blog I created to read all the details. Instead, I’d like to focus on two issues which seemed to take center stage throughout our trip – 1) religious pluralism in Israel and 2) the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. The issues themselves are not surprising, but what was so valuable about this trip was the way in which we were able to gain exposure to the ‘other’ perspective – to wrestle with positions and perspectives that don’t come naturally to us as west coast liberal Jews. One session in particular, with Dr. Micah Goodman from the Hartman Institute, combined these two major issues into one fascinating proposal which I’d like to share with you now. Supposedly, Goodman has a book coming out next year and we were one of the first groups to hear him begin articulating his ideas out loud in a lecture environment. The book will be called ‘Catch 67’.

He began with some background:


In 1946, the UN sent a commission to investigate if Arabs and Jews could govern themselves and as we know, the commission ended up recommending a partition plan with two states for two people. But that wasn’t the obvious recommendation at the start of the process. It turns out that Ben Gurion was worried about what the UN would propose and he also knew that the UN would interview Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) Jews who lived there because they’d always been on the land – he knew they would say that Jews couldn’t govern themselves because that was against their understanding of our religion. So Ben Gurion had a meeting with the Haredim. He told them, “when the UN comes to interview you, tell them we can govern ourselves.” They agreed, but on one condition – they would control the religion of the new state. Ben Gurion knew it was a bad idea, but he said yes. As a result, Israel was founded on a great compromise. We gained a state of our own, but it was not the state our founding fathers had in mind.

And then in 1967, the Six Day War broke out and Jordan started a war with Israel on the eastern front. This ultimately led to the West Bank falling under our control and since it was won in battle, based on Jordan’s aggression, there technically was no need to return it. Israel did, however, offer it back to Jordan in order to achieve peace, but the offer was refused. That area is now referred to as the West Bank.

As Goodman puts it, that land is not occupied and yet the Palestinians are occupied – it’s disputed territory, according to the Supreme Court. We didn’t gain the land illegitimately (it was won in war), and at the same time, the people are occupied because they can’t vote and they don’t have equal rights in Israel. 70% of Israelis think that if we continue to occupy the Palestinians, it threatens the Jewish state. Therefore, we need to leave the West Bank. But at the same time, if we leave the West Bank, chaos may enter the Territories and before we know it, we’ll find ISIS on our border. And for that reason, we must stay in the West Bank.  So what’s the solution? It’s pretty obvious – we must leave and we must stay.

Goodman called this scenario a “Catch 67”. The two issues – the role of the ultra-Orthodox in the government and the occupation of the West Bank are linked. As of now, any coalition government in Israel needs to include the Haredim and so they get a say in maintaining religious control over the state, even though they represent only 12% of the population. For those of us who are not ultra-Orthodox, Goodman believes that we’ve been willing to trade in our version of Judaism in Israel in order to solve the conflict with the Palestinians. And yet, we haven’t solved the conflict with the Palestinians yet AND the Haredim aren’t willing to compromise on the Jewish nature of state.

But things changed in the summer of 2011. That’s when tent cities popped up all over Israel, as Israelis hundreds of thousands of Israelis calling out in social protest. And it wasn’t about the Occupation – it was about the rising prices of real estate and cottage cheese.  For over 40 years, the conflict owned the political passion in Israel – thousands would show up for protests about the occupation while no one would show up for protests about social issues. The conflict held all other issues hostage.

Finally, in 2011, Israelis started to deal with issues that weren’t about the conflict.  Israelis had thought they would deal with all those social issues once the conflict was resolved, but the irony was that they started to deal with the social issues once they realized that the conflict would never end.

Most people want to see a quick end to the conflict. For those on the Left, they believe that if a solution isn’t reached soon, more and more settlements will be built in the West Bank. And those on the Right want to keep building settlements because they want to stop a deal before it happens.

So here’s Goodman’s plan – let’s freeze settlement building for 5-10 years and at the same time, freeze peace initiatives for 5-10 years. During that period, the Israeli/Palestinian conflict is off the table. The Left doesn’t need to worry about new settlements being built and the Right doesn’t have to worry about finalizing a peace settlement. And during this period of time, we can focus on Israel’s internal challenges, namely, the role of the Ultra-Orthodox in decision-making. We could leverage this time to focus on the central issue of synagogue and state and we could create a more free-market society. Not economically, but Jewishly. Free-market Judaism – where people have choice and opportunity to express and engage in Judaism in the ways they should – openly and freely. As we know, free markets create better products.

To heal Judaism in Israel should be our first priority. We’ve been obsessed with solving the conflict and because of that obsession, we have neglected the challenge of solving the internal challenges of our Jewish state. And by the way, we still haven’t solved the conflict! We need to delay seeking a resolution to the conflict in order to deal with the Jewishness of our state. As of now, in order to end the Occupation, we need to build a coalition that includes the Haredim. And when you build a government that includes the Haredim, they control Judaism in Israel.

We have to make a big sacrifice, according to Goodman. We need to delay resolving the conflict in order to save the Jewish identity of our state. It’s a significant sacrifice and compromise, but it’s one that the Jews of the Diaspora need to be willing to support. It may be hard for us to accept that peace may not come in our time, but if we come to that realization, we can take advantage of the opportunity to fix the Jewish nature of the State of Israel and therefore, make sure we make it a State for ALL Jews – a place our children and grandchildren will want to visit and support – a place where they would be considered full-fledged Jews and embraced as such. Because the assumption that peace is around the corner is giving the Ultra-Orthodox the power over Judaism in Israel.

It’s a bold and idealistic plan, and yet, I think it’s one upon which we should spend some time reflecting. As the Talmud teaches us, disagreements and arguments can be sacred tasks. The fifteen of us who went to Israel on this trip engaged in ongoing sacred arguments, dealing with some of the most challenging and troubling disagreements facing the Jewish people today. And now that we are back home, we hope to continue the discussion, because the state of Israel is also our home and we have an obligation to actively engage in her struggles.



Shabbat Services in Tel Aviv

Friday, March 4

Written by Steve Fox

So you think we have a small attendance when only 75 people come to services! For the second time in a week, our Temple Isaiah group of around 15 was a significant fraction of the attendees, this time at Kehilat Beit Tefilah Israeli, in Tel Aviv. And since so much of the service was in Hebrew, I was sitting there, hardly understanding a thing. But I was loving it. It was a wonderful demonstration of how the process works at a non-verbal level. Congregants were relaxed and happy to be there. They were quite informal, very congenial, and the music was great– led by a jazzy pianist and cantorial soloist. Who needed to understand the words of the prayer leader when you are just swept up by the spirit in the room?

We’ll have to return some day in the summer, when the services take place on the beach, and the participation increases 100 fold to about 1000 people. If I thought Friday night was a high…

Beit Tefilah Israeli’s Kabbalat Shabbat Service on the Tel Aviv Pier in the summer – it draws an enormous crowd.

My only regret was that even though Cantor Kent joined us, because he did not want to take away from those leading the service, we were not treated to his wonderful voice.

Graffiti Tour of Tel Aviv

Friday, March 4

Written by Janet Hirsch

Neve Tzedek neighborhood, Tel Aviv

It is hard to imagine that our trip is almost over and today is perhaps the only part of the tour that I feel that I may actually know something. That the ground won’t shift beneath my feet – it will be interesting to see how that pans out. Today we are having a Street-Art and Graffiti tour of a newly gentrified part of the city, Neve Tzedek.

We are met by Niro, a very engaging, energetic young Israeli who clearly loves his city and his subject. He started out with a brief overview of why street art and graffiti are important especially in such a complicated political, religious, social environment that is Israel today. Graffiti is the visual representation of Chutzpa. It is literally “attitude on the wall”. We learn how the municipality of Tel Aviv has progressed from covering over graffiti to now embracing and promoting it as it is seen as a tourist attraction. That acceptance can have its price as some famous graffiti artists are in such high demand that looters strip their work off the side of buildings and sell it for tens (sometimes) hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Our enthusiastic group is first shown a large stencil of “squirrels” – right of the bat, people are saying “Wow they are huge, bigger than the trash cans, are there two squirrels or is a mutant squirrel with two heads?” We go on to learn the artist is known as Dede. We also learn there are no squirrels in Israel, and that Dede is suggesting that humans are two-faced, that we need to take care of the planet better, etc. The graffiti itself is gorgeous, and the stencils are completely made by hand.

Dede Squirrel

We move on to a more accessible form of street-art, actual life-sized cat sculptures which are hiding all around the city, one curled up on a tree stump, two hiding on the top of a wall, another in a corner with his back to us. It becomes like a treasure hunt, who can see something new first. All the time our guide is showing us how Street Artists want to take art outside the elite world of galleries and museums and bring it directly to the people, where they live.

We find ourselves in a park, with gorgeous trees, and swings although it’s tiny by our standards.   Here we are introduced to Maya, one of Israel’s most famous street artists. This work by Maya is done with black wool and is signed with her signature red-wool heart. It is huge, taking up the entire one side of a building. It is a black nest with lots of birds flying away from it, trailing black wool behind them. This is dealing with the fact that a lot of young Israelis are leaving the country and moving abroad. A large number have settled in Berlin. They are literally leaving the nest.

Maya's birds

The use of wool is also an interesting phenomena and came about in an attempt to make street art “warmer”. Now that we know what to look for we stumble upon bicycles and lamp posts covered in knotted woolen squares. There is a name for this – Yarn bombing.

Did you know that there are rules for graffiti? Well, we learned them and soon we are able were able to distinguish between legitimate artists’ work and the work of naughty school children – or as Nori referred to them – kids who are too cool for school. Temporary walls are ok, old walls are ok, walls facing public spaces are ok – newer, renovated walls are not ok.

Israelis who live in Tel Aviv live in a bubble that is very tolerant of difference, unlike those who live in other cities in the country. Neve Tzedek is fastly becoming gentrified and with that come other problems, especially for the artists that used to live in the area and of course where do they deal with their issues, on the walls of their city. We see gay rights promoted by a red stencil of two girls with a heart between them.

Now we find a grey, crumbling cement wall that used to be a door (with a very old, rickety frame) that had been cemented shut \ and on it a young Israeli poet has written in Hebrew a love poem to her ex-boyfriend, that was signed with her own name. The poem starts “You – there” and goes on to say “please leave the door open”.   Her name is Nitzan Mintz. Being anonymous is not important to her. She was so heartbroken that the entire community of artists was worried about her, and we were all delighted to know that she has a new boyfriend and his name is Dede and now you see her poems and his stencils next to one another, all over the city. They are known as the King and Queen of the Street.


We learned a few urban legends, but my favorite was found about an on an lovely old building that used to be the home of Shai Agnon (Nobel laureate – Author). Here we notice a a shutter lock that has the head of a person on it. When you have it one way it looks like a man, and when you unlatch it – it looks like a woman. The story goes that they were placed there to allow the lady of the house to signal her lover when her husband had left for the day.

We saw syringes with the word Botox inside them, that are done by a 13-year old who is against the gentrification which he feels is getting rid of the wrinkles of the city.

Close by the oldest synagogue in Neve Tzedek, tucked away in the corner is a stencil by Dede that has only been used once. It is tucked away, very close to the ground, and is a gorgeous black and white representation of the building – Dede is paying homage to this old, significant building.

Dede's temple

We saw art that dealt with refugees, garbage, Alice in Wonderland having tea, and then finally another stencil by Dede (two large robotic type antelopes), next to a pepto-bismol poem by Nitzan, and a picture of a large doll without a head – the words of the poem (which is visible from the Alice across the road), say “My name is not Alice and this is not Wonderland”.

We ended our tour with a lovely group photo, with us all posed with some hilarious “attitudes”.


Now we are going to a late lunch and some shopping before Shabbat services.

Ethics in the Israeli Military

Friday, March 4

Written by Janet Hirsch

We started our day, with ‘an only in Israel moment’. Our guest speaker Colonel Benzi Gruber, a Deputy Commander in the IDF had mistakenly gone to the David Hotel in Jerusalem. While he drove to Tel Aviv we had the chance to process some of what had happened the day before, both at the Museum and the Refugee Hotline. It was wonderful to have Cantor Kent with us and once again our incredible guide, who could bring his unique perspective to help answer all our questions.

When Col. Gruber arrived he wasted no time in helping us come to some kind of understanding of his subject that he speaks to audiences around the world on – Ethics in the Field. We did learn another uniquely Israeli tidbit, Enav’s commander in the field was none other than Col. Benzi Gruber. Col. Gruber has 20,000 soldiers under his commend.

Not sure how much detail I should go into here, as this was a very dense presentation. His goal was to help us understand the guidelines that the IDF follows and passes on to each of its soldiers. This would also provide us with a time to have certain things we had heard in our visit to East Jerusalem, the settlement of Efrat, and the Palestinian Refugee camp in the West Bank clarified.

My take away from this is that IDF soldiers are trained that if there is any doubt that you may harm civilians you are not allowed to shoot. We viewed Reuters and AP footage that showed you how awful war is, how things are not always as they seem, and how you just don’t always have all the information you need. We also learned that often you have only 8 (or less) SECONDS TO make a decision. Bearing in mind that soldiers could be very tired (they carry up to 180 lbs on their backs), as the Colonel told us, after 4 hours carrying that weight you lose ½ your IQ points, and when you put the helmet on top of that you are just an idiot (his words – not mine). The videos were incredibly informative, and really gave you a clearer understanding of how complicated (that word again), and tragic the situation is.

We learned that shooting one’s weapon makes a soldier feel calmer, and that it is the commander’s role to stop the soldiers from just shooting to their hearts content, as they won’t have ammunition when they need it.

My take away was that:

  1. If in doubt – don’t shoot
  2. Soldiers are told that it is not their job to punish individuals for their past actions – the courts will do that
  3. They are only to use the minimum amount of force to neutralize the threat
  4. If a soldier kills an innocent civilian (although that is so hard to determine – refer back to if in doubt don’t) they will be a murderer and carry that around with them for the rest of their lives.
  5. Killing someone to prevent them from becoming a “terrorist” in the future is not a good reason to kill them.
  6. You can use your weapon and power only to protect yourself and your country.
  7. Minimize the damage
  8. Collateral damage is “not an open check”
  9. PTSD can take up to 15 years to even materialize
  10. Israeli soldiers do not commit suicide in nearly the numbers that US soldiers do.
  11. IDF does not arrest people unless they have good reason to do so
  12. IDF does undertake routine raids on refugee camps just to keep the situation under control, as they cannot control what does in and out of the camps

People asked their questions – as you can expect a lively discussion ensued.

The Colonel thinks that there is only one solution to the Israeli Palestinian situation – “We both have to educate our children not to hate each other”.

What is the difference between a Terrorist and a Freedom Fighter – Terrorists aim to kill civilians – Freedom Fighters only kill enemy soldiers.

We learned that he loved to play a game called Matkot which is a non-competitive beach game in which two, or more, players hit a small ball back and forth using paddles.  This is a game that has no winners – ironic.

Col. Gruber was an amazing speaker, very charismatic, funny and charming. One thing you really came away with is his deep love of Israel and his belief that it is a privilege to serve in the Israeli Army. This comes from his family history and the fact that his grandmother carried her twin sister 500 miles in the winter of 1945. They had both been experimented on by Josef Mengele .

The goal is to win and still remain human beings.

Refugees and Flavors of Israel

Thursday, March 3

Written by Suzanne Solig

What a contrast in experiences (like most of our days in Israel): before lunch we enjoyed a “tasting” tour in Levinsky Market and in the afternoon we toured South Tel Aviv with Segalle Rosen, a representative from the Refugee Hotline.

Levinsky Market, five square blocks of spices, olives, cheeses, and pastries saturating our senses, was first settled by Greek immigrants in the 1920’s, followed quickly by the Turks, and then the Iranians in the mid-1960’s. We tasted burekas served with black hard-boiled eggs and almond juice at a Turkish pastry shop in business for 80 years and sweet meringue candies in a Greek bakery dating back to 1935. Of course, many shops had Purim costumes available for sale.

In the afternoon, we learned about the non-profit Hotline for Refugees and Migrant Workers, established in 1998 when some Israeli citizens shared a concern for the 34,000 migrant workers residing in Israel and more recently for those seeking asylum from Eritrea and Sudan to escape abuse, persecution and genocide. Particularly important is the Hotline’s work at the detention center in Holot where 3600 detainees (maximum number) are held. Volunteers from the Hotline meet with the detainees on a regular basis, provide paralegal intervention as well as legal representation. Unfortunately, only four detainees have been granted asylum; instead, Israeli authorities encourage them to self-deport, either to Eritrea or a third country that will accept them. Only Rwanda and Uganda have done so. For those refugees who stay, Holot’s gates are open but there are no services and nothing for them to do but contemplate their horrible situation.

While Israel continues to import Asians from Thailand, Viet Nam and the Philippines to provide services in hotels, restaurants, and day labor jobs, the government labels those who have walked by foot from Eritrea (where men are drafted into military service never to be released and women are drafted to be victims of sexual abuse), and from Sudan (where genocide is a daily threat) as “work infiltrators.”

The Hotline has successfully championed human rights laws, including one that stated asylum seekers can only be detained for 12 months and then conditionally released while waiting deportation. Although not allowed to work, some do find “under-the-table” jobs that help them meet their basic needs. Landlords in South Tel Aviv charge about 3000 NIS per month for a single room with toilet. Police often enter their shops and confiscate whatever cash might be in their drawers as a “fine”. We met a man, 36 years old, who is detained in Holot 6 days a week and one day a week is allowed to attend an art college in Tel Aviv. He is the only one of the 3600 detainees in such a program. The lack of a functioning and fair system for approving asylum applications is a sad reality in Israel.

Because the journey involves such difficult conditions, only 5300 women are among the 34,000 refugees. One bright light is that after 3 months every child has the right to an education. One school, Bialik-Rogozin School in Tel Aviv, where children from East Africa are at a secular school with Israeli children, tests in the 96th percentile. The success of this school is noted in the short documentary Strangers No More, released in 2010 and the recipient of an Academy Award. The film follows several students’ struggle to acclimate to life in a new land, most of whom had never attended school before. As Cantor Kent reminded us, the Israeli government with regard to the refugee situation seems to have neglected the text, “You should remember your Exodus from Egypt.” To learn more about the Hotline, please see

What Could Have Been – Reflections on the Rabin Center

Thursday, March 3

Written by Mike Diamond

The Yitzhak Rabin Center in Tel Aviv

I often think about “what could have been” when world events or life cycle events occur that suddenly take us in a different and unexpected direction. And, at certain times I think about bookmarks that have defined my political life – for example President Kennedy’s election in 1960 (I was 15) and President Obama’s election in 2008 (I was 63). Thursday in Tel Aviv was about “what could have been,” and these bookmarks.

On Thursday we visited the Yitzhak Rabin Center and this was a much more emotional and thought provoking experience than I imagined it would be. This is a wonderful museum that so effectively intertwines Rabin’s life with the history of Israel during that time and with major world events at during his lifetime. As I walked through the museum I kept coming back to the thought – “what could have been.” What could have been if Kennedy was not assassinated, if Martin Luther King had lived a longer life, if Bobby Kennedy had become president, if Rabin could have continued the peace process and countless other examples of people killed or dying before their time — George Tiller the doctor killed because he led an abortion clinic, the over 1,100 black men killed in the U.S. by police in 2015, the over 3,000 people killed in 9/11, Daniel Pearl beheaded by terrorists, and so many individuals I don’t even know that never had the chance to fulfill their own life cycle and have their own positive impact on the world that we all have the ability to do.

Of course, “what could have been” by itself is a useless exercise unless it forces us to take actions for good on behalf of all those who no longer able to do. We can argue about how the world might be different if President Kennedy had lived or if Yitzhak Rabin had not been assassinated, but we can’t change the past and of course we cannot know the outcome if this had happened rather than that happening. But, what we can do as Jews is return to our values and obligations of Tikkun Olam and help repair the world – one action at a time, no matter how big or how small. At times, this trip has made me feel powerless and almost emotionally paralyzed in the face of all the challenges confronting Israel and the entire Middle East. Yet, in an odd way, the time I spent at the Rabin museum renewed my energy to do what I can to help realize the goodness of all those who no longer can do so. I doubt I have the capacity for big things, but I do have the capacity for small everyday actions that when added all together might help repair the world. This is the lesson for me that I learned over the last ten days during our time in Israel. Hopefully, my fellow travelers and the Isaiah community will help me bring this lesson to life.

Looking forward to going home!

The Rabin Center

Thursday, March 3

Written by Eileen Lewis

We visited the Rabin Center this morning. The center’s display follows two parallel lines-Rabin’s life from the early 1920s and the life & history of Israel during the same period, with the included context of broader world events, societal and technological changes.

Inside the Yitzhak Rabin Center

Presenting Israel in the context of broader events caused me to pause a few times, as I tried to integrate my personal history. The film clips from the 1920s and early 1930s showed Palestine as an exciting, vibrant undertaking. Suddenly I remembered the vague stories about my maternal grandfather leaving his wife and children in Brooklyn, and going, perhaps more than once, to Palestine. What was he thinking? Why did this Russian immigrant to America depart and then return? Was he a Zionist, or a Socialist, or a young man seeking excitement? What did he do while in Palestine? The backstory is gone.

My first trip to Israel was in 1969,  with my parents and sister. This was a trip that my very secular father chose. With amazement, I have realized this week, that choosing Israel for his first (post Army) trip abroad, was an extraordinary statement. And perhaps even more so that this trip was only 2 years after the Six Day War. While my parents never articulated it, what a statement of faith and hope that showed in Israel.


At the end of our visit today, we spoke of the “what ifs.”  What if Rabin had not been assassinated in 1995? Would Israel have peace with her neighbors? What if JFK had not been assassinated? Would the  Civil Rights bills have been passed if LBJ hadn’t become President? And yet, while the loss of each exceptional leader causes us to wonder “what if”, it is also a reminder that one person can sometimes make great changes. Therein lies the hope. And so we said a prayer for peace.