Thursday, October 8, 2009

Returning to observations after a long interlude

In my last entry I wrote about the car accident in which my wife was injured. She has since been transferred to Jeruslaem, gone through an operation on her pelvis and is now beginning the first stages of recuperation. With any kind of luck she will be transferred next week to the medical facility on our kibbutz which is completely equipped to take care of her and will allow her family and friends to be with her and support her in her determined quest to return to full mobility as soon as possible. The doctors are convinced that she will be fine and she seems completely determined to optimize the recuperative process.

It is ironic that here I go and set up a blog to give someone a feel for some of the daily life issues and observations of living in Israel and yet the daily events of my life completely overwhelm me and lead to about a ten day gap in writing in this blog.

I also find myself thinking a lot about hospitals and Jersualem since that has been a big part of my daily life over the last 10 days. On Shabbat I went to the Old City of Jeruslaem with our 27 year old daughter andf our 15 year old son. We had a really nice relaxing time walking through the markets, bargaining for a chess set that we have wanted for a long time and finally sitting down for some excellent humus in one of my favorite hole in the wall humus places. It is called Lida's and is not far from the main road in the Christian Quarter. Who would have beleived that there was such tension around the Wailing Wall and and the El Akse mosque that day and in the last few days.

In these resteraunts you are always served olives, pickles and fresh onion to munch on. Frankly we never touch the onions, but the Arab gentleman sitting next to us with his wife was already on his second plate when I offered him ours as well. He pointed out to us that humus and onions are one of the great gartonomical combos of the world. We got to talking and amazingly enough he, a Sofi Sheik (religious leader) from near Nazareth comes to the Old City nearly every weekend for his humus fix. It also turned out that he and his wife had been living in the Washington DC area for the last three years just like we had. Amazing coincedence! We talked about living here, living there and discussed different food options with great gusto. Just amazing how conversations can develop into such unexpected events!

I also realized how much hospitals reflect their social surrounding. In Hillel Yaffe, there are almost no ultra-Orthodox people and English is almost never heard. There the staff is overwhelmngly Arab and Russian. In Jerusalem, there are a lot of ultra Orthodox people and English is commonly heard. As in all the hospitals that I am familiar with in Israel, there is an excellent interaction betwen the Arab and Jewish staff. There is a sense of unity of purpose and compassion that seems to transcend politcal boundaries.

Speaking of politics, I have sensed of late just how often we use the word here "war" (milchama מלחמה) to discuss so many differnt phenomena - the war against drugs, the war against traffic accidents, the war against wasting water. It is interesting that that is the chosen motif. Are we really declaring war? Is this a way of stating that we are absolutely serious? Do we use this motif because this is a clear concept to us or are there other reasons? In many ways it is such an error, not just because these are not military operations, but also because much of the activity that is needed in all of these areas is educational. counselling and open discussion - none of which fit into the war motif. Our use of the war motif seems to indicate a desire to eradicate more than to understand, prevent and cure.

Finally, I was listening to our Foreigh minister speaking his opinion that there will not be peace betwen Israel and te Plaestinians for amy years. It seems to me so wrong and tactically inept to drive a stake in the heart ofnegotiations like that. If you want to sit down with no preconditions, how can this statement be of assistance .Certainly if I were hearing that statement from the Palestinian side, it would only make me that it is right to continue to demand a freeze on settleemnts becasue 10 years from now Israel will have established cities and opulations in hte west bank that it will be impossible to alter.

Tomorrow we are heading to Jerusalem to visit my wife. We will also spend some time in the city. It has been several years since I wasin Jersualem getting ready for Shabbat - should be interesting.

A couple of other observations from the news today.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Our belief is that on this day of Yom Kippur our names inscribed in the Book of Life for next year - I did not believe that it would be this way

Hopefully, I have been writing about my life, observations and the world around I live in with an awareness of what was, a sense of what is and thoughts, hopes and wishes for what may be. Life seemed to have been on an axis that I understood. The axis was like a scaffolding, erected on certain assumptions, constructed with familair materials and spiraling in certain predictable directions. Then events intervened and I realized that this is all an illusion and the axis can suddenly be transformed into a path into the unknown.

On Thursday afternoon my wife was in a serious car accident. She is alive. She did not lose consciousness. She did not sustain injuries to her head, spine, nerves nor are there any indications of paralysis. The inflating air bag apparently saved her life. However, she did sustain a fracture in each leg below the knee and a fracture in her hip. She is hospitalized in Hillel Yaffe hospital in nearby Hadera.

Her mood seems good given the trauma that her body and psyche have endured. She has been sleeping alot and that seems positive. She is lucid and focused when she talks and that is reassuring. She faces a fairly long recuperating period and that is scary for her and for us, her family, as well.

I have tried to think what does this mean in terms of Yom Kippur. Thank God that she is inscribed in the Book of Life. I feel as though the inscribing hand almost slipped and, thank God, suddenly righted itself at the last second. We talked about driving. It is such an automatic and common activity which suddenly seems as though it is an act of dangerous dimensions, bordering on risk and yet we have to continue. Things seem more vulnerable than I had thought that they were, including the axis of our individual and collective lives.

I am a bit ashamed to realize that an incident like this, a near fatal expereince for my wife, is what jars me into realizing just how precious it is to continue life and maintain that scaffolding that we call our personal and collective narrative.

I have fasted on Yom Kippur since my early 20's. I go to services and say the prayers. Maybe this year I will say them differently and think about them more than I ever have before? I am sure that when I say ברכת הגומל this year, I will have an understanding that I never had before.

I mentionned that my wife is in Hillel Yaffe hospital. That is also her place of work as a social worker. I have some acquaintance with the hospital as my wife worked there before we went to the US and also because people in my family, including myself, have been there for very short periods of time. However, now I am seeing it daily with the perspective of someone who was in the US for the last three eyars and also as someone who expects to visit daily for the immediate future.

The hospital reflects some of the complex realities of Israel. It is not the hospital that Israeli medical authorities would choose to show to high ranking delegations inspecting the top level medcial care in Israel.

They work hard to keep it clean, but it is dingy. The building is showing its age. There is a new building next door which is supposed to house the hospital, but it has stood uncompleted for several years becasue of lack of money. The staff is a real reflection of Israeli society. The medical staff seems to be about one third each Russian, native Israelis and Arab. From behind the nurse's station in the department you can hear Russian, Arabic and Hebrew as the common tongue. The staff is not only united in its dealing with the patients who reflect the same background, but also during the period of the Intifada they dealt with tens of victims and perpetrators of terrorist acts with the same medical conviction dominating their actions and outlook as I can see in their care taking of my wife.

I have also written alot about community of late. These are the moments when the kibbutz community star shines brightest. The concern of others, the allocating of resources to asist, the sense that even in a society where many do not pray, you are in their thoughts and prayers gives us the chance to focus on what is really important and not on arrangements and finances.

Tonight my son and I will go to prayer services on the kibbutz. I will write about that tomorrow. Our eldest daughter will stay with my wife in the hospital. It is not a good idea to drive on Yom Kippur. Every year there are stories of cars being stoned by religious zealots. The kibbutz actually locks up all of the car keys here.

May all of you have an easy fast, if you fast and a good and thoughtful day. May we all stop for a second to consider and appreciate what we so take for granted in the daily course of our lives.


Wednesday, September 23, 2009

I have been working on the following article for the Forward and have neglected a bit to write for my blog.

I am reminded of a story that explains the difference betwen Orthodox Jews and Israeli secular (so-called) who are activists. The story is that Orthodox Jews are good at מצוות (commandments) while the secualr are good at מבצעים (missions/operations). The difference is that commandments are performed every day, whether you want to or not, whether you are excited or not. In the world of commandments the routine is paramount and not dependent on emotions, incidents or circumstance. In the world of the secular Jew, there is the capability for instant action, immense outpouring of activity and the ahievement of tangible results, but the next day, when the thrill has subsided there can be no activity or continuity. The routine is not paramount, rather the world is shaped by peaks and valleys as opposed to the daily routine.

That is how I feel with the blog. I need to establish a pattern and I hope to do so. With Yom Kippur upon us, this is a good time for resolutions and doing tashlich of old habits. Here on the blog I will have a public opportunity for tikkun by writing every second or third day.

Towards Yom Kippur - Last night we went to a lecture program at Moshav Nahalal where a community "spirtual group" called ניגון הלב (Nigun HaLev - very loosely translated as the Melody of the Heart ) meet for prayers, Kabbalot Shabbat and holiday activities. This is a very heterogenous group - kibbutzniks, religious, intellectuals, farmers and combinations of all of the above. In many ways this is a part of the new reality of Israel that is breaking down the classic and stereotypical boundaries between religious and secular (as I have said two terms which I dislike, but I find myself reusing for lack of a better term) who are united in a mutual search for meaning within the world of the Jewish sources whether it be the Tanach, commentaries, Bialik or Amos Oz in our shared context of Israeli society and modern day Hebrew.

On this evening 60-70 people got together to listen talk, reunite and sing together. The word nigun (literally melody) is also the Hassidic phrase for collective singing and encountering one another and our spituality through song. We sang together, listened, talked and went our ways with thoughts of Yom Kippur in our hearts and minds.

Home / Articles / The Real Meaning of Community
The Real Meaning of Community
In America and Israel, Different Understandings of the Word
By Micha Balf
Published in the FORWARD - September 23, 2009, issue of
October 02, 2009.
Americans may be bowling alone, but they talk incessantly about community. Few words seemed more overused and less applicable to American life than this one. There seems to be an inverse relationship between the dilution of the collective underpinnings of Jewish collectiveness and the increasing usage of the word “community.” When soccer moms studying kabbalistic texts at Starbucks, Twitter groups and just about any casual affiliation between two or more people can be called community, it seems to me that the collective nature of community lacks a tangible common denominator and a shared definition.
Thirty years ago, my wife and I graduated from Wesleyan University and came to Israel separately. We reconnected here and built a life and family, choosing to live on a kibbutz. Then, three years ago, we moved to Washington, D.C., so that I could serve as an Israel education representative. Our return to Israel in August has sharpened the contrasts between different understandings of community.
My age, 54, and the fact that I have lived for the past three decades collectively, surely help shape that statement. I understand community to be a world in which my ties to others are a series of mutual obligations and privileges that connect us now and into the future. I know the people of my community by sight, sound and personal history. The song from the TV show “Cheers” about a place “where everybody knows your name” does not come close to describing how our lives intertwine from cradle to grave. We do not always like each other. We can completely disagree. We rejoice and mourn together. We are often beholden. We decide collectively and abide by those decisions — usually. Sometimes we desire distance; other times we revel in our closeness. Sometimes the difference between an embrace and a chokehold is not clear.
During one recent Sabbath on our kibbutz, Maagan Michael, we celebrated 60 years as a community. Hundreds of people of all ages were on the beach for games, music, food and hanging out. The Sabbath before, we celebrated our class of 18-year-olds completing high school. They put on the traditional musical roast of the kibbutz before heading off for the military or for a year of national volunteer service prior to the army. Each young person stood on the stage with his/her extended family members, many of whom live here. The kibbutz, once portrayed as the cutting edge of the decline of the nuclear family, is now home to burgeoning extended families.
In Israel overall, and on a kibbutz in particular, there is less value in virtual community and more virtue in a tangible connection between people. Over the last three years, I’ve often heard plaintive voices from Americans — Jews and non-Jews alike — longing for a world of neighborhoods and neighbors with less isolation and alienation. They looked for more connection and a sense of shared responsibility for the well-being of themselves and their peers, even as they constructed fences, built firewalls to avoid identity theft and joined virtual groups on Facebook.
But here’s one example of real community: Years ago, we drove to a folk music festival in the town of Beit Shean. On the outskirts, our car stalled. The Sabbath was rapidly approaching. Everything was closed. Some men finishing their coffee at a roadside cafe suggested that I walk to the home of the local garage owner. I knocked on the door and explained our predicament. He came with his jumper cables and started our car. I said, thanks, now we can go home.
He asked why we were skipping the festival. I explained to him that without cables, it was a risk. He gave me the cables, told me to drop them off after the Sabbath and left. We did not know his name. After the Sabbath, we dropped off the cables along with a present, ate dinner with his family and went home. I had the feeling that he did things like this all the time.
These are examples of a collective fabric that we as Israelis share. Our sages spoke of all of us being responsible for each other. That is the community that one can feel in Israel. Do American Jews share such a collective bond? What binds together Jews? Sometimes synagogue, sometimes a Jewish community center pool. But is there a deeper sense of collectiveness? The word “peoplehood” is often used, but does it reflect a Jewish aspiration or a Jewish reality? It seems to me that the word “community” is the patch designed to cover the gaping holes in the collective Jewish quilt, frayed at the edges and with torn stitches between the squares.
Our son always loved Yom Kippur more than the other holidays. It was not a religious experience, but the intoxicating feeling of a complete change in society. No cars drove on the main highway of Israel. As we walked back from services, he would cavort on the highway, doing handstands down the yellow lines.
In America, I felt the empowering nature of the creative Jewish quest and the seduction of individual anonymity, but never that collective Jewish entity of daily life in Israel.
Micha Balf is a former high school principal and Holocaust author who will be serving this year as a visiting Israeli scholar to the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, D.C. He blogs at

Shabbat shalom and גמר חתימה טובה - gmar hatima tova


Friday, September 18, 2009

Finally after three years I can say - Shana Tova from Israel

Sights and Sounds before the beginning of Rosh HaShannah - Here on the kibbutz the slowdown of life as Shabbat approaches is well underway as I write this. On the roads outside of the kibbutz there is the traffic and bustle of people racing, or trying to race if the traffic allows them, to their sanctuary for the holiday. On the roads the slowdown comes later towards evening and darkness approaching.

As I walked back to our apartment I heard the muzzein from the neighboring Arab village - Jezr El Zarka. The village is poor and has expanded immensely in the last 20 years. So too have the acoustics of the muzzein. Once he could not be heard except sometimes in the evening when sound travels better. Now he can be heard each time they pray. The reverebating voice with the guttural sounds (probably what a non-Jew would say upon hearing Jews pray) is much more up close and personal than it was 20 years ago. That change reflects technology, but also the size of the town whose borders are much closer to ours than they used to be. We don't have much contact between the two communities, but as I hear the echoing voice I wonder what is his message for Rosh HaShanah? Does he wonder what my message is for Ramadan? Do I know?

Tonight after dinner the kibbutz celebrates Rosh HaShanah as a community. There will be hundreds of people, elderly, middle aged, youth and kids on the grassy area next to the dining room. We will spread out our blankets and sit together to welcome the new year as we have done for so many years. There are the traditional songs and singers, there are the blessings of the various officials and there is the dance of the months which is the annual highlight. The dance was created and choreographed by a veteran member of Maagan Michael. She is a unique combination of creative presence and drill sargent personality. Probably every child under the age of 40 on the kibbutz has appeared in the dance at some point in his or her life.

There is a tradition. There is a sense of continuity and community. There is also the moment of collective creation where they flash on the screen pictures of every baby born here during the year. This year there are 24, over the last few years there have been aroujnd thrity. There are no prayers except for rain.

One of the phrases in secular life in Israel, and particularly on kibbutz, is the phrase to create tradition. It is an interesting semantic combination. On one hand it is clear that tradition is the on-going continuation of practice, thought and ritual. The idea of creation, on the other hand, implies an altering of the traditional. But for the kibbutz the idea was to re-examine the traditional Judaic practicess and to replace with different Jewish concepts, rituals and practices. In some ways this has led to a creative outpouring and wonderful local traditions. On the other hand, much of the creations are disconnected from Jewish traditions and therefore do not influence others nor serve as a segue into a larger Jewish world. We have already created two generations of Jews who do not really understand the rejection of the Jewish tradition that they have inherited. For now, I intend to enjoy the evening and the dance - I think that our niece is participating.

It has been a very special day as people flow by wishing each other "Shana Tova". The holiday is in the air. I know that I have had little to do with the creation of that atmosphere. It feels comforting to not have to make the effort, and yet I know instinctively that my Jewish identity is a function of the effort that I make and it is not sufficient to rely on the contributions of others as I have today. Tomorrow we will go to services in Zichron Yaakov.

שבת שלום - שנה טובה וגמר חתימה טובה - Shabbat Shalom - Have a wonderful Rosh HaShana.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

A Synagogue on the "Secular" Kibbutz - A Look at the Public Debate

- Before I get into the kibbutz and synagogue discussion, I want to recount a story from Sunday morning. Saturday night my son went to sleep believing that there was going to be a strike of the regional councils meaning that schools would be closed Sunday morning. Given the dynamic nature of labor relations here, things often change early in the morning so one has to check the news. I checked the news. The strike was on. As a result I woke him up at 10 am. As he opened his eyes sleepily, he looked at me and said - "now strikes are something that I missed in America". The next day they cancelled the strike and he sleepily trudged off to school ,but still he had an experience to recount to his friends in the US who don't get to enjoy strikes in the educational system.

Synagogue on Kibbutz - In fact many kibutzim now have synagogues. In most places, they do not attract many members except on Yom Kippur, but they exist and are an option.

On our kibbutz a group of primarily three women gathered together over the last few years to establish a synagogue with a Sefer Torah in order to have the option of praying together monthly. One of the women is a baalat tshuvah, a person who has chosen to live an Orthodox life even though she was brought up on Maagan Michael very differently. She was once a student of mine, but I do not know her well today. She does not eat in our dining room which is defintely not kosher and has her children in an Orthodox early childhood school outside of the kibbutz. The other two women were brought up in relatively Orthodox homes, do not live that way today, but believe that their synagogue should be based on Orthodox principles.

As a result, we have a synagogue here that seperates men and women even though that is something that other members, like myself and my family, feel is unacceptable in modern Judaism.

There is not alot of attendance except at Yom Kippur. For several years now a group of Orthodox people belonging to an organization called Zohar have come to the kibbutz for Yom Kippur. Zohar and their rabbis strive to bring a Jewish religious experience to populations that are either isolated or alienated from Jewish religious practices. The attendance is massive even though some of the attendants are people who are part of the temporary population here, nonetheless, many members come as well. The service is Orthodox, though the mechitza (barrier) which is only a string stretched between the men and women in the crowd, is designed to be more symbolic than real.

Many people are very happy with the presence of a synagogue, although there is dissension about the Orthodox nature. I am happy because it is a step in the direction of religious pluralism, even if my family and I prefer the Conservative or Reform services in Zichron Yaakov.

There is however, a significant part of the membership here that fears that even this modest foothold could expand and alter the "secular" nature of the kibbutz. In their view, once the Orthodox are in the mix, they pursue their goal of complete conversion to their way of life with uncompromising zeal, while the "secularists" naively compromise.

There is nothing here to suggest that that is what has taken place, but it is an interesting indicator of just how deep anti-Orthodox feelings can run. There have been several fairly acrimonious debates in which both sides savaged the other. The issue came to a head in a vote at the assefa (the kibbutz equivalent of a town meeting vote) in which the synagogue leadership proposed a live and let live agreement and the committee governing communal lifestyle proposed a more draconian set of operating laws for the synagogue. The members also had the option to not debate the issue and let the status quo continnue for another year. They voted overwhelmingly to maintain the staus quo which I think means that people are tired of the debate and also that there is more of a willingness to let others engage in activiteis even if tehy would not choose to join. The vote tabulations also showed that many members are uncertain about the place of a synagogue, but are willing for now to maintain it.

It is intersting how in Israel, where we have yet to resolve whether we are a Jewish state or a state of Jews, that the place of religious practice, seperation of synagogue and kibbutz and fears of Orthodoxy would be so prominent, but that is our reality.

I intend to go to the synagogue on Yom Kippur and see how it feels, but my heart and time will go religious instiutions like the Conservative and Reform congregations where men and women stand equally before the Torah. It is interesting, in retrospect, that the dominating forces behind creating the synagogue here are all women and yet they demand to have an institution in which they do not have equal standing at prayer, even if they are the forces behind the institution.



Monday, September 14, 2009

Casual Observations and Some Thoughts on Lost and Found Jews

Casual Observations:

- Fall is in the air. The late afternoon breezes are cooler, the nights are more pleasent, the Chatzav (the tall flower that symbolizes the coming of autmn here) is in bloom, there are the first flocks of birds flapping their wings over our ponds and beach and there were even a few drops of rain the other day. As I wrote to friends, it seems as though nature is aligned, even if I am not so sure about us.
- All the talk here today was about the death of the pilot Asaf Ramon whose father, Ilan, was the first and only Israeli astronaut who died when his capsule burned up re-entering the earth's atmosphere. The picture of the handsome father and son together in the paper was so tragic that it was really hard to even read the articles about them on the front page of the paper. Those who eulogized them spoke about their excellent, the simnilarity of their paths through the Air Force andso tragically in death. There is a sense of an almost familial relationship that we all have with them At breakfast we talked about our inability to even begin to comprehend the tragedy that the mother/wife must feel.
-On Shabbat morning we went for a bike ride up the coast through the fishponds to Moshav Habonim and back. Not that strenuous, but real and important excercise. We came back on the road. I had always been very fearful of riding on the roads in Israel becasue there was so little safe space on the boundaries, but all that has changed. The improvements in roads here and their suitability to biking is really impressive, even if there is still alot to do.
- I was driving back to the kibbutz last night and saw the railway guard who makes sure that we don't cross the tracks when a train is coming praying to Allah. Our security is in his hands, Allah is in his prayers and while that may sound contradictory to some, it made sense to me. He is guarding us whether it be in the name of Allah, Yahweh, Jesus or Bahai. Such are our lives intertwined here.
- If we are talking transportation, I have to admit that I am petrified that I will come to a red light and just go right even though the law here forbids it. It seems so ingrained at this point that I am happy every time someone is in front of me at a red light!

MASA sends a message - Jews in the Diapora are disappearing. According to the MASA ad campaign more than 50% of the Jews are assimilating (they use the Hebrew word להתבולל ) and are lost. Many commentators have responded strenuously to the accusation that assimilation is inevitable and that it can only mean leaving the fold of Jewish peoplehood. Commentators have also asked what does assimilation mean? If it means not speaking Hebrew then nearly all Jews in America are lost. If it means not visiting Israel then two thirds or more are lost. If it means belonging to the Reform or Conservative movement (and let us not forget the Reconstructionists) then probably 75% of the Jews who belong to congregations are lost. If it means intermarraige then around 50%. Is all change assimilation? Hopefully we can agree that that is not the case.

The vagueness of the ad is disturbing as is the positive reception that it seems to have received in my immediate surroundings. I live in a world in which the financial disaester overtaking the Jewish world in the Diaspora is completely unknown with the exception of the ability to blame Madoff for everything. Yet the MASA ads reverberated well among my neighbors and sparked interest and conversation.

Is it because they are concerned about the status and future of Jews in North America or the Diapora overall? I do not believe so, unfortunately. The ad resonated well with them because if those Jews out there in Galut are lost - then we must be found. Lost means having no direction. Lost implies lack of definitive identity. Lost means being adrift and anchorless. If the Jews in the Diaspora are like that, and we are not them, then that means that we are anchored in our identity, clearly on the right path and not adrift.

I can believe that in the US many Jews were deeply offended by the ads which totally ignore the ways in which Judaism and Jews are changing to renew and revitalize. The ad basically says -here is a negative phenomena without explaining any of its nuances and thereby gives comfort to an Israeli audience that has no concept of Jewish life in the Diaspora on the whole. For those Israelis who understand that they, us, are the cure, this is a moment of revelation. We are the cure to their affliction, if only those Diasporan Jews could realize. Let us only hope that those who are assimilating reach out to us, the answer, before it is too late. That is what my neighbors seem to be conveying to me.

I wish that there was more interest here in understanding Jewish life in the Diaspora. We have raised a generation or two of Israelis who do not understand the essence of Jewish life in the Diapora. As a result they do not understand half of the Jewish people in the world and over time this will not lead to that Diasporan half "finding" themselves here. It will lead to them finding Jewish answers in their native lands, dare I imply homelands, where the level of aceptance is greater and where the Israeli harbormaster is not telling them that the choice is between drowning at sea or finding sanctuary in the Israeli port.


Friday, September 4, 2009

A busy week of continued beginnings and renewed connections. It seems as thought the beginnings should be diminshing and the reconnecting increasing, but in fact they both seem to be increasing. It reminds of learning Hebrew in Israel 30 years ago. I set a goal that I would understand everything that was talked about at at the Friday meeting of the guys who worked together in the bananas. After a year, I understood everything, but then I realized that there were so many other conversations that I was not understanding. It seemed to spiral on upwards forever, until I came to a point of fluency or at least a level of professional and personal comfort with my fluency - to speak in public, write a book, counsel people etc. I can still learn more, but I am in a good place. Although I am confortable with hte process of reintegrating, feel real progress and rythym, I wonder how long. Is it forever? Are we always in the process of adaptation and integrating? Does this period just excentuate what was always present, or is this really a distinct period in our lives that will pass over time?

This week I attended a wedding on the kibbutz. The family story is way too complicated to share in blog, but like any public ritual it was a great oportunity to reflect on Israeli culture and the fascinating combinations and interactions that take place.

Both of the families live on kibbutz - one lives on my secular kibbutz and the other on a "religious kibbutz". I put both the woords "secular" and "religious" in parantheses because I do not accept the sterotypical defintions used for these differences in Jewish focus, but for now let's just say that this is an issue to return to. The bride had been born in an Orthodox family, but since her teenager years she has lived on my kibbutz and moved far away from Orthodox religious practices. The groom had grown up on an Orthodox kibbutz and had also moved away from an observant lifestyle.

The wedding took place outdoors in a beautiful garden adjacent to the kibbutz swimming pool (closed for the evening) with the sound of the sea in the background and the kibbutz made Ferris wheel carting excited children up into the sky.

The music seemed to say alot about the background - an eclectic mixture of the Eagles singing "Hotel California", a modern day klezmer group song, Shlomo Artzi singing some old Hebrew classics - all this before they interrupted the reggae background to announce that the guest were invited to the chupa.

If all of this cultural diversity was a bit much for the mostly modern Orthodox crowd, they did not show any discomfort. In fact many of them swayed with the reggae even as they readied themselves for the Sheva Brachot. Of course, after the ceremony the the traditional "Sisu Ve' Simcha" were sung .

Often we feel here, and portay ourselves to others, as living in worlds in which the Orthodox and the non-Orthodox are seperated by walls. There is more than a small amount of truth to that depiction, but there is also is also much that brings us together and allows to worlds and their representatives to intermingle happily on the wedding lawn and feel the joy of another couple starting out on their collective path.

Of course, if we had talked politics, it would have been different, but for everything there is a time and a place and I am happy that we were there together.

I also learned about the current standards of present giving. There is a complicated formula based on the number of people, closeness to the bride/groom and level of involvement that dictate the appropriate sum. In fact, I learned that there is a web site that allows you to answer a number of questions and it will give you the appropriate sum. It feels very impersonal, but it is politically correct and that is important here too.

Tonight we will go to Friday night services at a Conservative synagigue i Zichron Yaakov. I will write about that and maybe about "religious" and "secular" on Sunday. Shabbat is for resting - and oh yes going to the beach!