Remembering Marla

I am fortunate while I am in Jerusalem to be learning at a few different institutions in the city. I will write more about them and the content of my courses in a future post. 

One of the places I am studying is Pardes, a wonderful Jerusalem institution for Jewish learning. Yesterday it was an honour to participate in and speak at the annual day of hesed in memory of Marla Bennett z”l and Ben Blutstein z”l, two Pardes students who were killed by the bombing of the Frank Sinatra cafeteria at Hebrew University in 2002. 

Marla and I were roommates in Jerusalem in 2000-01, during my first year of rabbinical school at HUC and her first year studying at Pardes. She was a remarkable person and her death impacted me very strongly, as it did for the wide circle of friends who were part of Marla’s world. 

 

The three roommates – me, Marla, and Deborah – in our apartment before Shabbat, 2001

 
I will share here the words that I spoke at Pardes yesterday:

In all my time in Jerusalem, I never actually walked into the Pardes building until a few weeks ago. I don’t know why – I have so many friends who have studied here, I have sent my own students over the years to study here because I really value the learning and community that are the hallmark of Pardes and the incredible Jews who pass through these halls. I am sure that part of me was just worried it would be too painful, that there would be too much association with loss. It is really such a place of Marla – I feel here her so strongly – not just because of her picture on the wall, but because of all of the students here. You remind me of her, you remind me of us. You remind me of a time 15 years ago when we all came to live in Jerusalem together and to become infused with the spirit of this city that seeps under your skin and into your soul. 

 

I see you and the passion that you pour into your learning and I remember her thirst for Jewish knowledge – for study not only of traditional texts, but of their meaning and relevance to our lives. Our year living together in 2000-01, was a shnat shmita. I remember her consideration and conemplation of shemita when she invited a friend for dinner who was Ba’al Teshuva. She asked him if she needed to buy special produce for shemita – he told her that he wasn’t going to bring it up, but now that she asked him directly he had to answer “yes.” She wanted to do it just right to make sure that he would be comfortable eating in our apartment. She was an includer, a pluralist, a person who wanted everyone to be at her table. 

 

I see you and the way you connect with eachother and care for one another and I remember her passion for bringing people into her circle. I remember how whenever she had a friend visiting Israel who came to stay with us, she would decorate the door with colourful welcome signs. I remember how we would host massive shabbat dinners and how she would always make sure people felt connected and comfortable, how she could put people at ease with her smile and laugh, not to mention how she would always try to connect at least one dish on the table to the parashat hashavua! I remember her email address: marlaann@cheerful.com

 

I see you and your youth and idealism and I remember how we would dream about our future. How we would stay up late at night snuggled on Deborah’s bed, talking about what kind of lives we wanted to have for ourselves, with our future spouses and children. How we wanted to create meaningful communities of Jewish living in the US and for our kids to live with a Jewish flow of time. How we wanted to teach and bring our passion for Judaism to others. 

 

Marla will always be 24 and now I am 37. I am back in Jerusalem with my family, my husband and two young children. 14 years in many ways is a lifetime ago – so much has changed for me and never will for her. And though I think sadly of unborn children who will never benefit from a woman who would have been an incredible mother and of students who will never learn from an amazing teacher, I also know, 14 years later, that in many ways Marla has grown with us. With all of us who were touched by her impact in our lives – we bring her into our parenting, into our teaching, into our efforts at outreach and inclusion. 

 

Being in Pardes is not painful, as I imagined it might be. Perhaps it is because of the passage of time. Jerusalem is no longer filled with the sadness of Marla’s death like it once was for me in the years after the bombing. But really, it’s not just an absence of sadness that I feel, but the presence of comfort being in this space with all of you. I am so moved that Pardes continues to honour Marla and Ben’s memories all these years later. Yehi zichronam livracha.

   

Vancouver in Jerusalem

In the past few days I have had the good fortune of connecting with our YVR-Israel partnerships. 

On Shabbat, I spent Friday night visiting our new sister congregation in Tsur Hadassah. I had coffee with their wonderful rabbi, Stacey Blank, a few weeks ago and she invited me to come visit for Kabbalat Shabbat. 

Tsur Hadassah is a lovely town, about a 30 minute drive from Jerusalem. The Reform congregation has been there for many years and has a significant presence in the community. They have a small building that was provided by government funding (which is a major political victory for a Reform congregation) and regular Shabbat services, adult education and an active Noar Telem youth group.  
Before the service, Rabbi Stacey invited me to join her on a survey walk with about a dozen others through the nature park right next to the synagogue. A number of Tsur Hadassah residents (including many members of the congregation) have begun to organize themselves to think about its future use for education, conservation, and community benefit. 

The first kalaniyot (anemones) appear

 
It was a beautiful walk in nature, to be certain. But also interesting to see how the rabbi and the congregation played a role in these broader communal efforts. 

The Kabbalat Shabbat service was very nice, with an incredibly warm and welcoming congregation. I even had the honor of giving the Drash (in Hebrew, no less!)

I am very pleased that our two congregations have created our new partnership. They are a community that really value relationships and I think that our  Temple Sholom community will form wonderful connections with them. Next time you are in Israel, be sure to visit. Their families would love to host you for Shabbat dinner!

Earlier this week, I joined Cathy Lowenstein, Jenn Shecter, and Lissa Weinberger for two days of interviews with candidates for the upcoming cohort of ShinShinim in Vancouver. We have been blessed this year with the presence of our Shinshinit, Ophir, in our congregation. 

 

At the Jewish Agency in Kiriyat Moriah

 
It was inspiring to meet with so many terrific candidates this week. We are still in the process of finding out our match, but I know from our meetings that whomever we match with will bring a dynamic connection to Israel to our community. 

Israel is blossoming and mourning

There is always excitement in Israel at the beginning of the Hebrew month of Shevat. Children, especially, prepare for the mid-month holiday of Tu BiShevat.  It’s fun to see this relatively minor holiday getting prime retail space at the supermarkets and even in the shopping mall:

tu bishevat grocery

The display at the entrance to the Supersol in Talpiot

tu bishevat mall

A pop up stand in the middle of the Hadar Mall

The most popular and well-known children’s song about Tu BiShevat – Hashkediyah Porachat – describes the blossoming of the almond trees that we first start to see around Tu BiShevat.  Sure enough, the trees and plants are beginning to blossom.  The past few days in Jerusalem have been gloriously sunny and the colours have begun to come out all over the city.

The winds have come in strong today and the winter temperatures have returned. Sadness as well has descended upon Israel, as yet another Israeli was stabbed to death by a terrorist.  Dafna Meir, a mother of 6 children, was killed in her home in front of her children.  She was a nurse at Soroka Hospital in Be’er Sheva.

As I am writing this, I just received an alert on my phone that another woman, pregnant and in her 30s was stabbed as well.

Both of these women live in settlements in the West Bank.  There is complexity, to be certain, about the status of the settlements.  But there can be no moral equivalency made in the face of the brutal murder of a mother in her home in front of her children.  This violence is barbaric and inexcusable.

Our first two weeks here were accompanied by a relative lull in the violence. I pray that quiet returns soon.

 

The First Shabbat

Shabbat in Jerusalem is unlike Shabbat in any other place on earth.  One of the reasons that we chose Jerusalem over Tel Aviv or Haifa as our sabbatical location was because we wanted to give our children the experience of Jerusalem Shabbatot. Everything feels different in the city on Shabbat – there is very little traffic, the stores are shuttered, and nobody is rushing.  We wanted them to know that the communal feeling of Shabbat can be achieved not only at Jewish summer camp, but in an all encompassing way in this sacred city.

For our first Shabbat we began with a wonderful Shabbat dinner at the home of friends from my student days at Hebrew University in the late 90s.  It is terrific each time I come back to Israel to connect with them and for us to encounter one another as our families are growing.

We spent Shabbat morning at the Shira Hadasha minyan, which is just around the corner from our apartment.  Shira Hadasha is an orthodox congregation that pushes the boundaries to allow as much female participation and leadership as is halachically possible.  They call themselves an “orthodox-feminist” minyan.  There is a mechitza (divider), but it is slid open whenever daveninig is suspended for announcements, a d’var torah, etc. Women lead the brachot for an aliyah, a woman was the gabai’it, and a woman read the haftarah.  While I am myself a strong advocate for egalitarian Judaism, I do applaud the leaders of this minyan for their courage in taking these steps within an orthodox framework.

When Israelis from outside Jerusalem talk about the city, they often wince at the perception of it being an ultra-orthodox stranglehold.  There is certainly a strong hareidi presence in the city and religious coercion issues that are annoying at best and infuriating at worst.  But there are also many who are working to bring progressive Jewish life into Jerusalem (like the Shira Hadasha minyan) and those who are trying to make sure that Jerusalem is a city that can be a home for Jews of every persuasion.

As we walked around on Shabbat afternoon, we stumbled upon the new-ish Tachana HaRishona – The “First Station,” which is an old railroad station that has been transformed into a terrific open market with restaurants, shops, a performance stage, and children’s attractions.  It was full of people enjoying Shabbat in their own way.  I hadn’t expected this kind of a secular Shabbat scene in Jerusalem and I was really glad to see that the city had made room for people of all types of observance to enjoy Shabbat.

Below is a video of a flash dance mob at the Tachana HaRishona from a few weeks ago.  Enjoy!