Monday, 20 August 2012

Jewish Identity, Please.

Day One:
We arrived hot and sweaty from a long day packing up two months worth of life to a little kibbutz in the north of Israel called: Kibbutz Hannaton, ready to begin a four day exploration of Halacha (Jewish Law) and what it means for us as Reform Jewish Youth.

The cup of ear grey tea that I held in my hand was really doing the trick to wake me up from my half asleep state of mind. I looked around the room, the walls that weren't covered with packed bookshelves we a terribly depressing shade of dark green. The bookshelves on one side of the room were all fancy and had engraved Hebrew letters in gold on the thick spines of the hard cover books. The other shelf had books of all different shapes and sizes, and I could recognise a few different languages from where I sat. I was told to choose a book. Any book. An over whelming task for someone who was completely shell shocked as to what was happening. I was unsettled, over tired and still hadn't come to terms with the fact that the second period of Shnat had come to an unceremonious end. I spun around to the book shelves behind me hoping to find something that would capture my fancy. On the bottom shelf was a dusty, tattered book held together with grey masking tape all down the spine, two more lay next to it, all uniform in their masking tape covers. I gingerly opened the book right in the middle. The Hebrew print was small and the pages were old and faded. There were hand written notes down most of the sides of the page. Translations, thoughts, notes. I was stunned that I could read them, having expected them to be all in Hebrew.
I flipped to the front of the book where an inscription had been written along with the name of the person who owned the book. On closer inspection of the cover I discovered it was all interpretations of the Torah and its meaning.

I told the rest of the group that I had chosen this book because it had belonged to someone who really cared about learning and valued the teachings of the Torah. He had taken the time to really try learn, read and understand.

Our opening session was the basics of halacha, and where it all came from, and also, where we thought it was going.

Dinner that night was a Netzer Politics Fest at a fancy restaurant just outside of Kibbutz Hannaton. We had a chance to bond with the Madrichim and eat really tasty deserts!

Day Two:
We started the morning off with a panel from the kibbutz who told us all about the uniue kind of environment they are trying to create. The kibbutz started as a conservative kibbutz but over the years has developed into a pluralistic kibbutz that has a place for all the different streams of Judaism. everyone is allowed to pray together the way that they want to pray, everyone being able to express their Judaism and their halacha as they wish. We asked a load of questions about Halacha and how it is kept on the kibbutz what with so many different opinions, and they told us that they all have a chance to have their own shabbat, and if its not comfortable for you one week, you might be comfortable the next week. You have to be open to living in this way and you have to be able to accept and be willing.

What interested me was that there were a lot of marriages between people from different sects of Judaism, and they worked.

I sat with my eyes closed, my feet propped up on the chair next to me. We sat in a semi circle, each of us with our eyes closed waiting. As he played the repetitive tune of the nigune on his dark guitar he sang alone. One by one we all caught on to the tune of the nigune and joined in. The music that we were all creating rose louder and became softer, everyone listening to the other and singing in unison.

Day Three:
My eye lids were heavy listening to the lecture being given to us, and my mind kept drifting from the topic at hand. We were in a cemetery of the Jewish people of some time ago. I woke up when we went inside the tombs and started analysing weather or not it was okay to carve images into ones tomb stone. We spoke about the animals, and them just being a sign of maybe your family, or hunters. They started off simple but became more elaborate as the time passed. Is that allowed? Some only had geometric symbols, but how were we to know weather or not they were representations of God? The last few tombs really got us thinking. There were depictions of Gods in Greek and Roman theology. Were these just because of the fashion of the time, is it still a big deal? Some of the tombs we looked at had elaborate carvings of things that represented the old temple, some were a bit more modest than others. But we were still asking weather this was okay or not. Does it follow Jewish Law, Halacha, to have such thiongs, and where do we draw the line?

In the small town of Tzippori we asked the same questions. The houses and synagogues were elaborately decorated with mosaics of Greek mythology. In one Rabbis home there was an entire floor decorated with the story of Herkeles and his enemy. In the Synagogue there was clearly a zodiac symbol that had the twelve tribes of Israel on it. Where does one start and stop when it comes to letting the culture of the time influence your religion?

Day Four
Writing our own Halacha for kibbutz turned out to be harder than it should have nad we decided to try again once we were all in the right mind set back from Chofesh.