Letter From Israel: On Life Here in Times Like These

 Petah Tikvah

Petah Tikvah, location of Shomrei’s sister congregation in Israel

A note from Rabbi Greenstein:

I am delighted to introduce to our community a wonderful colleague who is doing great work in building a Masorti (Conservative) kehillah (community) in Israel, Rabbah Michal Schwartz.
First, some definitions:

“Masorti” – The Conservative movement in Israel is called the Masorti Movement. It strives to promote Judaism in a way that is traditional, egalitarian and inclusive. It has made great progress over the years. But Israel officially recognizes and financially supports only Orthodox Judaism. So Masorti communities have to try to accomplish all their good work despite lack of government support and even despite official opposition.

“Kehillah” means community or congregation. It refers to a group of people who join together with common values and shared goals. Shomrei Emunah is a kehillah. In Israel, the government allocates Orthodox religious services to districts and regions. There is no need to voluntarily try to start a kehillah because the government takes care of it. But if Jews wish to have Masorti services, programs, education, etc., they need to organize and pay for it themselves. They need to create a kehillah.

“Rabbah” – This is the title used by many to refer to a rabbi who is a woman. While, in English, the title “rabbi” is gender neutral, Hebrew is not a gender neutral language. So a feminine construct for a title that used to apply only to males is now necessary. The Masorti movement is proud that so many of its spiritual leaders hold the title “Rabbah.”

Rabbah Schwartz serves a relatively new congregation in the city of Petah Tikvah, a large city not far from Tel Aviv. We at Shomrei were approached by the Masorti movement in Israel with the idea of partnering with a sister kehillah in Israel. We are fortunate to begin our partnership with Rabbah Michal Schwartz and the Petah Tikvah Masorti Kehillah.

The first step in our partnership is the monthly column that Rabbah Schwartz will write for Kol Emunah. This is the first column – she-he-hi-ya-nu! – how happy we are to begin this partnership and friendship together!

Shwarts, Rabbah Michal

On Life Here in Times Like These
by Rabbah Michal Schwartz

Shalom. My name is Michal.

I was born in Israel and have lived all my life here. My parents are secular, from the Tel Aviv area. My in-laws are Orthodox, from Petah Tikvah. I and my husband have raised six children with a Masorti upbringing. This complexity is challenging and interesting at the same time.

I devote my professional life to education – in the kehillah and in school. I hope to reach many Israelis and to plant within them the seeds of tolerance for Judaism in all her varieties.

These days the State of Israel is undergoing a difficult onslaught of terror. The reasons, the struggles and the question – “Who is right?- are not relevant because they do not affect the reality.

Daily life in Israel is routine, as always. We go to work and kids go to school and to visit friends. Perhaps you will ask – How is that possible? So, the answer is: there is no other way. Life is so strong, the routine is so stable, that they can withstand any fears.

Of course, under the surface the constant fear is there – Maybe today the attack will hit me, too?

So, therefore, we travel more by vehicles, and less by foot. We go more to malls which have guards standing at their entrances and we don’t shop on the streets as much.

And that’s it.

Beyond this we simply live. And within our lives there are questions of educating the children, making a living, getting along with our neighbors. And meanwhile the seasons change and the holidays come and go.

The month of Tishrei, the first month of the year, has passed. It was a month overflowing with holidays and vacation times. Rosh Ha-Shanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, Simhat Torah – Tishrei is full of happenings, excitement and joy. Tishrei is a fragrant and tasty month. When it left, it took along the aromas of the festival and the etrog and made room instead for the smell of cold earth, saturated with water.

The month of Heshvan is one with no holidays or extra days off. But, nevertheless, Heshvan is a very important month, especially in the land of Israel. Israel is a desert land. She has few sources or reservoirs of water. Heshvan is the month of prayer, of hope and anticipation. The dry, long summer is behind us. Last year’s produce has already been gathered into our silos. Now we look forward to the rains of the new year. The crops of grain, the fruit, the vegetables and the amount of drinking water for this coming year all depend on the amount of rains that will fall this winter. Every year the month of Heshvan starts anew in anxiety and in hope. Without water – there is no life.

The Hebrew language is built out of roots that turn into words. Every root has the capacity to form words of many and varied meanings. The root g-sh-m is like that. The word geshem – rain – is born from this root. And the word hagshamah – fulfillment – is also the daughter of the root g-sh-m. In antiquity rain was the sign of fulfillment of prayer. The prayer for rain encompassed within it the yearning for plenty, for security, enrichment, sustenance, and even for peace, for, when there is plenty of food for all, there is no need to start wars.

We are now in the midst of Heshvan, the first winter month in the Hebrew calendar, the month in which we begin to ask for rain in our prayers – “give dew and rain for blessing upon the earth” – we do not pray for just any kind of rain. We pray for rain in the right amount.

May this month of Heshvan, 5776, bring us rains of blessing and may we merit to fulfill all our hearts’ desires for goodness, for life and for peace.

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Rabbah Michal Schwartz

Rabbah Michal Schwartz

Rabbah (Rabbi) Michal Schwartz is hard at work building a Masorti (Conservative) kehillah (community) in Petah Tikva Israel.This community is a sister congregation to Congregation Shomei Emunah.
Rabbah Michal Schwartz

Latest posts by Rabbah Michal Schwartz (see all)

2 thoughts on “Letter From Israel: On Life Here in Times Like These

  1. Welcome, Rabbah Schwartz! I have a friend who grew up in Colombia, where guerrilla terror was a constant threat until very recently. Her reaction was the same as Rabbah Schwartz’s: one had to live as if life were normal, or one would go insane.

    I look forward to reading her future columns.

  2. It is wonderful to have a “sister” in Israel. I look forward to many communications and hopefully visits between our communities

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