How do you say “I do” in Greek?

Written by Emily

My name is Emily, I am the Development Associate at IRAC, (a fancy way for saying assistant), and for my first IRAC bog entry I am going to complain.

I made aliyah to Israel over two years ago, right after I finished my BA at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. I wouldn’t say that I was idealistic, I knew what I was getting myself into and I knew that Israel was not the perfect country. But that was part of the reason I wanted to come, to help make things better, and I think that by working at IRAC I am staying true to that desire.

What I did not expect upon moving to Israel, and what I was not emotionally or mentally prepared for (and still do not know how to deal with), is how Israel would constantly disappoint me, over and over and over again. Yes, there have been many times that I have been proud to be Jewish and newly-Israeli, and have felt reaffirmed in my choice to move here, but there have been far too many instances recently where I have questioned, at the most basic level, “what is going on here?” and “is this a downward spiral that I really want to be a part of?” Thomas Friedman explains my feelings well (as he often does) in his recent NY Times article. I am confused.

A recent, personal, exemplification of my confusion and disappointment in Israel came this past November when I decided to get married. I know that the lack of a civil marriage option in Israel has been discussed here before, and this is just one more story of two Israeli citizens who have been denied a basic right by their government.

Neither my partner nor myself are religious Jews, and the thought of having a wedding that does not reflect who we are, but instead forces someone else’s religious observances on us, was out of the question. Instead, we had the pleasure of spending a bundle of money to leave Israel, a country we are both citizens of, but denies us the right to get married in a civil ceremony, and travel to Cyprus. There is a whole marriage industry that has sprung up in Cyprus as a result of this situation and we paid a travel agent to organize everything for us: the flight to Cyprus, the transportation to the Aradippou City Hall and the awkward “ceremony” where the Mayor spoke in such a thick accent that we had trouble understanding him, but said yes anyway.

Am I happy that I had the chance to spend a few days in Cyprus? Yes, it is a nice country and we made the best of the situation by renting a car and traveling a bit, but am I happy about the “wedding experience” that I was forced into? No. Not one bit.

Though we are planning a real wedding in Israel with our family and friends, I will always know that my legal wedding was awkward, lonely and a little bit sad. True, I could have forgotten about my values and given in to the Israeli Rabbinute, but anyone who knows me will know that this was never an option.

Israel has disappointed me on numerous occasions but this time it was personal, and I will never forget it. I can only hope that I will still be around to see the day when all Israelis are given the basic right to have an Israeli wedding ceremony that fits who they are.

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Cheapening the faith

Written by Katie

As I start the process of applying to Rabbinical school next year, I am continually inspired by the rabbis I meet. I always knew they were leaders of various communities but until the past few years I never knew them on such a personal level. Not only are they smart and spiritual but they are doing acts of social justice in the world. My friends in Rabbinical school are involved with Occupy Wall Street, Encounter, soup kitchens, and so much more. My rabbi at home is incredibly knowledgeable, a mensch, makes sure that our synagogue has a 24 hours 365 day a year homeless shelter, and is involved in lots of interfaith work. That is the kind of rabbi I am aspiring to become.

That is why when I first started learning about the issues of racist incitement by rabbis in Israel I was shocked. These rabbis have said some of the following things:

  • “It is reasonable to harm a child if it is obvious that they will grow up to harm us, and, in such a situation, they will be deliberately harmed (and not merely damaged in an attack aimed at the adults)” The King’s Torah by Rabbis Yitzhak Shapira and Yosef Elitzur
  • Again and again it emerges that ostensibly cheap Arab labor actually wreaks the heaviest of prices on us, in blood. The murderous tractors driven by Arabs from East Jerusalem are merely the tip of the iceberg of a national problem that has long since become an existential danger that threatens the well-being of the nation dwelling in Zion, as sources of livelihood are usurped and Jews are displaced at every turn. Through the creeping seizure of Jewish neighborhoods, through insolence and audacity, through increasing verbal and physical violence, through the systematic and deliberate offense to the honor of Jewish women, and up to the point of intermarriage with Jewish women who fall into their net…The time has come to tell the truth: Providing a livelihood for our enemies leads to grave consequences…”        A response to blood spilled poster
  • “The letting of real estate to a non-Jew… is an act of treason against the Torah and the Holy People… A Jew who transfers possession of land to a Gentile, from the date of this ruling, shall not be able to serve as a public emissary [in the synagogue], is not to be included in the prayer quorum, and is certainly not to be called up to read from the Torah.” The New Sanhedrin Group Halachic ruling

This is not what someone who is well versed in Torah should stand for.  This is not what rabbis were meant to be. Rabbis should be preaching tolerance and love of the stranger. After all G-d tells us to love the stranger as ourselves 36 times in the Torah because we were strangers in the land of Egypt. The Bible is horrified by child sacrifice of other religions of antiquity because the sanctity of life is so important. In the Talmud in Tractate Sanhedrin 37a it says “whoever preserves a single lifeit is as if he has saved an entire world.”  I could go on and on.

That is why I was glad to join IRAC in its fight against racism. They have been monitoring these rabbis for years and compiling information on them. IRAC has brought 48 complaints to the courts and in only 18 was a criminal investigation opened. In only 5 of these cases was the rabbi indited for a criminal offense and in only ONE case was the rabbi convicted of the crime. His punishment was to serve community service hours in his own Yeshiva. This is unacceptable that the state seems to be saying rabbis are above the law.

Two weeks ago, I got to go to a Supreme Court where it was obvious that the court room was designed with the Torah in mind. Anat Hoffman, our executive director, pointed out all its interesting features to me. There are no corners in the court rooms because justice is round since it is a combination of mercy and judgement. There is a skylight where natural light pours into the room. This is based on a quote from Isaiah 45:8 where he states “Open up, O heavens, and pour down your righteousness.” The walls are made of latticework symbolizes the interconnectedness of all the people of Israel.

The case I was going to see was about Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu who co-wrote The King’s Torah.  The state has been saying for years that it will investigate his racist incitement and has done nothing. I loved watching this case. Our lawyers do not back down for anything and are so justified in their path that it’s hard for others to thwart them. The Supreme court sided in our favor and said the state has 60 days to inform High Court whether or not to indict Eliyahu for incitement to racism. The court was no longer letting the state turn  a blind eye to his activities and was forcing them into action. The justices just like the court room they were sitting in were being inspired by the Torah.

I’ve always had rabbis as role models of who I want to become. Now, I also have examples of the kind of rabbi I hope I will never be.