Monday, February 20, 2012

Mifgash Means Encounter, Part 1

Six months ago, some of us thought holding a day long conference with the Fellows and Mentors of the Leadership Institute and a group of Israel public school principals was not a good idea. We are bringing people thousands of miles for a mere 9 days of traveling and learning in the land. How could we devote more than 10% of that time in classrooms? We were certain there would be a revolt.

Still, the plans progressed. Evie Rotstein - our fearless leader - along with Roberta Bell-Kligler and David Mittelberg and the rest of their staff at Oranim framed the conference around the idea of Jewish Peoplehood.  Mittelberg described the idea of Jewish Peoplehood as emerging from a dialogic discourse. It describes both process and content. He invited the combined American/Israeli group of educators to explore and model what Jewish People can emerge to be. 

Doctor David Mittelberg
He cited two studies (NJPS 2000 and Avi Chai/Guttman 2012) that indicate that both American and Israeli Jews have between an 80 - 93% sense of connection to the Jewish people. So what is the problem with that? Why a conference and a whole department of Jewish Peoplehood at Oranim? Mittelberg says that both Israeli and Diaspora Jewries are partial and incomplete. Neither can do it on their own. Both communities see imparting a sense of connectedness to our children as real challenge.

In Israel, he said, being Jewish is a matter of fact. In the United States, it is a matter of choice. The problem is both in variety of degree and in type. In Israel being Jewish is taken for granted. In the U.S. being Jewish cannot be taken for granted. And being born Jewish in either place is no guarantee anymore that you will stay Jewish. He suggested that only in our mifgash (encounter) with each other can we make up for each of our deficiencies.

He said quite a bit more, and I refer you to the resources at the bottom of this posting for more detail. It was an amazing mifgash. So much so that this is coming in three posts, as I sit at Ben Gurion waiting to go home a week later. I was skeptical about having this conference. It was the highlight of an amazing trip with a wonderful group of educators. Evie, I was wrong. You, Roberta and David were right. Now we need to have more of these mifgashim between American and Israeli educators or it will just have been a great day. It needs to be the beginning of a long and truly essential conversation.

Resources on Peoplehood:
Convergent and Divergent Dimensions of Jewish Peoplehood - David Mittelberg (pdf)
Jewish Peoplehood Education: Framing the Field - Shlomi Ravid & Varda Rafaeli
Towards Jewish Peoplehood - David Mittelberg (pdf)
Jewish Educational Leadership - A Guide to Jewish Peoplehood
ewish Peoplehood

Crossposted to Leadership Insitute: The Blog!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

The Culinary Queens of Yerucham put Sallah Shabbati to bed!

Topol as Sallah Shabbati
Many of us of a certain age (50ish and older) were shown the Israeli movie Sallah Shbbati - in youth group, or in religious school, or - as in my case - on a rainy day at camp, cooped up in a M*A*S*H style tent we called the Beit Am. It was a black and white, and was made in 1964. It was for a long time the most successful film in Israeli history. It starred two actors who were then unknown outside of Israel, Gila Almagor and Topol - before he starred as Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof or as Hans Zarkov in Flash Gordon.
Danny Yarhi, writing in iMDB describes the film:
A Yemenite Jewish family that was flown to Israel during "Operation Magic Carpet" - a clandestine operation that flew 49,000 Yemenite Jews to Israel the year after the state was formed - is forced to move to a government settlement camp. The patriarch of the family tries to make money and get better housing, in a country that can barely provide for its own and is in the midst absorbing hundreds of thousands of Jewish refugees from Arab countries. Humor, sensitivity, politics and music highlight this capsule of history.
It was an hysterically funny comedy. Seeing it years later with a much deeper knowledge of Israeli history, that comedy turns out to be an incredibly biting dark satire and social commentary on Israeli society in the 50's. It brings out the best and worst of Israel - the wondrous rescue of nearly forgotten Jews and the far less than ideal treatment of non-Ashkenazi Jews by the European born or descended elites of Israel.

I recall one scene where Sallah is given a job planting trees by the Jewish National Fund. An official plants a sign next to the saplings with the name of a couple from the Diaspora. As a driver brings them up to the forest, the official tells them that thanks to their generosity, this was "their" forest. As soon as they left, the official took down the sign and replaced it with one with another name, just as another official drove up with another donor from abroad. Sallah accuses the official of dishonesty. When the next donors come to see "their" forest, Sallah starts plucking the new trees out of the ground!

As a member of the Leadership Institute, I had the pleasure for the second time to visit with one of the Culinary Queens of Yerucham. It was created by Atid Bamidbar (The Future is in the Desert) to "create opportunities for local women with no or low incomes, from diverse ethnic groups in town, to host visiting groups from Israel and abroad in their homes for an enriching multicultural culinary and human experience. The encounter gives visitors a great meal, warm hospitality, and insight into the lives of local residents and Jewish ethnic traditions; it provides the hostesses with added income, a boost to self-esteem and a widening of horizons."

It was all of that and more.

Mazal and her husband Jojo were wonderful and 20 of us had a wonderful meal. And the best part was Jojo's storytelling. He was animated, expressive and funny. He told of coming from Tunisia at the age of five with his parents. They wanted to go to Jerusalem. They were loaded on a truck at the port and driven through the night. They were told they were in Jerusalem and dumped in the desert. He has been in Yerucham ever since. He also told the story of their courtship. Rather than explain it, here are three videos!


Part I

Mazal and the other Queens have taken the dark satire of Sallah Shabbati and set it aside. They are part of several projects from Atid Bamidbar and other agencies like Nativ that are changing the face of Yerucham and other development towns in the Negev. Sallah seemed to have little hope. Not so any more.

And think about how the culinary queens are one of many projects that is helping this community that has spent so long in the economic trough climb out. And make it a point to visit them for lunch! It is worth it!

Part II 

  Part III

Crossposted to Leadership Institute: The Blog!