You will be happy to know that I arrived in Israel safely on Monday afternoon, though if you want to get technical, you could say I arrived in Israel on Sunday afternoon when I boarded my El AL flight in Los Angeles. The minute you step on an EL AL plane you feel like you are in Israel. From the accents of the flight attendants to the twenty-something passengers adorned in their Birthright t-shirts, there is no doubt where you are or where you are going.
People watching on the plane is always a good sport. I sat amidst a multi-generational Persian family from LA that was going to Israel to celebrate a bar mitzvah. There were the parents, the two children, an aunt, two cousins and a grandmother. I never met this family before, but after fifteen hours on the plane together we were mishpacha. The two brothers, one thirteen and the other eleven did not sleep the entire trip. I only know this, because I too didn’t sleep a minute. I could blame them, but it might have been the half a dozen infants being dragged around the plane by their parents to try and keep them busy.
Before they built the new airport in Tel Aviv, when a plane landed you would taxi to an area on the tarmac and then be bused to the hall where they had the Customs and Passport Control. One could watch as people arriving to Israel for the first time would get down on their knees and kiss the ground. But now, you taxi right to an arrival gate and deplane directly into the airport. You will have to wait until you walk outside to catch your ride to be able to kiss the ground, but by then the mood is probably lost.
There was no question where my first dinner would be on Monday night, Burgers Bar, which inconveniently sits meters from my hotel.
Just looking at this picture should give you an idea about why I say its location is “inconvenient.”
Jet-lag (or heart-burn) got the best of me the first night and I did not sleep much. But my days start bright and early each morning. After a delicious Israeli style breakfast of things we most often associate with lunch or dinner, I set off for my program at the Hartman Institute. I am here for an intensive ten days of Torah study with about a hundred and seventy other rabbis (queue the jokes) from around the U.S., Canada, Israel and even a couple rabbis from Europe and South America.
The overall theme for the seminar is Derech Eretz, which I would loosely define as civility. We are looking at how Derech Eretz is discussed in the Torah, the Talmud, later rabbinic writing and even modern-day scholarship. Our goal is to see how the Jewish principles of Derech Eretz can be applied to our lives today. How does Derech Eretz speak to the way we conduct ourselves with our family, friends, or coworkers? How do we act with Derech Eretz in our political discourse? How does Derech Eretz address how members of the opposite sex speak to each other? What can we learn from it about our obligations to those less fortunate, minorities, immigrants, and more. I think you get the picture.
A typical day of the seminar starts at 8:30 AM with an introduction by the scholar who will be giving that morning's talk. They introduce the texts that we will be studying to prepare for the lecture. We then break off into groups of two, three or four rabbis and spend about two hours pouring over the material in the typical rabbinic style of known as Hevruta, the give and take, back and forth, discussing and arguing about the meaning of the texts.
Once the preparation is completed we come together for the next hour and half to listen to the scholar elucidate the texts for us.
Lunch is followed by a short break and then another lecture. On Tuesday we got to hear from Tal Becker. Tal is a principal deputy legal advisor at the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs and is a senior member of the Israeli peace negotiating team. He talked about a myriad of topics affecting Israel today from the situation in Gaza to the Trump peace plan and everything in between.
The afternoon is devoted to elective classes. I chose a class on what Judaism says about abundance and wealth within the Jewish community. I hope to enrich you with insights I gain from the class.
They serve us dinner and we end the evening with a final lecture given by one of the many Hartman Fellows. On the Fourth of July, they treated us to a bbq with hot dogs, hamburgers and beer but no fireworks.
It is a long intense day, but they have lots of snacks, coffee and tea to keep us going.
Finally, while I happened to be in town, I had a special treat. The Brill family is in Jerusalem to celebrate Sid’s Bar Mitzvah at the Kotel. I was excited to be here and be able to join them.
I will send another dispatch after shabbat.