I walked the halls of my high school last week for the first time since I graduated 46 years ago. It was, no pun intended, a real high: not only for reasons of sentiment and the pleasures of nostalgia—the cafeteria exactly as I remembered it; the corridors and lockers the same except for fresh coats of paint; the English class with the blackboard where I knew it would be and the desks scattered in proper disorder—but because the students of today were every bit as motivated, talented, and happy in their learning as I remembered my classmates were way back when.
Jerusalem was on edge this week, its Jews fearful of the next knifing or shooting that would come soon and without warning; its Arabs subject to added inspections and fearful of police and Jewish popular anger alike. Fewer people than usual were on the sidewalks; busses had fewer riders, with soldiers prominent among them.
What I will most remember about the recent multireligious gathering with Pope Francis at the National September 11 Memorial and Museum is the hush that awaited and greeted him. I don’t remember anyone giving a direction for silence.
Forty years ago this fall, I moved into an apartment in the Kiryat Moshe neighborhood of Jerusalem and began participating in a program called Mishmar Ezrachi, or civil guard.
I write to urge you to support MERCAZ USA: Slate #2 (Masorti / Conservative Movement) in the World Zionist Organization (WZO) elections that are taking place now through the month of April.
At the first-ever Israeli conference devoted to the religious thought and political activism of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, former professor of Jewish Ethics and Mysticism at JTS, which took place in Jerusalem a few weeks ago, my subject was the talk that Heschel himself gave in Jerusalem in 1957 at a conference of world Jewish leaders gathered by Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion and future president Zalman Shazar.
As I was driving in Tel Aviv the other day, a commercial came on the radio that caused me to sit up and take notice. It featured “Ma’oz Tzur” sung to the tune of “Jingle Bells,” followed by a resonant male voice that asked the listener to imagine what might happen if Santa Claus lit Hanukkah candles this year. Many Israelis are making a similar move, the announcer continued, trading in German-made automobiles for Cadillacs: “Shouldn’t you think of joining them?”
Author David Bezmozgis, in dialogue with me a few weeks ago before an overflow audience at Beth Tzedec Congregation in Toronto, put his finger on a basic point of Diaspora Jewish life that to my mind is too often skirted, ignored, or denied.