Rabbinic Mission to Israel

Day 3 -- A day of Encounters


There have only been a hand full of times in my life when I have encountered true greatness; today was one of them. This morning our group met with Ms. Rachel Fraenkel, the mother of Naftali Fraenkel, one of the boys who was abducted and killed just weeks ago. Thrust into the public prominence, Ms. Fraenkel is a truly extraordinary woman. She is a woman filled strength, humility and true faith. It was a privilege to meet her.

Rachel described her life over the past several weeks as filled with “boundless pain and boundless love.” She still cannot imagine that her beloved Naftali will never come home but she was grateful for all the love and kindness that people have shown her over these weeks first leading up to the discovery of Naftali and following his funeral during Shiva and Sheloshim.

Despite her Orthodox identity, Ms. Fraenkel came to congregation Ramat Zion to thank us for our wishes and concerns. Ramat Zion is a Masorti/Conservative congregation on French Hill in Jerusalem. She apologized for not being able to invite us to her home but that she was trying to create some semblance of quiet for her children who have been through so much. Rachel also spoke out and publically criticized the retaliatory killing of Muhammad Abu Khdeir shortly after her son and his friends were found. And she actually called Muhammad’s family while she was still sitting Shiva.

Rachel Fraenkel exudes compassion and openness to the world. We should have been there to comfort her and yet Rachel put us at ease and comforted us. She gave us hope in the face of cruelty and violence. She made us believe that with faith one can overcome almost anything – that in the face of such ugliness there is still beauty and meaning in the world. There is a ‘realness’ and an authenticity about this woman that goes beyond description. We could feel her broken heart and her faith that life is worth living at the same time. I suspect we

will hear more from Rachel in coming years – that she may not have chosen leadership she will emerge as one of the great leaders of the Jewish people

This was a day of encounters. In addition to meeting with Rachel Fraenkel, our group met with Talia Levanon of the Israel Trauma Coalition, an organization that has brought together forty different organizations working to help Israelis deal with the daily traumas that are unfortunately part of the life of far too many Israelis.

This organization was founded around the time of the gulf war so many years ago. But what began as an attempt to deal with a single trauma has become a necessity to deal with daily ongoing traumas.

The ITC works not only with Israelis of all background but with Bedouins and anyone else in need of counseling in Israel. They have gone all over the world sharing their knowledge of trauma and both counselling and teaching others how to help those suffering from all forms of Post-Traumatic Stress. One might say, “Out of Zion shall come the Torah of healing those who suffer from PTS…” The ITC provides serves to those who have suffered from trauma (that might include almost everyone in Israel today), care for the teams who counsel and care for others, and it has created city wide models to help communities face all types of traumatic experiences whether it is a storm, a fire, or falling rockets.

Ms. Levanon worries that the after effects of Protective Edge will have long term repercussions for months and years ahead that we cannot even begin to imagine. The number of communities affected by such trauma has increased from thirty to sixty communities – and it might continue to grow until no community is immune. In addition there is the trauma of dealing with family that is on the front. This war she said is like no other and they have already seen a significant increase in calls for help. Ms Levanon said that when she encounters people now, “The eyes tell the story but we have to continue.” They have not even begun their hard work – one cannot teach people to cope in the heat of the moment.

Imagine – this is the first experience of the French Immigrants that have been arriving in Israel. So ITC is training French and Spanish speaking social workers so they can help these people. But here is the most amazing thing. ITC has been in Jordan, training Jordanians so they can help the many refugees who are arriving in their country from Syria!

We then met with Minister of Justice Tzipi Livni. She is also a remarkable woman who has an amazing presence. She took time out from her busy schedule before going to meet with Kerry.

I need to add a few words about our Masorti congregations. We have visited several of them over the past two days. And we can be proud of what these congregations are doing for their members, for the people of their communities and for Israeli life. The rabbis serving these congregations are strong and resilient and great spokesmen for Masorti Judaism. I believe that there fight is more than just a fight for turf – it is about trying to create a society in Israel that is open and built on the highest Jewish values I am proud to call them colleagues. They are also in the ‘thick of things.’ Like everyone else their boys and girls are on the front and they are experiencing sleepless nights. They cannot forget where they are; from the porch outside the synagogue on French Hill, one could actually see Iron Dome across the valley.

While we were meeting, a funeral was taking place on Mount Herzl. Max Steinberg, a lone soldier from California was killed the other day. Concerned that he would not have any family in attendance, thirty five thousand people showed up at his funeral. Israel is a society that does not take the service of a single soldier for granted…

On to the Knesset where we spent time with speaker of the Knesset Yuli Edelstein, another man I remember from days of engagement with Soviet Jewry. Edelstein spent three years in prison in the former Soviet Union before making Aliya – and now he has one of the highest positions in the Knesset. We also spoke with Elazar Shtern and Dov Lipmann, two other members of the Knesset. All three spoke about the “situation” in Gaza but also addressed some of our ongoing concerns regarding pluralism in Israeli society and questions regarding conversion. All three of these men wear kippot, but one senses that they understand some of the concerns of Masorti Judaism. At least some leaders in Israel there is a growing understanding that we have something to contribute to the welfare of the state of Israel.