Coming Home

Posted on June 30, 2023 by Cantor Risa Wallach

Just this past week, some of us at TBE returned from a congregation trip to Israel, led by rabbi Gluck and his longtime friend and master tour guide, Yitzchak Sokoloff. Our time there was filled with overflowing feasts of all of the senses, as well as a full and rich schedule of places to see, and visionary speakers and activists to meet. We saw so much of the country, from the Negev to the Dead Sea to Jerusalem, Tzfat, Haifa to Tel Aviv. We visited the home of Israel’s first Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion on the Kibbutz to which he retired, saw the Blaustein Research Center supported by the Roswell family of Temple Beth-El, stayed in the very beautiful Orient Hotel in Jerusalem, attended Shabbat morning services at the HUC campus there, attended Women of the Wall’s services at the women’s section of the Kotel, swam in the enormous pools at Sachne, and much, much more.

For me, the time spent with congregants as well as others who joined our trip, getting to know them better and sharing experiences of a lifetime was truly delightful. It must also be said that while we were on our trip, terrible violence occurred in the West Bank/ Judea resulting in harm and death to both Israelis and Palestinians. Settler violence in particular is something we must continually condemn and disavow.

We were also privileged, on our last night in Tel Aviv, to meet with Minister of the Keneset and Reform rabbi, Gilad Kariv, a true hero of the arduous effort in Israel to carve out space for progressive, egalitarian Judaism and social justice, in a country where far right-wing forces control the government and the ultra-Orthodox dominate much of religious life.

Our parashah this week, Chukat-Balak, includes a mention of the Wadi Tzin, a dry river bed that periodically fills with water or flash floods (viewable on Youtube). The Israelites walked through the Wadi before Miriam died, and she was buried not far away.

On our TBE trip we rode jeeps over a very rocky and rough road to a magical spring, where we swam in a deep pool in the desert, and watched blue and red butterflies land on the rocks. During that bumpy jeep ride, Sarah Gluck and Rabbi Shirah Gluck noticed that we drove through and into the Wadi Tzin. We walked the trail of the Israelites and swam where they may have found water. The stories of our Torah become much more vivid when we stand in the places where they occurred, and feel the winds and the heat that the Israelites may have also felt!

Returning home to the smoky skies here in NJ and two new difficult decisions by the US Supreme Court, I’m aware that our world is rocked by crises wherever we look. I pray fervently that the peace and light of Shabbat will help all of the Jewish people to discern with wisdom how to direct our energies toward increasing the good, the hopeful and the joyous in ourselves and in others. Our planet, our future and our children depend on it.

May all on earth find a way to dwell beneath their vine and fig tree, and may none be made to feel afraid. Ken Y’hi Ratzon, may this be so.

Shabbat shalom,
Cantor Risa Wallach