Israel Bonds Rabbinic Cabinet Mission, Day Two

When it comes to a “mixed” group of rabbis (Reform, Conservative and Orthodox, male and female) traveling together on a mission like ours, I can always tell how successful the trip will be based on who shows up for the first morning’s minyan. And this morning’s minyan surpassed my expectations. Nearly every rabbi arrived within the first 10 minutes of our 7am start time! Yes, a couple slept in and a couple got there a bit later, but the tone for the group was set.

After breakfast, we were addressed by Gidi Grinstein, president and founder of the Reut Institute, a non-profit think tank focused on effecting political and social change within Israeli society. (See http://www.Reut-Institute.org for more.) He was engaging and challenging, as he highlighted many issues that Israel confronts in defining what it means to be a Jewish nation-state in todays Jewish world. He shared that the success of the Jewish project for 26 centuries has been based upon a societal structure of a broad network of smaller units, all struggling to be ¬†adaptable to changing social, economic and political conditions while trying to hold onto our traditions and values. He coined the term “flexigidity” to characterize our behavior. Interestingly, he surprised us all by asserting that, with more than half the world’s Jews living in Israel and most of the rest living in the United States, the resulting model has hurt the relationships that Jews have shared with each other inside of Israel, and the relationship that Jewish communities of the Diaspora share with Israel. The solution he suggests? Relationships, of course! One to one, and community to community.

We took our comments and debriefing onto the bus and headed to our next stop. CheckPoint is an Israeli start up software company that invented the first firewall, and now claims all 500 of the Fortune 500 as its clients. As an internet security technology company, CheckPoint represents the best of Israeli ingenuity, innovation and competitive strategy on a global scale, and addresses threats that range in scale from script kiddie hackers to cyber-terrorists. Cool!

After lunch, we visited another cutting edge company changing the world for the better. Would you believe I am talking about a sewage treatment facility? And can you believe I am not making any potty jokes??? In all seriousness, water shortage is a major issue in Israel and in many other areas of the world that find themselves on the edge of the desert. The Shafdan Wastewater Reclamation Facility recycles an astounding 85 percent of its waste water as potable. (Compare that with the second leading country in the world, India, at 15 percent!) We had a Disneyworld-like tour through the facility and an actual city pipeline (it was dry, carpeted, and lit!), and learned how Israel’s ingenuity is solving issues of water shortage, and contamination for the Negev and the world.

Back on dry land, we concluded our day with an emotional visit to the Western Wall. The egalitarian rabbis among us prayed together in the new area of the Kotel, the Azarat Yisrael, where men and women are given access to the Wall together. For the first time in the history of the Cabinet’s missions, a woman led the rabbis in prayer. The significance of the moment was not lost on any of us.

The snow should be coming to you once again just as we start our new day. Be safe. More tomorrow.

Rabbi Craig Scheff

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