February 27, 2015 admin

The work of the living God

‘By open, I mean open’, he said, ‘We’re all together here, Jews, Christians, Muslims; we’re all human beings and that’s what’s important to me’. I’m sitting in the kitchen of the artist Eytan George with his cat on the chair next to me. ‘When I came to Acco after the accident, I fell in love with the place. When I first moved in the neighbours’ children used to throw stones at the cats. Now if they find an injured animal we take it to the vet together. I make art out of stones and rubbish. When the police first saw me picking things up they asked for my identity card; now they drop things round at my door.’ His home is full of beautiful ceramics, the garden full plants he has grown. The artwork, crafted of the simplest things, rice, pebbles, richly coloured threads, has a haunting grace, especially the depiction of his beloved horses. What he sells is for the benefit of Reuth, the rehabilitation hospital in Tel Aviv which brought him back to health.

From his home we go together to Kishorit, a caring community of adults with special needs. We rejoice in the organic vegetable garden where the broccoli and sweet peas, the tomatoes and peppers set a challenge for our little synagogue garden. ‘Would you like to see the goats?’ ‘But of course!’ The smallest kids are scarcely one day old. After a while I retreat, nibbled by a dozen small but versatile mouths. Across the yard are the free range organically fed chickens, laying thousands of eggs each year. I’m hoping we shall have some too in our back yard; the local foxes have already voted unanimously in favour. I meet James, who lives here, whose Bar Mitzvah in our synagogue on Shabbat Chanukkah I remember with love. He’s spent the morning picking strawberries. On Friday he’ll be running the half marathon. There are people in this village of all ages, from every kind of background.

The next day Simon Lichtman and Rivanna take me to the Nissui (experimental) school in the centre of Jerusalem, a supporter for over twenty years of their work in bringing Arab and Jewish Israeli children together. The hallways are cold in the bright February morning but the school is warm with affection for the children. We sit with the headmaster and discuss the importance of encounter in education, of the creation of a confident understanding of self which is open and nuanced, rich with the plurality of the cultures which nourish us and open to others who are different from ourselves. To have such a dream in times of ease is one matter; to refuse to abandon it in years of threat and tension is another.

We warm ourselves up over coffee with Ala, a young Muslim from Ein Rafa, where Simon and Rivanna also work. ‘We have a responsibility’, he says. ‘Anyone can make the worst of a situation; we must seize the chance to make the best of it. Jews, Arabs, people are intelligent, aspiring; we can work for life.’ He devotes himself to creating engaging and enterprising activities for the youth of villages where there is little spare money, opportunity, or parental time.

That evening the conference for the Masorti rabbis of Europe begins with a talk by Rabbi Tamar Elad-Appelbaum. Her presence expresses a radiance which can only emanate from a person who is whole-hearted in her aspirations. What does she care about? – A Judaism which is deeply and passionately spiritual; a love of the land which is both ancient and modern and inclusive of all its peoples; an understanding of Jewish law in which men and women are equal; a deep acceptance of people as they are; a renewal of values and the restoration of the true meaning of community.

Yes, there are plenty of details to attend to, and matters to be mended, but the hours at the Conservative Yeshivah (an institution with which we should all cease to be unfamiliar) fly by in study and debate, drawing our colleagues closer across the pages of the Talmud. In the words of the famous saying ‘These and these are the words of the living God’, and the art, the organic vegetables, the goats and chickens which feed on them, and all these people who have the courage to follow their visions are the work of the living God too. Thank you for your inspiration!

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