Stay Safe, Minnesota

Dear Bet Shalom,

In just a few hours, the Stay Home order in Minnesota becomes the Stay Safe order and our state will start to reopen.  We urge you to take caution and stay safe.  There are so many opinions about how to behave.  Some of those opinions are scientific and based in real medical fact, and others are not.  And of course what the doctors and scientists know grows and evolves each day.  So please stay informed and be careful.  Wear a mask when you are around others and maintain proper physical distancing.  Stay At Home is ending, but the danger of the virus continues.  

There is a story in the Talmud about Rabbi Shimon bar Yochi who was a rabbinic sage with a temper.  He once was sentenced to death by Rome for angrily speaking out against them and he was forced to hide in a cave sustaining himself, in isolation, from the fruit of a carob tree and a water spring.  After 12 years, he emerged from hiding, but his anger raged when he saw how the world had changed.  As the story goes, God sent him back into the cave for another year in order to calm down and reflect.  And he was transformed.  When he finally re-emerged, the first person he saw was preparing for Shabbat and Rabbi Shimon bar Yochi was content.  Perhaps in that final year of isolation, he focused on what was most important to him and he came out looking to find that in the world.     

Many of us will come out of our caves nervous, happy, stressed out, anxious, hopeful, judgemental of behavior we see in others, angry, motivated and the list goes on.  The reality is that most of us will experience a great range of internal responses.  Our hope and prayer is that we all come back into the world a bit more focused on what is important, albeit that won’t be the same for everyone.  What is the same for everyone is that each of us is going through this pandemic at the same time.   As a member of the Bet Shalom staff reflected last week, we aren’t all in the same boat, but we are all in the same storm.  Our range of experiences is vast, but the Covid-19 Pandemic, no matter how long it lasts, is our shared story and we will be a stronger community when we get to the other side of it. 

Since we ceased in-person gatherings at Bet Shalom in March, our highest priority has been to reopen the Bet Shalom Yeladim Child Care Center when we knew we could do so safely.  As of last Monday, we are now providing care for children in our community whose parents are healthcare professionals or essential workers, and others who are working from home or are being called back into the workplace.  We are proud that we can contribute to society in this early phase of reopening and we are doing so thoughtfully and carefully.   

Almost everything else we do as a community has moved somewhat seamlessly into virtual space.  It isn’t perfect, but we now know we can “gather” for Shabbat and holiday services, funerals, baby naming ceremonies, B’nai Mitzvah, Confirmation, Religious School and Adult Education even when we cannot physically come together.  Until we are certain we can provide a safe gathering space for everyone who calls Bet Shalom their synagogue home, we will continue to congregate in virtual space for everything except the Child Care Center.

There is so much which we can look forward to with optimism.  And we optimistically look forward to the day when we can come back to our beautiful synagogue home.  In the meantime, we continue, as a community, to be Bet Shalom.  We are here for you, as you are here for each other as well.

We hope to see you this coming Saturday night at 6:00 pm for our Bet Shalom Celebration.

Rabbi David Locketz                   

Rabbi Jill Crimmings                   

Steve Barberio, Executive Director

Phil Ecker, President

Shalom From Rabbi Locketz and Updates

Dear Bet Shalom Family,

As Shabbat approaches this week, it is hard to believe we have been physically distant for close to two months. We have learned a lot about ourselves and our community during this time. We are physically distant, but we remain close in so many ways. There have been some tiny, tiny silver linings that have buoyed us.  Most people had not heard the word “zoom” in the context of video conferencing two months ago, and now, most of us understand it as the lifeline that has kept us connected across great distance.

As Minnesota begins to slowly reopen, I am grateful for the leadership in our state who are being creative, sensitive and supportive while modeling a thoughtful approach which takes a 1000 factors into consideration all at once. A complicated balance is needed for each decision and we at Bet Shalom continue to look to our Governor and local authorities as to when and how we can return to our beautiful building and campus. Our approach to these decisions will be at least as conservative as the guidelines coming from the Minnesota Department of Health.  

At this time, our goal is to first open our Early Childhood Center, Bet Shalom Yeladim, as soon as we can in order to support the families in our community who need childcare so they can return to work as they are called to do. Opening other parts of Bet Shalom will follow in due time. 

I want to thank the 73 volunteers and staff members who have served as Network Captains and have kept our community even more connected than we were before. They will continue to connect with you to make sure you have what you need and to remind you that Bet Shalom is here for all of us as a vital support system and community. In addition to the captains, I want to thank the sizable group who have been at the ready to grocery shop and take care of other needs in our membership as they have arisen. 

 If you find that now you are able to make regular calls to members, or shop for others, please let me know. This has been a time of greater anxiety and need for support for so many of us. 

If you feel you would benefit from participation in our Bet Shalom Anxiety Support Group or in our Alzheimer’s Caregiver Support Group, please contact Amy Yoelin for details. These monthly groups are truly jewels in our crown and have been so helpful as points of support in our community.

We have so much to look forward to at Bet Shalom. The plants are popping out of the ground on Orchard Road and we know that even if we will not be able to gather for awhile in our sanctuary, we can soon start coming together in community to take care of our property (at an appropriate distance…we’ve received assurances from the City of Minnetonka that this will be allowed…contact for details).  

Watch for a new Member Spotlight section in HaEtone where we will share stories about you and your families (as you submit them.) 

Cantor Havilio will be joining us soon and we are so excited to welcome her family into our community.

And there is so much more to come.  In the meantime, we will of course continue to gather virtually until the time comes when we can return together in person.  Please know that Rabbi Crimmings, Steve Barberio, our staff and the Board of Trustees continue to be here to support you in this challenging time.  Do not hesitate to call on us at any time.  

I wish you each a Shabbat Shalom.  
Rabbi David Locketz

Passover Message from Our New Cantor

Shalom, Bet Shalom!  

I just finished “Zoom Tefillah” with the current Year In Israel students of Hebrew Union College who abruptly had to scatter all over the world to finish their year because of the pandemic.  They began singing the words of Rebbe Nachman of Batslav’s -”Kol Haolam Kulo Gesher Tzar M’Od/Lo Lfached Klal” – The entire world is but a very narrow bridge; the most important thing is not to be afraid. 

I sat in my kitchen and sang along and listened to one rabbinic student explain how we reach our most sacred moment in our Jewish narrative each day twice in our prayers.  We cross the Red Sea and rejoice in the miracle of being freed from slavery and sing the Song of the Sea: “Mi Chamocha Baeilim Adonai,Mi Chamocha Ne’edar Bakodesh! – Who is like You, O God, among the gods that are worshipped?”  

As I was praying with our students, I was suddenly overwhelmed by the astounding blessing of our Jewish rituals.  They never let us down in times of great joy, distress or sorrow. I was struck by the beauty of community and how we are commanded to sit down together next week at our Seder tables and “retell the story”.  We sing, we laugh, we argue and discuss and eat of course, we eat. I finished the zoom and took out our seder plate and Matzah cover and all of our Pesach recipes and began planning the meal. I checked my pantry to see if I have all of the ingredients and I suddenly became excited for the Passover meal and ceremony.  Our Seders will look different this year, but we will all be re-telling and re-connecting and REJOICING.  

I also became very aware that when we say at the end of our Seder meal, “Next year in Jerusalem,” that I am saying to myself “NEXT YEAR IN MINNETONKA!”  Not to say that I will not miss Jerusalem at this time as all of the flowers and trees are in bloom, but my Jerusalem will be with all of you on the shores of Lake Minnetonka.  

At this time I pray for all of our strength, health and eternal HOPE.  I look forward to singing, praying and learning with all of you very soon at Bet Shalom.  May you all be blessed with the wisdom from our collective Exodus story, that all of us will cross to the other side of the Red Sea and dance towards FREEDOM.  

Shabbat Shalom and Chag Pesach Sameach! 

Happy Passover!

Cantor Tamar Havilio 

COVID 19 – Updates

Dear Bet Shalom Community,

We are taking the potential spread of the Coronavirus very seriously and are assessing every day how we can best serve the needs of all our members. Our goal is to mitigate the spread of the virus and “flatten the curve” of infection. We now believe the best way to help each other is to limit our physical contact to the greatest degree possible for a period of time.  

Beginning tomorrow after Erev Shabbat services, we will be limiting programming at the Bet Shalom building to our preschool community for two weeks and will reevaluate the situation in time to make plans for Shabbat on March 27. Please be in touch with one of us for specific questions. Here is some information to keep at hand:

  • -Bet Shalom Yeladim Preschool: Starting this Wednesday, March 18, we plan to serve the families that are in absolute need of our child care services. Some of our parents are healthcare and emergency workers, others are in need in other ways. If your need goes beyond these critical care workers, please contact Amber Brumbaugh (Preschool Director) or Steve Barberio (Executive Director).
  • -Meetings & Individual appointments:  During this time, we will meet by phone or video conference when possible.  
  • -Religious School: We are now holding our programs and classes virtually. All families will receive links to join from afar. 
  • -Congregational Shabbat Services: We will continue to stream services as we normally do. You can access the video stream by clicking here or by going to the website directly.  
  • -Adult Education: Our weekly Torah study classes will be held online by video conference, and we’ll be in touch after Shabbat with that access information. Our Hasidic Masters class on Shabbat mornings is canceled for this week, and we’ll resume next week in a virtual classroom. Professor Zmora’s class on Sunday mornings is on hold until further notice.
  • -Pastoral Needs: The Health Department recommendation is to limit contact with vulnerable members – older adults, those with chronic disease, and individuals who are immunocompromised. As such, we will be connecting with you in times of need by video or by phone. Please contact Rabbi Locketz or Rabbi Crimmings if you are in need. You can also call our after hours emergency number: 612-564-3572.
  • -Lifecycle Events: For events such as funerals and shivas, please contact  Rabbi Locketz or Rabbi Crimmings, or call our after hours emergency number: 612-564-3572.

The CDC and other medical experts are telling everyone that social distancing and cancelling public space gatherings can help slow the rate of infection so we do not overwhelm our health care system. We feel what is stated above is our best contribution to that notion. While we cannot gather at the Bet Shalom building for a couple of weeks, we can “gather” in other ways. Look for us on Facebook and Instagram, as well as our website. We’ll “see” each other there until we can see each other in person, back at Bet Shalom.

Please see below our names for a communal statement from the Minnesota Rabbinical Association (MRA) and the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC).

As always, do not hesitate to contact any of us.  

Rabbi David Locketz, Rabbi Jill Crimmings, Steve Barberio, Executive Director, Phil Ecker, President of the Board of Trustees
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~MRA/JCRC Statement:         
In the face of an unprecedented global health crisis, we are committed to protecting the health and safety of the Jewish community and our neighbors, comforting those in need of support, and providing opportunities for sacred connection during this time of need. 

The value of pikuach nefesh , (saving a life) whether it be our own life, the life of a loved one, or the life of someone we have never even met, is a value that supersedes all else.  We must do our part to save lives by promoting measures that are known to curb the spread of COVID-19. Please review the common-sense guidelines from the Minnesota Department of Health. We wish to act with deliberate care, not with fear, in facing this new reality. 
We call upon all in the Jewish and greater community to practice social distancing.  In our own synagogues and organizations, we are taking proactive measures, including suspending large gatherings and non-essential small gatherings in our physical spaces. We remain committed to finding alternative ways for our communities to feel connected. 
Even as we create physical distance, we must use this moment to draw close in other ways. We recommend reaching out to family and friends to let them know about mental health, financial, safety, and preparedness resources through our work and that of Jewish Family and Children’s Service (JFCS) and Jewish Family Service (JFS). We recommend reaching out to neighbors to check in and help those who might not be able to afford or access food and medicine. This is also a time to work with other communities in an effort to enhance security, address misinformation, dispel rumors, and fight prejudice and bigotry that make our whole society ill.

As we learn about the grave impact of COVID-19, we pause to notice that anxiety is real and we must be present for one another with kindness and love. As rabbis and community leaders, we are here for you as our community navigates the emotional, spiritual, pastoral, and communal challenges we now face.  We pray our words and our actions allow us to look out for one another in all the seasons of life.

Minnesota Rabbinical Association, Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas, Minneapolis Jewish Federation,St. Paul Jewish Federation

Vote Reform!

Dear Bet Shalom,

If you only read one paragraph, read this one and follow the link to voteThe next World Zionist Congress convenes this coming October in Jerusalem. Our job now is to ensure that our Reform Jewish values are represented by voting for delegates who represent ARZA. Voting for delegates is open to those over age 18 (by June 30, 2020) who self-identify as Jewish and agree to the Jerusalem Program. Voting runs from January 21 through March 11. The website for voting is The cost of $7.50 covers administration of the voting.

In 1897, Theodor Herzl founded the Zionist Organization, today called the World Zionist Organization (WZO). More than 120 years later, the WZO remains the best way for Jews living outside Israel to have a real impact in Israel. Every five years, the WZO calls together a congress comprised of delegates from across the Jewish world. These delegates vote to determine how major funding will be distributed to organizations in the Land of Israel. A helpful article about the WZO was just published in the Forward.  

As Reform Jews, our movement, the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) is represented by the Association of Reform Zionist of America (ARZA). For more information about ARZA, read the platform and slate.

More votes for ARZA equal more support for issues and values supported by Reform Jewry:

* Religious freedom and equality

* Personal status issues (marriage/divorce, conversion)

* Access to holy places (the Kotel)

* Commitment to a two-state solution

* Gender rights

* Combating racism

* Women’s leadership

* Support for Reform synagogues and education in israel

* Transparency in government funding

Over the next six weeks, let Bet Shalom’s voice be heard! We will have a table in our lobby with computers set up for voting and stickers for all who vote. Beginning on Sunday, January 26 there will a computer or ipad available in the Religious School lobby for voting. You can also vote from your phone! We will have a voting station available before services and at other synagogue meetings and programs.  

In 2015, ARZA received 39% of the votes and 56 of 145 US delegates. That ultimately meant that $4 million a year ($20 million over five years) funded the Reform Movement in Israel.

To make that sacred mission a reality, we’re calling on each of you to speak out and have your voice heard – to Vote Reform in the World Zionist Congress elections. Your vote will support the Reform Movement in Israel, helping it grow and ensure Reform values. Your vote will help determine the leadership of important national Institutions, create partnerships with Israeli political parties and enabling us to have a voice in Israeli society.

Voting takes only 60 to 90 seconds.  If you prefer, we will have paper copies of the ballot, and you can write a check to cover the voting cost.  Please join me in this sacred task.

Rabbi David Locketz

Congregation Convening with Beacon on January 30

Bet Shalom Congregation is a collaborative congregation of Beacon Interfaith Housing Collaborative. Last year in January we hosted Beacon’s biannual convening which included Governor Walz and Lt. Governor Flanagan as speakers. Beacon and their supporters have been involved in advocating for the need of affordable housing and addressing the needs of our homeless citizens which in part has help support Gov. Walz to recently propose a Local Jobs and Projects Plan which includes a major investment of $276 million for safe and affordable housing projects across the state.

Attending the convening is a great way to become more aware of the work in which we are collaborating with Beacon to address the needs of our communities regarding homelessness and affordable housing and find out how you can involve yourself with our team supporting Beacon.

Join congregations across the collaborative at Shepherd of the Lake Lutheran Church, 3611 N. Berens Rd. NW in Prior Lake at 7 p.m on Thursday, January 30. Hear from Scott County Commissioner Barb Brekke and Rep. Michael Howard as we focus on building our power to create Prairie Pointe in Shakopee and advocate for bonding and rental subsidy for everyone who needs it. Plus we will practice advocating for this tikkun olam project.

To learn more about Beacon, CLICK HERE.

There are many ways to become more involved with social action Tikkun Olam through Bet Shalom’s Social Action Committee. Our areas of focus include Domestic and Gun Violence, Racial and Social Disparities, Homelessness, Hunger and Food Insecurity and Climate Change and Environmental Abuse.

You can contact our SAC Chairs Katey Powers and Lou Kidder at

IJS Live Stream Event

Dear Friends,

I pray that your celebration of Thanksgiving was fulfilling for you and your loved ones. Did you happen to notice, in this week’s HaEtone, the inclusion of an event entitled The Inner Light of Hanukkah: A Celebration of Practice and Learning? Bet Shalom will be hosting a live-stream, world-wide broadcast on Sunday, December 8between 12:30-2:00 pm Central Time presented by the Institute for Jewish Spirituality. Let me tell you a little bit about it and why you might want to attend. 

In 2002-3, I had the privilege to attend four, week-long retreats that featured mindfulness practice, Hasidic text study, spirited singing, yoga, silence, prayer, and deep conversations with rabbis and cantors from around the country and from multiple denominations. Although I had already worked as a full-time cantor for over 10 years, my participation in the Institute for Jewish Spirituality’s 18-month program profoundly affected my faith, broadened my perception of Judaism as a spiritual path, and helped me recognize how blessed I am to be a cantor. 

My life continues to be nourished by teachers and colleagues of the Institute who are attuned to their inner lives and committed to guiding others in deepening their connection to Judaism through prayer, words, actions, and song. Although the Clergy Leadership Program remains its centerpiece, IJS offers bountiful opportunities for any person interested in creating “a vibrant, enduring Judaism now and for generations to come.”  To mark its 20th anniversary, the Institute is presenting this live-stream event to celebrate with those who have benefited from its work and provide those who are curious with an opportunity to experience some of what IJS offers. The program will include, among other things:

  • -A guided meditation led by Rabbi Sheila Weinberg 
  • -A reflection by Rabbi Arthur Green  
  • -An accessible Hasidic text study with Rabbi Jonathan Slater 
  • -Inspirational music with Cantors Benjie Ellen Schiller and Richard Cohn

Please accept this invitation to join me and other Bet Shalom-ians for this unique, cost-free event. If you plan on attending, please RSVP to Rachel Calvert and arrive at 12:20pm.

Here’s a link to the IJS website with more details: Finally, if you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

B’shalom, Cantor Schwartz

Yom Kippur Sermon: Our Relationship with Israel (Audio Only)

Rabbi Locketz:

I was in utero during the 1973 Yom Kippur War and born a month later.  That was just 25 years after Israel’s founding and 28 years after the official end of the Holocasut.  My religious identity formation was marked by the refrains of “Never Again” and “Am Yisrael Chai…the People of Israel lives.”  I have only a few overt memories of Israel though I am certain it was a constant subject in Religious School. I remember a third grade simulation that included boarding a pretend airplane in my childhood synagogue’s social hall and “touring” the Promised Land.  And I vividly remember Israel’s 35th birthday. Each year we participated in the “Walk for Israel” when the whole community would come out and walk around Lake Bde Maka Ska with signs and posters and singing. We’d get sponsors and raise money from our friends and neighbors.  I particularly remember the Walk for Israel at its 35th birthday because we all got posters to bring home from Sunday School. It was in contemplating my poster on my wall in my bedroom that it occured to be that my father was older than the Modern State of Israel.  What struck me as so funny then has been a reminder to me ever since of how new the Modern State of Israel really is.    

Rabbi Crimmings:

I was in utero on Israel’s 35th birthday and born a few months later.  And so even though I missed this particular “Walk for Israel,” these Walks were also an important part of my earliest memories and connections to Israel.  Though I don’t recall the exact year, perhaps it was Israel’s 45th birthday, I vividly remember the excitement of arriving at the Milwaukee JCC at the end of that year’s Walk for Israel to find camels, yes, real live camels, just waiting for us kids to ride them.  It was at this moment, high in the air on a camel’s back, with blue and white face paint on my cheeks and Am Yisrael Chai blaring from a boombox, I started to dream about a foreign land that someday, I knew I would call home.

Rabbi Locketz:

My first “real” visit to Israel was the summer before my Junior year in High School.  I was 16 and ambivalent about going because I really just wanted to stay home and hangout with my friends.  But an opportunity materialized that I couldn’t pass up and I travelled with a group of 20 American teens and 20 Israeli teens, first for a week in Poland and then 5 weeks in Israel.  That experience changed the course of my Jewish identity and my understanding of Israel in profound ways. On the level of Jewish Peoplehood, I made connections that summer that remain part of my life today.  30 years later, I am still in contact with others in that group, both American and Israeli. And as significant in different ways, I remember realizing how small the country was on the day we drove from Mt. Hermon in the Golan Heights to Eilat.  And if I had been aware of the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians as a teenager, I didn’t really understand the geography of it until that drive from north to south when we joined an army escort through the Jordan River Valley with an armed soldier on our bus which was common in those days.  And when we came near Hebron…I just remember a lot of chain link fence. I also remember a sunrise hike on Mt. Shlomo along the Egyptian border when we shared food and water with an Egyptian soldier posted on the other side of razor wire. I keep a photo of that exchange in my study here at Bet Shalom.      

Rabbi Crimmings:

When I was in High School, I watched in envy, as many of my friends returned home from summer in Israel programs, impacted perhaps more by the social implications of having not had an experience that all my friends were having, than by a true understanding of what I was missing out on.  But by the time I got to college I experienced a profound feeling of disappointment when just as I was preparing for a semester at Hebrew University through the University of Minnesota’s Study Abroad program, the U decided to cancel and discredit all study abroad programs to Israel because of the escalating violence of the Second Intifada.  So instead of journeying to the land I had been taught was a safehaven for the Jewish people, I traveled instead to Prague, a place where so many Jews had either left or been murdered, but was, according to the University of Minnesota in 2003, a proper safehaven to learn about Jewish history and culture. The irony was not lost on me and only heightened my yearning and my resolve.  And so, as I immersed myself in the rich and beautiful story of Eastern Europeran Jewry, I found myself connecting to the Zionists who came before me, feeling like a 21st century version of the 12th century Spanish poet Yehudah Halevi when he wrote, libi bamizrach, v’anochi basof ma’arav, My heart is in the East, and I am at the edge of the West.

Rabbi Locketz:

1999/2000, the year Debbie and I lived in Israel, during my first year of Rabbinical School, was one of the most peaceful time periods in a decade before it, or since.  Yitzchak Rabin was assassinated just three years before we moved into our Jerusalem apartment. Within a year of our moving to Cincinnati for my second year at Hebrew Union College, there would be 25 suicide attacks with dozens murdered and hundreds injured.  While we lived there, there was a palpable hope in the air. It felt like peace. Ehud Barack was the Prime Minister and it seemed as if there was going to be peace with Lebanon. On Shabbat, my friend Sami who lived in Ma’alei Adumim would walk toward Jerusalem and Debbie and I would walk toward Ma’alei Adumim and we’d meet up in a Palesitian village somewhere in between for fried cheese and baklava.  Once on Shabbat, we drove with Sami deep into the West Bank, going village to village on dirt roads and we stopped to help a family harvest olives from their trees. It felt so free and secure.

Rabbi Crimmings:

I arrived for my year in Israel in the summer of 2007, a year after the Second Lebanon War and a few years after the Second Intifada.  Ehud Olmert was Prime Minister and there was an atmosphere of nervous calm in the air, a sense of relative peace and security… but with a lot less hope for lasting peace, and a lot more fear that things could break at any moment.  People openly talked about being afraid to ride city buses, but most of us did anyway. My classmates and I didn’t live our day-to-day lives in fear, we still had dinner at the best restaurants in East Jerusalem, built relationships with Arab Israelis, and walked freely in the city that became our home. But even still, there were moments when we were reminded of the fragility of peace, and the reality of terror.  We had practice drills in the bomb shelter at HUC and would occasionally receive emergency alert messages through our phones, which keep in mind, were not yet smartphones.  

Rabbi Locketz:

When I was a rabbinical student in Cincinnati, I went on a solidarity mission with the Federation during the height of the suicide bus bombings…when more than 40 of these terrorist attacks were occuring on average each year.  Groups came from all over North America. I ran into Rabbi Cohen and Rabbi Sim Glaser at the Western Wall. 

Rabbi Crimmings:

In the 12 months that I lived in Jerusalem, I had only one moment of true panic, of seeing, and being part of how Israel responds to what initially felt like terror.  I was at a soccer game with some classmates and one of our professors. A scene, which under normal circumstances, is enough to produce panic from fan enthusiasm alone… when suddenly there was a large boom and all the lights in the stadium went out.  Announcements were made that the game was canceled and everyone must exit the stadium. There was fear but also action, leadership, surprising order, and calm. We found out after the fact that it was an electrical malfunction and not a terror attack,  but the response was emblematic of a country who was ready, almost expecting, this exact moment.  

Rabbi Locketz:

I have had the privilege of spending more than two years of my life in Israel when you add it all up.  I love our Holy Land as much as anyone who has not made Aliyah. And at times I’ve considered that too.  For sure Israel has issues. There is no Garden of Eden. But, “libi B’mizrach…My heart is in the East.”  During college, I spent a summer in a leadership program and we met with Palestinian Authority officials in East Jerusalem.  I will always remember when we were ushered into a conference room that had a huge map on the wall of the Middle East. It said Palestine and did acknowledge Israel.  I remember how viceral my response was. I was so angry. And I have the same response to this day when I walk into a Jewish classroom and see a map that doesn’t show the West Bank and Gaza as separate from Israel.   I have believed in a Two State Solution…dividing up the land into two countries, one for Israel and one for Palestine…since I remember being aware of the idea. And it has been the agreed upon approach to the conflict for much longer than I’ve been alive.  In 1947 it was called the Partition Plan, negotiated by the League of Nations and accepted by the Jewish World.           

Rabbi Crimmings:

I have also believed in a two state solution for as long as I can remember and have been continuously distressed about the expansion of settlements that slowly, year by year, make the potential for the establishment of a Palestianian state less and less possible. So when I traveled to Yeshivat M’kor Chaim, a High School in K’far Etzion, which is part of the larger Gush Etzion settlement bloc of the West Bank, just south of Jerusalem, I was uncomfortable. This visit was in 2011, when I spent the summer in Israel as part of a fellowship with the HUC School of Education that sought to push and expand our notion of Jewish peoplehood.  It was almost like a test to see how reform rabbinical students and yeshivah boys would interact. What we experienced that day in K’far Etzion was a true human connection with Jews who understand Judaism and Zionism in a fundamentally different way than we do. We heard more than one person say “this is my land and I deserve to live here.” We heard a confident expression that Gush Etzion is, and will be, accepted as greater Israel, even by the left… Both because of the important historical role it played in the narrative of the 1940s and also because there is already such a firm stronghold in the settlement bloc, that their expansion is natural growth, not new people coming in from the outside.  That night I returned to Jerusalem with more questions than answers about the role of the settlements in any future two state solution. And also questions about my role as an American Zionist and soon-to-be rabbi in engaging and educating about the complexities and challenges that stand in the way of peace. 

Rabbi Locketz:

We don’t talk about settlements or suicide bombs with our first graders.  It isn’t developmentally appropriate. We talk about Israel with children the same way we talk about Noah and his Ark, or the splitting of the Sea.  We tell big foundational stories that we hope to build on throughout peoples’ lives. We hope that each person’s theology grows with them. When you are three you need to be able to believe the Sea split.  When you are 30, you need to believe you are still a “good Jew” even if you no longer believe in those kinds of miracles. Regrettably, we’ve done a better job over recent generations of transmitting Ahavat Yisrael/the love of Israel associated with traditional Zionism than a nuanced understanding of Israel’s geo-political situation and challenges.  Not long ago, a young woman came to me and expressed anger that we never taught her the whole story…that we only celebrate the many Israeli Nobel prize winners and the Startup Nation ingenuity. We praise Israel’s tech genius, drip irrigation and the cherry tomato developed there. But we haven’t talked enough about the Occupation or Jewish religious extremism.  

Rabbi Crimmings:

In recent years, we have started to integrate more of these conversations into our curriculum with our older teens in Confirmation and Post-Confirmation.  They are difficult discussions and ones that teens who have gone through our program are ready for.  It is why we say that the milestone of b’nai mitzvah marks a transition toward a deeper exploration of Judaism.  It is a beginning, and not an end to the lifelong pursuit of struggling with all that pulls at our heads and our hearts.  My love for Israel is unwavering. And it is precisely this love that compels me to also explore and express my concerns and my criticism.  As my relationship with Israel continues to unfold, I pray that I will continue to fall in love with, and be challenged by, the country, land, and people who are so much a part of who I am.

Rabbi Locketz:

This morning we have shared parts of our personal stories.  I experience a magnetic east in my life…a pull toward Jerusalem…as so many Jews before me have for thousands of years.  I feel so fortunate to have been able to cultivate such a deep and personal relationship with Israel during my life. I am excited to return there this February with many of you.   Politics and security are just one part of a much bigger story and connection. I hope that in this year ahead, you’ll take time to consider the space the land of ancestors, stories and prayers holds in your identity.  We have many opportunities in our program over the coming months and we hope you’ll join us. We look forward to learning together and sharing in our Ahavat Yisarel – Our love for Israel.

Rabbi Crimmings:

We conclude with a prayer for peace in the Middle East by Alden Solovy:

Holy One,

Light of truth,

Source of wisdom and strength,

In the name of our fathers and mothers,

In the name of justice and peace,

Help us to remember our history, 

To mourn our losses together,

So that we may, 

Once more, 

Lay down our weapons and live.

God of all being, 

Bring peace and justice to the land, 

And joy to our hearts.