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Progressive Jewish rabbis’ trip to Israel: The value of showing up

Progressive Rabbis trip to Israel

Rabbis Aaron Goldstein, Alexandra Wright, Daniel Lichman, Danny Rich, Gershon Silins, Jordan Helfman, Lea Mühlstein, Mark Goldsmith, Nathan Godleman, Rachel Benjamin, Shulamit Ambalu, Thomas Salamon and Warren Elf experienced today’s reality of Israel together.

As part of a trip, arranged by The Ark Synagogue, the Progressive clergy (pictured above) spent time at the sites of the 7 October terrorist attacks and met with the families of those still being held hostage by Hamas.

We will be bringing you a series of reports from the rabbis who took part in the trip. Below is the first reflection from Rabbi Aaron Goldstein:

The value of showing up

The notice board at Kibbutz Nir Oz
The notice board at Kibbutz Nir Oz

One of the most important values that underpins our Jewish People is showing up for each other.

For our group of rabbis in Israel, showing up meant bearing witness to the pogrom of 7 October. This was not macabre tourism, but being able to relay the memories of those murdered or held hostage. Their parents, siblings, children demand that… and we honour them.

The sheer horror and enormity was displayed on the corridor notice board of the Kibbutz Nir Oz dining room. Amongst the burnt kitchen, broken glass and bullet holes, are the death notices including a section dedicated to the Thai workers who were brutally murdered. The post room mailboxes are marked with stickers showing the dead, the captured and those who have returned.

The Nova Festival site memorials
The Nova Festival site memorials

To witness the Nova Festival site memorials at Re’im and see the faces of young partying people was heartbreaking. To hear Rabbi Shulamit Ambalu recite the memorial prayer – revised by our Israeli colleagues to included the names of those being remembered – was part of a group experience, solidifying our sense of purpose being present.

To sit and listen to those directly affected, enabled us as rabbis to share their message in our congregations.

We spoke to Lee Siegel, brother of Keith Siegel – who is still being held hostage. Lee is the treasurer of the Reform synagogue at Kibbutz Gezer, a community that has played a significant part in the history of Progressive Judaism in Israel. Keith’s wife Aviva was released after 51 days. Keith wasn’t a regular synagogue goer and his brother looks forward to seeing Keith’s response to having so many seats saved for him in shuls all over the world. Lee’s message was to put the saving of the hostages’ lives at the centre of every political and military decision.

Rabbi Aaron Goldstein signing Kol HaNeshama’s Declaration of Independence statemen
Rabbi Aaron Goldstein signing Kol HaNeshama’s Declaration of Independence statemen

This was echoed as we each met relatives of hostages our British communities have ‘adopted’. These included Sasha Ariev, who wanted to thank my own Ark Synagogue for adopting her sister Karina and campaigning for her release.

Showing up also meant supporting our colleagues, Israeli Reform Rabbis who had on some days officiated or attended ten funerals, who were supporting the bereaved and traumatised, whilst themselves being traumatised and bereft and trying to be ‘normal’ for their children. Communal prayer, gentle, inclusive, musical and deep in such a shattering moment was so powerful.

As Rabbi Shulamit expressed: “I came here to learn about the war; and I met the dynamic beating heart of Progressive Judaism.”

The colleague who reminded us of the value of showing up was Rabbi Yael Vurgan, Progressive Rabbi of Sha’ar Ha’Negev Region. Her Congregation were and continue to be, the victims of the 7 October pogrom.

Not having words to say, understanding of the role to play or any practical support, she realised and embodies the purpose in just being present – saying: “The value of showing up is hardwired into Jewish tradition, yet sometimes in our comfort we take it for granted.”

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