Reflections on Jerusalem
By Deborah Harris
After breakfast we loaded up the bus with our luggage and prepared to say goodbye to Jerusalem. But we had a few stops to make first.
Our first appointment was with Donniel Hartman of the Hartman Institute (many thanks to Barbara Lafer and her family for helping to arrange this). There we had a discussion about what Israelis and Americans think of one another. It seems that Israel’s “official” position is that since Israel is open to all Jews without question, that if any diaspora Jew suffers problems in the diaspora the solution is to move to Israel, which represents rebirth. They do not yet acknowledge that America also acts as a place of rebirth for the Jews. This causes tension between American and Israeli Jews, because Israel’s attitude is that either you live in Israel or you don’t — so the answer to all diaspora problems is to move to Israel.
Next stop was the Israeli Supreme Court. There we had a tour of the building (the physically highest government office building in Jerusalem, signifying that the court is above all. We saw that one wall of the building is constructed of old stones and stretches from foundation to to floor and from front to back. The opposite wall is of modern, concrete construction, thus signifying the ancient and modern aspects of Jewish law. We were shown an extensive law library and then taken into one of five courtrooms. There we learned about how Israeli civil law works. All judges at every level (magistrate courts, district courts, and Supreme Court) are appointed by a panel which, to the extent possible, takes politics out of the picture and looks only at merits. The Chief Justice ascends to that post based solely on seniority and serves until he or she (the last three chief justices have been women) reaches the mandatory retirement age of 70.
Matters of personal status, that is marriage, divorce and conversion, are strictly the province of the religious courts (Catholic, Protestant, Islamic, Jewish) and their decisions cannot be overturned by any civil court.
After a picnic lunch on the grounds of the Supreme Court complex, we bid a find farewell to Jerusalem and drove about two hours north to Kibbutz Ein Herod in the Afula-Gilboa region. This is our sister city to the Jewish Federation of the Berkshires. Upon arrival we were given a brief tour of their art museum and then an introduction to how the kibbutz operates. The main industry of the kibbutz is manufacturing night vision goggles using a technology developed in partnership with Weitzman Institute.
We then quickly checked into our rooms and left for home hosted dinners with local Arab families (we were divided up into five separate groups). The family I was assigned to consisted of a mother, father, and their five children ranging in age from 6-15). We were also joined by a Jewish woman who is part of a group of 15 women, both Arab and Jewish, including our hostess) who get together about once a month to share food and recipes. During the meal a variety of relatives of our host and hostess dropped in and were also provided with an evening meal. Conversation was wide ranging and we got to begin a personal relationship with this family. The evening ended with our host driving us back to the kibbutz.
Now, time for bed so we can start a new day tomorrow.