By Rabbi Michael Dolgin
Interim Sabbatical Report - March 2018
I can hardly believe that my three weeks in Be’er Sheva have already come and gone! In addition to getting to know the city and Congregation Ramot Shalom better, I also had the chance to see more of the Northern Negev and even do some teaching in Midreshet Ben Gurion with student rabbi David Barak. Thanks to Jonathan Segal of Ramot Shalom, I also visited kibbutzim and villages and saw the latest construction down by where Israel, Egypt and the Gaza strip come together. I’ll send a separate note about the great opportunities I am having to teach and learn within the IMPJ later. However, this update is about Ramot Shalom of Be’er Sheva.
This is a really exciting time for this kehilah (congregation)! Having spent three shabbatot together, I can see what a great small group is at the centre of this still-new congregation! Jonathan Segal and Sharon Abel are particularly tireless in their work to help this new group realize its potential. Singing together at services on Friday nights is a great experience. My last Shabbat there, there were visitors (a member of Kibbutz Lotan, one of the Reform kibbutzim in the southern Negev, and her mother from the States) who mentioned how much they loved the musical service.
During my time in town, the kehilah had an evening to talk about their ideas for the future. While they had many different thoughts, there was a real sense of optimism in the room. Professionally, there is much reason to be excited. Karin Fabrikant made a significant, if transitionary, contribution while acting as the community organizer (rakezet). She has chosen to move on to other opportunities. In her place is Liat Bichman Channes. While she is new to the work of congregational organizing, she has been the rakezet of our “Space for Parents and Children” (Merchav) for almost a year now. This program brings in young families from the neighbourhood and provides programs, insights, and services to enrich their family life. On Purim, a professional photographer was hired to take photos of families with young children who were wearing their first Purim costumes. There was a constant stream of new people in and out and many of them stayed for the family megillah reading. It was fantastic to see the Ramot Shalom space filled with little boys and girls and their parents! The Merchav is a successful program, but so far there has not been a lot of synergy with the congregation. Having Liat supporting both elements of the congregation is a great opportunity. I can’t wait to introduce her to the director of our Temple Sinai pre-school to look for new partnership opportunities!
In a really exciting development, Ramot Shalom is now being served by its first ordained rabbi! Rabbi Myra Hovav joined the congregation half-time just as I was arriving in Be’er Sheva. Myra comes to Ramot Shalom from her position in Gedera where she built a new Reform synagogue community. She had real success working with children and their families and building a strong educational and communal program for b’nei mitzvah students. The growth in young family life there ran in parallel with her partnership with volunteer leaders and their creation of a broad range of opportunities and programs. I had the chance to be at a Bar Mitzvah service Rabbi Hovav officiated outside of Be’er Sheva just after I arrived, and it was both meaningful and moving! In fact, before joining the kehilah, Rabbi Hovav officiated at the first bar mitzah at R.S. last year. The congregation is working with her now to build its first b’nei mitzvah class. Also, Myra is wonderfully musical, adding many new tunes to the congregational prayers and playing her flute as well! The possible musical connections with T.S. are exciting. We are also lucky to have this strength now as there is a musical transition underway at R.S. as well. Mallory Kahn-Johnston and Martin Kamil have visited T.S. and shared some of the musical culture they have helped develop with us. They will be married in her native Connecticut later this spring and have chosen to move there together. They will be missed and their contribution to our sister congregation (both musically and in helping bringing new olim to Ramot Shalom) will help strengthen us going forward. In a little over a week, they are having an Auf Rief with the congregation and with myself, student Rabbi Naomi Efrat and Rabbi Hovav. Yonatan Arnon continues to do young adult programs associated with the congregation as well. I attended the one that overlapped with my visit and it was great to see about twenty young adults participating in a spiritual Kabbalah Shabbat experience together on a Friday afternoon with him and Mallory and Martin.
Spending these weeks in Be’er Sheva gave me a chance to experience the city as well. It is a city of neighbourhoods. The Ramot neighbourhood in which the congregation is located is larger than many Israeli towns (about 35,000 people). It contains a good percentage of families who are from populations who are possible members. This is important in a traditional Israeli city with many immigrant groups from countries with little history of Reform Judaism. Being located close to Ben Gurion University of the Negev also presents many opportunities. The next period in the development of Ramot Shalom will be crucial in our long term success. While I believe much success lies ahead, it is not just around the corner. Creating a significant congregation and regional centre for the Israel Movement for Progressive and Reform Judaism is an important goal though not a simple one. We at Temple Sinai are privileged to have the chance to continue to partner with Ramot Shalom and the IMPJ to move this project forward! Over the next year or so, as the new staff of R.S. solidifies their connection to the congregation, we should be able to discover new and meaningful ways to build the connections between our two communal families.
Interim Sabbatical Report - February 2018
During the first month of the sabbatical, I studied conversational Hebrew online with Ulpan Or, a possible partner for Sinai in our innovative directions in education. I had eight live conversational sessions with instructors in Israel while completing exercises in between. I enjoyed the experience and found that it was a good warm-up for spoken Hebrew for my upcoming time in Israel.
My nine-day trip to India was intriguing and enjoyable. Our local tour guide shares a family name (Jhirad) with some of Sinai’s own Bene Israel (native Jews of India going back millennia) members. Seeing the work of the JDC (American Joint Distribution Committee of the Jewish Agency) in Israel gave me some ideas of tikkun olam activities a Sinai delegation might engage in were we to take a trip to this fascinating country that has a surprising depth of Jewish history. Coincidentally, the executive director of the CCAR, Rabbi Stephen Fox, was a member of the group who travelled together. He and I had some good conversations about the challenges that large Canadian congregations have in hiring candidates from the CCAR. I also learned from our travel company ARZA World/Da’at that we need to identify dates for a June 2019 Temple Israel trip in the next month or so. Before I left, I met with Dodi Millman, and we talked about an Israel trip in the last two weeks of June, 2019, that would focus on matters of security and politics in addition to connecting to our IMPJ partners.
I spent two weeks with Joan in Ghana after the India trip, which included the dedication of Sky House, the first group home for young adults in West Africa. Her efforts will help them make a transition from residential school to community living. She has gotten the whole village and its leadership around this impressive counter-cultural plan. After the celebration on the 25th of January, Ghana Heritage FM radio reported on the opening for 30 minutes the following day! Articles are currently being written in the national newspaper of Ghana and in the Globe and Mail in Canada.
My plans for my sabbatical time in Israel are quickly taking shape. My first three weeks will be spent in Be’er Sheva meeting with and learning from and about the activities of Ramot Shalom there. I will be with them for Purim, helping Ramot Shalom welcome the students from Heller High, our movement’s High School in Israel program. Also in the planning stages are a series of workshops for the IMPJ mechina (pre-army prep program) in Holon that will extend from March through May. The IMPJ also has a ShinShinim program (Year of service in Israel in this case) in Haifa, and I will be leading them in a three-session discussion program on Jewish prayer and identity. I’m sure I will learn as much from them as they will from me. While in Modi’in, I will be meeting with the teachers at YOZMA’s government-recognized day school as well. The IMPJ Biennial is June 1-2, and I will be part of the planning group and faculty for the international track of this big event.
I look forward to sharing interim reports on a roughly monthly basis.
Rabbi Michael Dolgin