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Festival Times

Last week the Jewish world celebrated Shavuot, Chag Matan Torah, the Jewish holiday celebrating the receiving of the Torah highlights recent changes in Israel’s pluralistic climate. We see more and more ways that we can break the glass ceiling through Jewish studies, making them open and accessible to all.

After a rich, decadent meal of dishes made of milk and honey to ease the body’s physical desires, Israel’s streets bustle all night long as Israelis of all streams and backgrounds join learning classes and lectures to allow the mind its share of indulgence.

Synagogues, joined by community centers, youth movements, kibbutzim and many private organizations and establishments offer a wide and rich range of Jewish and Hebrew learnings. All night long, men and women of all ages and affiliations, sit side by side to enjoy the richness of Jewish text, debate over Jewish thought, argue through commentary, and inhale the beauty of Jewish thinking—one that links us to past and future generations.

Following Shavuot’s night-long learning, Israelis seem energized with a rejuvenate yearning for learning and intellectual journeys, which leads to another holiday, the annual Hebrew Book Festival. This traditional 10-day celebration of books takes place throughout the country; Israelis fill the streets of their cities to buy new books, meet authors, engage in many cultural activities and enjoy last of spring’s breeze before our steamy summer settles in.

Since starting as a one-day book festival on Rothschild Boulevard in Tel Aviv in 1926, this annual festival has evolved into a quite lengthy one, allowing the People of the Book to be just that.

In recent years, there has been a 35 percent increase in the number of Hebrew books published in Israel. Of these books, 12 percent are aimed at children and youth. This year the focus was on inclusion and acceptance.

Between these two festivals, the city of Jerusalem, usually mentioned for its political or religious tensions, decorated itself with rainbow colors. Under the title, “One Community, Many Faces,” our capital welcomed thousands of people for its 18th Jerusalem March for Pride and Tolerance. The march invited the incredible diversity of the gay community—from all sectors, faiths, backgrounds, identities and genders to share their stories, reflecting the theme, “Each One— a World Entire.” Jerusalem’s Pride parade is probably the only of its kind that began with a public mincha service (the second of three Jewish prayers a day). The fact is, the march—usually mistakenly associated with defiance and provocation—turns Jerusalem into a beautiful reflection of tolerance, unity and a communal attempt to build bridges and enrich our lives with the power of diversity.

It takes the People of the Book, those who allow themselves to be part of “The house of Torah,” even if not traditionally associated with religious thinking or traditional upbringing, to march the streets of the Jewish capital, open-minded, proud, calling for acceptance, celebrating our differences. One community—many faces.

But our striving to be one community must extend beyond the borders of Jerusalem, or even the country. It should reach Jewish communities worldwide, and it does, and they should reach us, as well. This month of festivals offers the first of its kind—the American Jewish Culture festival. Through the Daniel Center for Pluralistic Judaism, the Israeli public will have a chance to learn first hand about the richness of Jewish cultural life in North America. Through music, literature, cinema and other arts, Israelis will have the opportunity to see Jewish communal life, challenges, achievements and diversity. The festival will close with a community Kabbalat Shabbat (welcoming the Shabbat) on the beach in Tel Aviv.

As the sun sets, it will wrap us with its palate of rainbow hues, colors with no borders and edges, where the seamline between the mundane and the spiritual will mix—reflecting our many faces, ready to welcome Shabbat—together.

Leah Garber

Vice President | Director, JCC Association Center for Israel Engagement



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