Celebrating Shabbat in Tel Aviv the Reform Way

February 6, 2013Jo-Ann Mort

Last Friday night, I celebrated Kabbalat Shabbat in Tel Aviv, but not in my usual manner.

Usually, as the city winds down and people sit out in cafes with a glass of wine or coffee to watch the sunset, I join them. This time, I started my evening at Beit Daniel, the Reform synagogue in North Tel Aviv. It was a stormy night; driving there, I literally had to wade my car through street floods. I expected, therefore, that few people would be in synagogue - but I was wrong. The sanctuary was nearly full, a couple of hundred people of all ages - families young and old - to spend an hour-plus together singing and praying as a community. I felt like I had arrived home - and not only because of the welcome the congregation gave me by giving me an honor of offering the blessing for the candle lighting. I felt at home because I could walk into this synagogue and chant the familiar prayers - the same ones that I pray at home in my Brooklyn congregation, Beth Elohim. There were bar mitzvot boys celebrating their special day with their grandparents around them, young kids running in and out, and one youngster who went on the bimah with his parents to open the ark - and took the opportunity to peek behind the Torah to see what he could find.

I was moved to see for myself that Israeli Jews are so committed to expressing a liberal, inclusive Jewish worship in our homeland. It was also the week after the Israeli elections, and there was hope in the air that the issues of pluralism and inclusiveness will find new openings in Israel in the months ahead.

As I headed off to Shabbat dinner at the home of friends in the neighborhood (who had bar mitzvahed their two boys at Beit Daniel), I felt renewed in Israel and infused with a spirit of Shabbat that could only happen in that place itself.

Jo-Ann Mort is the chief executive officer of ChangeCommunications and a consultant to the Union for Reform Judaism.

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