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“I Am in Israel: Modah Ani,” Rabbi Zecher’s Shabbat Awakenings

July 14, 2023 | 25 Tamuz 5783

Welcome to Shabbat Awakenings, a weekly reflection as we make our way to Shabbat.

Modah Ani  מודה אני

I begin with gratitude this week. I am in Israel. I am able to be here because of the generosity of this congregation. Before Covid was ever in our vocabulary and turned the world upside down, I was granted a three-month sabbatical. I asked our leadership if I could use the time to accept the invitation to be part of the Shalom Hartman Rabbinic Leadership Institute (RLI). It would mean spreading the sabbatical over a three-year period to attend seminars in summer and winter in Israel to learn from their faculty with an extraordinary cohort of rabbis from across the denominations. We also met every other week by Zoom to continue our studies. This summer, after what turned into five years of learning because of the cancellations caused by Covid, I finally graduated from the program and am now regarded as a Senior Rabbinic Fellow of the Shalom Hartman Institute.

I am grateful for all that we studied. Through our work at Hartman, our cadre of rabbis from across North America in conversation with the generations of rabbis before us explored the rabbinic commitment to hold the complexity of contemporary challenges and to hear and to respect our disagreements. The rise of anti-Zionism, Jew hatred, antisemitism and neo-fascism led us down paths to wrestle with the tensions inherent within Israel and beyond her borders, and to consider the meaning of a liberal democracy, recognizing that the decisions of Israel’s leadership are not always perfect or just, but also to appreciate the complexities involved. We also delved into the areas of religious practice, God, and communal life as we considered the strength and challenges of the Jewish community in North America and Israel. This summer, we considered all the meanings of being liberal outside of the realm of politics and denominations. I come away with a deep appreciation of the rich treasure of Jewish tradition through the myriad of ancient and contemporary textual sources we explored together.

In wading through the turbulent waters of these past years, I found great comfort to be in conversation with my Hartman thoughtful and wise colleagues. They were a source of strength and also valued thought partners as we  journeyed, and will continue to journey, through the challenges and blessings of Jewish leadership and Jewish life in the 21st century.

This week we end the book of Numbers. The name of the last parashah is Masei, מַסְעֵ֣י. It details the journey and the places where the Israelites encamp as they make their way across the wilderness. The word, Masei, not only means journey but also pulling up stakes and setting out. It is not always easy or convenient to pick up and spend time away. For me, the new experiences and the chance to delve deeply into Judaism has helped to renew my love and appreciation for our tradition and the important connection to the land of Israel. This community made it possible for me to set out on a journey of learning, friendship, and growing in my rabbinate. I am grateful to my Temple Israel colleagues and to Temple Israel for this honor and this time away. My rabbinate has been transformed and I will continue to share and grow with you from this experience. I return home on Sunday. I feel nourished and truly thankful.

Modah Ani  מודה אני

Shabbat Shalom!

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Rabbi Elaine Zecher