Religious Pluralism and Political Advocacy in Jerusalem / Yahel Social Change Program Update

Can you think of a better place than Jerusalem to study religious pluralism and advocacy work in Israel? Here are some of the highlights from last week’s Yahel Social Change Program four-day seminar focusing on just that.

The group started their trip visiting Rabbi Levi Lauer, founder and CEO of ATZUM- Justice Works (one of our featured partners in our last newsletter. This past winter, he taught a unit on Jewish Ethics for the Yahel Social Change Program, and this time, he shared about his organization’s work to confront human trafficking in Israel.  Levi challenged the group to stop asking “What can I do with my life?” and instead ask, “How can I include others in my life to do something meaningful?”

The Yahel Social Change Program with Rabbi Levi Lauer of ATZUM

The Supreme Court was the next stop, covering a presentation on Israel’s judicial system and its intersections and divergences with religious courts. The group met Dyonna Ginsberg, the current Director of Jewish Service Learning at the Jewish Agency and former Director of Maagelei Tzedek, where she worked largely on supporting socially responsible restaurants and disability rights in Israel. Dyonna encouraged the group to “live their values” through the way they live their lives (for example, in choosing which restaurants to patronize).  Next they met Elisha Goldberg, a young analyst in the political think tank Molad and free-lance writer for the Daily Beast. “How can I get your job?” Was one of the questions from the Yahel audience :).

They didn’t miss out on the hot events that’ve been in Israeli papers recently, as two Yahel Social Change Program participants went to the Kotel for Rosh Chodesh. There, Women of the Wall for the first time was legally aloud to pray with Torah and to adorn in Tefillin and Tallit. By the time they arrived at, 7am, the site was already packed with protestors. Following, the group had a chance to discuss the subject with Yehoshua Weinberger, a member of the Karlin-Stolen Chasidim, who toured them through an Ultra-Orthodox girls’ school in Geula, near Mea Shearim.

Touring Nachlaot, Jerusalem with Drori Yehoshua from Mimizrach Shemesh

Before Shabbat, the Yahelnikim visited the shuk, purchased a few goodies for Shabbat and then were joined by several friends from Friends by Nature and from different Garinim (activist communities). The group had a moving discussion about everyone’s personal relationships with Jerusalem and then several departed to the feminist Orthodox synagogue, Shira Chadasha for services. Of course, a delicious dinner followed.

In the morning, the group walked to the Tayelet, a beautiful park that overlooks the old city, and engaged in a mock debate on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Lunch, a walk along the Old City walls and Shabbat naps were next. The group closed Shabbat with a communal meal, celebration of two birthdays, and a spirited Havdalah ceremony.

On Sunday, the group discussed Shavuot and the Book of Ruth. They received a tour around Nachlaot with Drori Yehoshua from Mimizrach Shemesh, which encourages Mizrachi Jews to learn about and embrace their heritage while connecting to social justice. A hummus lunch, a meeting with Elana Szoktman from the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance and a debrief were next before heading home to Gedera. A full trip, with great food, great people, and a lot of inspiring work to think about.

Havdalah in Jerusalem

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