July 4 Kinneret, Ultra-orthodox, Christian Zionist

At 8:15 a.m. we met with Kinneret Shiryon, a classmate of Jonathan Miller’s and the first woman rabbi of Israel.  Both as a Rabbi and as Reformed she has been discriminated against by the Orthodox who control all religious functions in Israel.  Kinneret has successfully established a congregation in Modine half way between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, although she had to take her case to the Supreme Court of Israel three times to establish her congregation’s right to be recognized as a Synagogue.  The Orthodox Rabbinate still does not allow her to perform weddings, or conversions, but at least so far her congregation has the same rights to local government assistance for construction and other municipal aid.  She possesses a strong spirit.

She was born Sandra, but changed her name to Kinneret, when she came to Israel to signify her profound spiritual life change.  She is married to an artist, who is also a musician, and she has four children.  She spoke with us about the feminine encounter with the divine.

When she was still in Seminary she first encountered a woman’s prayer book in which God was referenced in the feminine, inclusive language.  She didn’t think anything of it until she tried to use it in prayer, and received an incredible jolt.  She couldn’t pray from it.  The feminine images kept pulling her up short.  So she found a women’s group to pray the book with in order to discover what was going on for her.  She realized all of her divine images were male, and as she prayed with the other women, slowly she became more comfortable with the divine feminine.  She believes that having woman Rabbis can give us a different way to relate to God.

So how does the female voice impact our experience of the divine?  Kinneret says that when she has led worship using female images of the divine many, many women have come to her and told her that this was the first time they could connect with God – Shleenah the daughter of voice.  It changes their relationship concept of God.  For men it opens up the divine feminine, the one who opens the womb, who opens us.  In Hebrew the womb is the symbol of compassion, so the one who opens the womb is the one who opens us to compassion.

Kinneret swims every morning, and she prays as she swims.  During the first 20 laps all of the noise is still rattling around in her head.  But after that she starts to get into a rhythm, and then she begins to pour forth her morning blessings.  She turns to God the female, the spring of life, the daughter of voice.  She clears her head, moves on to blessings for family, children, congregation, community the world, then she listens!  Listens for the female voice of God.  It is a quiet voice.  She becomes attentive and attuned to her feelings, and things begin to come to her – solutions to problems, sermons, new ways of seeing what is going on.  Through the Shleenah, the daughter of the voice, “every morning I have a conversation with God.”  It is the divine presence source of life.

She also experiences music as an important connection to God.  “Music is a way to just experience.  If we could put it into words, it wouldn’t be music.”  She puts prayers to Israeli secular music.  In that way, when secular Israelis visit her Synagogue, they find themselves able to sing along, because they know the tune, even when they aren’t familiar with the words.  Sort of like using praise music in America.  It helps people who have no connection with the religious tradition make a connection with God.  Using the secular music in worship helps people touch the divine on as many different levels as they can.  “God is doing a new thing.  God is smiling on us.”

She wrote a new song prayer to counter one of the very male image dominated prayers of the High Holy Days.  A friend of hers dying of breast cancer wrote the prayer as a song, and then her husband set it to music.  Video post following features Kinneret singing her new song.

In response to the issue of Palestinians, Jews and the land, she says, “I feel tied to the land.  Israel and the land are tied together.  Without giving that up we have to recognize we have two peoples on the same land.  One is not going to win out over the other.  We have to find a way to live together.  Probably not in my life time, but I pray for my children’s life time.”

We had good relationships with the Arab village next door.  We are on the green line.  But after the intifada, extremists took over the village, and began shooting into Modine.  Members of the village took out an ad in Modine’s newspaper apologizing, but saying there was nothing they could do.  Now there is a fence.  Kinneret is glad there is a fence.  It helps to keep them safe.  But it is sad.

After bidding good bye to Kinneret our group took a taxi to an ultraorthodox neighborhood in Jerusalem, where we were met by a Chabad Rabbi named Mendel Geren.  Mendel was originally from Pittsburgh, and came to the Holy Land so his wife, an Israeli, could complete her  education.  After a year he wrote to his Rebbe, Menachem Schneerson, leader of the Chabad Chasids asking for advice when and how he should return to America.  The Rabbi wrote back, “who should want to leave the Holy Land?”

Rabbi Mendel explained that many of what are now ultraorthodox neighborhoods are some of the oldest neighborhoods that were built outside of the old City Wall in the mid to late 1800’s.  Moses Montefiori a rich European Jew seeing the plight of the Jews living I cramped and squalid conditions inside the Jewish Quarter of the Old City contributed money to help build neighborhoods outside of the Walls, and to seek to provide trades, so that the Jews of Jerusalem could earn a living instead of just engaging in Torah study.

Most of the families in the ultraorthodox neighborhoods take literally God’s first commandment to be fruitful and multiply, and so many families have eight, ten, twelve children.  The ideal for many of the Haridim is to spend all of their time in Torah study, and many families do receive subsidies from the government, but many of the men and some of the women, despite their large families work at least part time.

After a walk-through of the neighborhoods, we walked to the Ben Yahuda Street area for lunch.  Over lunch we asked Rabbi Mendel to talk about the Chabad Rebbe.  The Rebbe he explained becomes owned by this people.  His time is not his own.  His possessions are not his own.  Thousands upon thousands of people sought his advice, because in Hassidism the purpose of the Rebbe is to help his people reach God.  The Rebbe would answer hundreds of letters every day.  He had a secretary, sometimes two secretaries.  He divided the letters into three stacks.  One stack he read and answered, while he listened to his secretaries reading their stacks of letters to him and directly them how to answer those letters.  Rabbi Mendel claimed that because he felt like he was in a father-child relationship with the Rebbe, he also felt he was in a father-child relationship with God.

Rabbi Mendel used a metaphor for the keeping of the law.  It is like working in a factory.  You have to do your job and listen to the boss.  Keep the law because that is the work God calls you to do.  If I fail to keep the law, I am like a bad employee.  The essence of the Baal Shem Tov the founder of Hassidism was to change the metaphor.  The factory is like a family owned business.  We do our jobs, because we love the father who calls us to work in the factory.

The Rebbe died on July 5 or 1994, 17 years ago.  After the Rebbe died, people continued to send in their letters, and now faxes to be placed on the Rebbe’s grave, so the Rebbe might answer them.  As Rabbi Schneerson had said of thisfather-in-law, when he died, if he is a real Rebbe, he will answer you.  And so the Chabad continue to direct their faxes to the Rebbe and follow his advice.  How do they know the Rebbe answers them, they just know from faith.  “I can ask the Rebbe a question now, and he will find a way to answer me.”  Am I 100% sure?  No, for now I am in exile.  But even the generations who have grown up since the Rebbe’s death, they are still enthusiastic for the Rebbe.  Was the Rebbe the Messiah?  Yes and no.  Many believe yes.

The Chabad answer how to connect with the divine reminded me of the Sufi Muslims in Bangladesh we met, who believe that you find your way to God by following a Guru.  I guess it is an answer that can work across cultures.  Whether or not it works for you, may depend upon your temperament.  I don’t think so.

After lunch we walked to the International Christian Embassy, and met with Ray Parsons, the director.  We asked the purpose of the group, and Ray explained that in part it was a response to the Christian Embassy is in the building that housed the Embassy for Ivory Coast and three other African countries.  When the President of Ivory Coast was threatened with assassination, if he did not pull the embassy out of Jerusalem, they moved their embassy to Tel Aviv.  The Christian Embassy seeks to support Israel in their claim to the land and their right to exist.

The International Christian Embassy seeks to embrace Jews as brothers and sisters, and opposes efforts to evangelize the Jews.  Israel is quite comfortable with their presence.  They also seek to provide practical aid, and they have adopted a program to help support aging Holocaust survivors.  There are presently 200,000 survivors who are left, all of whom are aged, and many of whom are in poor health because of their poor treatment during the Holocaust.  They raised a million dollars to support an assisted living center I Haifa for Holocaust survivors.  They also provided services to go into survivor’s homes.  I left with a good feeling about this group, and marveled that a group made up mainly of evangelicals could eschew evangelizing Jews.

We then gave ourselves a special treat by going to a Moroccan Restaurant in the evening.

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