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Sunday, 21 October 2007

Bereishit - Anat Hoffman

Bereishit - Anat Hoffman
Anat Hoffman became Executive Director of the Israel Religious Action
Center in April 2002. Previously, she served as a Jerusalem City
Councilwoman for 14 years.
I know why they asked me, the Israeli who deals with religious
pluralism, to write about Parashet Bereshit for Limmud. I know chaos
from up close (TOHU VA'VOHU) because Israel can be a place of
pandemonium, unruliness, and disorder. Our conflicts are extremely acute
and harmony is moving away from us. This is the world described in
Bereshit: "והארץ הייתה תוהו ובוהו וחושך על פני תהום" (the earth being
unformed and void, the darkness over the surface of the deep).
Through a process of distinguishing matter from matter and through
naming, a world which has order and has light is formed. I see my work
in the evolution of the state as bringing more light.
In the young state of Israel, still only 60 years since its birth, there
are many opportunities for creation in an environment filled with
turmoil and confusion. One sphere of inspired success for Israel is the
renewed Hebrew language. Hebrew words for concepts like integrity,
accountability and pluralism are truly an act of creation in this
evolving society. Just as in Bereshit, where each creation is named to
crystallize its existence, so too do these concepts need Hebrew names in
order to be fully manifest in modern Israel. A society that has no word
for integrity is a society in which this concept is not embedded in its
everyday life. By the way, the Hebrew word for integrity is 'yoshra'
from the root 'yud' 'shin' 'reish' - being a new word, not so many
Israelis know it. The Hebrew word for accountability was also created
only recently. It's hard to pronounce it without accidentally spitting
on the person next to you, so people only use it when there is no other
option. Achrayutiu - try and you will see. The word pluralism still
doesn't exist in Modern Hebrew. I run the Center for Jewish Pluralism.
In Israel the enlightened concept of pluralism hasn't yet fully
manifested, but we hope to pull it out of the bubbling cosmic soup of
creation and give the country a heaping dose.
There are daily battles in courts, parliament, on the street and in the
media about religious pluralism. In the "formal" Israel there is only
one way to be Jewish and it is the Orthodox way. The young Israeli
palate knows only one flavor and it doesn't appeal to many Israelis,
causing them to turn away from Judaism. The result is degeneration of
the palate and degeneration of the religion. The struggle for freedom of
religion in Israel demands that there will be more than one way to be
Jewish and religious in Israel.
"We are not different from each other because some of us have seen the
light and some are in the darkness," writes Amos Oz, "we are different
because we have many lights within us, abundance of lights and
tones/shades." The infusion of Jewish pluralism into Israeli society
will create thousands more lights and the opportunity to visit the
infinite heavens of the Jewish experience and intellect, the opportunity
to dive into the chaos, learn how to give things their Hebrew names, and
so be a part of creation.
At Limmud I bathed in the luminescent diversity of Jewish choices
available, from the theatre workshop "Elijah the First action Hero" to
"Yes Bubeleh, There Is Really Jewish Meditation"; I joined big groups of
people huddled in winter coats that are worn only by Olim from Russia in
Israel; and every two hours we went to a place of warmth and light, a
place of Limmud.
Limmud enables Jews of all of all flavors and shades to gather in an
atmosphere of Jewish unity- everybody against the horrible menu of
cardboard and sawdust born from combining the English kitchen with Glatt
Kosher. I want to suggest that the word pluralism in Hebrew is Limmud in
the original Clive laughter sense - a delicatessen for the Jewish soul,
a Club Med for the Jewish intellect, and a Disneyland of Jewish
experiences.

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