Standing in line at Passport Control in Ben Gurion Airport, you’ve got nothing better to do than listen. It’s almost not worth talking.
When two nice ladies from England asked me why I was coming to Israel, I explained that I was here to learn about teaching Israel in progressive Jewish communities. One of them said “Are you Reform?” And I said, “Yes.” And she winced and shook her head.
Now, I could have just turned my attention back to the kiosks where all our hope lay.Or, I could have said, what’s the matter with being part of the Reform movement.
But I smiled back and waited to see what would happen next.
I didn’t get the names of my new friends, so let’s call one Pippa and the other Peppa — we’ll see if I can keep them straight.
It will be tough. They looked alike, same hair color, same oddly wide mouth that I think is an indicator of advanced medical science, though I’m not sure. They had the same accents, the same tans, and the same eye makeup.
Peppa turned to her friend Pippa and said “She’s Reform. You know they teach their children to hate Israel.”
“Oh,” said Pippa, “BDS and all that?”
“No,” I said, quickly.
“Yes,” said Peppa, shaking her head. “They are lying to their young people. They don’t know anything.”
Pippa said nothing much more, but an older woman from New York, an educator, she said, in a Conservative community, though she was Orthodox, we’ll call her Ruth . . . where was I . . . Ruth said “I’m keeping my mouth shut.”
And thus ensued a good deal of no one but me keeping anyone’s mouth shut for quite some time while the Passport Control clerks abandoned kiosks for shift change, returned minus a clerk each time, whittling down the staff to three clerks while the lines held steady at nine long and tangled queues. It wasn’t their words that bothered me so much, it was their ears. I’m happy to listen, even to dogma. However, I’d like to be heard, too.
They smiled and shook their heads and assured me that this was just their opinion but Reform Judaism isn’t real Judaism, is cheating our young people, doesn’t love Israel, and so on. “It’s disgusting,” said Peppa.
I wasn’t completely quiet. I probably said, a few times, that they should look at what the Reform movement says about BDS; that I was here, specifically, to learn how to teach young people to forge meaningful, productive connections to Israel; that we teach our children to engage with tradition and law in meaningful ways.
Peppa said to me, “Look. Look at how we’re dressed. We’re not religious, but the Law is from God and you can’t change that. The Law is the law.”
These two women who openly disobey ‘God’s Law’ criticized a whole movement of people who aimed to align the law with history and hope and optimism. They have given up on ‘God’s Law,’ and, by their account, were leaving it to more pious people to pray for them.
I wanted to say that the rabbis taught us that God taught us that the Law was not in Heaven; that the Torah teaches us that the Law is not far away, but in your hearts; that Isaiah teaches us that God wants more from us than blind adherence to the Law. But it seemed way too complicated for them. I also wanted to say that the Law was clearly redacted by men intent on firmly seating power in their own hands. But that seemed to be outside the realm of impolite conversation.
In the end, I digressed. I asked Ruth’s pious husband how he knew when to say morning prayers on the plane. Interesting answer. Something to do with breaking the day up into 12 parts that expand and contract with the seasons. It reminds me of a Chelm story . . . But, thankfully, I digress.