The Agudas Achim and Ezrath Jewish congregations combined in 2003 to form Congregation Agudas Achim - Ezrath Israel. Temple Agudas Achim-Ezrath Israel also offers programs for men and women and holds Shabbat geared towards children and families.
I am writing to you from Tel Aviv, near the end of a moving and fascinating ten-day stay in Israel to attend the annual conference of the Central Conference of American Rabbis. Every seven years we hold our convention in Israel, and this year's gathering coincided with significant legal victories and historic events in the progress of Liberal Judaism in Israel. Thursday morning we gathered with over 150 rabbis, men and women to pray at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, in the first officially recognized egalitarian prayer space at the Wall. If the government fulfills its promises, in the face of ultra-Orthodox opposition, the southern part of the wall will be open to prayers of mixed groups of men and women. The previous day, our entire cohort of 300 rabbis from the U.S., Israel and around the world, were invited to attend a meeting of the Knesset committee on Absorption and Diaspora Relations. It was the first time a group of Liberal rabbis had been invited to meet with a standing Knesset Committee. Fifteen members of the Knesset addressed our group, including Tzippi Livni, Michael Oren, and Yair Lapid, as well as Rabbi Rick Jacobs, the president of the URJ and Anat Hoffman, the dynamic leader of the Women of the Wall and Executive Director of the Israel Religious Action Center. Among the themes raised was the historic progress of the Liberal movements in Israel in lobbying to strengthen alternative ways to be Jewish in Israel which strengthens it as a Democratic and Jewish state. The invitation and the speeches of the Knesset members impressed upon us that the Orthodox monopoly on Jewish religious life in Israel is finally being broken.
The theme of religious tolerance was central to our convention's program. On Wednesday night we gathered at the Church of the Dormition just outside the Old City of Jerusalem, for a candlelight march and prayer service. We were assembled at this beautiful Eastern Orthodox abbey to express our solidarity with a Christian community, whose beautiful house of worship was vandalized by Jewish extremists not long ago. We prayed and sang together for peace and tolerance in Israel.
Our journey to Israel last week began with two private visits. Barbara and I, together with my parents Rabbi Harold Kudan and Phyllis Kudan traveled to the Druze village of Osfiya near Haifa to meet with our old friend Zeidan Atashi and his wife Malaky. With the most gracious hospitality Zeidan and his family welcomed us and treated us to a delicious oriental lunch. Many members of the Malden community recall when Zeidan spoke at the Temple in Malden just a few years ago, to share with us his experiences as a member of the Druze minority in Israel. You may know that the Druze are fiercely devoted to Israel. Zeidan was the first Druze to serve as a diplomat for Israel abroad, the first to serve as a member of Knesset, and is still, in retirement, very involved in Israeli and middle eastern politics, both as an advocate for the Druze in Israel, and to help Druze refugees from Syria to find safe havens in Jordan and beyond.
The next day we had an extended visit to an amazing Israeli institution: Beit Issie Shapiro in Ra'anana. Beit Issie Shapiro is probably the most important Israeli organization you have never heard of. They are pioneers in serving children with disabilities and their families. They have been recognized in Israel as the most effective non-profit in the country. They are now also lauded by the United Nations as a model institution and they are asked to consult around the world to share their research and best practices with others. Some of their projects are the following:
One of the very many inspiring and impressive aspects of their work has been a collaboration with Google to make laptops easily adaptable for many sorts of disabilities. We hope to create a Boston friends of Beit Issie Shapiro in the near future.See: http://afobis.org/programs-and-services/
It is amazing what Israel has accomplished in so many fields of endeavor, the arts, science, medicine, humanitarian aid, yet it is tragic that so much of Israel's effort and treasure must be devoted to defense. No wonder that Israel's search for peace is foremost in our minds. As rabbis and Jewish leaders we sought to educate ourselves on Israel's security situation and the tragedy of the many missed opportunities for peace that have been thwarted and squandered over the decades. At our conference one session focused on the prospects of achieving a two-state solution. Several individuals who are intimately acquainted with the peace process presented. Professor Reuven Hazon of Hebrew University raised our hopes with an assessment of the possibility of achieving a two-state solution that would ensure that Israel remain a democratic state while retaining a Jewish majority. The other panelists MK Hilik Bar of the Zionist Union, and Elias Zananiri, Vice Chairman of the PLO Committee for Interaction with the Israeli Society. The panel was followed by a fiery address by MK Benny Begin who put forth a much less optimistic assessment of the peace process. We understood that we have a long way to go toward reaching an accord between Israeli, the Palestinians, and Israel's neighbors.
Of the many moving and memorable moments of this conference in Israel, I must highlight our Shabbat morning - Shacharit service. This morning our rabbinic group assembled for prayer at the Tel Aviv museum. Our prayers were led by an amazing ensemble of musicians, and rabbis, including an Israeli born woman, Shani Ben Or, who will become the first Israeli woman cantor-rabbi. The theme of the service was expressed in the words of the spiritual leader of the early days of Israel, Rav Kook, who said that in Israel (then Palestine), "The old will be renewed, and the new will be made holy -- Ha yashan yitchadesh ve-hechadash yitkadesh." It was especially moving to see my father Rabbi Harold Kudan honored with an Aliyah to the Torah. As the most senior rabbi attending the convention, he stood beside Thalia Halpert Rodis, a first-year rabbinic student at the Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion in Jerusalem, who served as the Torah reader. Indeed, we felt as if the words of Rav Kook represented a prophecy fulfilled in our own time, for there, in the Old-New city of Tel Aviv, in the vibrant state of Israel, as Jews of the Diaspora prayed together with ancient words and with enchanting modern melodies, as the youngest and oldest generations of rabbis and teachers and leaders led us in reflection and prayer, "The old was renewed and the new was made holy."
Rabbi David Kudan
Holiday services will be conducted by Rabbi David Kudan, accompanied by Sexton Wayne Freedman and Cantorial Soloist Phyllis Werlin, as well as lay leaders of the Congregation. Click Services for further information on our regular services and our special holiday services. Cancellations will be announced on channels 4, 5 and 7.
Agudas Achim - Ezrath Israel 245 Bryant Street Malden, MA 02148