Day 2: Los Angeles Religious Leaders Mission

by Rabbi Mark Diamond, Tour Leader

Boundaries and lines – the recurring theme of the first day of our Los Angeles Religious Leadership Mission.  Everywhere we go in Jerusalem we see lines.  Each square meter of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher is owned and claimed by one Christian group or another.  Armenian Orthodox, Catholic, Greek Orthodox and Coptic denominations draw demarcation lines on floors and walls to mark their respective turfs.  Cross these lines at your own peril, lest you upset a precarious religious truce that sometimes spills over into unholy violence between rival sects.

The Western Wall is marked by its own boundaries separating men from women, Orthodox from non-Orthodox worshipers, Sephardi from Ashkenazi celebrations.  As always, I struggle to find genuine kavvanah (intention/devotion) before a divided wall and plaza filled with guardians of modesty and hawkers of tzedakah.  Can the Kotel serve as a symbol of unity and sanctity when it is governed by Jewish sectarianism and tribalism?

Scholar Paul Liptz addresses our delegation and adds layer upon layer of socio-economic lines to the fragile fabric of Israeli society.  Fifteen mega wealthy families sit atop a pyramid whose base is the 30% of Israelis who live below the poverty line.  They are the poor, the underclass, the unseen – Israeli Palestinians, haredim, Ethiopians, legal and illegal foreign workers, and refugees.  How can they cross lines that seem increasingly rigid and impermeable?

And yet, as MK Nachman Shai reminds us,

With all their threats both internal and external,

With all their boundaries natural and man-made,

With all their lines in the sand and sea,

Israelis awaken each day with hopes and dreams for a brighter and better tomorrow.