Ana b'Koach / Untie our Tangles (a melody for the Omer count)
A poem for today

A glimmer of hope coming out of Hebron

I want to signal-boost something I read recently which gave me hope: a post on Jewschool called The Hebron Matza Cover Initiative.

Video about the Hebron Matza Cover Initiative; if you can't see the embedded video, you can go directly to it at YouTube.

Here's a quote from the post on Jewschool:

Project Chayei Sarah is a group of rabbinical students, rabbis, Jewish educators and lay-leaders who have spent time in Hebron and are grappling with the difficult realities we encountered there...

At seder tables all over Jerusalem, friends of Project Hayei Sarah used matzah covers hand made especially for them by Women in Hebron. Purchased as an act of solidarity and of hidur mitzvah — beautification/elevation of a commandment — the matzah covers remind us of the liberation we need to continue working towards in Hebron.

“While everyone is busy debating about to boycott or not to boycott, we wanted to raise a new question: how might we, as Jews, support Palestinian economies?” relayed project coordinator Alana Alpert.

The project takes its name from the Torah portion Hayei Sarah (sometimes spelled Chayei Sarah -- transliteration is tricky stuff!), which means "The life of Sarah" -- it's the Torah portion in which Avraham purchases the cave of Machpelah in order to bury his wife there. (Here it is in English.) In that very place, the cave of Machpelah, there later came to be a house of worship, which in recent memory has been divided in two, with one end for Jews and the other for Muslims (who also venerate Ibrahim.) That place became the site of the Cave of the Patriarchs massacre in 1994.

A few summers ago when I was living in Jerusalem for the season, I took a day trip to Bethlehem and Hebron which moved me deeply. Here's a taste of the post I wrote about it at the time:

Cue the first serious cognitive dissonance of my day. Thinking of Reb Zalman davening zhikr with Sufis there in Hebron gave me such joy. Thinking of Baruch Goldstein killing people at prayer in the same room where I was reverently walking made my stomach twist with sorrow and anger. Feeling these two things at the same time -- well, facing that tension is part of why I wanted to visit the West Bank, but wow, this never gets easy, does it?

After we left the mosque, we walked down to the shopping street below. Most of the shops are boarded up, with stars of David and Jewish graffiti scrawled on the doors and lintels...

It heartens me to see my hevre (the Hebrew word means "friends," though it implies colleagues and study-partners as well; it's the root of the name "Hebron," actually) grappling with this tough stuff, and taking a simple and direct action to help create a world in which Jews can choose to beautify our festival observance while doing the good deed of directly supporting some of the Palestinian artisans whose lives are constricted by the situation in Hebron. I think we who are rabbis (or soon-to-be rabbis), Jewish educators, and lay leaders in the Jewish community have a particular obligation to educate ourselves about the Middle East and to take a leadership role in figuring out how to educate others.

I especially like the way this project spurs us to focus on real questions of how we treat one another, how our holiday celebrations can be engaged with real world realities, and how to work toward the creation of a world in which the Palestinian community and the Jewish Israeli community can live side-by-side in justice and prosperity. As Hebrew College rabbinic student Alana Alpert notes, "to boycott or not to boycott?" is a major question in the American Jewish community these days, and so often that's a conversation which generates a great deal of heat but very little light. The Chayei Sarah project is a glimmer of light.

Now I just want to know how I can buy one of those matzah covers for next year...

(Project Chayei Sarah also has a Facebook page, where they've shared several of their YouTube videos, so if that's your cuppa, feel free to follow them there.)