After Rabbi Eliezer Melamed, the ultra-Orthodox Rosh Yeshiva of Har Bracha in the West Bank, was quoted in an article in Arutz 7 making comments surprisingly supportive of Masorti (and Reform) Jews, I decided to get in touch with him. I was curious, of course, and also wanted to see if we might just have a productive dialogue. Read what happened when we met.
Rabbi Melamed, the rabbi of Har Bracha, and I represent a considerable distance in Israeli society. We represent different groups whose gap has deepened in recent years. We represent groups that not only are different in their worldview but they are also alienated from each other, angry with each other, and developing more and more prejudice and suspicion.
This is an ongoing process in which records are broken again and again. But three weeks ago, on Tisha B’Av, at the Western Wall, this fracture reached another peak. The feeling was of Israel on the brink of an abyss – the discourse was of “either them of us.”
Maybe that’s why this week’s meeting at the home of Rabbi and Rebbetzin Melamed was so surprising. An encounter of hope and healing.
This session had all the elements that could have made it a cliche. Still, there was something else about it. It had a different sincerity, so simple – so strong.
I had called to thank the rabbi for his public and courageous response to the events around Tisha B’Av and suggested we meet.
He could have politely refused.
Or have agreed to a meeting that would never take place.
Or have simply agreed to a brief courtesy visit.
But the rabbi and rebbetzin opened their home and their hearts and invited me for a brave conversation that lasted three hours.
It was a meeting that had pain, love, disagreement, and worry but also a lot of agreement.
A meeting where we talked about different topics in the world (some of which I would not have imagined we would talk about), but also about ourselves as men, women and men, parents, daughters and sons. We talked not only about our attitudes but also about our feelings – the good and the complex, the pleasant but also the not-so-pleasant.
From the beginning of our conversation (and maybe even on the phone) it was clear – this would be a real conversation. Each and every one of us will be himself and bring his truth as it is in his eyes, without trying to please or apologize.
And there will be another thing in it – no need to convince. We will respect the differences between us and listen to them. We will try to understand without judging. The cynicism so prevalent in such encounters, we left at the door.
It sounds so simple: almost every conversation between different people starts with this agreement – but in how few of them does it really happen? In how many conversations do we manage to put aside our truth for a moment and listen with an open heart and a good eye to the truth of who is on the other side?
The fact that throughout our conversation these principles were kept simple – was almost surprising. This was not a conversation about halakhic controversy (it exists and is open between us and I had no intention of representing it in a conversation with him), nor about faith or historical justice. There was not the slightest hint of arrogance or preaching, rather it was about listening, respect and a sincere desire to understand the actions, decisions, questions and especially the fears of each and every one of us.
The rabbi spoke about his responsibility and that of his public, I spoke about mine and that of the Conservative/Masorti public that I represent. We both used the concepts of social responsibility. We both talked about our public love of Israel, Klal Yisrael. Our mutual bonds are a candle to its feet. None of us has deceived ourselves that all of these come easily or with full agreement. But just before I left we felt we had found friends (not to mention partners) to increase the light of this candle.
We are on Rosh Chodesh Elul, the month of Slichot.
I can not think of a more appropriate date for this task.