The Bookends of Jerusalem

By Sarah Silverstein, current Yama participant

This past week in Jerusalem, Benjy’s Comparative Religions class explored the contemporary Jewish community. Our class spent the last two sessions learning about the physical presence of Judaism in Jerusalem. This session’s theme was The Bookends of Jewish Jerusalem- from Reform to Haredi. We focused on what led to the creation of the different streams of Judaism. We learned about the Ultra Orthodox (Haredi), Modern Orthodox, Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist movements and their communities. We focused mostly on the Reform community and the Haredi community. Both communities have distinctive qualities and different views on how to practice Judaism.

We began our day at the Kol Haneshama Community Synagogue where the Rabbi spoke to us about the Reform Jewish movement. From this discussion the class began to understand that the Reform community aims to find a peaceful combination of religion and modern concepts. I felt this type of outlook was easy to relate to. As a teenager growing up in the 21st century, it is refreshing to see religion evolve along with society.

The group then headed to the Belz Synagogue to learn a bit about the Hasidic Belz community. The Belz Synagogue, the largest synagogue in Israel, was an extremely impressive and beautiful building. With fourteen floors, the shul was capable of accommodating thousands of people in regards to all of the sectors of Jewish life. Rabbi Yeheskel, a Rabbi of the shul gave us a tour of the building and opened up a dialogue with the group. We all asked questions about the Hasidic community and its traditions. As a graduate of a Modern Orthodox Yeshiva, I did not feel extremely phased by what Yeheskel was telling and showing us. While I personally accept modern values and traditional Halacha, I can understand why the Ultra Orthodox community shies away from modernity. Modernity can bring about change and the Haredi community is uninterested in altering their level of commitment to the written Torah and its Halacha. Most of the students found it difficult to understand the Haredi world but felt fascinated to have had the opportunity to learn about it.

Growing up in a Zionist household I was always told that Israel was the Jewish homeland. This siyur gave the Chanichim of Year Course a direct opportunity to see the people that make up the Jewish homeland. While we each practice Judaism in our own way, it is interesting to learn more about the streams of Judaism to see where we as individuals fall on the spectrum.