What does an infant in dad’s arms have to do with a Hebrew Union College–Jewish Institute of Religion cantorial student? What does a lone elderly gentleman have to do with an Israeli couple? What does a mother and 12-year-old son celebrating the first day of summer vacation have to do with a gay rabbi?
On June 10th, they all came to participate in a Torah service in a park directly opposite the downtown Miami building housing the Consulate of Israel. They came to show support for Women of the Wall, for women’s equality and religious pluralism in Israel. They are the faces of pluralism: Reform, Conservative, Renewal, and independent. Young and old, gay and straight, American and Israeli, clergy and congregants all formed one inclusive community of prayer. I was one of the faces too.
We had everything we needed, brought to this one location from three South Florida counties. We had a Torah, microphone, posters, guitar, tambourines, and song sheets. We had tallitot, and we had participants who proudly wore their Women of the Wall tallitot. We had ruach, love for Israel, solidarity, kavanah.
We began by singing John Lennon’s “Imagine,” with words inserted to read:
Imagine there’s free countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
Freedom of religion too
We read parashah Chukat, the telling of the deaths of Miriam and Aaron. We prayed, heard insightful words from our rabbis, and danced with tambourines to “Miriam’s Song.”
Less than two months earlier, many of us had heard Anat Hoffman, Chairwoman of Women of the Wall, and Executive Director of the Israel Religious Action Center speak during a visit to South Florida. She suggested in her speech that we go to Miami on Rosh Chodesh to pray at the Consulate of Israel. We listened, we followed her lead, but since Rosh Chodesh fell on a Sunday, we arranged to come the following day when the Consulate would be open.
Following our service, several of the clergy who participated were invited inside to meet with the Consul General, Chaim Shacham. He was a gracious host, and a meaningful and frank dialogue took place.
Did we matter? Did we make a difference? Did we make a start? I don’t know the answers to these questions, but I know the 40 of us formed our own unique community, a congregation on wheels, and certainly one without walls. We were such a diverse crowd, one which may not have had too much in common beyond our desire to do what is just, to come together in prayer, and to show unfailing support for the right to pray according to one’s own minhag and comfort level.
For those who are wondering, there are Consulate General of Israel offices in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, Philadelphia, and San Francisco, as well as the Embassy of Israel in Washington, DC.
Lois Rubin is a past president of Congregation Kol Tikvah in Parkland, Florida, a member of the Union for Reform Judaism’s North American Board of Trustees, and Chair of the URJ South District.