I just returned from a trip to Israel where I served as tour guide for a small group of people all involved in the Society for Humanistic Judaism. Though I travel to Israel fairly frequently, circumstances conspired to prevent me from going since 2009. With one of my children planning to study there next year, I will probably visit at least twice in the next twelve months.
So how is the place these days?
Well, Jerusalem was a little less horrifying than I expected. With all of the talk of the exclusion of images of women – and of women themselves – I expected worse. I was pleasantly surprised to see the usual advertisements in all of the shop windows of women in fashionable clothing, even at the Mamilla Shopping Center just outside of the Old City.
Jerusalem has never been a favorite of mine. Even when I studied there in the eighties I always felt that the city was closing in on me. There’s just too much religion and religious conflict and not enough restaurants open on Saturday. But it is a center of Jewish history and, I must admit, it’s looking fairly good these days. The streets are clean, the trees are pretty and the stones are well lighted.
My favorite moment there was when we happened upon a women’s demonstration in the style of a “Slut Walk.” Unlike those protests in some other cities, Jerusalem’s version takes on additional significance in the wake of religious attacks on women. One American-Israeli woman held a sign reading, “This is what I was wearing when you threw rocks at me.” And believe me, what she was wearing was pretty darn conservative. They also handed out bumper stickers that said, “How am I dressed? Dial 1-800-It’s None of Your Business.” That one is already up in my office.
Whenever I have the freedom to plan my own group experience in Israel, I never take the traditional route of finishing up in “holy” Jerusalem. I’d rather start there and do the history thing followed by a tour of the rest of the country, culminating in Tel Aviv. With a group of Humanistic Jews this was the right approach. We began at the Western Wall and ended at Tel Aviv’s sea wall.
Guess which one we liked the best?