Temple Isaiah and Israel
by Terry Pullan
Growing up I always felt special to be Jewish and I took pride in knowing that Israel was the home of the Jewish people. Unfortunately, I never made it to Israel as a youngster, but knew that someday I would make a visit.
Turn the clock forward to 2004 when I became president of Temple Isaiah.
During my first year in office I attended the Reform Movements biennial in Minneapolis and had the good fortune of meeting Rabbi Maya Liebovich. Rabbi Liebovich was born in Israel and ordained as Israel’s first female rabbi.
The year after I met Maya Leibovich our Temple Board voted to have a reform appeal during HHD and donate the funds to this new progressive synagogue in Israel. The appeal raised $10,000.
As I had never visited Israel and wanted to personally deliver the money we raised I signed up for a tour and made the trip. On our first Shabbat in Jerusalem, Cantor Kent, who was already in Israel, drove us to services which were held in a junior high school because their new synagogue was under construction for several years.
I was honored to speak and present the congregation with a check from Temple Isaiah. The Temple Isaiah community has contributed more than $150,000 to this progressive synagogue and if you ever visit Mevatzerret Zion you will see a plaque under a window overlooking Jerusalem that is dedicated to Temple Isaiah.
The next year I volunteered to help Rabbi Klein and Cantor Kent organize a family trip for the summer of 2005. For two weeks 40 of us from Temple Isaiah, along with Rabbi Klein and her family and Cantor Kent, traveled throughout Israel and had the time of our lives.
It was during these trips that I witnessed the transformation that happened to me and other Isaians following a visit. The trip made Israel real and important to us. It was an opportunity to build on our personal relationship with Israel on many levels including educational, political and emotional.
It was the most amazing way to build community.
During my trips we visited many of the important sites, but more importantly we spent time with people to hear their stories.
I’ve now been to Israel three times in the past 5 years and I love it more with each trip.
Temple Isaiah’s history with Israel goes back to the beginning of our existence. Temple was started right before the founding of the state of Israel so it was just a natural thing that the congregation would be totally involved and immersed in the State of Israel.
In the early years of Temple Isaiah, Dr. Jack Horowitz came on as the director of religious education. Prior to coming to Isaiah, Jack had lived in Israel for many years. He was there in 1948 during the War of Independence. He was a runner in the IDF. He use to run between the lines with messages for the troops. While in Israel he married a kibutnick named Rena. With Jack’s arrival, the temple immediately made a connection with Israel starting with Kibutz Kfar Blum…a relationship that lasted for years.
When Rabbi Bob Gan arrived at Temple Isaiah he established a relationship with a school outside Haifa in Kyriat Ata and had a long relationship with Kibbutz Givat Brenner where he took groups from Temple Isaiah and did many exchange programs with our kids and the kids from the Kibbutz.
When the reform movement got started in Israel we were one of the first synagogues to establish an ARZA chapter. ARZA is the Association of Reform Zionists of America.
Over the years at high holy days we have had appeals for Israel bonds, ARZA, Mevatzerret Zion and various reform initiatives in Israel. We have given support to Ziv hospital, Natal (Israel Trauma Center for Victims of Terror and War), Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC) and Keren B'Kavod. We raised funds to purchase an ambulance through American Friends of Magen David Adom.
We’ve had many speakers over the years on the subject of Israel. These included Moshe Fatt, an Israel intelligence officer, Mati Peled, former major general in the Israeli army, Ambassador Dennis Ross, Rabbi Uri Regev from the World Union, Anat Hoffman from the Israel Religious Action Center, Rabbi David Forman founder of Rabbis for Human Rights, Rabbi Ami Hirsch, past president of ARZA, Rabbi Stacy Blank from Ramat Hasharon, Rabbi Maya Leibovich from Mevatzerret Zion and Rabbi Ian Pear, the founder of Shir Hadash Synagogue in Jerusalem.
Rabbi Klein brought a representative from the Israeli Consulate to speak at her home and has now initiated a series of monthly movies and breakfasts to engage us in a conversation about Israel.
When the Jewish Federation started a summer Ulpan program in Israel, Temple Isaiah was one of the first congregations to send kids.
In 2006 we responded quickly to the war with Hezbollah in Lebanon by raising and giving money to assist the Israelis dislocated and injured in the north.
Our clergy visited Sderot to show support, bringing funds for that beleaguered city, creating the Temple Isaiah/Jewish Federation Matching Fund Partnership:After-School Enrichment Program for Low-Income Families In Sderot.
In the past several years Sderot has been under constant fire from Hamas Kassam rockets. As a result, many families have fled. Parents, afraid to be away from their children when danger lurks, refuse to leave them home alone and unsupervised. Thus, the fear of leaving their homes prevents them from working full-time and bringing in adequate income to support their families.
The Jewish Federation of Los Angeles has provided the needy children of Sderot with a safe after-school enrichment program, which includes daily educational and social stimulation for children whose lives are often stressful and lonely. They participate in a variety of courses that serve as creative outlets - Music, Drama, Dance, Arts, Sports, Nature Appreciation and more. The Sderot Municipality conducts these enrichment programs in the local community center and additional public buildings with fortified walls, safe from missile attacks.
But because many Sderot families cannot afford the enrichment programs, their children are forced to fend for themselves, or to stay at home with their unemployed parents, in the after-school hours.
Temple Isaiah's generosity improved the lives of Sderot's children - and also improved the community's economy and collective morale, despite its many ongoing challenges.
Cantor Kent has led us in becoming a voice for their needs.