MERCAZ USA

January 2010

MERCAZ USA Tu Bishvat E-Letter

Shvat 5770

WELCOME to the new MERCAZ USA E-Letter being sent to MERCAZ members and supporters from the 2006 World Zionist Congress elections. Information to Unsubscribe is available below.

MERCAZ USA is the Zionist membership organization of the Conservative Movement, the voice of Conservative Jewry within the World Zionist Organization, the Jewish Agency for Israel, the American Zionist Movement and the Jewish National Fund to support religious pluralism in Israel and strengthen the connection between Israel and the Diaspora. Click here for common questions and answers. Click here to (re)join for the current 2009-2010 fiscal year.

IN THIS ISSUE:
NEWS
FEATURE STORY

NEWS

SYNAGOGUE TRIPS TO ISRAEL
Looking to join an organized trip to Israel? Click here for a list of upcoming Conservative Movement synagogue trips for 2010.

BRING PURIM CHEER TO ISRAELI CHILDREN & SOLDIERS
MERCAZ USA is participating once again in the annual Purim Campaign sponsored by the American Zionist Movement, the umbrella of all Zionist organizations in the United States. This year's campaign will direct "mishloach manot" gift baskets, in part, to the Outreach Project for IDF Lone Soldiers, coordinated by the Masorti Congregation Moreshet Israel in Jerusalem, and to the Neve Hanna Children's Village in Kiryat Gat. Click here for more information and to make your contribution.

MERCAZ USA/CANADA – WOMEN'S LEAGUE ESSAY CONTEST
The biennial essay contest for scholarships to teen Israel programs is continuing. The theme of this year's competition is the 150th anniversary of the birth of Theodore Herzl. Click here for general information. Click here for the entry form and questions. Deadline is March 1, 2010.

CONSERVATIVE MOVEMENT LEADERS PROTEST TREATMENT OF WOMEN OF WALL
In a newly released statement, Conservative Jewish leaders are protesting the recent detention of Anat Hoffman, Director of the Israeli Religious Action Center and a founding member of Women of the Wall, and the arrest this past November of Nofrat Frankel, who was detained for the "crime" of wearing a tallit and carrying a Sefer Torah during worship services organized by Women of the Wall on Rosh Hodesh Heshvan in the women's section of the Western Wall in Jerusalem.

Calling these actions "a wedge [driven] between our communities at a time when working for unity within Israel and enhancing the connection between Diaspora Jewish communities and Israel should be a primary concern", the leaders of the Conservative Movement are calling on members to write letters of protest to Israel's Ambassador to the United States Michael Oren. Click here for the full text of the Conservative Jewish Leadership statement. Letters of Ambassador Oren may be emailed to info@washington.mfa.gov.il, or mailed to the Embassy of Israel, 3514 International Drive NW, Washington, DC 20008.

CONSERVATIVE YESHIVA ONLINE LEARNING
The Conservative Yeshiva, located at the United Synagogue's Fuchsberg Center in Jerusalem, invites the public to register now for its two eight-week courses that are beginning online the week of January 31, 2010. Complete course descriptions are found at www.conservativeyeshiva.org.

Students who join with a "hevruta"/partner receive a 10% discount on the $200 tuition. Click here for more information and registration.

STUDY IN ISRAEL WITH MASORTI WOMEN & WOMEN'S LEAGUE
Women's League for Conservative Judaism cordially invites Conservative Jews visiting Israel in February to participate in one of the upcoming regional Masorti Women's study days. The theme of the February classes is: Esther Inspires and, in the Spirit of Purim, Jewish Women Answer Their 'Kingdoms'.

Classes are taught in Hebrew, English, Russian, Spanish, and Amharic and will take place on three different days, each day in a different part of the country. For information about dates and locations, contact Diane Friedgut, Women's League liaison in Israel (friedgut@zahav.net.il).

JEWISH AGENCY FUNDS NEW MASORTI ABSORPTION COORDINATOR
In an effort to enhance aliyah by Conservative Jews, the Jewish Agency's Aliyah Department has engaged Zvia Shelley as the first-ever Absorption Coordinator to work with/for the Masorti Movement. Shelley comes to the new position with rich experience in Israel-Diaspora relationships.

Conservative Jews considering aliyah now have the benefit of working with an aliyah shlicha, Naomi Freedman, naomif@jafi.org, located here in the United States, and a specialized klitah coordinator, Zvia Shelley, zvias@jafi.org, in Israel.

JOIN JNF IN MARCH FOR THE 5TH ALTERNATIVE SPRING BREAK TO ISRAEL!
ASB (Alternative Spring Break) is a great way for Jewish college students, graduate students, and young adults (ages 18-30) to connect with the land and people of Israel through meaningful acts of tikkun olam (community service). Departure dates are the weeks of March 7, March 14, and March 21. Sign up today at www.jnf.org/springbreak!

 

FEATURE STORY

A DVAR TORAH FOR TU BISHVAT
By Naomi Freedman, Aliya Shlicha for the Conservative Movement in North America

Are trees of the field human? (Deuteronomy 20:19) The Bible asks this question with regards to laying a siege on an enemy city and whether it is permissible to cut down trees to facilitate the building of the siege wall.

But the question about whether trees are like humans can also be asked on a personal level: do we identify with trees in general or with specific trees? For example, in Israel, it is common for parents to use names of trees for their children: Alon, Erez, Ilan, Eshel, Dekel, Rotem, Shaked, Tomer, etc.

Maybe we Israelis use such names because we believe that trees resemble human beings, like in the poem by the Israeli writer Nathan Zach, "For Man is a Tree of the Field". Do we know tree names? We have our favorite color and our favorite song, but does each of us have also our own favorite tree? Do we feel any special connection to a specific tree?

On a national level, the question of identifying with trees is also relevant. Many countries have trees as the symbol of their country, like the maple tree for Canada or the cedar for Lebanon. We Jews might even say that the Torah is our tree of life, based on Proverbs 3:18, as we sing when we return the Torah Scroll to the Ark.

Before the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, the Chinese asked each country to send a tree and flower to represent them at an exhibit. Israel did not yet have a national flower or tree, so the Nature and Parks Authority of Israel asked the public to vote and decide which tree and which flower would represent Israel.

How do you choose the tree that would represent Israel? What kind of nation are we? What kind of nation do we want to be? What does the tree say about our character?

I want to share with you some of the kinds of trees that got to the final round of the competition:

MERCAZ USA -- Oak tree

ALON – Oak: Represents rootedness. The Alon grows in the Galilee and in the mountains around Jerusalem. It is a very rooted tree and can live for many years.

SH'KEDIYA – Almond: Represents renewal. The leaves of the Sh'kediya fall in the autumn, but it is the first tree that wakes up in the winter just before Tu Bishvat.

MERCAZ USA -- Almond tree

MERCAZ USA -- Acacia tree

SHITA – Acacia: Represents toughness and persistence. The Shita grows in the Negev where not many trees can survive.

ZAIT – Olive: Represent peace, as with the olive leaf that the dove brought back to Noah. The Zait tree grows in the Middle East, one of the "Sheva Minim" – (seven species) with which Israel was blessed.

MERCAZ USA --  Olive tree

MERCAZ USA -- Date tree

TAMAR – Date: Represents ecology, since unlike other trees, every part of the Tamar is used, as noted in the Midrash (Genesis Rabbah 41:1): the trunk, the branches and the fruit. Like the Zait, it is one of the "Sheva Minim".

I encourage you to discuss this question as to which tree should represent Israel with your congregation. It is not so important which tree wins in the end. Rather, it is important to do some research and read about these trees and see how we feel about them, for as we read in the Book of Proverbs (3:18), "she is a tree of life for those who grasp her".

Happy Tu Bishvat
Naomi Freedman,
Shlicha Aliya for the Conservative Movement

naomif@jafi.org

For more information in Hebrew, click here.

(The tree that was chosen: Olive 41%)

 

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