Playing for peace
Rabbi Or Zohar, director of the Spirit of the Galilee Association (SOG), performed at a peace rally Tuesday, May 9, outside the Jaffa Gate in Jerusalem. Thirty organizations, including SOG, sponsored the rally, which attracted about 200 people. The throng marched from Zion Square to the Jaffa Gate of the Old City, where they heard speeches, scripture and inspirational music from people of various faiths. The rally came as violence between Israel and Gaza was heating up, threatening to spread. Extremist counter-demonstrators heckled the speakers - to no avail, Rabbi Zohar said. “We were not intimidated. We managed to convey a message of peace and unity and hope amid a very disturbing day."
New Torah links Galilee to Baltimore
American Jews will connect with the Galilee in a symbolically important way this Shavuot when a historic Torah on loan to SOG from a Maryland synagogue will be formally dedicated. The Torah, which is on permanent loan from Har Sinai-Oheb Shalom (HSOS) in Baltimore, will formally meet its new community on May 25 during a Shavuot service-celebration at SOG’s Havayah Center of Being in Hararit, Misgav Region.
Seven leading figures from the local Galilean community will speak at the event, which will also include a musical offering, a children’s program, and a communal meal. To SOG Director Rabbi Or Zohar, the Torah dedication represents a symbolic milestone for American Jews and all the peoples of the Galilee. "This symbolizes the great bond between American Jewry and Israel," Rabbi Zohar said. "For us, this Torah is a symbol that we are becoming a growing, vivacious center for progressive Judaism in northern Israel – a pluralistic center." While all Torah scrolls have back stories, this Torah, which was delivered to the Galilee in early April by HSOS Senior Rabbi Rachel Sabath Beit-Halachmi and her husband, Rabbi Ofer Sabath Beit-Halachmi, is both historic and interesting. Written about 150 years ago, Rabbi Ofer Sabath Beit-Halachmi confirmed, the scroll is thought to have been commissioned by Rabbi Benjamin Szold, a past spiritual leader of Temple Oheb Shalom long before its merger with Har Sinai in 2019, and the father of Henrietta Szold, who founded Hadassah, The Women’s Zionist Organization of America, in 1912. Rabbi Zohar said the Torah’s value will be felt beyond religious services. "The light of the Torah should be linked to the shared society between Jews and Arabs that we are building,” he said. “It should symbolize to our community and neighbors the commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves."
He added, "We’re making a connection between receiving the Torah and what we’re trying to teach in our community."
SOG, Christian feminists share Shabbat
A group of Christian feminists from around the globe recently celebrated Shabbat with the SOG, capping their spiritual journey through the Galilee.
The group, led by American Bible scholar and feminist Dr. Lizzie Berne DeGear, met SOG Director Rabbi Or Zohar and other worshippers during a service on April 14 in Hararit, Misgav Region. The women joined a discussion on the kabbalistic notion of the shechinah (God's presence) as the divine feminine.
They also sponsored a dinner for the discussion participants.
DeGear described the experience as "life transforming" for her group.
And Rabbi Zohar said the event “proved that spirituality is both deeper and wider than the narrow definitions of religious affiliation. "It also fulfills one of SOG’s goals, he added, "to be a home to those who come to the Galilee from afar, seeking to touch upon some spiritual experience and to be engaged in inter-religious dialogue."
DeGear’s group included 11 women from the United States, Australia, Canada and India. Mostly Catholic feminists committed to inclusivity and the dignity of each person's spiritual path, they first met online in 2021 for Bible study.
Their Galilee visit was meant to "explore the land we had been reading about and imagining together, and to expand our own consciousness,” DeGear said.
She described the Hararit visit as the highlight of the trip, saying her group had been “welcomed into a small and vibrant community, connecting with Israelis in an authentic way and breaking challah together."
Many in DeGear’s group were participating in their first Shabbat, she said, but all enjoyed the "spontaneous conversations" with Zohar and the head nun of a nearby abbey who left her gardening chores to join the talk dialogue between neighbors."
Perhaps most of all, DeGear said she was struck by "everyday Israelis" who are coping with the problems of the country, “facing the political turmoil and injustice in Israel, and having a sense that there is a small-scale human way to face these seemingly intractable problems."
Kabbalah is open to all at Huber classes
The Galilee has been a center for Jewish spiritual and mystical studies (kabbalah) for centuries.
Inspired by this legacy, Rabbi Or Zohar established the Hibura School for Kabbalah & Jewish Spirituality. As part of the greater mission of SOG, Hibura strives to make Jewish spirituality accessible to all.
"Kabbalah has been, and still is, a living and dynamic tradition, aimed at personal and social transformation," Rabbi Zohar said. "The kabbalists who thrived in the Galilee created a spiritual path within the Jewish tradition that was meaningful for their times. Inspired by them, we try to do the same today."
At Hibura, kabbalah is taught in an open, egalitarian and pluralistic context to men and women, Jew and non-Jew alike. This rich resource of Jewish spirituality is being taken out of the academies and into the light of day.
"We are reclaiming kabbalah,” said Rabbi Zohar, who has been teaching this Jewish theosophy for 20 years. He has a master’s degree in kabbalah from Tel Aviv University.
Kabbalah study at Hibura includes Jewish meditation and mindful readings from the Book of Zohar. While some kabbalah courses take place in the Galilee, students from Israel, North America and Europe also meet online and learn together on a weekly basis. To join them, visit Hibura online.
Music from the Galilee
Singing 'Haleluya' with Feliza and Or
For the first issue of SOG Voice, Feliza and Or wanted to share music that is medicine for the soul in troubled times. "Haleluya Mima'Amakim" is the perfect prescription.
"Hallelujah is a universal prayer word," Rabbi Zohar said. "Mimakaim means, out of the depth - 'out of the depth I call you, oh Lord.' It’s a quotation from Psalms. "Depths means both from a low place and from the depth of our hearts and souls," Rabbi Zohar continued. "So when we are in a low place, like Israel is now today, we can connect and pray from the depths of our hearts for guidance as to how to be inspired to bring forth positive change."
Turn to the SOG Voice every month for new and inspiring music from Feliza and Or. You can also listen to them on their website. That's also where you can download sheet music, and get concert and workshop dates.
Keep in touch...
There are so many ways to connect with SOG and the rich spiritual and artistic lifestyles for which the Galilee is known: For starters, visit SOG at our website. This is where you can lean more about our organization, hear about our ongoing projects, and get the latest on events, study opportunities and tours of this beautiful region we call home. For late-breaking news, events and responses, like us on Facebook. Rabbi Zohar, an accomplished teacher of kabbalah (Jewish mysticism), runs a school called Hibura. To join his classes, click the link here or in the ad above. Feliza and Or, who for years have been expressing the spirit of the Galilee through their powerful music, have made it available to you online at their website. You can also subscribe to their YouTube channel. We want your feedback, so please email your comments or questions to Rabbi Zohar, firstname.lastname@example.org or U.S. Liaison Lee Chottiner, email@example.com. Until next month, shalom!
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