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Vol. 1 No.3 , July 2023, Tamuz-Av 5783

Spiritual network nexus

Spiritual leaders at the two-day "From the Galilee to Jerusalem" retreat, visit a playground in the disputed Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem, meeting with Arab residents of the area who stand to be evicted by right-wing Jewish organizations. (photos by Roy Bar-Shira)

Clerics lay groundwork for spiritual network following Jerusalem retreat

With violence in Israel heating up, 40 faith leaders from the Galilee and Jerusalem have just concluded a two-day retreat, looking for ways to narrow the gaps between them and encouraging coexistence. "From the Galilee to Jerusalem," brought together Jews, Muslims, Druze and Christians – mostly clergy – from many denominations, to learn more about issues facing them, to seek consensus and to start a process that could lead to a national network for spiritual leaders. They concluded the weekend with a visit to the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in East Jerusalem, where clashes over evictions of Palestinian residents by right-wing Jewish organizations contributed to the 2021 violence that rocked the nation. "Ultimately, we strive to create a national network of interfaith spiritual leaders who will provide Israel with the spiritual, religious and social infrastructure needed to build a just and equal shared society," said Rabbi Or Zohar, director of Spirit of the Galilee. "This retreat moves us closer to fulfilling that vision." SOG co-sponsored the retreat with Hebrew University of Jerusalem, which hosted the first-day activities, but the whole program was made possible through a microgrant from ROI Real Time Challenge, which supports grassroots efforts to address Israel's problems. ROI is a project of the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family of Philanthropies. The first day consisted of programs at the university – workshops, study sessions – including some led by Cantor Shani Ben Or, head of multicultural programming in the division of social involvement at HU, and by Jewish and Palestinian students. On the second day, participants crossed the “seam line” into Arab East Jerusalem, touring Palestinian areas, including Sheikh Jarrah. One participant, Rabbi Ruth Baidats, chair of Rabbis for Human Rights, described the experience as “a brave confrontation" with the problems the Palestinian residents face. She said she learned much about the relationship Arab Israelis and Palestinians who are not citizens. She also expressed hope that the encounters will lead to more contact between all communities. "We are creating an infrastructure of tolerance,” Baidats said. "It was very intense,” Rabbi Zohar said of the retreat. “A few people told me that they had to recover for a few days afterwards.

"The issues that came up were very charged," he added."Coming from the Galilee to Jerusalem brought all sorts off issues regarding our identities and our connections, the differences between us." Further, he said the retreat demonstrated SOG's leadership, which brings myriad faith groups together in one organization, hopes to take a grassroots leadership role in the country.

“After three years, it looks like our group is ready to engage in core questions of politics,” he said. “We feel strong enough to deal with those things and coming to Jerusalem showed that to us.”

Above, Father Saba Haj, an Orthodox priest from Iblin, Galilee. Below, Sheikh Imad Masri, left, Rabbi Professor Yair Lifshitz and Rabbi Ruth Baidats, at a joint dinner for Galilean and Jerusalem participants.


Online Classes at Hibura make kabbalah ‘accessible’ to all

Fred Shessel is looking for something. “For a long time, I’ve been a seeker of a less academic, more emotional attachment to God,” the Atlanta physician said. “I’ve tried several different ways of getting there, but Kabbalah seemed one way of achieving that.” His interest in kabbalah led him to the Hibura School for Kabbalah and Jewish Spirituality, an online study program founded by Rabbi Zohar. Hibura is part of the Spirit of the Galilee network, offering a spiritual component to the work of bringing peace to the Galilee and all of Israel. “To me, it’s been a wonderful, experience,” said Shessel said. “It is difficult, yes.... But Rabbi Zohar is a wonderful teacher … and he has gone a long way to take a neophyte like me and get me to a different level.” He's not alone. Located in Hararit, Misgav, Hibura’s main thrust is to take Kabbalah “out of the academies and into the homes,” as Rabbi Zohar put it. The school offers Zoom classes, like the one Shessel took, to Jews from around the world. A new class will begin this fall. Kabbalah is the study of Jewish mysticism. Dating back to the 12th century, it has long been considered an esoteric discipline intended only for great scholars. But Rabbi Zohar, a Reform rabbi who has studied Kabbalah for 20 years, wants to change that. “We are reclaiming kabbalah,” he said. “We are seeing it as a spiritual path that comes from Judaism, and every person, not just Jews, men and women, can find meaning in it and apply that way of existing to their lives.” Rabbi Zohar, whose surname is the same as the title of the core kabbalistic body of literature, the Zohar, wants to make kabbalah a contemporary spiritual practice that leads to universal meaning and the betterment of humankind. Which is exactly what Asher Kirchner, a retired professor from Edmonton, Alberta, took from the classes. “There’s something universal about it,” he said. “It’s also at the heart of basic human questions that balance particularism and universalism. That appeals to me.” He said Rabbi Zohar tries to make Kabbalah relevant to the issues of the day. “When we talk about politics Rabbi Zohar tries to speak from his experience. He doesn’t ground it in the Zohar or other Jewish texts, though it’s very much in the background." Shessel appreciates how Zohar takes complex teachings and makes them “accessible.” “He brings in other religions; he brings in philosophy; he brings in literature. He’s a very well-read and smart man. He’s not just a kabbalist; that’s what make him an extraordinary teacher.” Registration is open for the fall semester is now open. For details, contact Rabbi Zohar at

Kabbalah classes like this one taught by Rabbi Zohar at Temple Sinai, Atlanta, have attracted many students seeking a new, spiritual way to express their Jewishness. (SOG photo)


Vortex of violence

As I write this, judicial reforms, which could destroy Israel's democratic character, again threaten the country. But that's not the only challenge Israel faces. A dramatic upsurge in violence has swept the West Bank, where Jewish settlers and Arabs are attacking one another, and the government just a launched military operation in Jenin, hardening hatred on both sides. Inside the Seam Line, Arab Israelis complain of spiking violence in their villages, claiming the government does little to check it. In the Golan, the Druze resort to demonstrations to stop a wind farm project they say will adversely change their lives. They say the government isn’t listening. And in Tel Aviv, water cannons were turned on demonstrators protesting the government's removal of the police chief. It all looks like the country is slipping into a vortex of violence. I am not an alarmist, but this is all worrisome. This is why SOG’s work is so important: With our goal of coexistence and a just society, ours is a unique group in Israel, actively building bridges between all religions and cultures. We have been successful (see our lead story in this issue), but we can’t do it alone. Make your feelings known to your governments and ours, urge them to calm the violence here and to leave our courts alone. Remember, Israel is not its government. Its people support democracy, equality and freedom – the very values that have underpinned our country since 1948. So don’t give up on Israel now. Support her, and SOG as much as you can, and feel free to Email me any time. We can be the change we need.

As Or Sees It


Music from the Galilee

Chant taps tradition of meditation

"Sod Kadum" is an example of how meditation occupies as relevant a role in Judaism as in other Eastern religions. Based on 13th Century kabbalist teachings, the meditational mantra, sod kadum havayah setumah or ganuz nekuda ne'elama techef blah, is about the point as a symbol for God’s revelation in the world. Rabbi Zohar brings this mantra with his original music and lyrics, sending us to tune inwards and connect to with the divine spark that is found at the depths of our souls. We hope you find it uplifting.


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, or U.S. Liaison Lee Chottiner, Until next month, shalom!

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