Too often, when we try to nuance Israel for our students, we resort to further generalizations and over-simplifications. “Israel is the homeland of the Jewish people, and all Jews, worldwide, are welcome there,” becomes “Liberal Jews are not welcome in Israel, in Jerusalem in particular.” This attempt to show students the “real” Israel continues to oversimplify a country that is vibrant and struggling with its challenges and national identity. These photographs, which I took during the 2009-2010 academic year while studying at the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies, show different sides of Jerusalem’s diverse religious life. Although each photograph is only a small slice of the story, when taken together, they begin to tell a more complete and complex story of what it is to be part of the progressive Jewish community in Jerusalem.
The above photograph shows Nofrat Frenkel, a member of Nashot HaKotel – Women of the Wall, leaving the police station in Jerusalem’s Old City after being detained in November 2009 for wearing a tallit on the women’s side of the Kotel. Outside the police station, a group of dozens of women and allies waited for Nofrat, singing and praying with joy and hope.
The above photograph is from a “Free Jerusalem” parade on a Saturday night a few weeks after Nofrat’s arrest at the Kotel. The poster reads “There is more than one way to be Jewish.” In a blog post I wrote about participating in this protest, I wrote, “I am a liberal Jew, a Reform Jew, and for the past few weeks had felt incredibly lonely and disconnected from that in this city. Saturday’s night march shifted that for me…That Saturday night, I no longer felt alone. It’s unclear (highly doubtful) that the protest will have any impact whatsoever on the power dynamics in Jerusalem, but it had a huge internal effect on me, reminding me that there are Jews of all varieties who share a vision of a Jerusalem that is truly a city for all Jews, secular, Orthodox, Reform, Conservative, and everything else in between.” The diverse community of Jerusalem residents who share this vision are just as much a part of Israel’s story as those who fight to enact legislation preventing the vision from becoming reality.