With an open mind

Sermons, essays, articles, arguments and thought pieces from a Liberal Jewish perspective.


Sermons and Thoughts

A message from Sabbatical

06 November 2023
Rabbi Lea Mühlstein

The past month has been extraordinarily challenging for all of us and I am so grateful to know that many members have expressed concern about my and Josh’s well-being. As it so happened, on 7 October we were on a family visit to the United States and as my flight back to Israel was cancelled, I have not been able to return to Israel yet. So physically we are safe but, like the rest of the global Jewish family, we are still in shock about the events of that black Saturday and watch with anguish the war and the public reaction to it. In these past thirty days, I have thought a lot about Yehuda Amichai’s powerful poem: A Man Doesn’t Have Time In His Life. You can read the full poem online [link:’t-Have-Time-In-His-Life] but let me quote the beginning here:

A man doesn’t have time in his life
to have time for everything.
He doesn’t have seasons enough to have
a season for every purpose. Ecclesiastes
Was wrong about that.

A man needs to love and to hate at the same moment,
to laugh and cry with the same eyes,
with the same hands to throw stones and to gather them,
to make love in war and war in love.
And to hate and forgive and remember and forget,
to arrange and confuse, to eat and to digest
what history
takes years and years to do.

Amichai puts words to my emotional turmoil. There is grief, anger, fear and confusion but there is also hope. Having seen first-hand the work of the Israeli pro-democracy movement during the summer, I have not at all been surprised that it has been especially civic society that has stepped up to respond to this crisis. Volunteers are at the forefront of everything at the moment: from providing for the basic needs of displaced families from the south; to support for soldiers and reservists; to offering professional trauma care; to leading the campaign for the return of the hostage.

I am proud of and inspired by the incredible work that our colleagues in the Israeli Reform Movement are doing day in and day out, providing pastoral and spiritual care despite most of them having to worry about family members called up for active service. First surveys indicate that more than 50% of all Israeli adults have volunteered since the October massacre. And what is maybe even more impressive than the overall number is that people from every sector of Israeli society – Haredi, religious, secular, Arab, Bedouin, Druze, Christian – are among the volunteers.

The Israeli artist Zeev Engelmayer encapsulated all of these efforts in his fictional map of the State of Israel entitled: “A map of hope.” It stands alongside his first map: “A map of fear and anxiety” (see here).

The Jewish soul has throughout time indeed been seasoned to hold opposing emotions all at once as Amichai reminds us. But maybe Ecclesiastes wasn’t altogether wrong – as we hold all those emotions inside of us, it is okay that there is a time to speak up and a time to be silent. So whether we choose to weep silently, like the prophet Jeremiah’s image of mother Rachel, or cry out loud, like the Psalmist, may we be a source of strength to each other during these challenging times.