- November 30, 2011
Sarasota and Tel Aviv, one of the two largest cities in Israel, appear to have little in common upon first glance. Look closer.
Both are coastal cities known for beautiful beaches. Both were established in the first decade of the 20th century. And both are home to the “Embracing Our Differences” exhibit, also called the Shonim B’yahad in Tel Aviv.
Embracing differences and building bridges between communities were the ideas at the heart of Temple Beth Israel’s first-ever Israel Weekend. The event was led by Rabbi Meir Azari, the senior rabbi at Beit Daniel Synagogue and Community Center in Tel Aviv, a major hub for Reform Judaism in Israel, since it opened in 1991.
Beit Daniel and TBI have a special connection. The former was founded by Ruth and Gerald Daniel, who had a home on Longboat Key for 40 years. (Their daughter, Miriam Daniel, was in attendance over the weekend with her husband, Larry Wolff.) After Gerald’s death in 2018, Azari and leaders at TBI began discussions that led to the idea of “twinning” the two congregations.
“In the modern era, we need to build bridges between people, between communities, between states and continents,” Azari said. “And I think that in the Jewish world, we don't do that. We tend to concentrate in our community on local problems. And I think that this partnership allows them to understand more about what happens in Israel, the Holy Land, and for our community to understand the challenges of the community here. For example, we don't feel in Israel anti-Semitism, and the community in the United States [feels] that.”
It’s safe to say Azari, who once served as executive director of the Israel Movement of Progressive Judaism, has expertise few others can match.
“I thought I knew everything that there was to know about the state of Israel in the modern state, and yet I've learned things [this weekend] I didn't know before,” Rabbi Peter Kasdan, chair of TBI’s speakers’ committee, said.
Kasdan mentioned that Azari’s lesson on Yom Ha’atzmaut, or Israel’s Independence Day, was particularly enlightening. In fact, it’s inspired him to research the topic for himself, partly in the hope of offering a future lesson about it at TBI.
Naturally, the weekend opened with a shabbat dinner and service Friday night, which was followed by an Azari lecture that centered mostly on the growth of Reform Judaism in Israel. Azari then spoke Saturday morning about about the role of Reform Judaism in Israel within the context of the current political administration. At the men’s club breakfast Sunday morning, he talked about how Reform Jews in the SRQ area and Reform Jews in Tel Aviv can work together to create a more egalitarian Israel.
Azari left at the end of the breakfast; he had an early flight to catch. But those who stayed behind were then treated to a private tour of “Embracing Our Differences” led by the exhibit’s executive director, Sarah Wertheimer.
You may remember that “Embracing Our Differences” is in Sarasota. TBI’s congregants crossed a bridge before they arrived.