Rabbi Amy Small and I met in Israel in March. She was on a trip with Makom, an effort to strengthen synagogue relationships with Israel. I was on a Religious Pluralism Funding Committee mission from my federation in northern NJ. Our interests were very similar, visiting projects which promote religious pluralism in Israel.
I stayed one night at Kibbutz Gezer with Steve Burnstein and his family. He is an RRC student who has made aliyah and is working for Israel Experiences, which plans tours for birthright and other groups.
One of the things I found most fascinating is how the language we use to describe ourselves and our religious practice simply doesn't translate in Israel. Words just don't mean the same here and there. For example, Ruth Calderon, who spoke at our convention in November, spends her life teaching Talmud and organizing huge Shavuot gatherings (4000 expected at the Tel Aviv Museum this May, and 38,000 on TV!), Havdalah services on the boardwalk in Tel Aviv, and more; yet she considers herself secular.
I attended a service in Har Adar with Roni Yavin, who directs Elul, a network of Batei Midrash all over Israel. She and her family have just formed a group which celebrates Kabbalat Shabbat once a month at their community center. Her daughter and other 11-year-olds are preparing for Bat Mitzvah. I sat in on a lesson prior to the service; it was an introduction to the Sh'ma, which they had never heard!. They were astonished to see me wearing a kippah, and to hear me sing throughout the service. The melodies were more familiar than at many Reconstructionist synagogues in the States.
We then went home to a lovely Shabbat dinner, with the whole family singing as the platters were placed on the table. Shabbat day was spent at home, cooking for the week, entertaining friends, and going for a long walk. There is an “allergy” to anything that is called religious, since that term only described the Orthodox, yet their practice is more Shabbasdic in many ways than for those of us who attend shul each weekend. The search for new language to describe what's going on will be a long, but fruitful one.