Unexpected Shabbat Encounters

The following is an excerpt from a Shabbat message sent from Rabbi Loren Sykes, Principal of URJ Heller High, to the parents of the Spring 2018 semester. 

As Shabbat approaches, I want to share with you an exceptional experience we had last week at Kibbutz Tzuba. On Shabbat morning, we were joined by Daryl Messinger, Board Chair of the URJ and her husband, Jim Heeger, who is also deeply involved in Jewish communal leadership. It is not every week that we are joined by such distinguished guests!

Last Shabbat morning was extraordinary. Beyond having [Daryl and Jim] there, the madrichim (counselors) planned a different prayer experience. Together, we hiked from the hotel down to an old spring that is located on the kibbutz. We walked for about twenty minutes, wandering past the kibbutz apple orchards and other agricultural areas. The weather was perfect for hiking and it was delightful to watch the students schmoozing together as they walked. The spring is a known hiking destination and the kibbutz has built stone benches for sitting and a cover to provide shade.

Although we were a small group last Shabbat, you could not tell from the volume of singing and prayer that the students produced. Led by students Kinneret and Dani, everyone was part of our community and participating. Kinneret and Dani planned a beautiful Tefillah that was perfect for the location where we were praying. As our Shabbat morning Tefilah continued, I started noticing different groups passing us by. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed some people standing, looking at us with some curiosity. The family, from the neighboring suburb of Mevasseret Tziyon, was secular and out hiking for the day.

Students Kinneret, Sam, and Dani on Shabbat morning

I walked over and introduced myself. The family was celebrating Shabbat by hiking together and when they heard the beautiful music and voices (their words!), they wanted to know from where it was coming. I explained a bit about our URJ Heller High, where the students come from, and what they are doing here for the semester. The family was very moved by the fact that these students were spending the semester in Israel. In addition, they were touched spiritually by the way the students were observing Shabbat. This was this family’s introduction to Reform Judaism in Israel and they were very excited to learn about options that went beyond Orthodox and secular.

When I turned back toward the group, I noticed a very different group sitting nearby. Five or six teenage girls dressed in long sleeves and long skirts sat in a circle on the ground, about twenty-five yards away from us. They were clearly Orthodox and must have been staying at the kibbutz hotel for the weekend. They didn’t approach us nor did they ask me about the group. At the same time, they didn’t leave the area as Kinneret played the guitar or while students took pictures (according to Jewish law, Halakha, both activities are prohibited on Shabbat). The girls did not yell or curse at the group as was the case when we joined Women of the Wall at the Kotel. They just sat and carried on their quiet conversation.

We live in a world where people with very different perspectives find it difficult, if not impossible, to be in the same space, let alone talk with one another. Last Shabbat, we found ourselves holding our morning service in a beautiful setting, sharing it with a secular family from Mevasseret Tziyon and a group of religious girls staying at the hotel. With so much focus placed on what divides us, it is important to note that which unites us. While all three groups, the family, our students, and the girls were all observing differently, we were all observing Shabbat in the same space at the same time.

When that happens, sacred space is created and the Divine Presence is increased in the world.

Shabbat Shalom,



You can learn more about Jewish Life and observance on URJ Heller High here. We are currently accepting applications for the Fall 2018 and Spring 2019 semesters

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