Over the years, I've participated in some pretty random Jerusalem Shabbat meals - the weirdness of some of the human beings that make it to this part of the world will, I hope, never cease to amaze me. That having being said, I'll put up the crowd that we hosted a few weeks back against any random group of people.
Mrs G and I are a pretty normal, young frum couple - probably Dati-lite is a good phrase to describe us; she doesn't cover her hair and wears trousers; I pic 'n' mix when it comes to certain aspects of the religion - you get the picture. 2 of our guests that meal were Yeshiva boys - one with a black hat; the other knitted kippa. A further four of our guests were University Students who arrived by cab and switched their cellphones off as they came in, boys with heads, girls cleavage uncovered. Already an interesting mix. The piece de resistance however were Joel and Shoshana Covington with their delightful daughters. Joel (otherwise known as Rebel Sun) and Shoshana are black Americans, living and studying in Israel, currently under threat of being expelled from Israel because the Interior Ministry won't give them a visa so that they can progress with the conversion process. Shoshana is studying towards an M.A. at Hebrew U and isa friend of Mrs G.
The meal was marked by some exceptional conversation - our yeshiva boys, University students and the two of us have a fairly typical middle class Jewish background and so Joel, from the rough streets of Baltimore was a little different to our usual social group. He and Shoshana struck me as being tremendously passionate, dignified people, warm parents and lots of fun to be around. Watching a Black hatted yeshiva student engage in a hip hop handshake with Joel, hair worn in braids, was a sight to behold and a story which I'm sure will get much mileage.
Last night, Mrs G and I went to Hama'abada on Derech Hebron to hear Joel's band Coolooloosh. The gig was to raise money for their fight with the Interior Ministry. They were joined on stage by well know figures in the local hip-hop scene - Sha'anan Street from Dag Nahash, Kwami De La Fox, Segol 59 and Kashi who together with MC Carolina appear in "Fight Rebel Sun" a song in support of the Covingtons' struggle. We missed the opener but the rest of the evening was killer - I used to be very into rap music and still recognise good stuff when I hear it and Coolooloosh have a funky seventies influence going on which was just great to dance to. I would certainly go along to show support but when the music is that good it's a great pleasure and the big crowd clearly also appreciated what was going down.
We gave Shoshana a lift home after we'd said hi to Joel. It's very difficult to understand their current plight. The Law of Return allows for large numbers of non-Jews to make Aliyah and although I see the problematic nature of the law, I totally understand and identify with the reasons behind it. The Interior Minister is empowered to grant citizenship to people who don't meet the criteria of the Law of Return - typically sportsmen or other people who have given to the country. Again, I can see a value in that. But what I can't understand is why when a family of bright, productive and creative people who would be a credit to any society, express their desire to undergo the difficult process of conversion to Judaism, they run into a wall with the Interior Ministry?
It's an issue which comes up time and again - MK HaRav Michael Melchior commented that Ruth the Moabite (as in Megillat Ruth) would have no chance against the clerks of the Interior Ministry who seem to delight in the power that they can potentially wield. Why should the decision as to who can convert be placed in their hands? Effectively that is what is being done here - to convert you need a visa - to get a visa you need Misrad Hapnim.
I don't suppose that much can be done before the elections - our politicians are concerned with retaining their seats and cutting deals, not with the people. Maybe once the dust has settled, someone will get up and force change in the most archaic of Government offices. Until then you can sign a petition here.
Fight Rebel Sun, fight.