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Rabbi advocates spiritual diplomacy in Israel

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Rabbi Ian Pear

Rabbi Ian Pear, center, poses with his parents, Martin and Beverly Pear of Phoenix, during their visit to Israel.  

Photo courtesy of Martin Pear

Rabbi Ian Pear, a Sunnyslope High School graduate and former member of Beth El Congregation, now runs Shir Hadash, a popular Jerusalem synagogue that emphasizes spiritual diplomacy.  

Pear, who will speak in the Valley next month at a Bureau of Jewish Education program, defines spiritual diplomacy as an endeavor that seeks to strengthen Israel by showing her spiritual side to various groups that visit the country.

Shir Hadash started this program after Pear and his wife, Rachel, learned that many political groups visiting Israel take Shabbat “off” since Israeli government offices are closed and instead might visit Ramallah or another Palestinian town.

“We have always felt that this was a shame, not because these groups shouldn’t visit elsewhere, but because Shabbat itself is such a powerful experience and provides a wonderful insight into the Jewish people,” Pear says via an email interview. The congregation started working with government agencies, as well as with tour operators, religious institutions and political organizations, to craft an “inspiring experience that connects these groups to real Israelis, real families and real life.”

In addition to political, academic and business leaders, Shir Hadash has hosted many religious leaders, “including those already supportive of Israel but also many who are not.”

“We’ve had Muslim imams from Indonesia, who represent tens of millions of followers, and Mennonite pastors from Kansas,” says Pear. “Neither group were particularly ‘pro-Israel’ in the traditional sense of the word, but following a series of seminars and lectures, exposure to a Friday night service and, most importantly, home hospitality, they leave Israel changed, more connected to the Jewish people and more sensitive to the Jewish nation’s connection to this land.”

Pear says that they have received amazing feedback, “with groups as diverse as a delegation of U.S. attorneys general, evangelical ministers and school superintendents all listing their Shir Hadash experience as a highlight and most meaningful aspect of their visit.”

When Pear lived in the Valley – his family moved here in 1987, when he was in high school, “the JCC – then on Maryland in Central Phoenix – was both the geographical as well as communal center for my life,” he recalls. His father, Martin Pear, was the director of the Phoenix JCC and their family attended Beth El Congregation.

“On those rare occasions that I traveled out of the Central Phoenix corridor, such as to Hebrew High at Temple Solel or to friends in Scottsdale, I felt like it was a major trip. Today, like the world in general, that distance has shrunk, both in time (thanks to the new roads) and mentality. Everything just seems so much closer and accessible.”

Pear graduated from Sunnyslope High School in 1989 and received his rabbinic ordination from Yeshiva University, with a specialization in Jewish philosophy. He also holds degrees in law from New York University School of Law and in international relations from Georgetown University’s School for Foreign Service. In 1999, soon after he and Rachel were married, they made aliyah. The couple have four children.

“Israel is a wonderful place to live,” he says. “It’s great to raise children here, and the sense of community is palpable. Moreover, we feel like we’re able to play a role in the great and exciting experiment that is the Jewish people’s return to our ancient land. Imagine the U.S. some 60 years after the founding. There was still a lot to do, and many of the decisions made during that time continue to have an impact today. That’s what it’s like in Israel now. We’re still building the country, we’re still laying down the foundations that will no doubt influence the country for centuries to come. That’s a very exciting endeavor to be able to play a small role in.”

Pear has put his law degree into use in Israel as well, working at an environmental-law firm where he participated in such projects as rewriting worker safety rules for those working in newly discovered oil fields and providing legal assistance for a new sewage plant that served not only Jewish communities but also Palestinian villages without any access to modern facilities. Through the latter project, he helped form a coalition with religious leaders from other faiths in support of environmental concern.

When Shir Hadash – which means “a new song” – began, it met in a bomb shelter; today, it is housed in two large synagogues, one located right next to the president’s residence and the Jerusalem theater. They are also in the process of building a new state-of-the-art facility for an early childhood and family activity center.

 Pear is also an author; his most recent book, “Shir Hadash: New Journeys Along an Ancient Path” (New Song Publishers), is a commentary on the book of Genesis, which is “not only the foundation of our entire religion, but also what it means to be human in general,” he says. “It’s about how to live an ethical life, a meaningful life and a communal life – all things essential to being human.”

Pear says that he wrote this book to celebrate Judaism. “Unfortunately, I find that too much of the discussion about Judaism is about bemoaning our fate – about sowing guilt or fear, or learning how to say ‘no’ to what much of life has to offer.  

“My reading of Genesis is the exact opposite. Judaism is fundamentally about teaching us how to say ‘yes’ in the most emphatic and meaningful way possible. Indeed, one of the first things we learn about God is that God is an optimist, and that our world was created with cosmic optimism. This book endeavors to both remind us of that fact and expose the teachings within Genesis that confirm it.”


What: Scholar-in-Residence from Jerusalem: Rabbi Ian Pear

When: Sunday, Aug. 9

Class: 5:45-6:45 p.m.: “Ancient Insights into Modern Problems and a Ray of Hope in a Troubled Region: The Environment in Jewish Thought and Israeli Practice”

Lecture, book-signing and dessert: 7-8:30 p.m.: “The Book of Genesis: Power of Beginnings, Shir Hadash-New Journeys Along an Ancient Path”

Where: Ina Levine Jewish Community Campus, 12701 N. Scottsdale Road, Scottsdale

Sponsors: Bureau of Jewish Education and community partners

Cost: Free

Reservations: BJE, 480-634-8050 by Aug. 6

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