A visit to Israel is always special to me. I owe Israel my enthusiasm for Judaism and the ways and rituals for celebrating life to its fullest. In Israel, I am in the majority since most people are Jewish. That is a powerful feeling to have and carry even beyond the visit. On the eve of a 10 day visit to Israel, these are some reflections on what it means to me.
My year of study and play in Jerusalem, as part of the UC Berkeley (go Bears!) inaugural junior year Education Abroad Program to Israel changed my life.
While Young Judaea began the process of turning me on as a young Jew (thank you, Hadassah!), Israel brought me alive Jewishly…living it as a natural culture instead of a boring ritual (which is how I felt about synagogue as a child (feeling as if I was in a gold fish bowl, given that my father was the rabbi).
My approach to the rabbinate is steeped in the Young Judaea model coupled with the spirit and vibrancy of Israel. That model is what you see at CBI, already "instituted" before I arrived (which is why I am so comfortable here). It means a horizontal "hierarchy" rather than the classic vertical. You grow power by inspiring others to take it on who likewise engage and inspire still others. We have well more than a minyan of unique leaders, skilled in their own ways, giving with passion to help sustain and grow this community.
That is the energy I experience in Israel: a we-centered way of living. From early on children, in addition to school, partake in youth groups, what Jewish youth groups here, such as Habonim and Young Judaea pattern themselves after. High school students partake in Gadna, pre army programs and camps, and that leads to the great socializer, if not equalizer, the army. Relationships made in the army become life-long, especially since people see each other at annual "reunions" i.e. reserve duty, well into their 40’s.
It’s a small country, not just in size, but in numbers, so when something happens, when lives are lost, it ripples further and deeper into the societal fabric than is the case in larger countries, I.e. the USA.
When I am in Israel, I feel much safer than what is projected through the media. In fact, I feel safer in the streets of Jerusalem than any American city (imagine walking in the park at night!). Yes, I was in a class in the Sprinzak building of the Hebrew University in 1969 when we heard and felt the explosion in the library cafeteria where scores were injured. While I remember it well, I also remember that at once I knew I was safe and that all was otherwise well in Jerusalem that day.
Israel is one of the best environments a child could ever want or need, where it seems as if everyone cares, and everyone keeps a good eye out for one another’s children.
In my three separate years of living and studying in Israel, two with the seminary, all connected to the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, I found a second home in Israel. Celebrating the Jewish holidays as part of the society rather than from a religious context was inspiring. I thrived on Israel’s tendency to informality. I am not packing a tie for this trip.
The bottom line is that were it not for my exposure to Israel, it is highly unlikely that I would have chosen to become a rabbi. I look forward again to breathing in the air and life of Eretz HaKodesh, this gift of God to our ancestors, inaccessible for over 2000 years, only recently open again for "business", i.e. Avodat HaShem, Service to U KNOW HU.
It is ironic that more Christians than Jews make it a point to experience Israel. Let me know if you would like to have a CBI visit in the not too distant future. I know I will be up for it, especially after this upcoming visit.