13 February 2010

A Poke and an Idea

We haven't traveled on a traditional vacation schedule in a long, long time, so while yesterday's lines at the JFK terminal and the car rental stop in LAX. It was a bit overwhelming. At LAX, waiting for a car felt a bit like being churned through a pasta machine and when we made it out of the gate and headed toward 405 to go visit family, we were one in an inventory of human macaroni, tumbling toward our fate.

On the plane I marveled at the beauty of our country, how little of it one gets a chance to see and the view from 30,000 of the Middle Plains, the Rockies, and the Utah and Nevada deserts was a humbling reminder that wherever you live, you never really see enough of what you need to see to grasp how varied and complex our world is.

While the kids slept or zoned out in front of the seat-back televisions on JetBlue (a blessing and a curse) I studied from a new favorite Torah commentary, the Da'at Hamiqra, which combines traditional and historical commentary, complete with maps, drawings and pictures.

Somewhere over the Rockies I felt a poke on my back, so I moved briefly, and then again felt another poke. It seemed intentional so I turned around to see what was what and found myself facing an Israeli businessman in his sixties who engaged me in a conversation in Hebrew. He asked what I was studying, and where in Israel I was from ("a small town called Milwaukee," I said, "heard of it?") He showed me what he was studying--the Shulchan Aruch--which he's learning with a Chabad rabbi in Long Island where he lives.

The conversation was a warm one and it got me thinking about the ways in which liberal synagogues do or do not engage the many tens of thousands of Israelis who live in New York City. A cursory view would indicate that we're quite good at hiring Israelis to teach in our Hebrew schools but we don't do such a great job of engaging Israelis as Israelis--programmatic, intellectual, social engagement--and I would like to do better.

I think the greatest barrier tends to be the Hebrew language--Israelis often enjoy being engaged when the community creates a context for Hebrew to be spoken comfortably and most liberal communities don't engage the Hebrew language in that way. Second, a Chabad rabbi "looks like" an Israeli rabbi, and that won't change, I suppose, until another generation or so when more and more non-orthodox rabbis and synagogues take root in Israel.

Anyway, it's a thought. What might we do to engage Israelis more in the fabric of our communities? Given that Israelis comprise half of the world's Jewish population, a more regular engagement in synagogue communities is critical for a more complete representation of Jewish life.


יונתן אור–סתיו said...

You're absolutely right. Case in point: בסופשבוע שעבר ביהכ’נ שלנו ארגן אירוח של ילדים של קהילות אחרות במערב קנדה אצל המשפחות של הילדים שלנו בכיתות ה' ו–ו' . שאלנו את המארגנת אם יש ביניהם ילדים למשפחות ישראליות, כמונו, שיהיה להם נחמד לבלות בבית דובר–עברית, כמו שלנו. ’איך אני אדע מי ישראלי ומי לא?', היא שאלה.
בסוף באמת הסתבר שהיה ילד אחד ממשפחה ישראלי, שהתארח במשפחה אחרת, בעוד שאנחנו קיבלנו שני בנים דוברי–אנגלית בלבד. אילו היה מדובר בילד שחשוב לו שמירת כשרות, המארגנים היו יודעים יפה מאד לוודא לאיזו משפחה לשייך את הילד, אבל הנושא של השפה והתרבות לא נראה להם חשוב, לכן לא טרחו.

DPG said...

Anachnu ohavim orachim yisraeliim, v'anachnu tamid mistadlim ledaber itam b'ivrit. Aval hem tamid rotzim laanot b'anglit. E'efshar laasot sicha b'shtay safot.