|on har bental. photo by erica reitman|
Our 2012 CBE Trip to Israel was excellent. We were 22 people who represented new members and long-time members as well as people who had been disengaged from the community since their kids had grown and were able to use this trip as a time to re-connect to the community in a new way. New friendships forged; old ones strengthened. It was so gratifying in so many ways.
I'd like to take a few moments to reflect a bit on why the trip worked so well, based on three basic principles.
1. Have fun and be open to surprises. On our first night, for instance, I took those still awake after our arrival on a walk through Neve Tzedek, beautiful and charming at night, where we serendipitously met the rabbi of the Shloush Synagogue and were treated to a phenomenal welcome from this Libyan Jew, including a detailed analysis of his Torah scrolls from Aleppo, Libya, Morocco and Jerusalem. Gaga exercise after a day in Tel Aviv--which began with Bina, text study and a tour of poverty and refugees in South Tel Aviv to the Rabin memorial, the Tel Aviv Art Museum--was not at the top of people's list but once they did the class, they were refreshed. Birds in the Hula Valley, Banias for archaeology, and closing the day with a trip to a chocolate factory and winery in the area after an intense security reality check on the northern border are important contrasts that give people a sense of the extremes of life. We almost snuck in a trip to a caviar fish farm but just couldn't work out the logistics.
2. Meet with people who live in Israel. Try not to be a tourist all the time. This is important when traveling with adults. Get people off the beaten track. Give them down-time to get out there. Emphasize the importance of striking up conversations. In Jerusalem we had a Shabbat afternoon meal and study session with my friend Shimon Felix, a modern Orthodox rabbi and phenomenal teacher. In typical Shimon fashion he taught a text about Rabbi Nachman's insight that the Holy Land of Israel is just like land anywhere else--but different. This text gives voice to those in search of epiphanies but don't find them. And acknowledges that our time spent anywhere, especially sacred places, are made holy by the work and effort we invest, not their inherently spiritual elevation. Later in Jerusalem we met with my friend Sadek Shuweiki, a Palestinian social worker from Abu Tor who works in the Israeli prison system. Sadek grew up in the city and knows it from another angle than what most tourists see and his perspective is essential for understanding the stunning and challenging contrasts that face contemporary Israel. He took us to a roof-top cafe in the Christian Quarter where we had a sobering conversation about inequities in the housing, education and criminal justice system. After spending time with both Ir Amim and in Ir David, Sadek's view bridged the gap and gave real voice to the intense presentations we got from both our tours of Arab neighborhoods, Jewish settlements, ancient history, and today's complex realities.
3. Don't shy away from difficult conversations. It's really important. Being a Jew does not mean showing up in the synagogue once or twice a year. That's self-evident. But neither does it mean compartmentalizing one's Jewishness to the synagogue, even if you attend regularly. Israel presents a view of Jewish identity that is all-encompassing. Zionism was originally intended, arguably, as more than the national liberation movement of European Jewry. In returning to Zion, the Jew could be made whole again, at home in language, land and history, responsible for his own destiny. This may sound like rhetoric but it is not. There is, of course, the sheer joy of ordering food in Hebrew, admiring all the handsome young people, kvelling over Israeli ingenuity and singularly inspiring survivability; but there is also the matter of Jewish responsibility and morality.
How we manage our relationships with Arab Israelis; how we manage our relationships with Palestinians who seek a state and independent destiny of their own; how we manage Jewish security concerns in the most humane way possible; how the state navigates its own internal questions of religion and identity in a parliamentary democracy where a religious minority can dominate in areas of spirituality. These are not easy black and white conversations. Rather, they're complicated, multi-faceted, emotional, and sometimes difficult. It's so important to model to our communities that come to visit that to be a Jew is to live with complexity, with paradox, with ambiguity.
You can't plan a trip as if it's the only chance you have to show people Israel. Rather, you have to plan a trip in order to plant seeds for another visit. Frame questions; set the table for the next time. And don't be afraid to provoke. Among its many achievements, Zionism is about reminding people that Jews have personalities. Opinions. Passions for pursuing their own truths. More than 600,000 Israelites received Torah at Sinai, the Sages teach. Try parsing that lesson. These ten days from one set of perspectives; the next ten days from another. That kind of thing.
Two final notes: Four people left the tour and we almost lost a fifth. Two left to tend to an infirm parent back in the States; two more left when one of them broke her ankle in an accident. Another dislocated her shoulder in a fall. Gevalt! But everyone's resilience, care and love were evident. We wish everyone a full and speedy recovery!
And our tour company, Israel Experts, was excellent. Our guide was wonderful, the logistical support from the company was second to none, and they really helped put together a unique and eye-opening experience for our community, never batting an eye (at least to me) at my whacky ideas. Thanks so much to Ros, Karen, Joyce, Ruby and especially our guide, Ran Tzabar, for an amazing and unforgettable ten days.
Until next time.