Last week, at the final Shabbaton in Ein Gev, Rabbi Zeff led a session describing “reverse culture shock.” Having been on a lengthy Israel program before, I thought I knew what the transition back to the US would be like. However, when Rabbi Zeff began going through the symptoms of what it means to go through reverse culture shock, I began to realize that going home is going to mean much more than simply popping back into my exact same life that existed five months ago. In fact, home has changed and I have changed.
Through the assortment of programs and discussion on this program, I have clarified my beliefs on what it means to build a successful North American Jewish experience as well as my own religious and political opinions. I realize that going home will not be easy for me, as I will not be able to explain exactly what I went through on this program. Additionally, I am cognizant of the fact that it will be a lengthy process readjusting to my home life. That being said, I am excited to implement what I have learned into my various Jewish communities at home.
I know that the connection to the cohort, will help in describing what I am going through as many of them will also be experiencing similar emotions. Moreover, it is comforting to know that reverse culture shock is a psychological recognized phenomenon and that I am aware of it before I go home. Being equipped with this knowledge, as well as the cohort, will ultimately help me re-transition back to my life at home. Finally, it is clear to me that the knowledge that I have gained here will help me further my Jewish identity in America.
By Sarah Kusnitz
The Torah is written with black in on white parchment. Both the black and the white work together to tell the origin story of the Jewish people. It’s something that is read frequently and studied, by some, every single day. That engagement is usually done from the scroll itself or from a paper, discussing the stories and ideas in the text with a chevruta or in a group.
On our final shabbaton I wanted to push out of this comfortable form of text study at the synagogue or beit midrash and into Bibliodrama. Bibliodrama is a modern form of creating midrash, a kind of text study that uses improvisation games to explore themes and characters of Torah. I like to think that it adds a lot of color to the traditional black and white story.
The parashat hashavuah was behukotai, the final portion of Vayikrah. We focused on the blessings and curses presented in the parsha as a result of the Israelites ability to stay true to the covenant. We played games that illustrated ideas of power dynamics, obligation, and conformity. This is a very unique and interactive way to study Torah. We put ourselves in the place of the Israelites in the story. When they were told the consequences their actions could bring G-d is exerting incredible power over bnai Yisrael. We explored how power can play itself out in our own lives and it’s our choice it we us it for the good or bad of ourselves and others.
Looking at the ideas of conformity and obligation are very interesting in relation to Behukotai because today we read it and it may or may not affect us but back then, they needed for rain to come in the proper season and for their security to be ensured. Today we often take these things for granted. We know that we will have food on our plates and that the sun will rise in the morning and that we are generally safe and cared for. When that safety and security is contingent on action, it made us a little uncomfortable. On the other hand, when we knew others were also fulfilling the same obligations as we were, it made the action easier.
I think that this speaks intensely to the idea of nationhood.
Professor Reimer’s session on “How the American Jewish Community is Organized” was probably one of the most important sessions that we’ve had this semester. I believe that to be effective educators, leaders, advisors, clergy, and Jewish community members it is vital that we have a strong understanding of the history of the American Jewish institutional landscape.
Professor Reimer taught us about the first large Jewish immigration from central Europe in 1845. With this immigration came the complexity of living a Jewish lifestyle in a place that was not suitable for Shabbat or an observant lifestyle. He explained that local synagogues were places where Jews congregated and that these communities would import rabbis to lead these congregations. However, he explained that there were severe cultural and lingual barriers because these rabbis were not acquainted with the American-Jewish lifestyle these Jews were creating.
Ultimately there was an agreement that there was a need for American-Jewish rabbis and therefore Hebrew Union College was founded in the 1870s. The American nature of the title of this school is a representation of the novelty of this movement. Hebrew instead of Jewish was used because it was acceptable in America especially since Protestants also studied Hebrew. The word Union was used because of its resonance with the American Union. In the 1880s with the mass migration of Eastern European Jews there was the effect of denominations. With more people came more room for disagreement and sects. The Jewish Theological Seminary followed suit and created the hub of the Conservative movement. Because there was an already established Jewish community this immigrant community was significantly less wealthy and philanthropic organizations were established to help these new immigrants. This was the beginnings of Federations. In the early 20th century there was a change from the volunteer structure of Jewish communities to a structure in which they began hiring professionals to distribute the Federation’s funds. Thus, they started training professionals to work for these communities including Rabbis and teachers.
By having a command of this knowledge, we as future leaders can better understand the roles that individual organizations played in the development of the Jewish world.
My first time in Israel was four years ago as a participant in Ramah Israel Seminar. After ten harrowing days in Poland, we arrived in Israel on June 30th, 2014, and we knew that we were stepping into a developing war zone. Not five hours earlier, as we were sitting in the airport in Warsaw, we had all received push notifications announcing that Eyal Yifrach, Gilad Shaar, and Naftali Fraenkel had been found dead in Hebron. The retributive arrests of Hamas suspects of their kidnapping and murder were expected to be met with attacks from Hamas leadership in Gaza, which was, in turn, expected to develop into a war. Indeed, on July 17th, after weeks of military preparations, Israel publicly announced their intent to intervene in Gaza, and for the rest of the summer, we began to understand what it means to live in Israel during a war. Of course, we hardly touched the surface. Ramah’s first priority was our safety: we spent an extra week at our kibbutz in the north before coming down to Jerusalem, and we canceled our Shabbaton in Tel Aviv. We certainly didn’t go into the southern Negev, and we were nowhere near Sderot or the rest of the border with Gaza. Nevertheless, I left that summer feeling a connection to Israel unlike anything I had experienced before. I am convinced that my being in Israel during the summer of 2014, seeing my counselors drafted, and constantly receiving notifications from RedAlert, gave me an understanding of life in Israel that few other people in my social mileux understood.
In the years since Seminar, I have met people whose siblings were serving in Gaza during Operation Protective Edge, and even a few people who were soldiers themselves during that summer. Between these introductions and perspectives that I have developed over time, I have started to realize that, though my experience and my reflections are totally legitimate and important, I still have absolutely no idea what it really means to live close to war. Sure, during our week at a kibbutz in the (northern part of the) Negev, I found myself crouched behind a refrigerator in a safe room with five other people when we heard a siren, and sure, when I arrived home and heard a plane fly by overheard, I found myself waiting for the next plane to come by after it, but I was safe. We were kept as far from conflict as possible, and our summer was colored with little fear. Visiting Sderot in April with The Nachshon Project emphasized this distinction all the more, and I am so grateful for how much this experience added to my perspective.
Listening to Tamar and Nitzan Bar Kama sing was mesmerizing. The name of their organization—A New Voice—absolutely rang true; the words that they shared with us, through their conversation and through song, were beautiful, honest, and entirely relatable. They began with a song about strangers, a song that was angry at those who didn’t and couldn’t possibly understand the terror and beauty of life in Sderot, a song whose lyrics expressed the frustration of trying to explain over and over again that which truly cannot be explained. As they sang, I felt guilty, regretful of the conversations I had upon my return to the United States in which I shared what my experience in Israel had taught me about war. I might have learned a lot, but my lessons were so minor in comparison with their songs.
“There’s no such thing as post-trauma here in Sderot,” Tamar told us. “Trauma here is ongoing.”
The beauty of responding to that trauma through song is unbelievably powerful.
This week, we had the pleasure of hearing from Rabbi Leon Morris – the President of the Pardes Institute for Jewish Studies. Rabbi Morris spoke to us about his experiences as a rabbi and as an educator. I was inspired by Rabbi Morris’s daring to craft a religious identity that, although sometimes fraught with tension and dissonance, seeks to integrate the multivocality of the Jewish world.
There are many parts of Rabbi Morris’s journey that merit discussion; however, I find myself especially moved by his journey to the Rabbinate and his vision for the Jewish future so I will focus specifically on those aspects of his story.
Rabbi Morris was raised in a small town in Pennsylvania where he was one of two Jews in his class. R’ Morris, however, always felt himself unusually drawn to the rich world of Jewish life. Eventually, he found his way to NFTY (the youth movement of Reform Judaism). There, he encountered like-minded Jewish teens and there he began exploring what the Jewish world has to offer him and what he may have to offer the Jewish world. Eventually, Rabbi Morris rose to become NFTY’s national president.
Listening to Rabbi Morris speak about his youth, I was struck by how many of his experiences mirror my own. Growing up, I shared the perennial loneliness Rabbi Morris expressed; I was so deeply and peculiarly in love with a tradition that many of my classmates found antiquated and of little relevance to their lives. In high school, I didn’t find NFTY, but I did find NCSY. There, for the first time, I discovered a world in love with exploring Jewish identity, a world sturdy enough to explore but malleable enough that I still might introduce some of my own longings and insights into its structures. This early and enduring love for Judaism and the Jewish people is what draws me to the concerns and vision for the Jewish future Rabbi Morris outlined in his speech.
In the world of 21st century American Judaism, Rabbi Morris’s religious identity is somewhat of a curiosity. He’s a Reform Rabbi in love with halakha – he believes fervently in the right to choose, but regularly chooses to commit and obligate himself. At first blush, the postmodernism that predominates his religious thought seemingly contradicts/undermines his commitment to orthopraxy. Why should one continue to uphold Halakha’s stringencies when one no longer believes in a sense of divine obligation? As a committed religious personality and as a student of the western university, this question is one with which I and my friends frequently wrestle.
To resolve this seeming contradiction, Rabbi Morris suggested a shift from what he terms “First Naivety” to what he calls “Second Naivety.” First Naivety, he explained, is the literal belief in Judaism’s metaphors and narratives – the belief that God actually split the sea and spoke to the Jewish people in a cloud of thunder and lightning. Second Naivety, however, acknowledges the processes that produce religious rites and beliefs but still chooses to consciously reenter the world of symbols and metaphors. For example, when Rabbi Morris davens the Mi Sheberach prayer, he doesn’t conceive of it as a divine petition but as an expression of collective yearning that those dear to him will recover from whatever sickness ails them. Rabbi Morris, however, retains the framework of the inherited metaphor and expresses his yearning as if praying to a God who heals the sick. Thus, Halakhic observance becomes a decision to relate to the world through the deliberate use of symbol and metaphor.
I grew up in a home that many would call non-Zionist. After all, there was no Israeli flag anywhere, no acknowledgement of Yom Ha’atzmaut, and no HaTikvah. But if you ask me, my family embodies the kind of Zionism that existed long before Herzl and long before the nineteenth century. The Zionism that was always an integral part of Judaism, the Zionism of my family and community, is a Zionism removed from politics – a Zionism that is rooted in Jewish History, in our ancestral connection to the Land, and in the belief that the Land is ours because God gave it to us. This is the Zionism that had Jews praying for a return to Jerusalem for thousands of years, the Zionism that has every synagogue throughout the world facing towards Jerusalem, and the Zionism that includes a commemoration of the exile in every major Jewish event.
Rashi, the medieval French commentator, brings a midrash on the opening phrase of the Torah. He quotes Rabbi Yitzchak, who assumes that the general purpose of the Torah is to instruct us in God’s will. If so, then what is the purpose of the whole first book and a half of the Torah? Why not start with the first commandment, the mitzvah of sanctifying the new moon? Why even talk about Creation? Rabbi Yitzchak answers this by saying that the account of Creation is included in the Torah so that “should the peoples of the world say to Israel, “You are robbers, because you took by force the lands of the seven nations of Canaan,” Israel may reply to them, “All the earth belongs to the Holy One, blessed be He; He created it and gave it to whom He pleased. When He willed He gave it to them, and when He willed He took it from them and gave it to us” (Yalkut Shimoni on Torah 187).
While of course this does not need to be taken literally – I would not recommend that Prime Minister Netanyahu defend Israel’s right to exist in the UN by saying that “God created the world, and He said that we should have Israel,” – I was raised with this midrash’s sentiment as an internal attitude. It is this belief that underlies my family’s love for Israel – because without speaking to the other nations, we know for ourselves that God created the world, and He promised us the Land of Israel. Of course, that belief can only take me so far. I don’t believe that God’s promise to our people gives us a right to hurt another people, and I struggle with many of the government’s decisions.
All of this background is why I especially enjoyed the weekend we spent in the West Bank, entitled Narratives of the People, Land and State of Israel: Jewish Israeli Politics on the Left and Right.
After a busy Friday where we met with Hagit Ofran of Shalom Achshav (“Peace Now”), walked along the “Path of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs,” and of course, went ziplining at “Deer Land,” we settled in at our host families, residents of Alon Shvut- a religious community in Gush Etzion. Over the weekend, we also heard from Yishai Fleisher (spokesperson for the Jewish community in Hebron), and had the opportunity to visit the Shorashim “Peace Tent” and heard from participants in a dialogue group of local Israelis and Palestinians.
While each activity and speaker helped me understand another facet of the conflict, I specifically enjoyed hearing Rabbi Tzvi Hirschfield speak about Indigenous Land Rights.
Prior to our Sunday workshop with career consultant Larry Braman, the cohort had the assignment to complete an online interest report. This report was a lengthy questionnaire which prompted us with a wide variety of interests, which we had to rank. These interests spanned from future career paths to leisure activities. With hundreds of thoughtful questions, we were challenged with the task of assigning value to these interests. As I completed this questionnaire, I found myself having both very strong interest in some items and very little interest in others. Very few items fell on the spectrum of having an unclear value in my life. Feeling confident that my answers were strongly rooted and representative of my interests, I looked forward to receiving the report back.
Upon meeting with Larry, we were given a large packet which were the results from the report. As we leafed through our individualized booklet comprised from our test results, we were able to see where our strengths and interests lay. Moreover, based on our interests, we were able to see which careers aligned with our interests. However, Larry emphasized that just because you share interests with people in certain career paths does not mean those are the career paths you must pursue.
For the majority of my life, I have had a strong interest in working with children. As I am studying education in hopes of becoming a day-school teacher, I found that my strengths and interests aligned with career paths in the field of education. Furthermore, my top career paths included: early childhood education, special education, speech and hearing pathologist, and social work; these are all different routes to which I have previously pondered.
Upon reading through our own strong interest reports, Larry allowed us time to discuss and hear from other members of the cohort. During this time, it was interesting to see if and how other people’s reports aligned with their current life plan. As some people felt very confident in their results, other people took time to self-reflect to consider if the path they were on is the best choice for them.
After an insightful Shabbaton in Alon Shvut, our cohort had the pleasure of meeting with Andie and Noor from “Shorashim,” a grass-roots activist movement aimed at building understanding between Israelis and Palestinians. Shorashim translates to “Roots,” a word which embodies the goal of the organization; as a grassroots movement, Shorashim, or Roots, is aimed at building trust and recognition between both sides of the conflict to ultimately create a peaceful political reality in Israel. They seek to help Palestinians and Israelis feel empathy to one another, to better understand both sides’ history and sense of ownership over the land. Ali Abu Awwad, a founder of Shorashim, explains, “there can be no harmony until we [Palestinians and Israelis] see the humanity of the other side.” Having the opportunity to see Shorashim’s space firsthand and to hear about their transformative mission to create this harmony and was thought-provoking, inspiring, and eye-opening.
We first heard from Andie, who explained the journey that brought him to where he is today. He walked us through his background growing up in America and his decision to make Aliyah, to return to his “home”. In Israel, he is an open-minded religious Jew, living in Alon Shvut. As someone living in a settlement and working alongside Palestinians to create peace, he is in many ways a pioneer. Through explaining both his personal goals in being involved with Roots and the organization’s goals, it became clearer how two seemingly opposing sides could have more in common than one may initially think.
Sitting next to Andie, Noor spoke next, explaining his connection to Roots. He shared his experience growing up in Jerusalem, being relocated, and how his life evolved as he contemplated his identity as a Palestinian refugee. He had previously been involved with an organization that planned to carry out an attack on Israelis, but after meeting Israelis firsthand, he began to see them “beyond the frame of ‘occupying soldiers’.” He decided to join roots after meeting with the organization’s founders and is driven to take steps toward a political solution. He continues to organize Palestinian-Israeli events and to speak about his experience in the conflict and how they motivate his drive to find peace.
Roots values dialogue and respect, as foundational building blocks in creating a partner for peace. The organization recognizes that although Israelis and Palestinians reside right next to one another in the West Bank, they live in great separation.
At the end of April we had an important full day seminar/workshop with Larry Braman, a career consultant based in Los Angeles who was flown in to work with us. Larry Braman started the day by asking us all assess and categorize our personal values. While this may sound like a basic task, it was really the beginning of an important process of considering our career paths and our professional goals. We were given a worksheet that listed 90 personal and professional values and were told to circle all of the values that were important to us. This was the easy part. Next, we had to narrow down these values to our top ten and rank them. In my fantasy world, my job would have everything that I could ever want; but in the real world we have to make tough decisions. I ultimately decided that my top ten values were making a difference, pride in my work, family, community, challenge, meaningful work, growth, joy, advancement, and problem solving. These values are ones that I do not think I could live without and are a top priority for me professionally. The more difficult part was ruling things out because it forced me to acknowledge that I can’t have it all. To decide that while helping people, self-reliance, teamwork, creativity, and balance are all incredibly important but not in my top ten was especially challenging.
After we paired up to discuss out top ten choices with a partner, I realized that not everyone had interpreted the question in the same way that I did. I tried to think about values that were important to me in general and then see if they fit into my desired career, while my partner thought about what he could realistically get out of his desired career path and then ranked them based on the importance of those values for himself. When comparing lists, our values were pretty similar even though we came at the question from completely different perspectives. He had to make compromises based on the reality of his future career. I, on the other hand, had to make compromises based on my personal priorities. Continue reading →
By Eliana Rohrig
Recently our cohort was offered the opportunity to go on an optional tour of Hevron with our tour guide, Jamie. The self-selected smaller group was wonderful because we all had time to ask Jamie questions in a quieter setting, as we explored the small area of the Jewish part of Hevron. What makes Jamie such a wonderful tour guide is his knowledge and care for the topics we explore throughout our journeys. Especially when it comes to politics he has the specific skill of discussing complex and taboo issues gracefully, being careful not to offend but also treating us as future educators who are invested in trying to see this conflict as more than a zero-sum game.
We walked off the bus and Jamie pointed our attention to buildings in the distance, gates in the peripheries of our vision, to orient us in this maze of H1 and H2, area A, B, and C. As you walk through the streets of Hevron, hearing the children play in the kindergartens and day cares, you lose yourself during what feels like a normal moment on a Jewish Yishuv; and this is what the community members of Kiryat Arba and Jewish settlers in Hevron work hard to achieve. This is an uncomfortable reality, as we hear stories of the Palestinians who lived on this very street beforehand.
We walk past young soldiers and Jamie asks if they wouldn’t mind exchanging a few words with us. The sun beats on their helmets, “Sure”, they reply. The first one introduces himself, he learned in the Yeshiva here as part of his Hesder service, and he is from Hashmonaim, a Yishuv just outside of Modiin. “Do you know Channah Spiegelman?” I exclaim. “Of course”, he smiles. Channah is the director at the summer camp I enjoyed many wonderful summers at, Moshava IO. He tells me he worked there and I realize we must have been there at the same time. Suddenly, this isn’t a romantic show and tell session, but a close to home experience of someone I could’ve known. It is during moments like those that I realize how difficult it is to participate in a narrative where I try to remove my bias.
As we walk towards the cave of the patriarchs I am surrounded by respectful dialogue as friends express their confusion and exchange their conflicting thoughts, and their hopes.
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