Stories, Truths, Shortcomings, Achievements – Shira Weissman

My mother was born in Israel to Polish parents who narrowly escaped the Holocaust. For her family, Israel was a savior and she grew up wandering the streets of Tel Aviv with her sisters. Everyone was poor and shared with one another. After she left Israel in her 20’s, moving to Berkeley during the 1960’s hippie revolution of the 1960’s, she never moved back to her homeland of milk and honey, kibbutzim and orange groves, though we visited as a family every year. Her Israel was young and idealistic and could do no wrong and she strongly imprinted her vision of Israel on me as I was growing up.

I loved the warmth of the country and the familiarity of the smells and language. I attended summer camps in Israel with my many cousins and distant relatives, alongside other Israeli American children, whose parents longed for them to experience “real” Israel and not become completely American. But in the end, we always left. I was an American child, with television and Christmas and friends named Elizabeth and Stacy.

When I was 20 years old, my relationship with Israel changed. I studied in Tel Aviv during my junior year of college, which happened to coincide with the beginning of the Second Intifada. Two weeks after a wild night dancing with friends at the Club Dolphinarium on the Tayelet, a suicide bomber killed and maimed over 100 young Israelis waiting outside the club. It was an abrupt end to my perfect vision of Israel. Yet, Israelis continued to frequent the coffee shops and nightclubs, almost in defiance of the collective anguish of the country. I saw real perseverance and bravery.

I continue to go back to Israel for short trips, as often as I can. On one trip, I visited Hebron and toured the Jewish settlement located in the heart of the old city, where 800 Jews live in the middle of a city of 250,000 Palestinians. It was uncomfortable to witness a handful of zealous Jewish settlers create such hostilities with their Palestinian neighbors. Israel might be brave, but it was often wrong.

Most recently, I learned and studied for two weeks in Israel with the Wexner fellowship program, which opened my eyes to Arab-Israel relations, Israel’s relationship to Gaza and the West Bank, the ultraorthodox challenges to Israel’s democracy and Israel’s accomplishments in water conservation. I toured the desalination plant located in Askelon, and witnessed how 90% of Israel’s domestic fresh water is produced. I saw the incredible innovations Israel has made in water irrigation at Netafim, which in typical Israeli fashion is a multi-million dollar corporation located in a modest Moshav in the desert.
Israel’s constraints, both ecological and geographical, are what fosters the country’s innovation. I am constantly in awe of the young country – with its vibrant art scene, growing tech sector, breakthroughs in flight and aerospace technologies and its discoveries in medicine.

Israel remains my beloved home away from home, embracing me with open arms and falafel. Israel has many stories and truths. I acknowledge the shortcomings and achievements of Israel, and my relationship with Israel is not without challenges. Yet, it is a relationship I believe every Jew must have.

Our generation has never faced a world without Israel. I don’t know or understand the implications of such a world and I don’t take it for granted. Every young Jew must take the time to learn and develop a relationship, however complicated, with Israel.

 

Shira Weissman is General Counsel at Rabin Worldwide, where she negotiates transactions involving industrial equipment and real estate, and handles the legal and business affairs of the company. Prior to her long awaited return to her hometown, Shira practiced law at Baker & McKenzie in Chicago and taught second grade with Teach for America in the South Bronx.

Shira recently completed the two-year Wexner Heritage Program, where she revitalized her excitement for the vibrant Jewish life around her. When not closing a deal, Shira loves running on Mt. Tamalpais, skiing anything anywhere, and cooking Shabbat dinners with her family.

 

50DaysofIsrael as an Israel Education tool – Sami Stein Avner

Note from the editor: In preparation to present my blog project at this week’s iCenter iFellows Masters Concentration in Israel Education Seminar (say that 5x fast), I asked a few folks I know have been following along to share the ways in which they have used the blog. A couple of people responded in such well-stated ways that I asked if they would be willing to have me share their words with you all. Here is the first of two responses.

As a Diller Coordinator who just finished hosting Israelis (they left the day before Passover) and mid-planning and preparing to take the Diller Fellows to Israel this summer, I found myself asking the same questions this blog poses: what do these teens need to know when learning about Israel and forming their own deeper personal connection to Israel?

We have created an intentionally pluralistic community within the group of teens I work with, which also includes various experiences with and feelings toward Israel. As a way to get the teens to share their personal sentiments toward Israel, I wanted to introduce them to several people’s perspectives on what Israel means to them. I already had a few excerpts from the book What Israel Means to Me, and added the blog post written by rabbinical student Allie Klein to show them an educator’s perspective. I liked this piece because it touched on the complexity of Israel and the variety of people who live there through a simple concept – sound.

Since then I have engaged one of my junior counselors to write a reflection on Dusty’s blog about Israel from a teen perspective who has seen Israel from a few angles, including staying in the home of an Israeli teen in Tel Aviv. I am excited to see what she has to say as I think it will be an important voice to add to this blog.

 

Sami Stein Avner is the Program Coordinator for the Los Angeles Diller Teen Fellows Program at the Westside JCC. Prior to running the Diller program, she received an MBA in Nonprofit Management and MA in Jewish Professional Leadership from the Hornstein Program for Jewish Professional Leadership at Brandeis University.

Taking Israel Off of Her Pedestal – Liora Alban

Note from the editor: In preparation to present my blog project at this week’s iCenter iFellows Masters Concentration in Israel Education Seminar (say that 5x fast), I asked a few folks I know have been following along to share the ways in which they have used the blog. A couple of people responded in such well-stated ways that I asked if they would be willing to have me share their words with you all. Here is the first of two responses.

I started reading the blog, 50 Days of Israel: Thinking About Israel from Slavery to Sinai after Dusty posted it on her facebook. Being a Jew, a future rabbinical student, and a person who struggles with her relationship to Israel, I was intrigued.

After living in Israel for a year, I returned with more questions than answers about this beautiful homeland. Although Israel has always felt like home, certain challenges and experiences in my last year made me take Israel off of its pedestal. I realized that the warm and utopian Israel which had been presented to me through Jewish education and youth trips is not the entire picture. Most noticeably, being a Progressive Jewish woman was difficult inside of traditional Jerusalem. I yearned to to sing, dance, pray, and ultimately, be, freely.

50 Days of Israel cements the fact that I am not the only committed Jew with these frustrations. The blog includes voices of friends and future colleagues whom I respect and whom allow me to sit comfortably with my own criticisms of Israel. They make me realize that with a love of Israel comes a wanting to improve it, and that this is okay. Further, the writers oftentimes present opinions on Israel that are new or different from mine. Sometimes I know the writers and sometimes I do not. Each writer answers the blog’s questions in his or her own way, encouraging me to ask myself those same questions. With each answer by a different writer, I am presented with something new to consider and a new contribution to my own answer. It is helping to carry me therefore along my own journey from slavery to revelation, from confusion about Israel to an understanding and acceptance of the beautiful complexities that shape this Jewish homeland.

 

Liora Alban  earned her B.A. in Religious Studies with a concentration in Judaism from The University of California, Berkeley in December 2013. She also studied religion at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in Fall 2012 and Spring 2013. Although Liora grew up in Los Angeles and enjoyed exploring Berkeley, she cannot wait to make the move to Jerusalem in July 2014 as she begin pursuing her rabbinical ordination at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion.

My First Trip to Israel – Karen Klobucher

What is my Israel story? Let’s start with this: I am a Roman Catholic who lives in a Jewish family. What you are about to read are observations from that perspective. The following excerpts come from the journal I kept during my first trip to Israel in 2004.

July 20, 2004 The Flight
The flight from Newark to Tel Aviv was full of Orthodox Jews. It was wonderful to be saying the rosary three feet away from a man saying his morning prayers. Despite all the children on the flight, there was very little crying. The woman sitting next to me visits her daughter and five grand-children every year. Her son-in-law was killed. She doesn’t understand how anyone would want to destroy a country where the people of three religions all live “together”. She had nightmares all night and grabbed my arm from time to time.

July 21, 2004 Tel Aviv
We arrived in Tel Aviv to collect our mighty steed, a tiny white Hyundai. We drove to Nahsholim….a picture perfect resort where we dined on huge buffets of Mediterranean delights and strolled on a moonlit beach until the crescent moon slipped like a sabre slowly into the sea.

July 23, 2004 Tel Aviv and Jerusalem
We went to the shopping mall with Dusty and Tatty [my daughters]. Tatty did look fetching in her new Israeli garb and jewelry. Though we had been warned to stay away from such places, Dusty had been hanging out with some women Israeli soldiers all about her age and was rather nonchalant in her response to my concerns. There were many, many soldiers. However, people just go on “living” here, whether they are relaxing at a resort or shopping like crazy at the mall. It took us a half an hour to find our car in the parking lot. It seems that everyone who shopped that day had a white steed.

Then we drove to Jerusalem. The landscape got hillier and the bushes bushier. After some wandering and twisting, we found Nurit’s house in the German Colony, Emek-Refaim. Nurit is the 80-year-old grandmother of a friend of the girls and she had invited us to Shabbat dinner. We heard the shofar, saw no soldiers, and watched the Orthodox walk to synogogue. Nurit is a walking history book, a small, feisty woman who has lived in Israel her entire life. She has been through all the world and Israeli wars. She spread out a Shabbat feast prepared solely by her – what is better than to be with ones family and a dear new friend over a lovely Shabbat dinner, IN JERUSALEM?

August 3, 2004 Jerusalem
Tim [My husband] and I explored the Old City together, and then I ventured out on my own – I wanted to see the Christian sites. There are so few tourists this year that I had my pick of guides. Sylvia was my personal guide and very knowledgeable. Around 4:00pm, the narrow market place was emptying as it was soon time for the Muslims to pray. The last site was the Stations of the Cross, the fourteenth station being the Holy Sepulchre itself. I entered and was speechless that God had brought me to this day. The bells started ringing loudly. I prayed, lit a candle and asked about the bells. Sylvia said different bells ring for 7 different kinds of Christian churches and each have their own time to process. The bells just then happened to be for the Roman Catholic Franciscans. I felt blessed in this experience. What a high! I felt I was being celebrated by my church on Holy Ground and Sylvia, my Israeli guide, was gracious enough to allow it.

 

Karen Klobucher is married to Tim Klass, the mother of Dusty and Tatty, a Montessori teacher and drama specialist, and a member of Temple B’Nai Torah and Saint George Parish in Seattle, Washington. She founded a Saint Vincent de Paul Society chapter at St. George in late 2004.

 

Redemption – Matt Drisco

Unlike many of the people posting to this blog, I had no reason to go to Israel. I was poor, out of college, and, most importantly, followed a girl to Israel for several months. I didn’t have any Jewish roots of which to speak, nor did I have a particularly strong connection to the monuments. Israel, for me, was a country of political and religious discord, a country of news stories. So you seek, so shall you find. I saw a Jerusalem as a city of contradictions, from Me’a Shearim to Ein Kerem, orthodox to liberal, a city in which people existed in a threadbare peace. Strife existed not only between religions, but within them as well.

I found many things wrong with Israel. I was shortsighted.

After living there for 5 months, I traveled to even cheaper pastures. I took the bus to Cairo to live two squalid months right after the revolution. I thought I had seen strife, or mistakes, or hypocrisy, but I had not understood the miracle of Israeli development.

Many people who have not travelled the Middle East do not understand this simple fact: Israelis redeemed the land. I am not speaking in a spiritual sense, but in a physical one. They delivered the land from the autocracy and poverty and corruption and desert. I look at the other lands that broke from Ottoman rule and I am amazed. The land of Israel is not a miracle. It is a story of work, of redemption, and of struggle, as the name means. God struggles. Israel struggles. The people struggle. There is no other way to redemption.

 

Matt Drisco lived for five months in Israel, including an ill-fated bike ride around the country. He also lived in Cairo for two months. He currently lives in Los Angeles, where he studies business.

 

Processing Israel Through Doodles – Dusty Klass

During my first year of rabbinic school, spent in Jerusalem, I spent a lot of time listening to lectures. The lectures were often very interesting, and thought-provoking, and challenging. But because they were lectures, they allowed for very little back-and-forth, less conversation, and almost no processing. So I took matters into my own hands (literally). Below are a few of the doodles that came out of a few of those lectures:

ARMY

army

I drew this during our visit to an army base, while many of my classmates were off trying on and taking pictures wearing various sized automatic weapons.

INGATHERING OF EXILES

ingathering of the exiles

My art has never been very sophisticated; the image of the home represents the idea of homeland. The arrows represent the different ways the Jewish people are supposed to return to that homeland, both from the four corners of the earth and also from the ground up. The question mark represents my discomfort with this idea and the orange bit suggests a potential transcendence out of this traditional “homeland” idea.

FRINGES

fringes

I leave the interpretation of this image to you.

Noting The “We” – Elliott Levitt

   I barely noticed the ‘we’ the first time I heard it.  And yet, over the course of my conversations with Israelis on a trip a few years back, it started to crop up again and again.  “We can’t please everyone” sighed one woman, addressing political pressure from abroad.  “We think it’s the best of our bad options,” said a soldier of the high border security on the West Bank.  Rarely in America do you hear people speak on behalf of their entire nation.  In Israel, I found, it’s instinctive.
   You’ll find the ‘we’ in any place with a small, population—especially one that finds itself regularly under threat of one kind or another.  It’s an unconscious acknowledgement of something Israelis often think but rarely say aloud: whatever our individual beliefs, against a common threat we’re all in this together.
   You might not know it, looking at the country from afar. Read the Jerusalem Post, and it can seem as though no two Israelis agree on anything.  For all the political dissent we have in the U.S., we’ve always been a two party system.  The 535 members of the United States Congress comprise just three political groups; Israel’s Knesset has 120 members, and thirteen parties between them.  And yet, the ‘we’ surfaces there too.
   You’ll hear that Israeli ‘we’ in any number of places—”Why would we need Starbucks when there’s an Aroma in every shopping mall?”—but most often it’s in reference to a problem that must be solved.  It’s not always political issues that prompt the ‘we’ either.  Israel, easy as it is to forget, has a lot of the same troubles as the rest of the world.  “There’s a big problem nowadays with drug use among the teenagers here,” one Israeli told me.  “But we’re working on that.”
Elliott Levitt was born, raised and Jewish Day School-educated in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., but now lives and works in the great city of Los Angeles.  A veteran of trips to Israel, he packed his sunscreen, shorts and T-shirts in preparation for a visit to Jerusalem last year.  It snowed.

 

An Island in Time – Leah Citrin

Shabbat is an island in time. It is a chance to pause, reflect, and differentiate between the holy and the mundane. And although it exists in every city, in every country, every week, something special happens on Shabbat in Israel.

Friday afternoons in Jerusalem are an experience in and of themselves: the hustle and bustle of a city preparing to shut down for 24 hours. The rush of people at the shuk, the cooking and cleaning, the dinner planning, the frantic pace right up until the sounding of the siren, signaling that Shabbat has begun.

And then the peace and quiet sets in. There is time.

Time for relaxing, conversation, and casual strolls. Time to listen. The sounds of singing emanate from the shuls. The sounds of children laughing can be heard in the parks.

Shabbat is an island in time. Ahad Ha’Am once said, “More than the Jewish people has kept Shabbat, Shabbat has kept the Jewish people.” Nowhere have I experienced this sentiment more than in Israel.

Yet I no longer live in Israel. Leading services or Torah study, I often work on Shabbat. A conscious effort is required to separate Shabbat from the rest of the week. It doesn’t come as naturally right now.

So too does my relationship to Israel require this effort. It has been two years since I have visited. I no longer open Israeli news sites regularly. I have far fewer conversations in Hebrew. Yet I know that a return visit is all it will take to reignite the passion, the emotion, the connection. A taste of Shabbat, a foot on Israeli soil, is all that is required to remember how precious it is.

Leah Citrin, originally from Rye Brook, New York, is a rising 5th year student at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR) in Cincinnati. After serving pulpits in New Iberia, Louisiana, and Kokomo, Indiana, Leah will begin her second year as the rabbinic intern at Rockdale Temple in Cincinnati in the fall. An avid Yankees and Reds fan, Leah also enjoys playing tennis, softball, and running half-marathons. Additionally, Leah is excited to begin her iCenter fellowship in a few weeks!

Honeyblood – Alana Baum

I’ve got honey in my blood
It churns thick with cinnamon warmth
Through fall and mid spring
Around holiday time

I come from grandparents with honeyblood.
It swirled through
My Bubby’s cookies,
My Zayda’s Yiddish,
Old world kitsch never tasted so good.

I grew up nestled in the footsteps of a
Jewish mother,
And a father
Whose parents left their heritage behind
For an American Dream
Without curly hair. 

They didn’t know
Honey still ran in their blood.

It coursed through
Sweet evenings spent lighting candles,
Asking questions
Always in that order

Growing up, each December
There were eight nights
Of being asked how the lamp stayed lit
But wondering why the candles had to burn out so fast.
Every time.

Traditions unfolded and folded
Like prayer shawls
Draped across the shoulders of balding men
Wearing fabric
Like a story
Calling it sacred

My favorite
The tale of Zusya,
When he died, he thought God would ask him
Why he didn’t act more like Moses or Abraham,
Instead God asked him
Why he didn’t act more like Zusya.

I don’t think these old tales
Are so tall

They glazed my adolescence with a rich
Combination of history and promise

My community always believed in something
Clawed at it with hormonal fingers,
Ran to it with dirt-covered feet,
Encircled it
With breath
And candles
And secrets
And time

Each more precious than the last

As time crept by
I stopped tasting
Honey on my tongue

Old words sounded bitter without it…
Israel
In Hebrew it means wrestle with god

For so long,
This mighty metaphor
Propped my faith upabove the others.
A history that wove itself reflexively
But when I finally
Entered the wrestling ring
Flew to Jerusalem on a trip for wide eyed youth
Symbolism was beaten to a pulp by
Truth

Why was a land so full of love?
Spilling over with blood?
Why do fights with god
Always result in so many casualties?
How many Palestinians died in the wrestling match?

It hurt to think about…

Cognitive dissonance
(It’s no coincidence
A Jew coined that term.)
A coin split
A land split
That’s when I began to split

A mechitza
Splits the room
Between genders in spaces where worship calls women distractions
Don’t treat me like a distraction
Stop getting distracted from justice
By tradition
I hate Jews that don’t get this
I love Muslims that do.

It’s hard to taste the honey these days,
As I find tradition in yoga
Feel sacred in bed
Look for stories in poetry slams
See promise in a justice so impossibly perfect
That I will spend my whole life seeking it

But even though honey dissolves in hot liquid
And hardens after a few months without use
It’s the only food in the world that never goes bad

And honey will always run in my blood
And I will always be made of my Bubby’s cookies

 

Alana Baum is a (very) recent graduate of UC Berkeley.  She spent her college years living in co-ops, writing poetry, subverting norms, and growing into her skin—which she is still very much doing.  Alana is unbelievably privileged to have had so many opportunities and curious to discover what she will do with them.​

Changing the Question – Scott Frankel

Hark! Change is in the air! A little more than halfway through the Omer, it seemed it might be nice to throw a third question into the mix – a question prompted by fellow iFellow Scott Frankel:

Scott’s passion for Jewish media and education brought him to Israel for a year after graduating from college. He worked at a film & TV production company in Tel Aviv, where he directed a documentary about global Jewish life called From The Diaspora. This project lead Scott to become a Chicago PresenTense Fellow in 2012, and he now works at the iCenter.

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