Last time I was in Israel, I went to the outside market in Jerusalem on a Friday morning, the busiest time of the week as everyone prepares for Shabbat. I fought through the crowds, elbowed left and right. I was sufficiently frustrated and grew even more so waiting in lines at the central bus station.
By the time I sat down on the bus, cheese borekas in hand, my feelings had resided. I couldn’t imagine departing for the states in less than 24 hours. The trip had only been 9 days, but I’d experienced a lot: time with family and friends, the loss of musician Arik Einstein, Hannukah celebrations in the streets.
When the Israelites begin wandering through the desert, they are disconnected from both home and identity. They are no longer slaves, but not yet a nation in Eretz Yisrael. The traditional Hagadah narrates the story of leaving Egypt but stops one verse before entrance into the land of milk and honey.
I stand with the Israelites peering into the land.
Every Friday morning, I crave that shuk experience. I want to feel vibrant Jewish life around me, knowing that the person who elbowed me at the shuk would likely invite me in for Shabbat. My relationship with Israel is not naïve. Nonetheless, Israel fills a piece of myself. It’s where I regain my sense of belonging to Jewish people, place, culture, and religion.
I stand with the Israelites peering in. Will I enter or remain at the edge?
Working in the field of Israel education, I am continually thinking about ways to connect Jewish youth to Israel, viewing a relationship with Israel as integral to Jewish identity. But connection to Israel emanates in many forms. My physical pull to the place is only one story.
How is Israel a part of your life?
Rachel Levin: serves as a Program Coordinator at the iCenter for Israel Education in Northbrook, IL. She joined the iCenter team after participating in and being inspired by the iCenter Masters Concentration in Israel Education. Since her first trip to Israel on Birthright in 2004, she has found a way back each year. In 2012, Rachel earned an M.A. in Jewish Education and an M.A. in Jewish Nonprofit Management from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, Los Angeles.