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.

 

One Story Everyone Should Know? Entebbe. – Ashley Berns

  Ashley Berns is currently pursuing Rabbinic Ordination as well as an MA in Jewish Education from the Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion in Los Angeles. This summer, Ashley worked as the Counselor-In-Training (CIT) Director at Camp Hess Kramer in Malibu, CA. Following her summer position at camp, Ashley continued her work with Wilshire Boulevard Temple as their Rabbinic and Education Intern. Ashley was born and raised in Los Angeles, CA and received her BS in Health Promotion and Disease Prevention with a minor in Judaic Studies from the University of Southern California. Prior to attending HUC, Ashley lived in Tel Aviv for six months volunteering with the Israeli non-profit, “Save A Child’s Heart.”

Yom HaZikaron in Israel – Leah Citrin

Exactly one week after Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, Israel commemorates Yom HaZikaron—Memorial Day. Rather than a three-day full of barbeques and retail sales, Israel’s Memorial Day is a stark reminder that not a single citizen in the country of Israel is untouched by the ultimate sacrifice of life that is exchanged for Israel’s existence.

Four years ago, I was in Jerusalem for Yom HaZikaron and had the opportunity to experience multiple ceremonies and services that marked the day. Each changed my relationship with Israel in ways I certainly did not expect.

Yom HaZikaron begins with a sunset ceremony at the Kotel, attended by important political figures as well as families of recently deceased soldiers or terror victims. The evening begins with a 60 second siren, during which the entire country comes to a stop in silent memorial to all those who have died fighting for the State of Israel. Though I might not have understood the words of many of the speeches, I could not possibly have avoided the tone or the atmosphere; the sense of collective mourning and remembrance, the acknowledgement that no one escapes unscathed.

The following day, I headed over to Gymnasium Rehavia to attend their tekes along with more than 60 fellow HUC students and faculty  We walked through their Hall of Remembrance, memorializing the people from their 100+ year old who gave their lives in the ongoing battle for Israel’s freedom. We listened as the name of each soldier or terror victim who had graduated from this school was read, and paused for a second memorial siren. Everyone was dressed in white and stood silently at attention as the siren sounded.

Later that afternoon, I went with a friend to Har Herzl, the military cemetery in Jerusalem. We watched the swarms of people around the newest graves—some less than a month old. We also noticed the much more lonely graves of soldiers who died decades ago—perhaps with no one left to come visit them. Yet on each and every grave lay at least one bouquet of flowers, laid there carefully by an Israeli scout. Everyone was to be remembered. Unexpectedly, I began to cry.

For maybe the first time, I felt connected to the country on a deeper level. The fallen soldiers, many who were two, three or four years my junior, whose graves I stood before, died fighting for a country that I too felt a part of. They gave their lives for me to be able to stand there; study there; live there.

Yom HaZikaron in Israel has a different feel than commemorating the day anywhere else. But the ikar, or most important thing, about this day, is to remember that we can create a feeling of solidarity and a feeling of connection to it—and to Am Yisrael, the People of Israel, both in the country of Israel and beyond.

 

A version of this was previously published in the Union for Reform Judaism’s Ten Minutes of Torah.

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!

We Are Family – Dr. Richard Sarason

What one story do you think every American kid should learn about Israel?

In true Jewish contrarian fashion, I am going to dispute the premise here! Simplifying, or reducing everything to “one story” is precisely what we should NOT be doing. Israel is a very complex reality, both as a dynamic society comprised of Jews from all over the world, and as a political entity. It is this complexity to which we should be exposing our children—and ourselves. All of the distortions about Israel in public discourse are, at base, about reducing this complexity to some single rhetorical trope, slogan, or position. But the reality is much more complicated, much more interesting, and much more engaging.

If I were, however, to choose a single mantra with which to begin this exposure, it would be “We are family”—because that, for Jews, is what this is and must be all about. Israelis are our relatives, in some cases directly and in some, indirectly. Kol yisrael arevim zeh lazeh, our tradition teaches us: All Jews are related to, connected to, responsible for, each other.

What Americans—children and adults—need to learn about Israel is its reality: it is a real country with real people, not just an idea or an ideal. The best way to learn about Israel is to get to know Israelis, be they camp counselors, exchange students, youth leaders, or community shelichim (Israeli cultural ambassadors). And to spend time there, whether on a youth movement trip, a Birthright trip, or a semester abroad. Passionate commitment is based in intimate experience and concrete engagement.

 

Rabbi Dr. Richard Sarason is Professor of Rabbinic Literature and Thought at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati, OH, where he has been a faculty member since 1979.  Prior to that time, he was Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at Brown University, where he received his Ph.D. in 1977.  He was ordained at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, Cincinnati, in 1974.  He received his A.B. in Economics from Brandeis University in 1969, and was a visiting graduate student at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem from 1970 to 1972, while attending HUC-JIR. (more here)

Becoming a Part of Something – Gina Rozner

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Standing in between Jaffa and Tel Aviv, a shot of Tel Aviv from across the sea.
I was surprised by how developed and similar to the United States many parts of Israel were. I had been expecting mostly barren desert and lots of fighting. Instead I saw fully built cities full of people enjoying themselves.
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A friend on the shoulders of another friend putting a note into the Kotel.
I have never had a real tie to Israel. Friends and family have always talked of Israel as a place they feel most at home, but with only cultural history as a tie, I always found it difficult to relate. Also, I am not a spiritual person; I have a very difficult time connecting to the idea of a God or a higher power.
Both these truths were tested upon walking through the Old City and then up to the Kotel for the first time: it was magical!
I felt like I belonged to something bigger than myself. I could feel the energy of everyone around me; all in the same place for the same reason. I became a part of something I had only seen pictures of or read about.
In this place, I was able to feel a presence: if something was going to answer my prayers and wishes, it would be those that I share here.
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An Israeli soldier and an American man in an embrace, in the Old City.
I think of Israel as a very traditional and conservative country. Knowing the implications of how some would respond to this moment as it was being captured in the US, I was pleasantly surprised that these two males could walk through Jerusalem safely and comfortably. The acceptance I experienced while in Israel helped me to see Israel through a new, progressive lens.

 

Gina Rozner is a public school teacher and religious educator. She writes: I grew up with a “conserva-dox” Jewish family, attending secular school and religious school as an extracurricular activity. Through adolescence I explored where and how those worlds intersected when who I was and how I thought did not always match traditional Halacha. Through my own exploration over the last couple of years, I have found a comfortable Jewish identity to hold. I just recently visited Israel for the first time with Taglit Birthright on an LGBTQ trip and was marveled as my experience difference completely from any expectations I held.

Zeitchem l’shalom – Jeremy Gimbel

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This sign, which sits at the exit of Jerusalem sums up Israel for me. The story of Israel that every American kid should learn is the story of being cognizant of time and space. Israel is a complex place, but what has stuck with me is that it is a place that recognizes, and celebrates, Jewish time and space. When you enter Jerusalem, there’s a welcome sign. As you leave, there’s this sign: tzeitchem l’shalom. Not, “L’hitraot – see you soon,” but “go to peace.” The language also comes from the Shabbat song, Shalom Aleichem, which is addressing the ministering angels of peace. In a nutshell, the sign is telling us that we have a higher purpose; not just to go towards our destination, but to go towards peace AS ministering angels of peace.

I am also continually on that journey, moving from the slavery of egotism and self-centeredness to working as a messenger of peace and goodness. Israel helps remind me that this journey continues, no matter where you reside – even in the holiest cities – we must be constantly reminded of this most sacred duty.
Jeremy Gimbel is an avid enthusiast. He is also part of the incoming iCenter cohort.

 

Israel: The Untold Story – Daniel Alter

 

Daniel Alter is finishing up his third year in the Masters in Jewish Education program at Hebrew Union College in Los Angeles, CA.  He is excited to continue his time at HUC, entering into the rabbinical program in the fall.  As an iCenter fellow, Daniel has enjoyed gaining new perspectives on Israel education from an array of brilliant thinkers and fellow students from multiple institutions.  Currently, Daniel serves as the madrikhim coordinator and sixth grade teacher at Temple Beth El in San Pedro, CA.  This summer, he will be interning at Temple Ahavat Shalom in Northridge, CA.

Teaching the sounds of a broken blossoming homeland – Allie Klein

I believe that every American child should learn many stories about Israel.

If we offer children just one window into Israel’s deeply complicated and beautiful existence, we do a great disservice in helping each child formulate a well-rounded, thoughtful opinion about Israel. The more stories we can share with our children, the more perspectives we can offer them of the myriad ways people connect to our broken, blossoming homeland.

Children who learn about a multi-vocal Israel will grow up to truly love Israel, knowing that their true love means saying “I love you and I want to help you be better,” not “I love you so you’re perfect the way you are, no matter what.”

If I could only teach American kids one story about Israel, I would teach them about the way Israel sounds – the opus of rapid-fire Hebrew, Arabic, Russian, French, and English; the walls of the Old City resounding with the Muslim call to prayer, the ringing of church bells, and the prayerful murmur coming through the windows of the synagogue.

I want to teach American kids what a beautiful symphony these sounds make when they join together, and show them how to listen to these sounds more carefully, more critically, and more lovingly.

 

Allie Klein is the student Rabbi of Beth Sholom Temple of Fredericksburg, Virginia. She is a fourth year rabbinical student at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. Allie grew up in Montclair, NJ, and attended Haverford College and graduated with a BA in Psychology in 2007. After college, she worked in Needham, MA, at Temple Beth Shalom overseeing the 6th-12th grade youth programs and spending summers working at URJ Camp Harlam, her alma mater. She lives in Brooklyn, NY with her fiance Adam, who is a third grade teacher in Manhattan. 

The Need for Nuance – Miriam Farber Wajnberg

Too often, when we try to nuance Israel for our students, we resort to further generalizations and over-simplifications. “Israel is the homeland of the Jewish people, and all Jews, worldwide, are welcome there,” becomes “Liberal Jews are not welcome in Israel, in Jerusalem in particular.” This attempt to show students the “real” Israel continues to oversimplify a country that is vibrant and struggling with its challenges and national identity. These photographs, which I took during the 2009-2010 academic year while studying at the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies, show different sides of Jerusalem’s diverse religious life. Although each photograph is only a small slice of the story, when taken together, they begin to tell a more complete and complex story of what it is to be part of the progressive Jewish community in Jerusalem.

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The above photograph shows Nofrat Frenkel, a member of Nashot HaKotel – Women of the Wall, leaving the police station in Jerusalem’s Old City after being detained in November 2009 for wearing a tallit on the women’s side of the Kotel. Outside the police station, a group of dozens of women and allies waited for Nofrat, singing and praying with joy and hope.

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The above photograph is from a “Free Jerusalem” parade on a Saturday night a few weeks after Nofrat’s arrest at the Kotel. The poster reads “There is more than one way to be Jewish.” In a blog post I wrote about participating in this protest, I wrote, “I am a liberal Jew, a Reform Jew, and for the past few weeks had felt incredibly lonely and disconnected from that in this city. Saturday’s night march shifted that for me…That Saturday night, I no longer felt alone. It’s unclear (highly doubtful) that the protest will have any impact whatsoever on the power dynamics in Jerusalem, but it had a huge internal effect on me, reminding me that there are Jews of all varieties who share a vision of a Jerusalem that is truly a city for all Jews, secular, Orthodox, Reform, Conservative, and everything else in between.” The diverse community of Jerusalem residents who share this vision are just as much a part of Israel’s story as those who fight to enact legislation preventing the vision from becoming reality.

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This photograph is also from Women of the Wall. Rather than showing the pain and challenge of Nashot haKotel’s monthly prayer service, these women are celebrating Purim with joy, silliness, and megillah readings. The joy, silliness, and irreverence of Purim are a crucial part of engaging with Israel!
Miriam Farber Wajnberg is a rabbinical-education student at HUC-JIR in Los Angeles. She lived in Israel for two years, studying at the Pardes Institute for Jewish Studies and HUC’s Year in Israel program.

Where do you go when no one wants you? – Eli Karon

Where do you go when nobody wants you? For hundreds of thousands of displaced Jews some six decades ago, the answer was a tiny sliver of land nobody else wanted, surrounded by hostile neighbors on three sides and the sea on the fourth.

Comprised primarily of desert and mosquito-ridden swampland, devoid of infrastructure, financial stability, and any real development that wasn’t completed 2,000 years before, you go to this area and are told to survive.

So you do. You survive and you thrive.

The swamp is drained and becomes a beautiful valley, green with orchards and vineyards. You develop innovations and technological advances the likes of which the world has never seen (case in point: drip irrigation).

The desert remains a desert, but it’s your desert, because you’re a Jew. And you protect her, this desert, because you don’t know the next time someone will try to take what your ancestors fought so hard to create.

What the chalutzim* fought the hardest to create is not a beautiful valley or drip irrigation. What they fought to create is a place where all Jewish men, women and children are accepted, welcomed, and encouraged to live lives of freedom. Nowhere else in the world can a Jew show up and be accepted as a citizen because of their faith.

To me, this is the true beautiful story of Israel.

 

Eli Karon was born and raised in Santa Cruz, CA where an early love for fishing and Israel–in no particular order–was instilled in him by his mom, dad, and older brother Adam. He first traveled to Israel to become a Bar Mitzvah and has returned several times since. On each visit, the Holy Land feels more and more a part of his soul. Eli lives and works in Los Angeles and is a member of Sinai Temple.

*chalutzim: Hebrew word for pioneer, often used when speaking of the late 1800s-early 1900s Jews who settled in Palestine and worked to transform the landscape.