2015-01-07 / Religion Column

Our young people are transformed by seeing Israel

Temple Beth Sholom

I write this from Israel, where I, with my friends and colleagues Rabbi Aaron Krupnick and Rabbi Gary Gans, are leading a trip for 49 members of our 10th grade Confirmation classes. Temple Beth Sholom, Cong. Beth El and Cong. Beth Tikvah have been doing this trip together for many years now, and it always is an incredible experience for our students, staff and communities. In Israel now as well is Rabbi Lawrence Sernovitz with a group from Temple Emanuel, and Rabbi Annette Koch will be leading a teen trip from Cong. M’kor Shalom at Passover. Around that time, Kellman Brown Academy will be bringing its eighth grade class on a trip to Israel as well.

These teen trips send approximately 100 students from our community to Israel each year. This is something that doesn’t happen in most other communities. It is with the help of the Gift of Israel program, a partnership between parents, synagogues and the Jewish Federation, that we are able to help families with matching funds to send so many teens on these trips. Every study suggests that the earlier one visits Israel, the deeper the connection to the land and its people. As I experience Israel with our students this year, I have the privilege of watching them fall in love with our holy land.

What makes them discover this feeling of “ahavat yisrael,” of love for Israel, is what they see here. Seeing is not only believing, it is also inspiring. We learn this lesson from Moses, who saw a bush that was burning, but was not consumed. In the four verses that describe Moses’ awareness of this strange bush, and culminate with God’s call, the word “ra’ah,” “see,” is used repeatedly. The bible scholar Moshe Greenberg says that this gives us a “motif of gradualness.” In other words, Moses’ growing awareness of God’s presence is the point of this story. It is through seeing, and then experiencing God, that Moses is convinced to set out on his mission.

A trip to Israel helps us to see, and to understand, why it is so important. When you go to the Negev, and hear the “midbar m’daber,” the desert speak, you get a better idea of why Torah was given in the desert. When you go to the Golan Heights, and look down on Israel, and into Syria and Lebanon, you understand its strategic importance. When you spend a Shabbat in Jerusalem, you experience Shabbat in a way that is different than anywhere else. These are just a few of the many transformative experiences so many of our community’s students have on this trip each and every year. They come back changed, feeling a deeper connection to the land of Israel, to the people of Israel, to God, and to each other. Our challenge as educators and community leaders is to build off of this amazing experience— to help our students articulate their love for Israel and become strong advocates for Israel, in our community and on whichever college campus they find themselves just a couple years later. We need to help them participate in other Israel experiences in the states, like AIPAC’s Teen Summit, and find ways to help them get back to Israel for more specialized and deeper experiences. This is how we build strong bonds between the next generation of Israeli and American Jews.

Even after Moses saw God at the burning bush, he still had a lot to learn. And through more experiences, in Egypt and in the desert, he ultimately becomes the only human being ever to speak to God face to face. So many of our teenagers are transformed by their first trip to Israel with their synagogue or day school. And yet they still have so much more to learn and to experience. If we can help them do this, then we can feel more secure about our Jewish homeland, and our Jewish future. .

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