As a fairly secular, self-identified ‘High Holiday Jew,’ I heard about Israel during services from time to time. More often, I heard about Israel in the news. I had very few personal opinions about the country, so when I had the opportunity to travel to Israel as part of the Jewish Women’s Renaissance Project, I wasn’t sure what to think.
To be honest, when I first saw the Jewish Press article about the trip, I didn’t really think anything. Knowing I had never been there, and recognizing an opportunity, my family nudged me to go. And I haven’t regretted one minute of it.
It was incredible to find a country so completely immersed in Jewish culture, yet so diverse. I finally began to understand why we still end our Passover Seder with the phrase ‘Next year in Jerusalem.’
Being there taught me how it is possible for a Reform Jew from Nebraska to love Israel. The country is a community; ‘Shalom’ is a lifestyle. I saw different groups of Jews, Muslims and Christians co-existing and I saw a general acceptance of the differences between those groups. It’s not something that is often discussed in mainstream media. You can walk into a store with your Jewish travel companions and find a Muslim engaging in daily prayer, while a Christian buys his daily newspaper. These are mundane acts, far from the violence we see in most newspapers. Violence is a problem, and we need a path to peace, but it gives me hope that this path is possible.
We spoke often about advocacy for Israel. Criticism isn’t anti-Semitism, but can lead to a better future for Israel. Deligimization, however, is where we should draw the line. Any leader of any country should be willing to look at him- or herself critically and citizens should be able to voice concerns. It’s what makes America a great country, it’s what makes Israel great. Yet to say that Israel has no right to exist, should be destroyed or should somehow make itself vanish is neither productive nor acceptable.
I will never forget our trip to Yad Vashem. While there, I realized the privilege I have: to live my life as a modern Jew, in a world with a Jewish State. Israel advocacy is so important and finding information from a variety of sources is imperative to understanding the State, building up what unites us and ensuring that Israel will continue to develop as a safe home for Jews for generations to come.
I loved the classes offered by JWRP, which were focused on acts of kindness, Torah, and service. We learned that happiness is a choice and that even our day-to-day relationships are acts of holiness. As a class, we learned small ways to implement Judaism into our lives. Judaism teaches mothers to better raise their children, helps wives become better spouses and helps women fullfill the needs of the community as a whole. After traveling to Israel, I have a much better understanding of how Judaism can stretch beyond the walls of my synagogue.
Being in Israel helped me connect to Judaism in a brand new way. I now know that every time I focus on emotional bonding with my husband, I engage in a Jewish act. I know that my words matter. I learned that words are so powerful that God created the world using speech. And, with my own speech, I can either create or destroy based on what I say and how I say it.
When I choose to be kind to others through my words, I am making a Jewish choice. When I choose not to judge others but find the best in them, I am making a Jewish choice. When I teach my children the importance of Tzedakah, I am making a Jewish choice. I am much more than a ‘High Holiday Jew.’
While on the plane home, I met a girl who had just completed her IDF service. She was the same age as my own daughter, who is a junior in college. She told me: “It is our duty to protect our homeland.
Prior to the Jewish Women’s Renaissance Project trip, I would have had no opinion on her words. Now, I couldn’t agree more.
We began our trip as a group of Jewish women from many different places, with different levels of observance and unique identities. By the end, we were sisters, all in the same boat as Jewish women and Jewish parents.