Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Happy Yom Ha'atzmaut!

An Israeli singer and a Palestinian singer in Israel's submission to the Eurovision song competition. Talk amongst ourselves...

An interview with Noa and Mira Awad--overly simplistic in their solutions? Maybe. But I think it was Rabin who said you can only make peace with your enemies, not with your friends.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Be a Traveler, Not a Tourist

I love the shows on the Travel Channel. When Anthony Bourdain or Samantha Brown take us exploring the world, it feels like we are there. We meet people and get to know a little bit about them. It feels like Tony and Samantha have made new friends wherever they go. The Travel channel’s slogan is “Be a Traveler, Not a Tourist.” Educator Daniel J. Boorstin said that the traveler is active; going strenuously in search of people, of adventure, of experience. The tourist is passive; expecting interesting things to happen to him. He goes “sight-seeing.”

Fern Chertok, Theodore Sasson and Leonard Saxe - three Brandeis University researchers - have published a study about the Jewish engagement of young people returning from Birthright: Israel trips called Tourists, Travelers, and Citizens: Jewish Engagement of Young Adults in Four Centers of North American Jewish Life. They use the Traveler/Tourist idea and add one more: citizen. Although they were focused on young adults, I think the point extends to our setting. Some of us are adult citizens of B’nai Israel. You see them regularly at services, serving on committees or the board, helping in their children’s classrooms or participating in family education or adult Jewish learning. They have become locals, and they would love it if more of us took up residence.

Others are tourists—occasional visitors hoping to see the sights. They tend to drop off their children or drop in for a celebration or service when they receive an invitation from a friend. The authors of the Brandeis study suggest that for too long the model of Jewish communal life has focused on the dichotomy of Tourist vs. Citizen. They submit, and I am convinced, that we need to find ways to help our tourists become travelers before we can even think about citizenship. We need to help each other empower ourselves to deepen our connections with each other and with the synagogue. And it is happening.

Last month I attended the Religious School Parent Social at my synagogue. Over fifty people came for a purely social evening. No praying, no teaching, no fund-raising. The U Conn semi-final NCAA game was projected on a screen. Music played from the speakers in the pavilion from someone’s I-pod. There were competitive tastings of appetizers and desserts brought by those who were there. And a lot of people whose children are in religious school with each other got to meet one another and hang out. It was awesome! There were some citizens in the room and some tourists as well. By the end of the night, though, I think most were thinking like travelers – at least for that one night.

Our Religious School Committee and our faculty are exploring how we can expand this idea of developing communities of travelers to our classrooms as well. Look for some exciting developments for Kitot Daled – Vav (4th – 6th grades) that we hope will establish or deepen connections the students have to one another.

We have invited the adults in our congregation to help us, to join the journey.
Be a traveler. Drop in, call or e-mail another traveler.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Our Israel Problem

I believe that the State of Israel is central to the identity of the modern Jew. There. I said it. One problem is that the data do not support it. There have been many reports published over the last two decades that tell us how few of us have visited Israel, how many of us don’t make it a point to read or follow Israel in the news and how much Israel has faded into the background of the average Jew’s perception. Still I believe it she (Medinat Yisrael – the State of Israel – is a feminine word form) is central to us all. Like a loved one we haven’t thought about in a long time. So, in light of this, how do we process, connect to and teach about Israel in a time of war – especially the current conflict?

My friend and teacher Joel Grishaver writes in his blog for teachers and parents:
"Crossing the internet are two prayers. One is a prayer for Israel’s soldiers. The other is a prayer for the civilians of Gaza. Both are recommended as the way for teachers to begin their classes.

The problem is not that one is being asked to choose between these two prayers. Supporting both wishes is not a problem. Prayers for safety can’t be too many. And the problem is not that prayer seems to be the major response to war. Prayer is a good response to war. The problem is that this seems to be the only major public response besides a zillion causes to join on Facebook."
On November 10, 1975 the United Nations General Assembly adopted Resolution 3379, stating that “Zionism is a form of racism and racial discrimination.” I remember helping to organize 3 busses from my high school to the Chicago Civic Center Plaza (where the Blues brothers were finally captured in the film). There were hundreds of buses and tens of thousands of people there from all over protesting the foul resolution.
Because Israel is at War, we need to be shouting “you are connected to Israel.” “You have a relationship with Israel.” “Israel’s future impacts your future.” Now is the time to emphasize knowledge about Israel, Zionist (or post-Zionist) ideology, and simple family relationships. We can teach “The War” or not teach “The War,” but we need to teach “the love.”
What I – and I think most of us really want is for our kids to care about Israel the way that I care about the Chicago Cubs. I rarely go to games, since I live in Fairfield. But Chicago is one of my homelands and the loveable losers of Wrigley Field are ingrained in my neshama – my soul. I keep a schedule above my desk and track the wins and losses. I have the team news feed on my Google home page. Ideally, I’d want our students to care more about Israel than I care about the Cubs, but at the very least, like me and the Cubs I want them to care about the outcome.
So now is a time to make falafel and sing “Im Tirtzu.” We need to be dancing “Hinei Mah Tov u’Mah Nayim” and “Mah Na’avu.” Students should be finding Haifa on the map and learning that Ben Gurion like to stand on his head cause he thought it was good for his health. What we – as teachers and parents need to be doing is teaching Israel more than ever. And, if we do so, the questions about The War will come, and we will be able to answer them the way we want to answer them, providing we add, “And you are still connect to the land, people, and Nation of Israel—no matter how you feel about some of her actions.