June 2020 – Jewish Spirituality of Israel
Israel is a big subject to talk about in a few minutes. But we’re ambitious! Let’s give it a try!
Israel – when I say that word what comes to mind – a county, a homeland, the Torah narratives, our ancestors, the dream of the Jewish people contolling our own destiny?
Or maybe you have a more modern association – making the desert bloom, Israeli innovation in medicine, science and technology or Israel in politics, wars, and the news.
Yes, it’s all Israel – our spiritual home, the birthplace of our traditions and our ancestors, the place Judaism grew up from a wandering tribe to a full fledged nation and peoplehood.
Israel is our dream and our hope finally returned to us after 2000 years – and at the same time, Israel is not a dream anymore, but a modern, inspiring, messy, and completely unique physical place.
So how do we relate to Israel, as diaspora Jews – Jews who live here but still feel rooted and bonded over there?
The amazing thing about Israel is that there are so many ways to relate to it.
If you love history – well, just pick a time period – Greeks, Roman, Byzantine, Ottoman – and there is much to explore.
If you love adventure and outdoors activities – Israel has mountains to climb, seas to dive into, and miles and miles of hiking, ziplines, kayaking and natural preserves.
If you’re a seeker – Jerusalem, the kotel, Masada, the Dead Sea, small shuls and study halls on every corner – I don’t think it’s possible to visit any of those places and not feel something.
There is a connection in our neshamah to this land and the many dimensions it holds.
For me the challenge of Israel is about blending the dream with the reality. The dream is easy.
I fell in love with the dream of Israel as a young kid at zionist summer camp. We sang Kibbutz songs and learned about Theodore Herzl, the father of zionism, and I cried every summer when we mourned the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem on Tisha B’av.
The reality is a little tougher. I am so proud of the cutting edge, innovative, modern, democratic, small but mighty country Israel has grown to in just 72 years.
But I don’t like seeing the endless conflict between Jews and Palestinians, I don’t like the stranglehold orthodoxy has on all religion in Israel, and I don’t like the lack of civility in politics there any more than I do here.
And yet it’s Israel. It’s our home, it’s our family, it’s our tradition.
So this mitzvah to love Israel is not as straightforward as some of our other mitzvot.
Lighting candles and saying Kiddush on Shabbat – that’s pretty easy.
Findng a spiritual connection to 5000 years of history and humanity all wrapped up in a modern, complicated, sometimes dangerous country – that’s a challenge.
Here’s what I think and here is what I do. I love Israel like I love family.
I love the dream and many, many aspects of the reality.
But I don’t love blindly. I form opinions and speak up about modern Israel because I care. Because it’s my homeland and I expect it to reach even more towards our goal of being a light unto the nations.
So for me, I follow our tradition of praying for peace in Israel, of celebrating Yom Haatzmaut, and Yom Hazikaron – Israel’s Independance and memorial days. I say next year in Jerusalem at the end of the Seder.
I visit Israel every opportunity I can get.
This spring and summer I was supposed to be in Israel 3 times and I’m so disappointed that’s not happening.
I still get a thrill in Israel when I see everyday things like cheerios and snickers in Hebrew packaging. When I see holy sites mixed in with bus stops and gas stations.
But it’s not all a rosy dream. I also feel compelled to advocate for women’s rights in Israel, to work for religious freedom in Israel, and support organizations that push for more equality and justice in Israel.
That messy and multi-faceted web … that is how I find spiritual meaning in the mitzvah of Ahavat Yisrael, loving Israel.
What do you think? How do you reconcile the dream of Israel with the reality? What experiences in Israel have inspired your or challenged you? Please share your thoughts with me! I love to hear from you and explore our tradition together.