Thursday, January 30, 2014

Parashat Terumah- Finding the Divine in Our Lives

V’asu li Mikdash v’shakhanti b’tokham.
Make for me a sanctuary, and I shall dwell among them. (Shemot 25:8)
On Monday, a great luminary died. The great American folk singer, Pete Seeger passed away at the age of 94. Pete Seeger was not highly educated. He didn’t win a lot of awards. What he did do was work to create a world where the Divine could dwell. Pete Seeger believed God was everywhere. When God is everywhere, it’s easy to look past and miss the Divine spark. Pete Seeger could see God. He used to say, “I was an atheist. Now I say, it’s all according to your definition of God. According to my definition of God, I’m not an atheist. Because I think God is everything. Whenever I open my eyes.”
The section of Torah we begin this Shabbat instructs us to build a sanctuary. However, God does not dwell in the sanctuary. It is more a divining rod to lead us to God’s presence. Coming from a culture in Egypt that filled space with images of the Egyptian gods, we became numb to the true presence of the Divine around us. If we can but focus our thoughts and our hearts we will be able to perceive God around us.
Mikdash, sanctuary, comes from the word holy or sacred. It is not the place that makes it sacred, but the love and the feelings of the people who come to serve and to worship within it. In turn, that service and those feelings provide strength to the people who come to participate. Judaism has always been a religion of acceptance and openness. This is the same message Pete Seeger stove to share with the world. Songs like “We Shall Overcome,” If I Had a Hammer,” and “Turn, Turn, Turn” share this message. Together we have strength. Together we have courage. Together we can be free. It’s the message of the people newly free from slavery, and a message that still resonates in the world today. If we can work together to create the holy in the world, God will dwell among us.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Pete Seeger, Zichrono Livracha

Pete Seeger died today. It was my first piece of news upon arising this morning. I guess to everything a time, but I believe the world is a sadder place today for the loss of this amazing man. My reaction was "I'm so sad." Sean replied, "So is he." But I don't think so. Pete Seeger lived to be 94. He lived a life of value and action, and I believe he'd say there is time for every season under heaven. This was his time.

Pete Seeger was a role model to the world, one who could not be swayed by selfishness. He was married to the same woman, Toshi, for 70 years. According to his son, he was chopping wood just ten days ago. He was blacklisted after tangling with the US House Un-American Committee. (Ironically this was an offensive period in the US that was itself un-American). When pressed by the committee to reveal if he had sung for Communists, Seeger said, ""I love my country very dearly, and I greatly resent this implication that some of the places that I have sung and some of the people that I have known, and some of my opinions, whether they are religious or philosophical, or I might be a vegetarian, make me any less of an American." He went from being shunned by government to being honored at the Kennedy Center in 1994, and all of Washington sang along. That was a rule at Seeger concerts. You weren't there for entertainment; you were there to learn and to do. 

Pete Seeger was a huge influence in my life. I grew up singing his songs. We have raised our children with those same songs. My children knew to stick with the union as early as (maybe earlier) they knew the Shema. Pete Seeger embodied the lyrics of these songs. If you don't know him, you are missing a shining star in our history. On YouTube, a search of Pete Seeger gives you over 145,000 results. Check him out. There's fighting music- fighting for the rights of people everywhere. There are love songs. Sean used to play "Kisses Sweeter Than Wine" regularly. There's fun stuff. He was interested in the music of all people. He played with Leadbelly when Leadbelly was considered "uncommercial." He wasn't interested in being "commercial." He was interested in what people were singing, why they were singing, and what message it sent. He knew what was actually important in life, and he lived what he preached. 

Pete Seeger, may your memory be for a blessing.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Parashat Mishpatim- Compassion in Law

V’eileh hamishpatim…. V’khi-yakeh ish et-avdo…. Ayin tachat ayin shein tachat shein yad tachat yad regel tachat regel. …. V’ger lo toneh v’lo tilchatzenu ki geirim heyitem b’eretz Mitzrayim
Vayashuvu Acharei-khein vayashivu et-ha’avadim v’et-hashfachot asher shilchu chafshim vayikh’b’shum la’avadim v’lishfachot. ….v’rachamtim.
Shemot 21:1And these are the laws…. 20And if a man strikes his servant…. 24Eye for an eye; tooth for a tooth; hand for a hand; leg for a leg. .... 22:20And a stranger, you will not wrong nor oppress, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.
Jeremiah 34:11And they turned afterwards and caused the servants and handmaids, whom they had set free, to return, and brought them into subjection as servants and handmaids. 33:26….and I will have compassion.
Parashat Mishpatim is a parasha of laws and of justice. It seemingly flits from subject to subject, but there is a cohesive message throughout, from the parasha through the haftarah. The laws direct us to the path of justice, but it is a moral justice, a compassionate justice. Without compassion justice is amoral. It stands alone with no connection to those for whom it is meant. An eye for an eye may seem fair, but, as Tevye points out in Fiddler on the Roof, “that way, the whole world will be blind and toothless.” From the earliest, our leaders have equated this with monetary value, enhancing justice through compassion and morality. We have looked beyond simple justice to righteousness. It defines us as a people. We act as we do because we have experienced oppression. We act as we do because we expect each of us to act b’tzelem Ehlohim, in the image of God. We are not black and white. Right and wrong is not so simple; it flows through areas of grey so that each situation, each case is different and unique. We realize that one eye does not fully equal another eye. However, compassion combined with justice causes us to strive for the best compensation. 
We have not always gotten this right. In these areas of grey, it is sometimes difficult to know how to place emphasis, when to lean towards justice, and when to lean towards compassion. As individuals, we have acted wrongly. No one, no people, can be perfect all the time. However, we continuously strive to hold ourselves to a higher authority. The haftarah serves as a reminder of these times, a reminder that we must learn from our mistakes. Like God, we must has compassion, act rightly. Only then can the laws of Mishpatim and the entire Torah have true meaning for us.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Parashat Yitro- Easy Does It

…lo tov hadavar asher atah oseh. Navol tibol gam atah gam ha’am hazeh asher imach ki-chaveid mimcha hadavar lo-tuchal asu l’vadecha.
V’hizhartah et’hem et-hakhukim v’et-hatorah v’hodata lahem et-haderech yeilchu va v’et-hama’aseh asher ya’asun. V’atah tekhezeh mikol ha’am anshei-khayil yir’ei Ehlohim anshei emet son’ei vatza….
…it is not good this thing you do. You will surely wear away, both you and this people with you, for it is too heavy a thing for you; you are not able to do it alone. (Shemot 18:17-18)
And you will teach them the statutes and the law, and you will show them the way wherein they will walk and the work they will do. And you will provide from all the people men of reputation who fear God, men of truth who hate corruption… (Shemot 18:20-21)
I have often wondered if parashat Yitro’s being the shortest parasha in the Torah is connected to its content. Within it we set up our legal system, one that will become a basis for many modern systems. At the start of the parasha, Yitro observes Moshe’s leadership. From morning to evening Moshe listens to the people, and pronounces judgment. Yitro is quick to point out that keeping this role will not only wear down Moshe, but will eventually wear away at the people as well. Keeping his advice short and to the point, Yitro counsels Moshe to share the knowledge and the responsibility. No one person can guide the community. First Moshe must teach. He must teach the entire community the statutes and the laws. He must show them the path they should follow and the work they will need to do. They people must be guided by an openness and availability of knowledge, by a shared faith and path. However, once taught, Moshe must also trust that the community will find its own way. Yitro does not counsel Moshe to choose people who think like him. There are no politics to be played. Instead, Moshe should simply choose those who have a good reputation. He should choose people of faith, honest people who not only cannot be corrupted, but who hate corruption. With a cross-section of the community leadership sharing this communal knowledge with the entire people, the community can be sure to follow its correct path, to grow in faith and in deed, to do and to learn the mitzvot that are soon to follow. The leadership will teach and inform the community, and the community will teach and inform the leadership. Rather than wearing at each other, they will be a bolster and a support.
Like the parasha, like the simplicity of the mitzvot about to follow, the system is one of swiftness, of good judgment, and of give and take. With an openness of the plan for the people and a sharing of the path they will take, the people are offered the opportunity to move forward as a community rather than as individuals focused on their own, sometimes petty, concerns. It is a system that continues to inform and to work in our communities and in our society today.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

More Conversations From the Rabbis' Table

This week's conversation took place at one of the local kosher restaurants. Sean & I stopped in to pick up some lunch for the airport.  We were headed out there to spend the afternoon with a friend on a stopover from Baltimore to Israel (via Chicago and Toronto). Ben & Izzy's Deli, doesn't have an extensive menu, but what is there is excellent.  We had pastrami (made in store) for lunch, and took the kids back for dinner.  (BTW, beyond great food, they were friendly and fun to talk to, eager to share samples, and open to menu suggestions.) We were headed down to the Princess of Wales Theatre to see Les Miserables (more on that later). Somehow we ended up playing word association. You might think word association with two teens and one pre-teen would get pretty silly. You'd be right. Words like annoying or goofy led to the naming of siblings. But somehow we also worked in Greek mythology and plays, specifically Oedipus and Antigone, Shakespeare, the person, his plays, his language and the Globe Theatre, Poetry, Science, Talmud, holidays, Hebrew, Time (as in Einstein's concepts of), colors, sports, seasons, weather, Star Wars, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, and Dr. Who, and around again in a circle.

Winter became snow, which became white, then black, then Dalek Sec (Dr. Who), which led to a whole series of Whovian concepts. This led to dream then to mid-summer's night to Puck to hockey to stick to tree to leaf to fall to winter.  I may have missed a few steps, but that's just one line of thought.

I am amazed how much information is stored in their brains. They all read voraciously, and love fiction and non-fiction. They devourer Horrible Histories (worth checking out- it's history with the messy bits left in), which also teaches Greek and Roman mythology, Greek drama, Shakespeare. We talked about Sophocles' Oedipus Rex, Oedipus at Colonus (although we couldn't remember this play's name- only that it was also Oedipus something), and Antigone. They know all Shakespeare's plays, and would drop everything to see any one of them. They speak intelligently about Talmudic concepts that would stump a PhD student, as well as the setting and architecture of the Globe Theatre.

All this while eating chicken soup, a steak sandwich (I had the chicken club), and fries. If Ben & Izzy's can inspire such great dinner conversation, we need to go back.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Parashat Beshallach: Serach Bat Asher

Vayikach Moshe et atzmot Yosef imo ki hashbeia hishbia et b’nei Yisrael leimor pakod yifkod Ehlohim etkhem v’ha’alitem et atzmotai mizeh itkhem. (Shemot 3:19)
And Moshe took Joseph’s bones with him, for he [Joseph] had surely sworn the children of Israel saying, “God will surely remember you, and you will carry my bones from here with you.”
Joseph, as Pharaoh’s vizier, would have been buried in Egypt according to Egyptian rites at Pharaoh’s command. However, Joseph remained true to his Jewish heritage. Upon his death, he made his brothers promise that they would make their children swear for generations to carry his bones from Egypt to be buried in the land of Israel. The Rabbis asked how does Moshe know where Joseph was buried? The answer comes to us in Midrash.
Parashat Vayigash lists the names of all those who accompany Jacob down to Egypt. “These are the names of the Israelites, Jacob and his descendants who came to Egypt…. Asher’s sons… and their sister Serach. (Breishit 46:8-17) Parashat Pinchas tells us who left Egypt. “The descendents of Asher…. And the name of the daughter of Asher was Serach.” (B’midbar 26:46) How can Serach Bat Asher be on two lists 400 years apart?
When Jacob’s sons discovered Joseph in Egypt, not a single one wanted to be the bearer of the news. How could they admit the anger and jealousy that caused Joseph’s disappearance? As they debated who would tell their father, they heard music and singing. Serach Bat Asher had eased the pain of the famine through her music. Asher realized she could do the same with this news. Serach sang to Jacob of Joseph’s life adding, “Joseph is not dead. My uncle rules over Egypt." Over and over, until Jacob realized the message. Jacob still grieved, but was also soothed by Serach’s music. When Moshe was searching for Joseph’s bones,
Serach was still playing her harp and singing. She recognized him as God’s redeemer. Having been present at Joseph’s burial, Serach told Moshe the Egyptians had made a metal coffin, and sunk it in the Nile. Moshe went to the riverbank and called out “Joseph, Joseph. The time has come for the Holy One to redeem his children. Joseph’s coffin floated to the surface. For her service Serach was granted immortality. Serach appears throughout our early history, according to the Midrash. She is one of the few to enter the land of Israel, not having been of the generation born in Egypt, but before. She is the wise woman in 2 Samuel 20. She showed King David where to build the Temple, and Jeremiah how to protect sacred objects when the Temple was destroyed. Generations later, she sat in the classroom of Yochanan Ben Zakai. The students were discussing what it looked like as the Israelites crossed the sea. Ben Zakai taught it was like a latticework, with the Israelites passing through. Suddenly from the back, a woman’s voice is heard. “That is wrong. It looked like mirrors. The water was smooth, and as we passed through it, it was like looking in a mirror. Ben Zakai asks, “Who are you? How would you know.”? The woman replies, “I am Serach Bat Asher.”
Serach never dies. Like Elijah, she is granted living entry into heaven. Like Elijah, she has the ability to return to earth to set our teachings straight and keep us following the right path. 

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Cynicism From an 11 Year old

A couple of days ago I saw a comic on facebook. It said, "I don't know if spending the day in your pajamas is giving up on life or living it to its fullest." I shared the comic with Sean and Keren. In answer to the question, Keren said, "Yes." It's an interesting answer. First, a multiple choice question is not a yes or no question. Second, Keren would spend any and every day in her pajamas if possible. She revels in it. This week she is having oral surgery. She will be out of school for the rest of the week. She is disappointed she will miss pajama day at school, and is thinking of going if she's not in too much pain. So how can staying in her pajamas be giving up on life?

I spent today in my pajamas. It was horribly cold out. I had a lot to do indoors. I decided there was no reason to get dressed. So here I am, almost 18 hours after I woke up, back in my room (where I spent most of the day) still in the same pajamas, still working, but not having left the house. It gives a new perspective on Keren's answer.

What did I do today? I spent the day in my pajamas. They are warm fleece. They are cute and fuzzy. Most of the day I spent in my room watching Dr. Who , while I typed up information as regional RA president and researched and wrote my weekly parasha drash. I ate fruit and little chocolate. I drank water and tea. I spent a few wonderful hours sitting with my cats in a sunbeam. They're right. It's delightful. I cooked two kinds of meatballs and brussel sprouts, and sauteed peppers, onions, and tomatoes for dinner. I prepared lunches for tomorrow. I talked with a friend. I talked with my children. I talked with my husband (and argued a bit too).

What didn't I do today? I didn't get dressed or put on make up. I didn't put on my boots, gloves, scarf, earmuffs, or coat. I didn't take the cat to the vet or do the shopping. (Thanks Sean). I didn't hack at the ice at the bottom of my driveway. I didn't clean the house. I didn't do the laundry. I didn't wash the dishes. (Thanks Sean.) I didn't run from place to place like I do most Tuesdays.

Is staying in your pajamas is giving up on life or living it to its fullest? While the answer may seem cynical, I have to agree with Keren. Yes, but it's a life worth giving up every once in a while.

Monday, January 6, 2014

What Doesn't Kill You Makes You Stronger

Yesterday, Keren and I made the latest version of a mix tape. We set up an itunes playlist, which we burned to CD to be Keren's wake up music. If we were really in the 21st century, she'd have an ipod that connected to her alarm clock, but we're not, so, she doesn't.

It's a great morning mix.  It fulfills a lot of what a morning mix should do. It makes you want to sing and get moving. Then it mellows out a bit, and finally makes you laugh. I'm thinking of taking it for myself.

If you're interested, here's the playlist:

  1. What the Hell, Avril Lavigne
  2. What Doesn't Kill You Makes You Stronger, Kelly Clarkson
  3. Don't Stop Belivin', Journey
  4. Hallelujah (Leonard Cohen version), Rufus Wainwright
  5. Sk8er Boi, Avril Lavigne
  6. Seasons of Love, Cast of Rent
  7. One Day (Mattisyahu), YU Maccabeats
  8. Just Give Me a Reason, Pink
  9. Always Look on the Bright Side of Life

At the Rabbis' Table-- Soylent- Not for Me

An article from Friday's National Post caught my eye on Shabbat morning. The End of Food talks about a new product, Soylent, which is reported to be able to replace all your food indefinitely with a drink. The name immediately brought to mind the 1973 sci-fi thriller, Soylent Green. In the movie, due to overpopulation, the world of 2022 exists on food rations produced by the Soylent Corporation. I'm sure creator Robert Rhinehart, a software engineer by trade and clearly a sci-fi geek by choice, was being cheeky when he named his product Soylent. However, without a movie spoiler, suffice it to say that I don't want to eat anything produced by the Soylent Corp. Beyond that food is so much more than nutrition. I know I am not saying anything new, and I don't mean to be one of Mr. Rhinehart's naysayers. If he can feed people for less, great. I just find it sad that food is something sacrificed to time. It has been going on a long time now, from TV dinners to fast food. Microwaves and new appliances were supposed to free up time for leisure, but most of us only run around more and more like hamsters on an exercise ball.

I do not work Fridays. I spend the day, and I really do mean the day, preparing for Shabbat. There is house cleaning to do and sometimes an errand or two. However, mostly the day is spent in direct food preparation for Shabbat. Everything is made from scratch. We bake challah every week. Usually we have chicken on Friday night. Often we have soup. Shabbat lunch is sometimes leftovers, sometimes cholent, but often salads and tuna or something like lasagne or quiche. The only regular "prepared" food is gefilte fish. We use the frozen loaves, which still need to cook for over an hour. We make homemade dessert- cookies, brownies, or cake. We cut fruit to have with it.

There is so much more to these meals than just the sum of ingredients and cooking and cleaning up time. There is love for family and friends who will share the meal. There is a peace in chopping and cutting, a focus in stirring and sauteing. Most of our weekday meals are home cooked too, although we do use more prepared foods. One night a week is usually burritos/tacos. We use the Yves veggie ground as a base. Still, there is the chopping of tomatoes and onions, the washing and shredding of lettuce, and setting the table. Food is visual. A Big Mac (I am not recommending you eat this) will taste better n fine china than sitting on its wrapper. For taco night everything is laid out in bowls. It is colorful beyond the scent and taste. On calzone night, we can smell the stones heating up. The table is set for us to eat together. If I make garlic knots, they are placed on a plate in the center of the table like a centerpiece. Even leftovers are something special if presented on a platter instead of warmed in the plastic storage dish. We eat together almost every night. Some nights we divide in half due to overlapping schedules, but no one regularly eats alone. I think much of that is due to the way we think about food. It is a process that begins with preparation: preparation of the food and of he table, and ends with everyone doing his/her share of clean up. It is interactive. It leads us to conversation. I shows love and caring.

Soylent may feed the body, but it cannot nourish the soul.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Kosher Turducken Circa 1951

Anyone who has been in our home knows we have a lot of cookbooks.  The best cookbooks have stories and histories, e.g The Junior's Cookbook, which tells the history of Junior's Restaurant and Brooklyn. They must also be beautifully illustrated to create a mood even in the book. This actually has a term- food porn.

One beloved cookbook is a thin paperback, all of 72 pages.  It is called "From Our Family to Yours: Sixty Years of Kosher Quality and Commitment, published in 1998 by Empire Kosher. It is organized by decade, from the 30-40's on.

It begins in 1938.  "Chickens were sold frozen in barrels, unplucked and uneviscerated." That recipe is for Stuffed Helzel (chicken neck skin). Page 5 reads, "(1939-1945) Out of respect for the victims of this dark time, no recipes have been included for these years." You feel as if you are reading a bit of family history of the Jewish community.

I was reading this cookbook today, looking for inspiration.  I rarely follow recipes now, but often read to see what spices strike my fancy. When I reached 1951, I found Empire Poultry Supreme. The ingredients call for "1 Empire chicken, 3-3 1/2 lbs, deboned, wings removed, 1 Empire duckling, about 5 lbs, deboned, wings removed, 1 Empire turkey, about 14 lbs, carefully deboned from the back, keeping wings and drumsticks intact, kishke, ground turkey, challah stuffing, and more." As I read, I thought, "Oh MY GOD! It's a turducken!"

BTW, multi-bird dishes definitely have been around for about 200 years, although there are claims they date to the Romans. but had a revival of popularity in the late 80's/early 90's when John Madden carved one during an NFL broadcast. However, it seems Jews have been making turducken since 1951.

"Slow cook at 250 for 12 hours. Carve at the table using a very sharp knife. Serve with a green vegetable and cranberry sauce. No other side dishes are necessary! Easily serves 20."

Bon appetit.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Rosh Hodesh Shevat- T'fillin & Me

Today is the first Rosh Hodesh of 2014. We began the year with a Torah scroll again being banned from the Kotel. I read this news online as I was preparing for my own morning t'fillot, as I was unpacking my own tallit. I also usually wear t'fillin, but have long marked Rosh Hodesh like hol hamoed, wavering between a regular weekday and a festival, as it is considered a special day for women.

Traditionally, women have been exempt from the mitzvah of t'fillin, tallit, and Torah. The claim is that somehow women have a special relationship with the Divine, and therefore we do not need these mitzvot. Likely the reason was more practical than that. However, if that is the case, so be it.

Nevertheless, exempt does not mean forbidden. It means free from the obligation. It allows the mitzvah to come from the heart and the head, from a place solely of love for God and for Jewish worship. I have been wearing t'fillin for 16 years. I began in a moment of inspiration, which blossomed from prayer, learning, and love of Judaism.

The moment of decision is etched in my memory. I was staffing a SNUSY (South Nassau USY) kinnus at Temple Beth El of North Bellmore, NY. On Sunday morning, one of the boys asked me if I could help him put on his t'fillin. I had watched my male Hebrew School classmates learn and relearn every Sunday morning for years, and was happy to help. Being an educator, I opened a siddur to the Shema. As we read the words of the Shema together, I pointed out why we don t'fillin and tzitzit, plus the mitzvah of mezuzah. Suddenly it struck me. Here, the mitzvah of mezuzah is commanded to ALL the people, and with it t'fillin to ALL the people. I borrowed a set of t'fillin, and put them on for the first time. Tallit naturally followed. Before heading back to Brandeis, I collected an old set of my grandfather's t'fillin and my father's bar mitzvah tallit from my parents' home. I wore those for years. The t'fillin are now used for education, no longer kosher for use. The tallit is worn by my son, who became bar mitzvah last summer. An old silk tallit, with the creases permanently embedded, Gavi says it is a family heirloom. As the third generation to wear this tallit for the first time, I believe he is correct.

Next summer I will stand at the Kotel together with husband, with my two sons and my daughter. Together we will daven Shacharit. Together we will all wear tallit and t'fillin. We will do so at the Masorti Kotel, aka Robinson's Arch. Although I have been to Israel multiple times, and stood at the Kotel probably a hundred or more times, it will be a first for me. Never before have I been able to approach those sacred stones in my tallit and t'fillin. Never have I stood there, together with my husband. Never have I shared that special place with my children. In July we will do all that and more.

Parashat Bo- New Year's Resolutions

Hachodesh hazeh lakhem rosh chodashim rishon hu lakhem l’chodshei hashanah.
This month will be for you the beginning of the first month for you of the months of the year. (Shemot 12:2)
Study of the Jewish calendar is a discipline unto itself. There are multiple “new years”, seven leap years, adding a full month, every nineteen years, and we count years from the tenth month. You need a PhD to decipher it all. What are more easily understood are the actions and spiritual reasons connected with each of the calendar oddities.
I once shared a seder with a new Jew-by-choice. Although chronologically in his forties, he insisted on reciting the Four Questions as the “youngest Jew there.” He had restarted his age count on the day of his emergence from the mikveh.
Appropriately, B’nei Yisrael are also to restart their count. From this moment of new freedom, this moment that changes us from a family to a people, we also restart our count. Redemption marks a new life for us as a people and as individuals. All that came before is now behind us. It has marked us, and made us who we are as a people to that point. However, our past does not define us. How we move into our future does.
Jews could have remained cowed by our experiences in slavery. We could have been bitter, angry at the world. We could have become insular, ignoring all others for our own benefit. We did not. We began anew. As a result, we pioneered the idea of tikkun olam and tzedakah as a righteous act. We have reached out beyond our own communities to benefit the world community. When Jews were subject to quotas at universities, they founded Brandeis University not to be a school for Jews, but a “host to all”. Israel is one of the first responders to tragedy around the world, no matter what its relationship with the country. Organizations like VeAhavta and Mazon work with communities and other charities regardless of denomination.
Bad things happen. People suffer. But our positive ability as a people, to move beyond and rise above that suffering to make our world a better place, and our lives with it, will define us far beyond the negative.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

USY Pilgrimage- The Next Generation

Just before midnight I registered Jesse for USY Israel Pilgrimage Plus. 29 years after I went on Pilgrimage, he'll be going.  It's changed a bit.  Pilgrimage cost a lot less in 1985.  Everything cost a lot less in 1985.  There were no regional scholarships available to me.  ECRUSY has a great scholarship program.  There were no cell phones and no texting.  My parents weren't in Israel at the same time.  And it's 5 weeks instead of 6.

Still, a lot is the same.  Jesse loves USY like I did (and still do).  The smiles on the faces of last year's participants are just as big.  Some of the highlights have changed, but most are still the same.  What teen tour of Israel would be complete without the sunrise hike up Masada or sloshing through Hezikiah's tunnels?  The desert experience is incredible, but so is Tzfat.  The Kotel is always amazing, but Jesse will have the choice to go to the Masorti section with his friends, the boys and the girls.

Nothing builds love for Israel like a summer youth tour.  Experiencing it for a month or more with a peer group is like nothing else.  Birthright is fine for those who couldn't go before, but it's no replacement for a high school tour of Israel.  It's no replacement for a month of hitting the ground, really spending time in a place, and having a home base.  I'm imagining Jesse in Gadna already, and reliving my own experience in my head.  I'll have to dig up all my old picture.  My group t-shirt, Group 2, is on my bed.  It's part of a quilt that covers our bed every winter, a quilt made up of t-shirts from USY, Ramah, Brandeis, UJ, and JTS, a quilt of memories that represent the path that made me who I am.  Jesse (and Gavi and Keren) already know the stories that go with the t-shirts, but maybe, before the summer, they'll have to hear them just one more time.