Thursday, May 15, 2014

Falling In Love With Israel


Ami v’heiveiti etkhem el-admat Yisrael.
O My people, and I will bring you to the land of Israel. (Ezekiel 37:12)
Once the s’darim are over, our Pesach thoughts turn towards the journey to Israel. It’s an idea that been seized upon by the Jewish community. Trips to Israel are a vital piece of building relationships to our land and to our people. In our haftarah, Ezekiel quotes God saying, “Ami v’heiveiti etkhem el-admat Yisrael; O My people, and I will bring you to the land of Israel.” Normally we refer to Israel as eretz Yisrael, but the words used here are adamat Yisrael. The land to which Ezekiel refers is not the state, whether the ancient or the modern. It is the physical land itself, the earth. There is nothing greater than having the opportunity to walk the land of Israel, to experience it with all your senses. This is the reason every organization leads missions. This is the reason for Birthright, for USY Pilgrimage, for Ramah Seminar, for Nativ year program, for Tichon Ramah Yerushalayim, for NFTY and NCSY, for BBYO and Young Judea and all the others.
During the last month, I have been busy working on two Israel scholarship programs: one an essay contest, the other the MERCAZ-Canada matching scholarship program. The teens who are blessed to go on these summer and year programs embrace the land, often physically working it, digging, uncovering history and planting for the future. To fully understand the impact and importance of these scholarships, and of getting teens and young adults to visit Israel, I’d like to share the words of one of the winners from the 2012 MERCAZ-Canada/Women’s League for Conservative Judaism Essay Contest. Dakota Schee lives in the mid-west US and participated in Ramah Israel Seminar, our funds helped her make the trip. A few days after her arrival in Israel, she wrote these words, which she shared with MERCAZ upon her return.
“Today I saw cobbled streets with stairs worn smooth and slippery by hundreds of generations of footsteps. I saw tiny shops and stray cats and a painting of leaves that spoke so strongly pf autumn that I could smell it.
I saw an ocean of trees, all hills and valleys with no paths visible amongst the leaves.
Today I felt accepted and adored and welcome.
Today I thought maybe I don’t want to live in America anymore.
Today I thought if I could bring all the people who I love from home here, I would never go back.
I’d just wander in the cities and get lost in the countryside and travel the land and see everything, each sight more beautiful than the last.
Today I fell in love with Israel.”
If you’ve never been to Israel, it’s time to go. If it’s been a long time since your last trip, it’s time to go. Israel is old and new, and like nothing else in this world. You may love Israel, but you can never know how much until you touch the earth and experience it. We just sat at our seder tables saying the words, “L’shana haba’a birushalayim; next year in Jerusalem.” Don’t wait. Make it so.