My family and I left on a two-week trip to Israel on Sunday. I will try to keep notes of my observations as time permits. Here’s my first entry:

One of the cornerstones of the work of Hillel is the idea of immersion experiences. Almost uniformly, these focus on travel. Birthright Israel and alternative student breaks form the core of these experiences, but overnight retreats serve a similar purpose. The idea is that by getting people out of their usual space, they become open to a host of other possibilities. One can look at everything from Odysseus to Chaucer to Gilligan’s Island to gain insight into the power of journeys to shape the soul. But the idea is certainly as old as the notion of pilgrimage, and given that my family and I are on our way to Jerusalem during Passover, that image resonates most deeply. This is the first time we’ve made a trip like this with our kids as potty-trained and sentient beings. So we’re aiming to leverage the educational and identity-shaping possibilities of the trip. Journeys require documentation, so Natalie bought both kids journals and cheap digital cameras. And they require preparation, so we have been talking with them for months about it and asking them what they expected and what they wanted to do on the trip. (This gave way to a good introductory question at our seder the other night, when I asked, “What is a favorite seder memory, or, what is something you want to remember about this seder?” The Torah understands the power of prospective memory–that we can have a hand in shaping the story that will be told about an event or a decision.) There is a powerful emotional sensation that arises when one is taken out of one’s usual surroundings, in particular in forming bonds between the people sharing the journey. The trick comes in sustaining the memory and the power of that shared experience upon return (see Birthright Next and the Book of Judges for exemplars of the difficulties in pulling this off).