I’m spending a couple of days in Washington, DC at Hillel’s international headquarters for some very exciting discussions and planning sessions for the campus dialogue program I’ll be leading nationally this fall. So I haven’t had space to write my own reflections on this Yom Ha-Atzmaut, Israel Independence Day. But I want to share pieces by two other people that have moved me.

The first is by my Arnold Eisen, Chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary, who writes an important statement about the need for all Jews to have a relationship with Israel. “Israel is the single greatest project the Jewish people has going right now and, in the last two millennia, the most important arena that has ever been available to put our Jewish values to the test and our Jewish teachings into practice. We need it. And it needs us.” Eisen offers a thoughtful statement, and one well worth reading and acting on. The full piece is here.

The second is by my wife Natalie Blitt, which she posted on ChallahCrumbs and the iCenter website. I’m reposting it here in full. Chag Ha-Atzmaut Sameach – a happy Independence Day.

I’ve been thinking a lot these days about how to make Israel real in the lives of my children. Compared with most North American Jewish children, they have it easy — they’ve been to Israel, they have cousins there, parents who are committed. They attend a fantastic Jewish day school where Israel lives everywhere in the school — not just in the Judaics curriculum but all over the curriculum, and beyond the curriculum in the hallways and the staff and teachers. We have Hebrew books in our home and our kids one day will be fluent. And yet, Israel is still a far-away country.

This summer, we’ll be in Jerusalem for most of the summer and already I’ve found myself talking about it ad nauseum with the kids. If I had my way, they’d eat ice cream for breakfast every morning in Jerusalem so their idea of Israel is ice cream in the morning. It’s a false picture, I know. Even the summer will be false — we’ll be tourists, albeit in a rented apartment. We may buy groceries there, but the appliances and furniture aren’t ours, and we won’t truly be living there. In the real Israel, children don’t eat ice cream in the morning (at least, not most children). In Israel, there is a real life that we aren’t a part of.

I am a believer in telling the truth. But in this case, I’m happy with the subterfuge. Out here in America, far away from the reality of Israel, it’s hard to keep Israel in my children’s hearts and minds. The only thing that really does it, is me. My husband and I keep Israel alive because we talk about it and we share it with our kids. We plan our trips, we read books that take place in Israel, and we try hard, really hard, to help them fall in love.

Because one day, I hope they know the feeling of getting on a plane and feel like they are coming home. One day I hope they know the feeling of hearing the stories of those who lived through 1948 and get tears in their eyes. Last week my 8-year old told me Israel is turning 63 years old this year. He paused. “That’s older than Grandma!” he added with wonder. “Yes it is,” I said. And for now I left it there.

This year I am realizing that it’s not about what I say and do, but how I feel and how I share it. The first step in creating connection is being fueled by my passion. Once they get to Israel, they can make their own associations. They can learn that Israel is incredibly complicated, and it’s not always easy. They too will learn that paying bills in Israel is impossible, that traffic is terrible and the class and religious wars are enough to make you weep, never mind the Arab-Israeli conflict. But in order to care about all these things, they need to first fall in love. So I think this summer, it’ll be ice cream in the morning.

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