‘Olim’ arrive in Israel at the end of 2017..
(photo credit: FACEBOOK)
Every Jew should live in Israel for at least a year.
This is pretty standard among modern-Orthodox America, but for the non-Orthodox, I believe that this experience is pivotal in keeping our connection with Israel, as a land, people and history.
Israel is not what it was 50 years ago – a country desperately in need of American Jewish support, a country to support through our tzedaka, our charity. Today Israel is filled with vibrant Jewish life and leading the future of the Jewish people. After being here for a while, I contend that connecting our youth to Israel is the most important step we can take to help them understand who they are.
This is why I am here, with no regrets, spending a year in Israel with my family. We are professors who worked out doing our sabbatical year in Israel. Was it easy? No, it involved months of stress beforehand, as any move does, and I reluctantly predict, there is more to come. But I have no regrets when I have seen what my kids have received. I cannot even begin to explain what it means to watch my children learn swimming from an Israeli, how cool it is to watch them get excited about the next holiday, or to watch them play with another Israeli child. Yes, they are connecting to a country, a history, a people, but more importantly, they are understanding that it is their country, too, their history and their people.
And they have been welcomed with open arms to Israel. Both from children their age who I worried might make fun of them or exclude them. Instead, these kids defend them, and explain to others how they are American. We have been welcomed into schools that understand we are only here for a year. We have been invited to Shabbat tables of friends and family separated by degrees and with genetic connections so thin, I hesitate to even call them cousins.
People ask: Do you have relatives in Israel? Do you speak Hebrew? Is it weird going to a foreign country? And the big one: What about your kids’ education for the year? Here is my answer: If you are Jewish, we all have relatives in Israel. This is your family.
Whether we speak Hebrew or not, or understand all the cultural nuances or not, this is YOUR country, YOUR People, YOUR history, and every Jew should consider immigration to Israel, or at least consider how to give your kids a connection to this land and this people so they will understand that they belong to something bigger than the minority group in America.
IN THE US, I never went to an Israel parade, and didn’t always participate in the local Israeli film festival.
Sometimes I ate felafel at some Yom Ha’atzma’ut (Independence Day) celebration at a Hebrew School or JCC. But whether I participated or not, none of those events would have ever given me the deep connection I have today after having lived in this country for this extended time.
Do you want a real Jewish education? Do you want your kids to understand what they are leaving if they assimilate? Do you want them to feel like they aren’t some minority hanging on to a dying religion? Take them to Israel – not just on a tour, for as long as possible. Encourage them to attend high school in Israel, spend a gap year in Israel, go to college in Israel, join the army in Israel. Consider spending a summer or sabbatical in Israel. Help your children understand that Hebrew is a living language. (Trust me, there is no motivation problem in learning Hebrew when it means you can’t understand the fun your friends are having if you don’t!). Help them learn that Passover really does celebrate spring; why we pray for rain on Sukkot; and that the stories they learned about the kings, prophets, and rabbis are real.
We are so blessed to have our homeland back, to watch the ingathering of the exiles, to watch a country only 70 years young with a history of thousands of years being rebuilt.
I am so glad to have given my family this gift in a deep, meaningful way.
And as far as my kids’ education? Yeah, my six-year-old can’t remember which direction to read English anymore. And my 10-year-old can barely do fourth-grade academics alongside Israeli kids.
But you can ask my kids about cultural relativism; exchange rates of money; why this land is important to the Jews; about every Jewish holiday; how to say something in Hebrew; what countries border Israel and where they are on a map; how to get on a bus; how to find their way to the main street by themselves; about the other religions in Israel, bomb shelter drills, deserts, coral reefs, beaches, stalagtites, archeology and ancient civilizations; negotiating in a market; democracy vs. communism; how to ride a camel or a horse; how to swim; about the new fruits they tried this year; how to accept and be tolerant of cultural differences; how to conquer your fear of going to school in a different language and know that you can still make friends; how to speak up for yourself; and most of all, how they will treat a foreigner who comes to their land in the future.
Yeah, I’m not worried... they’re getting an amazing education.
The writer is an associate professor of psychology at Mount Saint Mary College in Newburgh, NY, and is currently on a Fulbright Fellowship through Ono Academic College in Kiryat Ono, Israel.