I hate packing, especially for a long time away. All of those stupid little decisions: how much stuff should I bring? What if it gets cold? Do I pack flat or roll everything? Will they be tough at the counter and weigh my bag? What if my bag is too heavy? I'll need to do laundry at some point; but where? Laundromat or bundle service? And then all the electronics and the chargers... it's insane!
But as much as I detest packing, there's something special about packing for Israel. I love returning to Israel, a place that feels more like a second home than it does an overseas destination. This must be my 12th trip! But I am so excited to be bringing 9 of our 10th graders for their first time.
I look at Israel through their eyes. There's that first "Really? Everybody's Jewish?" moment, when the enormity of being in a Jewish state first sets in. Then there's the "Look at all of those cute Israeli soldiers" moment, which needs no clarification, other than "Be careful ladies!" (The boys tend not to be ready to flirt with the Israeli girls in their fatigues...).
There's more. There's the look in their eyes after exiting the Yad VaShem Children's Memorial, a look the defies any easy verbal description. It's a look that catches my breath because no matter if they've been to the Memorial in Washington - and many have - the experience is overwhelming. It is, in a sense, the beginning of the end of innocence for these 15-16-year-old children who have been so lovingly cushioned from the crushing pain of the world. I've been with many of these children from the beginning: held them at their baby namings and brises. I am proud to be their rabbi and at such moments feel the existential weight of responsibility that comes with helping them transition towards adulthood as Jews.
There's the look when they see the Western Wall for the first time. We've seen a thousand pictures, built it out of sugar cubes and cardboard boxes, written notes to put between the simulated stones. But when it's right there, well, it makes an impression. "So this is the Wall?" Yes, this is it. And yes, despite the hype, it is a special place to just stand and feel the stones and listen to the prayers.
It's vitally important to me that our kids see Israel through my eyes, too. I want them to see the miraculous nature of a nation established in 1948, as poor as many other post-WWII Third World nations, that is now a tremendous international presence.
I want them to see that the original Israeli Declaration of Independence speaks of the earnest desire to create and nurture a democratic Jewish State. As it says, in part:
THE STATE OF ISRAEL will be open for Jewish immigration and for the Ingathering of the Exiles; it will foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; it will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions; and it will be faithful to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations.
I also want them to see the part of Israel that is striving to fulfill these ideals, just as Americans struggle to enable all American citizens to obtain the freedom that is theirs by law but not always in practice. It does our kids no good to get a sanitized Israel, devoid of internal conflict or challenges. Israel is real, they say. Our kids need to see that.
In addition to looking at Israel through the eyes of my students and hoping they will see Israel through mine, I'll be doing my own looking around, for you and for me. I'll be looking for hopeful signs of creative Israeli-Palestinian connections. I'll be hoping to see a greater openness to Reform Judaism and Reform institutions. I'll be looking for the possibility of thoughtful engagement between Jews of different opinions but who are all believers in this crazy place called Israel.
Ok. I gotta go pack. Ugh. Roll or pack flat?