Connecting the Parts: Creating Holistic Israel Experiences
Whenever Jews gather, the story is at the center. At every holiday table, at every repetition of the weekly Torah reading, and each time that a group visits Mount Zion, or the Kinneret, or the Tel Aviv beach — it is the story that we share that brings the past to life, that reminds us that we are part of an etz chaim, a living tree of storytellers and interpreters.
When approached thoughtfully, the sites in Israel can become more than a collection of places, and serve as a mirror to reflect themes, ideas, values, and thoughts back at us. The significance is less the physical rocks on Masada, the stones of the Kotel, the spray paint on the walls of Tel Aviv, or the halva in the shuk. The significance is the meaning we take from those places, the meaning that we place into them, and the tapestry we weave to connect individual places together into a story that is larger and deeper than the sum of its parts.
Below we offer some broad themes that can anchor any Israel experience, and some different avenues for unpacking them.
AS YOU EXPLORE, CONSIDER:
- What do these themes mean to you?
- What are the stories you want to tell?
- Why are these stories important for you to share?
- Where along your journey can these stories come to life?
- How can these stories be woven together?
TRADITION AND INNOVATION
Jewish life, especially in Israel, is defined by the intersection of tradition and innovation. The notion of chidush, from the root chadash (חדש), or new, is central to Jewish tradition, thought, and practice. In spheres from the study of traditional religious texts to the most cutting-edge technology startups, the pursuit of new and different approaches to tried and true concepts is never far from the surface. Examples include the Hebrew language — for many years used only for prayer and study of religious texts — being rejuvenated as a modern, spoken language, the way we’ve recast daily Bible study for the masses in Project 929, or even the IDF being inspired by biblical battle plans.
The ability to maintain traditions while weaving them together with modernity impacts so much of the Israel experience, reflective of the nexus of tradition and innovation that typifies every aspect of Israeli culture.
Here are three different avenues to get you started:
1. What happens to tradition in the face of innovation?
2. How can innovation enrich a traditional framework?
3. What are examples of where tradition and innovation intersect in your own life?
4. In what places and experiences in Israel is the theme of ‘tradition and innovation’ front and center for you?
In Hebrew, there is no word for history; we borrow historia (היסטוריה) from English. History is HIS (or her or their!) story. What we do have is memory — zikaron (זיכרון). In Judaism, we talk of memory or of ME, the personal. How do we take what happened to others, albeit our ancestors, and make it something personally meaningful? Judaism requires action. By doing, we internalize and become part of a chain of tradition, thus personalizing history and creating memories. What can we do to become a part of the story.
Zecher (זכר), remember, appears over 120 times in the Torah, known in Hebrew as the Tanach (תנ״ך), and the word often is used both to evoke emotion and to inspire action. For example, we are told to remember the creation of the world by celebrating Shabbat, and we are told to remember the exodus from Egypt by re-telling and re-enacting the story through the Passover seder. In addition, there are particularly “Jewish” ways to remember, such as placing a stone on a grave when visiting a cemetery or lighting a candle on a person’s yahrzeit, the anniversary of their death.
Here are three different avenues to get you started:
1. How do you remember? What helps you remember?
2. How can memory help us to remember, and also to ‘re-member’ and connect to the Jewish people?
3. What stories will you choose to remember from your experiences in Israel?
4. What role does memory play in your life/ your community?
5. In what places and experiences in Israel is the theme of ‘memory’ front and center for you?
Unity is a Jewish value; uniformity is not. We see examples of this everywhere we look in Israel, a nation of immigrants whose citizens trace their roots to literally 100 different countries, cultures, and traditions. Diverse communities celebrate their individual foods, holidays, languages, clothing, and more, even as they come together as Israelis. This same concept links Jews around the world: we seek unity as we embrace our diversity.
Ben Zoma said: Who is wise? He who learns from every person. (Pirkei Avot 4:1)
This kernel of Jewish wisdom carries an important lesson for us. We learn from every one of our participants, and every one of our participants learns from the people they meet in their group, on the streets of Israel, and in their own home communities.
Here are four different avenues to get you started:
WAYS FOR YOUR LEARNERS TO EXPERIENCE
Consider using this tool to identify some themes that you can use to weave sites and stories together. Use the blank section at the end of the worksheet to help identify a theme, provide framing, context, and resources.