Rabbi Bradley Greenstein Congregation Neveh Shalom Portland:
Our destinies are tied together – the nation Israel and the people Israel (us). Sometimes I wonder why our ancestors had to call the hottest, most contested place on earth … home. Why Abraham’s soul-searching journey could not have called him to a small deserted island. Instead our history is filled with struggle and complexity, the exaltation of libera- tion and the atrocity of war. But for our ancestors … and for many of us today … the land of Israel is still the place of our dreams. Every Shabbat we sing the words Shir hama’alot beshuv Adonai et shivat tzion hayinu keholmim (When we return to Israel it as if we are in a dream).
I am inspired by theologian Abraham Joshua Heschel, who believes that the land of Israel has become holy because for centuries it has been the meeting place between humanity and the mystery we call God. Perhaps there is nothing innately special about that piece of
earth unique from the rest of the world. However, what is unique is that the stones reverberate with the sounds of our family’s past. The city walls and cobble- stones echo with the hopes of our ancient prophets. They call out the challenges of Amos, the music of Miriam, the shouts of victory and the weeping sorrow of King David. And today we walk through her cities, still with our dreams, realizing our part on that epic stage.
Rabbi Chayim Mishulovin Chabad of Oregon, Portland
Last year, my wife Simi and I chaperoned a group on a Birthright trip to Israel. Even before meeting the 40 Jews in their mid-20s, we knew they were not the most religious kind of crowd. Many had not seen the inside of a synagogue since their friend’s bar mitzvah (many had not had their own prior to this trip). Imagine the reaction they got when they found out there will be a rabbi on their trip, let alone a Chabad rabbi!
We get to Israel and it all changes. Perspectives change. Feelings change. Their inner self is revealed. There is something powerfully holy about the land of which G-d says in His Torah “The eyes of L-rd your G-d are always upon it” (Deuteronomy 11:12).
I’m sure it’s that energy that inspired this American group to dance with such joy with tears in almost every eye, while praying with thousands at the Western Wall on Friday night. I’m sure it’s that energy that gave these progressive men and women a new perspective about what it means to be a Jew. I’m sure it’s that energy that inspired these young souls to begin searching and allow the G-dly spark inside of them to begin shining.
Rabbi Ariel Stone Congregation Shir Tikvah, Portland
This summer I will lead my fourth congregational trip to Israel out of Shir Tikvah in only 10 years. Despite the political and social gulf between Israelis and American Jews, something still compels us to connect with the land of our ancestors.
The Jewish people spent millennia in Exile, an experience that shaped us in relationship to a Land that most would never see. Our holy days are timed by the season in Israel, not America; when the New Moon is seen in Israel, we declare Rosh Hodesh. And every time something happens in Israel, all of us, as estranged from Israel as we may feel, nevertheless represent Israel to all of our non-Jewish friends.
Ancient Israel is the soil in which our identity was formed; “Torah comes from Zion,” as the prayer says. Secular Jews would be amazed at this, but the fact is that Jewish culture, all of it, derives from ancient Israel, in which there was no categorization of “religious” as anything separate from, or less than, all of life.
In any profound relationship there are challenges. But there is nothing like the sense of belonging one feels in Jerusalem. Maddeningly, frustrating, exhilaratingly, miraculously, it is home.