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To Life! The 5 Most Memorable Moments from My Last Trip to Israel

To Life! The 5 Most Memorable Moments from My Last Trip to Israel

As we approach Pesach, the holiday when we ask ourselves, “How is this night different from all other nights?,” I found myself wondering the same thing before taking off for Israel with a group of fellow Jewish professionals and lay leaders from the Bay Area Jewish. I wondered, “How will this trip be different from all my journeys to Israel?”

As the director of a Jewish summer camp, I know exactly what goes into an organized trip to the Holy Land. I thought I knew what I was in for – but I’ve never been happier to be wrong.

This life-changing trip allowed me to be a participant, a camper. I’d forgotten what it’s like to soak in an experience from the participant perspective, to be able to be present rather than in charge. It was a gift to spend time with my amazing colleagues and partners in this way, and through it, we all gained greater understanding and awareness of the talent, passion, and extraordinary missions that exist in our Bay Area Jewish community. The trip will surely become a catalyst for future community collaboration.

On this trip, time and again, I bore witness to hopeful, progressive voices.

We visited with many individuals and organizations committed to pluralism, community-building, equal opportunity, and progressive values. Our Jewish tradition to care for the poor, the needy, the widow, and the orphan was fully expressed and exemplified by these heroic, everyday citizens who shared with us their messages of hope, stories of redemption, and commitment to building a better Israel for today and future generations. They modeled the value of l’dor v’dor, “generation to generation,” acknowledging that their efforts might not bear fruit until after their own lifetimes. Even some Haredi Jews shared with us their glimpse of a more tolerant future, a hopeful sign that change is coming from within and that new, more tolerant narratives are emerging, including a broader acknowledgement of women’s rights.

Here are just a few of the many moments that touched me to the core:

  1. As we observed newly erected Hamas flags less than a mile from Netiv Ha’asarah, a moshav (village) bordering the Gaza Strip, we listened to the stories of parents who can feel the vibrations of new terror tunnels being built under their earth, their homes, and their children’s playgrounds.
  2. We walked the land and witnessed the reciprocal gifts that agriculture, cultivation, and stewardship bestow. From the vastness of the Negev to the 100-square-foot backyard gardens in poor Jerusalem neighborhoods, I saw how this relationship provides both sustenance and sacred space.
  3. As we touched a walled portion of the security fence near Bethlehem, hundreds of Palestinians returned from a day’s work in Israel through security terminals just a few feet away from us. Some were mothers holding their children. I imagined the following day, when we would touch the Western Wall and observe the many faces of the Wall – security, oppression, protection, boundary, hope, and fear. I couldn’t help but think about the walls of humanity that have been built, fallen and rebuilt again.
  4. We watched Arab and Jewish youth perform classical music together at the Polyphony Conservatory in Nazareth. When asked how these youth and their families respond to heightened tensions, their response was, “They just get closer.”
  5. I will remember catching the eyes of children – in the playgrounds of the terror-filled Moshav Netiv Ha’asarah, in the streets of Meah Shearim, in the music halls of Arab and Jewish youth violinists. They all reflected common faces of humanity, striving toward physical, emotional, spiritual safety and love.

Numerous terror attacks took place during our week in Israel, including the murder of an American college student in Jaffa, where I had sat on a bench two days prior. With each act of terror, I could feel myself, others in our group, and the collective nation pause in fear, worry, and grief. Moments later, I felt us embracing life, holding it even tighter and strengthening our pursuit of a brighter future. The expression l’chaim, “to life,” was pervasive everywhere – in the masses celebrating late at night in Machane Yehuda market, among the couples going for romantic evening walks in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, in the restaurants filled with reveling friends and families. Life was being lived.

L’chaim! To life over terror and fear.

Ruben Arquilevich is the executive director of URJ Camp Newman, a Reform Jewish summer camp in Santa Rosa, CA. He has an MBA in non-profit management and a minor in Jewish studies from the University of Judaism; he has a BA in Psychology from The Colorado College and is a Wexner Fellow. Ruben believes that Jewish camping enriches lives by securing Jewish identity, providing lifelong friendships and role models, and creating an environment for growth. He is passionate about the outdoors and the role that nature plays in creating community and inner peace. Ruben lives in Northern California with his wife Vivien and children Jonah, Max, and Maia.

Ruben Arquilevich

Published: 3/24/2016

Categories: Israel, Visiting Israel, Israeli Arts and Culture, Living in Israel
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