Nearly two months ago, our Just Zionism group landed in Israel as the election to cement a far-right government in the Knesset was taking effect. When we landed, I had a surface-level understanding of Israeli politics but was about to get a crash course on the election's implications for the activists who were heartbroken by the results.
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On November 2, 2022, I landed at Ben Gurion Airport for the first time. Filled with many emotions, this being my first trip to Israel, I decided to keep an open mind as I joined twelve young adult leaders on a journey to learn more about Israel, Zionism, and why Jews in the Diaspora, especially in the United States, should be engaged.
"Good Night Oppy," a documentary streaming on Amazon Prime about the two robotic rovers that NASA sent to Mars in 2003, grabbed me by the heart. What I did not expect to experience from this movie was a potent lesson in parenting from NASA engineers.
I spent months hiding inside my home after Covid-19 was declared a global health emergency. During that time, the Talmudic description of evil spirits resonated with me. It was certainly how I felt, surrounded by invisible threats just outside my door. Since I am a children's author, I channeled these fears into a picture book featuring a supernatural spirit.
There are a few days in my life that stand out. There are the big milestones: my first days of school, going to camp for the first time, and my first homerun. Another one of those dates that stands out is December 28th, 2015. That was the day that I made aliyah and became an Israeli citizen.
As I boarded the plane to Israel in the summer of 2002 for my first year of rabbinical school at HUC in Jerusalem, my mother said, "Please, just don't meet an Israeli." As soon as the plane touched down at Ben Gurion airport, I knew that I was home. A few months later, I met that Israeli. From our first conversation, he understood that I was studying to be a rabbi, and I understood that he wanted to live only in Israel.
As we look out from the pulpit, we know there are good reasons that some faces that were familiar before March 2020 are now missing. We have embraced technology at every opportunity. The quality of our livestreaming worship, even in smaller synagogues, is excellent. Many congregants have grown accustomed to praying from the comfort of their couch.
This time of year, we hear again and again about how much emphasis Judaism places on the nuances of how to address harm of all kinds. I am convinced that the steps of repentance and repair outlined by the medieval Jewish philosopher Maimonides make sense not only in our individual lives when we harm our coworkers, friends, family, and intimate partners, but also in reference to the communal, cultural, and national levels.
Judaism encourages us to awaken each day with thoughts of gratitude. I recite the Modeh Ani each day to thank the Divine for returning my soul. I was recently asked where our soul goes while we sleep. This poem is my response.
After two years of teaching remotely and watching far too many movies and television series on Netflix on the same computer screen I use to interact with these students, I wonder if I feel less connected to these "virtual" students than the hundreds of young people I taught in person over the past decades.