Talking to Teens about Israel, at Passover and Year-Round

April 9, 2014Judy Silver Weisberg

Yesterday evening, I was invited by Temple Sinai of Washington, D.C. to speak to their seventh grade students about my connection and relationship to Israel as a part of their culminating class on their Israel unit. One of my favorite parts of my job as a legislative assistant at the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism is working with young people, so I was especially excited for my “official” workday to end and to get to speak with the seventh graders of Temple Sinai. The coordinator of the program emailed me and the other speakers ahead of time with the worksheet that each student would fill out after hearing each speaker. It included four questions (appropriate as we head in to Passover, I think, but unrelated to our upcoming seders!):

  • How did this person become connected to Israel?
  • How is Israel a part of his/her life right now?
  • How does he/she describe this connection?
  • How does this speaker help you think about the connection you have, or want to have, with Israel?

As I traveled to Temple Sinai, I thought about what I wanted to convey to the students in the five minutes I would be spending with each small group. Did I want to tell them about my grandfather’s stories of wandering around Jerusalem when he would spend a week just exploring the Old City? Did I want to tell them about my first visit to Israel, with 105 eighth graders from the Chicagoland area? About my family’s trip to Israel, my trip with NFTY in Israel? Did I want to share the stories of my Israeli counselors and friends who left programming in the summer of 2006 when news of the bombs from Lebanon broke so they could call home and make sure their families were okay? Did I want to tell them about the best falafel and hummus I had ever eaten? I am product of all the opportunities I have had to engage with Israel, and so I told them a little bit of each of these stories and then asked the students what their questions were.

“Is your connection to Israel more secular or religious?” one boy asked. I told him, “Yes.” As with any relationship, I feel multiple things at one time.  The history nerd in me relates to the exhilaration of seeing remnants of new and old history–and at the same time, I feel a deep connection to the land of Israel as the setting of our Biblical stories and the beginnings of our traditions.

“Do you plan on going back to Israel soon?” one girl wanted to know. I smiled. "I would love to,” I said. It’s been a long time since I visited, my Hebrew is rusty and I want to eat that perfect falafel every day.  More importantly, I’d love to see my Israeli friends in their hometowns and explore everything Israel has to offer.

Their questions were insightful and thoughtful. I told them how much I enjoyed talking to young people about Israel, and that I hoped their unit on Israel was just the beginning of their engagement with the complex history of the nation.

As we move in to our Passover celebrations, I am reminded by the seder’s instructions to pause any time someone has a question. I am always astounded by our youth’s questions about everything, and last night was no exception. As news changes with the ongoing peace negotiations, I am inspired by our youth who continue to learn about, visit, experience and engage with Israel. I know we all hope and pray for the day when the region will know lasting peace, and I know we are all inspired by the Reform Jewish teenagers across the country who are developing their own relationships with Israel.

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