Stories We Tell: Hero Israel

Judaism has a deep and rich tradition of storytelling, of passing down stories from one generation to the next. To carry on that tradition, Stories We Tell, from, will share a new story with you every Thursday. Whether you listen while driving to work, preparing Shabbat dinner, or taking your kids to school, each episode will give you a new story to reflect on and discuss with the people in your life. Stories We Tell is a project of the Union for Reform Judaism, a leading voice in the discussion of modern Jewish life.

Sara is a great listener. She listens to everything, with her mind like a sponge soaking up as much teaching as possible—but sometimes she hears things a little differently than others. What happens when her classmates find out? Rabbi Josh Weinberg tells his original story.

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[URJ Intro:] Welcome back to "Stories We Tell", a podcast from Judaism has always had a deep and rich tradition of storytelling, passing our stories down orally from one generation to the next. And here, each Thursday, we share a new story with you, to carry on that tradition. This week, we're going to hear a story from Rabbi Josh Weinberg, the Union for Reform Judaism's Vice President for Israel and reform Zionism. He's going to tell us the story "Hero Israel".

[Rabbi Josh Weinberg:] Sarah was a young girl about seven or eight years old and Sarah was a listener. She listened to everything, her mind was like a sponge, just soaking up as much teaching as she could hold onto. She would listen to her parents. She would listen to her teachers, she would listen to her rabbis, and she would listen to everyone who wanted to tell her something. She was very good at processing all this information, except, sometimes, she got it just a little bit differently. Sometimes, she heard things differently than other boys and girls heard them.

For instance, one morning when she was in synagogue, she heard the call to prayer. "Barchu Et Adonai", she heard. "Blessed are You, Lord our God".

Except she heard the Hebrew a little bit differently. She heard "Barach who?", with a question mark, as "who should be blessed"? And she did this often. She heard the blessing over the Creator of Light and Darkness. She heard "Yotzeir Or Uvorei Choshech". "He, who creates light and creates darkness". But she heard the word "Or" not as light, but as the word "or" in English, like she heard that it was the creator of light or darkness. She wasn't sure which one it was.

And the most famous example was of course the watchword of our people: Shma Yisrael.

She would hear the words "Shma Yisrael" in Hebrew, and they would say then again in English "Hear, Oh Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is one". But she heard it not as "Hear, Oh Israel" she heard it as "hero Israel". She thought that this is a commitment to listen to the heroes of Israel. She thought this is a commitment to learn about King David and Samson and all of our illustrious heroes throughout our tradition. And as she grew older and older, she maintained this understanding of how she heard this famous verse. And she kept telling other people, “no it's not “hear”, it's “who are the heroes of Israel”?" as she would listen to "Shma Yisrael”. And everyone kind of laughed, and everyone was too embarrassed to correct her because she was so, so intent on hearing it the way she heard it. Until one day, she was getting ready to prepare for her Bat Mitzvah.

And she was in class with other students her age. And she said, "Oh I love the hero Israel prayer". I love when we talk about the heroes of Israel. And someone said, "Wait a second Sarah, that's not what it says. You are wrong". And Sarah became very, very sad and she began to cry.

She says, "How could I be wrong? This is what I've learned my whole life. This is what I believed. This is what I thought it was."

And everybody started to laugh at her, and she felt very, very, very bad. Not knowing what to do, she ran out and she went straight to her rabbi. And she explained what she had heard, and her rabbi looked at her. And her rabbi said to her, "You know Sarah, you are a listener and you have absorbed all of this information and you ask the right questions. And because you are such a listener, you are my hero".

[URJ Outro:] After hearing the story "Hero Israel", I'm wondering whether or not sometimes what you hear is more important than what was said. If you want to share some ideas about that with us on social media, we'd love to hear about it. You can find us at and on Twitter our handle is @ReformJudaism. Thanks for listening to "Stories We Tell". If you enjoyed this week's story, rate and review us on iTunes. And you can always find new episodes every Thursday on, where you can also go to learn a little bit more about Jewish rituals or culture or holidays and more. "Stories We Tell" is a project of the Union for Reform Judaism, a leading voice in the discussion of modern Jewish life.

And until next week, L'hitraot!