I am writing this message from the Land of Israel. My wife and I are currently leading a Mayanot Birthright Israel group of 40 Jewish 22-26 year olds for a 10-day trip across Israel.
Taglit Birthright Israel seeks to ensure the future of the Jewish people by strengthening Jewish identity, Jewish communities and their connection with Israel via educational trips to Israel for many Jewish young adults from around the world. The content of the trip focuses on three main areas: the narratives of the Jewish People, contemporary Israel, and the formative values of Judaism.
Each bus group is comprised of 40 participants who travel together throughout the 10 days. For part of the trip, we were joined by eight young Israelis who gave our participants the opportunity to interact with and get to know their Israeli peers. In addition, the staff consisted of my wife and myself, an Israeli coordinator, an Israeli tour educator, and an Israeli medic/security guard.
We hiked Jilaboun and Banyas and through the mountains in the Negev and up and down Masada.
We met people on the Gaza border and the Syrian border and the Lebanese border who keep the nation safe from those who seek to destroy us.
We went rafting on the Jordan River, enjoyed nightlife in Tel Aviv and even spent one night with Bedouins.
We visited a mikva in Tzvat, an olive factory in Katzrin and floated in the Dead Sea.
We prayed at the Western Wall, danced with soldiers on Friday night and had lunch with Sabbath-observant families.
We visited the Har Herzl Israeli Memorial Cemetery and went to the Yad Vashem Memorial for those killed in the Holocaust. What two things do you think made the greatest impression on the participants?
I will tell you I was surprised! Because it wasn’t the nature or the beauty of the country. It wasn’t the holy sites that most impressed them. It wasn’t the hustle and bustle of Tel Aviv nightlife. It wasn’t even the ancient remnants of 3,000 years of our national history.
Two things stuck out as most meaningful. The first was that a family, whom they never met, would open their homes and take in total strangers to share a holiday meal. They were amazed that a family they did not know would ask about their lives and be concerned about them just because they were fellow Jews. They all wished they could experience that feeling of community more often.
The second thing that seems to have touched them was the visit to the Har Herzel Memorial Cemetery. There they saw many people their own age who had chosen to do something meaningful with their lives, becoming heroes who made the ultimate sacrifice. After the visit, many of these regular American young adults shared that they never before thought of doing anything for a nation or for a people. Yet they felt inspired to do something uniquely Jewish. One said she would speak out for Israel. Another said she would light Sabbath candles. Another said he would like to come back to Israel for a year, or maybe longer. What they all seemed to feel was they wanted to do something meaningful that was somehow beyond just do things for themselves.
I want to share this excitement and feeling of national pride. I want to encourage every person who reads this article to do something beyond themselves for Israel, for Judaism or just for humanity. If there is anyone who has not been to a holiday service for the High Holidays, I would like to offer him or her the chance to attend a service for free at the Louisville Chabad House or wherever else he or she may choose, and reconnect with his or her family. Stay for a meal and enjoy being part of Am Yisroel – the Nation of Israel.
Or if services are not what you seek, maybe volunteer to help the Louisville Jewish Day School, the Jewish Community of Louisville, Jewish Family & Career Services or at one of the hospitals. The point is, do something beyond yourself and in a small but meaningful way, you will become a hero, too!
For more ideas of ways to live beyond yourself, email me at email@example.com.
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Shabbat candles should be lit on Fridays, July 24 at 8:42 p.m., July 31 at 8:36 p.m., August 7 at 8:28 p.m., August 14 at 8:20 p.m., August 21 at 8:11 p.m. and August 28 at 8:01 p.m.
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Editor’s note: Rabbi Avrohom Litvin, regional director of Chabad of Kentucky, has volunteered to provide Torah commentaries for Community.