Turning To Spirituality Series
Jewish Family Education With Candace R. Kwiatek, The Dayton Jewish Observer
So, you’re an ardent Zionist and dating someone you think just might be The One. How do you make sure they’ll share your love of Israel? Easy. Just send them to a kibbutz for a summer! At least that’s what my boyfriend did.
I like to tease that guy — who did become my husband — that I loved Israel so much I almost didn’t come back.
My son-in-law just took his first trip there and had the same reaction, evidenced by the ear-to-ear grin on his face that didn’t stop for the entire three weeks. He’s not a religious Jew, but there’s no doubt that his Israel experience was a spiritual one.
Israel has no spotlighted Eiffel Tower or stone-stepped Incan peaks or sail-capped opera houses, no such magnets of world fame.
Rather, Israel’s attractions go much deeper, into the hearts and spirits of those who visit the land or treasure it from afar.
Modern Israel’s Declaration of Independence offers a tantalizing glimpse of these attractions: “Eretz Israel (the Land of Israel) was the birthplace of the Jewish people. Here their spiritual, religious and political identity was shaped. Here they first attained to statehood, created cultural values of national and universal significance, and gave to the world the eternal Book of Books.”
While Israel certainly has tourist attractions, Israel itself is really the attraction.
According to the biblical narrative, Israel began as a national Jewish homeland 4,000 years ago with the Divine promise to Abraham of a land for himself and his descendants.
After the Exodus, the Israelites finally settled in Israel under Joshua, inaugurating a continuous 3,000-year Jewish presence there, from the Golan Heights to the Negev Desert.
The identity of the land with the Jewish people is also reflected in its name. In the early centuries, it was variously known as Judah, Yehud, and Judea from the name of Jacob’s fourth son, Judah (Yehudah), and his descendants’ tribe.
Modern Israel takes its name from the biblical Jacob, also known as Israel, the patriarch of the 12 tribes.
Because the land and the people are so closely linked, terms for living outside of Israel express melancholy and calamity — Diaspora (scattering) and Galut (exile).
On the other hand, this linkage is positively reflected in Israel’s 1950 Law of Return, granting Jews from around the world the right to settle in Israel and gain automatic citizenship.
For many Jews, spirituality is found in the biblical and historical connections to Israel and a sense of a personal heritage there.
Under the kings and later the Hasmoneans of Maccabee fame, the Jewish people established independent political states in Israel.
There was pride in independence. Jews could be masters of their own destiny, no longer slaves to a pharaoh or subjects to a foreign monarch. Although many nations did eventually conquer and rule it, the land of Israel was never the independent state of another nation.
The rebirth of Israel in 1948 meant Jews were once again a sovereign people, a nation like all others, and able to decide their own destiny.
Two thousand years in the making, this miracle meant Jews had a haven and a homeland once again. It meant Israel wasn’t just a symbol, but a reality. It meant the Jewish legacy had come back to life.
For many Jews, Jewish sovereignty in the land is a source of pride and spiritual connectedness.
News headlines in recent years announce Israeli hospitals treat terrorists and victims alike and Gaza Patients Find Help From a Surprising Source: Israeli Hospitals.
Israel’s first Bedouin diplomat, Ishmael Khalidi writes: “I am a proud Israeli…By any yardstick you choose — educational opportunity, economic development, women’s and gay rights, freedom of speech and assembly, legislative representation — Israel’s minorities fare far better than in any other country in the Middle East.”
Israel protects citizens’ rights and provides a haven for refugees.
Israel actively responds to worldwide disasters and offers technology and agricultural training to developing countries.
Israel’s military policy demands that soldiers maintain their humanity, recognized by a former commander of British forces in Afghanistan in 2014: “…the Israeli Defense Forces did more to safeguard the rights of civilians in a combat zone than any other army in the history of warfare.”
For many Jews, Israel is a showcase of the biblical instructions for building an ethical society and an inspiring model for earthbound spirituality.
Known as the “startup nation,” Israel is at the forefront in science and technological innovation, water technology and research, stem cell research, medical trauma innovation, environmental sustainability, military innovation, and even television programming.
It’s a land of varied and striking physical beauty, protected in part by nature conservancy, water reclamation and recycling, and solar power.
It boasts the only revival of a sacred language into a modern language spoken by millions. It offers a thriving economy, vibrant cities, and all the modern conveniences of any first-world country. And it was all accomplished in fewer than 70 years. For many Jews, Israel is a modern nation where the spiritual and social are seamlessly interwoven.
Rabbi Susan Silverman, who lives in Jerusalem, describes Israel as, “The land where kings and prophets walked. The place where Jewish history lives and is being made. The place where Jewish teachings and values are tested.”
The land where the Jewish people flourishes. What place offers more spiritual inspiration than Israel?
Literature to share
The Bible on Location: Off the Beaten Path in Ancient and Modern Israel by Julie Baretz. This is an Israel guide book of a different kind. Focusing on locations that appear in the Bible after the Israelites have reached the Promised Land, this guide brings some lesser-known biblical characters and events to life. What makes this book particularly notable is its focus on various dilemmas the Israelites faced in different eras. Highly readable and extremely interesting.
A Different Kind of Passover by Linda Strauss. This Passover is different from all others because grandpa is sick in bed and can’t lead the Seder or hide the afikomen. Is there a solution? Written from the granddaughter’s perspective, this loving tale is about family, honor, tradition, and adapting to change. Great for elementary ages.